Girl Jerry Brings the Tunes to South Florida
I must admit that I think about the Grateful Dead every day. I find spiritual meaning in the music, and the community.
I also find spiritual meaning, and my livelihood, in my work with tarot. Often, the latter leaves little time for the former.
As much as I regret missing shows, I love the life I’ve chosen, and would not have had the courage to choose my tarot life without my Grateful Dead life prior. The fact is, I learned to read tarot on Dead tour.
Before going to see Girl Jerry a week and a half ago, I hadn’t had a Dead fix since seeing the John Kadlecik Band at Skipper’s Smokehouse in Tampa in February 2016. When I saw that it was Grateful Dead night at Terra Fermata, just a few miles from my new home in Stuart, I was excited to put on my dancing shoes and check out the local scene.
Girl Jerry separates itself from most other local Dead cover bands in the way the band’s name suggests; the lead guitarist and two lead vocalists are female.
Lest folks assume that the hippie vibe of Deadheads always translates into gender equality, or any other equality-based values, let me be clear that it doesn’t, and that Girl Jerry is brave to replace the parts traditionally played by “the boys” with women, no matter how talented. Just look at the backlash against a female Dr. Who – no community, no matter how seemingly enlightened, is immune to sexism.
The rock world in general has been a hostile place for women, but there was no hostility at Terra Fermata when Girl Jerry took the open-air stage.
I was thrilled with my fellow heads, who braved the heat and humidity and danced from sound check to the final song. The crowd was appreciative and supportive of the band, and of each other. I felt at home after having been too long at sea.
The material selection for the evening leaned a bit toward the traditional and western stuff. Me and My Uncle, Jack-a-roe, Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad and I Know You Rider had everyone up and dancing, and had me just a wee bit tired of the bright, folky beat, when I long for the deeper tunes I loved in my youth.
It’s important to remember that precision was never highly valued by the Grateful Dead, or by we Deadheads. Typically, Dead cover bands are tighter than the boys themselves often were. I can’t quite say that about Girl Jerry; there were some moments when the rhythm seemed off, or a chord didn’t quite happen as it should. The second set was better than the first, but this Deadhead had no complaints; Girl Jerry totally provided my long-overdue Dead fix.
The few off moments were nothing compared to the many, many legitimately brilliant moments. The band showed their unique vibe when they rolled out a couple of non-Dead jams, including an unlikely but workable mash-up of Pink Floyd’s The Wall with Shakedown Street.
The lead guitar and vocals were on point. There is no way to play guitar “like a girl”, it’s either good or it isn’t, and, it was very good. Vocals are another story. We got used to female voices on Dead tunes with Joan Osborne and Susan Tedeschi, sure, but a whole night of Dead tunes sung by women? Could it work? Oh, yeah. It worked beautifully. The blues, the soul, the folk and the straight-ahead rock all happened without benefit of a lead tenor, baritone or bass vocalist.
The other band members are male. I’m sad that I didn’t catch the names of any of the musicians. I also didn’t keep set lists – I was too busy dancing. I guess that says it all, doesn’t it? The band plays well together, works well with the crowd, and plays my favorite tunes. I hope they play together for many years!
My favorite songs of the night were a really inspired Eyes of the World, a soulful Stella Blue, and an out-of-the-park Morning Dew. The Morning Dew, apparently, was new for the band, and had not been performed before outside of rehearsal. Obviously, the band was feeling what I was feeling that night – the crowd was with them. And, clearly, they were with us.
The Scarlet Begonias and Fire on the Mountain were joyful and uplifting. My friend, Suzie, who loves to dance but isn’t a deadhead, burned it up on the dance floor with me. At one point, she asked me, after telling me how much she was enjoying the music, “Is this band good?” She was looking for my discerning deadhead opinion, of course.
I answered unequivocally. Yeah, they rock.
This weekend begins “Jerry Week” or, “The Days Between” Jerry’s birthday and the anniversary of his joining the band in rock and roll heaven. There will be plenty of opportunities to check out local Dead bands where ever you happen to be, or to join your friends for the “Grateful Dead Meet-up at the Movies” by Fathom Events.
If you happen to be in South Florida, make sure you check out Girl Jerry, as well as our other wonderful local acts.
As much as we appreciate the national acts that keep the music going, my heart is with the local acts who keep the spirit alive close to home. Not all of us enjoy the health and wealth it requires to follow bands across the country as we did in our youth.
Girl Jerry is such an act – they rock, not despite their gender, but, in part, because of it. Soul, rhythm and musical depth are both and neither male and female, and the wisdom of the Grateful Dead belongs to us all.
Girl Jerry delivered that wisdom in a way that reminded me where my church is, and has always been.