Welcome back April. Although spring’s official start date is March 21st, we can all agree April’s the true month to herald winter’s rebirth (nice try March.) This spring season couldn’t begin with a better kickoff bash than the 3rd Annual Skull & Roses Festival which happens to be going down this Friday April 5 at legendary Dead stomping ground: The Fairgrounds in Ventura County.
This year, playing a coveted Saturday sunset slot, is Los Angeles’ own Grateful Shred. “It will be pretty to cool to watch the sun fade from the stage,” bassist Dan Horne told me as we chatted over the phone this past weekend.
Whilst preparing for an intimate backyard wedding that my future wife Meghan and I have planned on 4/20 (that’s right, 420 wedding), I was able to sneak away and speak with Horne. Horne was quite busy himself as he spoke to me while driving from Las Vegas to the Fonda Theater in LA. He is currently performing with one of his several other touring acts, Cass McCombs. McCombs is currently wrapping up a West Coast March Tour.
Mel Gibson circa 1981 couldn’t hold a candle to Horne’s Road Warrior status. Despite constantly touring with three different bands, Horne is able to rattle off segues and songs he’s played with Grateful Shred in months past all while holding the wheel next to an antsy passenger that I could only imagine must have been Cass McCombs himself.
“Are you busy?” I asked. “Should I call back when you are not driving?” “Nah, man,” Horne replied in the most laid back tone as if he was lounging on a float in some resort’s lazy river, “I’m always driving.”
I was shocked at Horne’s lack of anxiety. Hearing the sound of trucks whizzing by through the receiver was giving me reason to pause. But similar to Horne’s bass playing, you could easily tell this wasn’t his first rodeo. Dan’s ability to conduct blind interviews while navigating the congested freeways of Los Angeles reveals a bag of many tricks.
Grateful Shred played over 40 shows in 2018. Having just come off a winter run and with plans on summer and fall dates, “Shred” could easily eclipse that total in 2019. “We never want to stop playing once we hit the road,” Horne explained. Sometimes he doesn’t have a choice since his other bands Circles Around the Sun and Cass McCombs are constantly adding new shows as well.
I asked Horne if Grateful Shred has structured sets before they take the stage. Horne replied, “We like to mix it up and keep it fresh. We are very conscious of what we played nights before and try to keep ourselves on our toes. For example, we’ll try to not repeat anything we did at last year’s Skull & Roses- but anything can happen.”
As I mentioned earlier, Meghan and I are entering the home stretch of our decidedly un-destination wedding. We decided to listen to Grateful Shred’s recent March 3rd performance at Ardmore Music Hall while wiring outdoor string lighting for our big day. We took note of the harmonies during “I Know You Rider,” which blended mellifluously well as the jam segued into a warm and welcome “Eyes.”
There were moments I forgot I was listening to a cover band. Even Donna vocal parts performed by guitarist Clay Finch are seamless to the band’s style. Rarely do you get such a spectrum of singers in your typical Grateful Dead cover band. Shred, however, absolutely has a fresh take on familiar classics. “Scarlet Begonias is one of the band’s favorites because we each sing a verse individually and then harmonize at the end,” Horne told me.
“There is no imitating the Grateful Dead,” Horne confessed as he drove, “So we want to make sure we are constantly learning new songs that we can interpret in our own way. I mean Austin, one of our founding members, does have this great Bob growl, but we make sure to split up the vocals and never define a song to just one person.”
Officially Grateful Shred is the aforementioned Dan Horne on bass, Clay Finch and Sam Blasucci on guitar, Austin McCutchen (“who happens to look a lot like Brent”) on vocals and guitar and Austin Beede on Drums. They also have a regular rotation of special guests. Ziggy Marley’s Jerry Borge’ will join the band on keyboards this weekend at Skull & Roses.
“These guys can learn anything on the fly,” Horne told me of his fellow band mates. “Sometimes we try songs that we heard that day in the van for the first time, live that night, which can really impact our sound. That impact can have positive effects or…negative,” Horne chuckled.
Grateful Shred is an advocate for recent recreational marijuana laws that surround California. This 4/20, as Miss Meghan Murphy and I share in our nuptials, Grateful Shred will be hosting their own 3rd annual SHRED 420 at the Echoplex in Los Angeles. The indoor/outdoor bash will also feature a celebrity Bong Ripping Competition. Last year’s reigning champ is LA-based singer/songwriter Pearl Charles.
“I had a band in college when I went to Portland. We wanted people to show up to our gig so we offered a bong hitting competition. The event drew like 200 people and was a blast so I always wanted to recreate that experience,” Horne recalled. “This will be the second return of the first Bong Hitting Competition that’s based on the original bong hitting competition we had in college.” Got that?
I asked Horne if he’ll be taking part in the festivities to which he replied, “It’s not really fair for the creator of the event to take part in the competition, and I’m a bit of a light weight myself, hehe. And I have to play too, so there’s that.”
I then said to Horne, “Not sure if journalist qualifies as celebrity, but if I wasn’t already occupied on 4/20 I’d certainly throw my hat into the ring.” I have been known to rip a few tubes here and there…and everywhere. I mean I AM getting married on 4/20!
Once Horne’s vanload of band mates heard their driver talking about bong hit tourneys while burning down the 10 freeway they put an end to their bassist’s spacey interview. Horne laughed a bit then said, “I think I better start paying attention to the road again. I forgot I was driving for a minute there.”
Yeah, even talking about bong hits can do that. “See ya in Ventura, bud.”
Catch Grateful Shred this weekend along with many other amazing acts at the 3rd annual Skull & Roses Festival. I know where I’ll be at sunset on Saturday!
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