As an expression of cultural joy, you can't top an Irish wake. And what is a wake but a celebration-a toast of appreciation-an expression of love-and a damn good party?
So when seven top Bay Area musicians realized they shared as deep a love for the songs of the Grateful Dead as they did for traditional Celtic tunes, some brand-new music sprang up and started partying.
WAKE THE DEAD is a romp that flows seamlessly from rock grooves to hot Irish reels, and from haunting airs to achingly beautiful melodies familiar to Deadheads everywhere. "Sugaree" in waltz time, bracketed by an ancient harp tune and infused with a poignant Celtic longing. "Bertha" thundering out of "China Cat" on a mandolin tidal wave. The eerie lilt of the uilleann pipes, giving a glow to "Bird Song" as if it was always meant to be there. Groove jams to keep the tie-dye swirling. Vocal harmonies that float like clouds.
The music takes off, and the band follows, grinning all the way. These aren't worlds colliding-they're worlds meshing, coalescing-creating a whole new world of possibility, and true to the spirits of the Grateful Dead and the eternally hopeful Celts.
The members of WAKE THE DEAD are all among the best-known and most respected players in Northern California. Harper Maureen Brennan has performed widely for over 20 years. Her recorded works include three solo CDs and the acclaimed "Harpistry" collection. Bassist Cindy Browne, enlisted from the eclectic world ensemble Next Village, is equally at home in folk and jazz, touring from Jordan to Japan. Singer, fiddler, and fretman Danny Carnahan is a two-time NAIRD "Indie" award winner whose original Irish-tinged songs (including a collaboration with Robert Hunter) are popular worldwide. Kevin Carr is a musical triple-threat, renowned in the U.S. and Canada as a dance fiddler, a pennywhistler, and Irish piper par excellence. Inventive percussionist and multi-instrumental dynamo Joe Craven performed and recorded with Jerry Garcia and has toured for the past decade with David Grisman. Sylvia Herold's delicious vocal phrasing can be heard on her two solo CDs and in her concerts with the popular swing trio Cats & Jammers. Paul Kotapish is known far and wide for his concerts and recordings with Kevin Burke's Open House, and for his blazing guitar and mandolin with The Hillbillies From Mars. And percussionist Brian Rice, with his expertise in Latin rhythm, rounds out the band's groove engine.
WAKE THE DEAD has wowed concert and festival crowds from San Francisco's Fillmore Auditorium to Eugene, Oregon. National radio play and concert tapers are spreading the music wider every day. The first album is a huge success, and the second, Buckdancer's Choice, will hit the stores soon.
So kick back, join the party, and wake the dead!
WHO ARE THESE WAKE THE DEAD GUYS?
Maureen Brennan-Maureen, equally accomplished in early classical and folk harp, has toured throughout the U.S. and Canada in a variety of ensembles, and has entertained on cruise ships in Alaska and Tahiti for the past 14 years. She has performed and recorded with the bands Paradise Lost and Kingfisher in traditional venues and festivals in the Bay Area, released three solo CDs and participated in the acclaimed "Harpistry" collection. She teaches at workshops and harp conferences throughout North America.
Cindy Browne-Cindy has performed at such world events as the International Arts and Music Festival in Jerash, Jordan, Hawaii's Pacific Basin International Music Festival, the Concord Jazz Festival, the Kawasaki Jazz Festival in Japan, and the Arts Alive concert series in the Virgin Islands. She also plays with the Quirks and with Kaila Flexer and Next Village in support of their second CD, "Next Village" on Compass Records. A noted jazz instructor and clinician, Cindy holds a Masters Degree in classical performance and currently teaches jazz history and music appreciation at two Bay Area colleges.
Danny Carnahan-Danny has been performing his original songs for over 25 years, with duo partners Chris Caswell and Robin Petrie, earning two NAIRD "Indie" awards and one Grammy nomination. In 1994 "Cut and Run," his first all-original CD came out on Red House Records. This collection of Danny's Irish-tinged songs of love, lust, and longing includes "Laughing in the Dark," a collaboration with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. Danny writes regularly for the folk press, with feature articles appearing in Acoustic Guitar Magazine and a regular Celtic column in Mandolin Magazine.
Kevin Carr-Kevin is a musical triple-threat, renowned in the U.S. and Canada as a dance fiddler, a pennywhistler, and Irish piper par excellence. He is best known for his work with the cult contradance and concert band The Hillbillies From Mars. He also teaches extensively at music camps and workshops across the country.
Sylvia Herold-Performing professionally for twenty years, Sylvia is known on the jazz circuit for her work with the swing trio Cats & Jammers and the Hot Club of San Francisco. A noted solo Celtic performer, Sylvia is well known from San Francisco to New York. She recently released her solo debut album, "A Bowl of Crystal Tears," to glowing reviews in the U.S. and Britain.
Paul Kotapish-Equally confident and inventive on every fretted instrument, Paul has distinguished himself on the stage for over twenty years. Most recently, Paul has made a name for himself with his concerts and recordings with Kevin Burke's Open House, a headlining act in Celtic and international folk festivals across the country. His blazing guitar and mandolin work also help drive The Hillbillies From Mars, the Quirks, and other Northern California-based acoustic groups. Paul is currently an editor and feature writer at Acoustic Guitar Magazine.
Joe Craven-Joe is an inventive percussionist and multi-instrumental dynamo who performed and recorded with Jerry Garcia many times through the years. He has recorded with countless top artists more recently, notably extending the shared boundaries of jazz and bluegrass with Darol Anger and Mike Marshall's Psychograss quartet. For the past decade, Joe has stayed constantly on the move, touring and recording with David Grisman.
Brian Rice-Brian has recorded and performed across North America and Europe with numerous jazz, Latin, and eclectic ensembles including Balafon Marimba Ensemble, Kaila Flexer and Next Village, and The Paul Winter Consort. A graduate in percussion performance and ethnomusicology from Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Brian teaches all around the Bay Area when not touring with Wake the Dead.
WAKE THE DEAD-THE STORY SO FAR
Wake the Dead was born in 2000 when three veteran Celtic performers who shared a love for the Grateful Dead experienced a joint flash of inspiration and began weaving the two seemingly alien musical genres into something new and immediately appealing. Danny Carnahan, Paul Kotapish, and Maureen Brennan assembled a septet of seasoned Celtic, jazz, and new acoustic players and recorded "Wake the Dead" as a lark. The CD contained nine songs originally popularized by the Grateful Dead, each retooled in unexpected ways, blended with Celtic jigs, reels, and airs, and performed all-acoustic but with true rock-and-roll sizzle. Grateful Dead Records took one listen and immediately signed the band, releasing the CD nationally.
What no one at the Grateful Dead knew at that moment, though, was that the band didn't exist yet. In fact, never had all seven members all played together at the same time. But, all agreeing that this was the most fun music any of them had played in years, they dropped everything and started rehearsing to perform live. It didn't take long, and by October, Wake the Dead was playing to sell-out houses in the Bay Area including the Fillmore Auditorium and the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse.
During the next two years, the band's repertoire has quadrupled, including rare Robert Hunter songs never done by the Dead, traditional songs that helped shape Jerry Garcia's career and, increasingly, original compositions by Wake the Dead bandmembers. New material and new takes on classic numbers are being added all the time. The new arrangements are richer and more adventurous than those on the debut album. The band, now numbering eight with the addition of Brian Rice as second percussionist, takes advantage of the strengths of each member, establishing more thunderous grooves, more interesting textural shifts, and more and more stepping out into dangerous improvisational territory.
Where the first CD was born around the kitchen table, the second CD was born on stage, growing in intensity and complexity as the band grows tighter and more confident in front of bigger and bigger crowds. Where will the road take Wake the Dead next? Your guess is as good as ours, but it's bound to be one amusing trip.
What critics are saying about WAKE THE DEAD-
the first release on Grateful Dead/Arista Records
"This mostly East Bay crew has tapped into yet another audience: fans of both Celtic music and the Dead. Judging by turnouts last month at Bimbo's (Wake the Dead in a double bill with doo-wop kings the Persuasions to celebrate both acts' CDs of Dead music) and at this sold-out hometown debut, the deliciously fresh Celtic-Dead thing was an idea whose time has clearly come."
-Larry Kelp, East Bay Express, 11/1/2000
"This marks the beginning of an era of music that I think is the most important, wonderfullest thing to happen to Grateful Dead music since Jerry died. I haven't heard anything that portrays the spirit - not even coming from the Grateful Dead members - that came this close to realizing the kindness of Jerry Garcia and the spirit of the Grateful Dead."
-Vince Welnick, after Wake the Dead/Persuasions
San Francisco CD release concert
"Shimmering renditions of Dead music fused with Celtic beauty. The music is beautiful, masterfully performed with Dead-hommage vocal style, great traditional Celtic instrumentation. The Dead songs fit this genre very well. I think any fan of the Dead will appreciate these renditions of their music. I know Jerry would've dug them."
- Reed Maidenberg, Amazon.com
"Five stars! This record captures more fully than any single Dead album or tribute project, the melodic beauty, lyrical depth and timeless quality of the Garcia/Hunter songbook. Largely acoustic and blended seamlessly with traditional Scots and Irish melodies, this is a record that could capture a broad audience, converting folkies into Deadheads and 'heads into folkies."
"[Wake the Dead] have found a spiritual walkway between Irish music and the Grateful Dead . . . There's a sense of longing in every CD track."
-San Francisco Examiner
"Dead touchstones, 'Friend of the Devil,' 'Bertha,' 'Sugaree' and 'Touch of Grey,' never sounded fresher. A musical feast for fans of Irish/Celtic and the Dead alike. If the closing track, 'Row Jimmy' doesn't break your heart, you don't have one."
-Chuck Waters, indyweek.com
"Just the new and different thing adventurous ears crave."
-Midwest Record Recap