The Grass is Dead Kicks Off Summer Tour
How do you like your grass? We like ours with a little Dead. The Grass is Dead (GID) masterfully combines bluegrass, Grateful Dead and roots music to create a unique and powerful sound. Reminiscent of the classic Old and in the Way album, they have brought together a group of very talented musicians with a shared passion for honest and pure music. With rapid-fire precision, the GID can take a song that you have heard played a thousand times and make it new again, passing a melody around the stage from banjo, mandolin, bass, drums, dobro and back again all the while never losing the essence of the song. They emit an infectious positive energy that leaves you somewhere between jaw-dropping awe and a face-splitting grin. With a rapidly growing fan base, they are hitting the road this summer to spread the love up and down the East Coast. We had chance to chat with front-man Billy Gilmore as they prepare for their summer tour.
MFN: When was GID founded and who were the original members?
Billy Gilmore: I came up with the idea for Grass is Dead in 1998 after hearing the first Picking on the Dead album, which was all-instrumental versions of Dead songs. Really cool stuff, but I thought it needed lyrics. I also heard Tim O’Brien’s Red on Blonde album — a bluegrassy Dylan tribute — and then I thought, there it is! So I took the idea to the next step and got my good buddies Bubba Newton and Corey Dwyer from South Florida’s Dead tribute band Crazy Fingers in on the idea. We started comin’ up with really fun versions of Garcia/Hunter stuff and decided to record our own tribute CD. And, low and behold, the Grass is Dead was born. We had a semiregular gig every Wednesday night together, so we dug into the stuff really deep, finding it all lends itself to the Bluegrass sort of feel. We got our good buddy Brent Hopper on board to round out the live version of the band and were off and running!
MFN: What band/musician influenced your sound the most?
Billy Gilmore: Our influences obviously come from the Dead and all related sort of stuff, and of course bluegrass. Combining the two songbooks, styles and ideas, improvising, and it all just kinda drives itself. It’s really hard to tell you all our influences, really. Music would be my answer!
MFN: How many instruments do you play?
Billy Gilmore: I play eight instruments — kind of obsessed, I know. Usually onstage lately I’ve been limiting it to four, but the beauty of this band is that we are all multi-instrumentalists. Really everyone can play at least two or three different instruments really well, which is something to be on the lookout for, featuring all things we are able to incorporate into our live act and, of course, on studio recordings. We all sing in this group, too, so it’s never a dull moment.
MFN: How long have you all known each other?
Billy Gilmore: We (our current 2017 lineup) have known each other for different amounts of time. I’ve known Steve Pruett since 1982. I have been friends with these guys all from meeting at The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park. I actually met Jared at a family reunion party about six years ago. It’s amazing the folks you meet at festivals and keep the musical family relationship going. Never ceases to amaze me, the large family of musicians we are all part of!
MFN: Describe your most memorable set.
Billy Gilmore: As far as a most memorable set goes, there are many!!! Lately, for this band and the New Year, our Isis Music Hall show from Asheville is a great performance with some amazing special guests. It is really hard to name a favorite, as I love every performance.
MFN: Any plans for a live album?Studio time?
Billy Gilmore: We are starting our fourth studio album this weekend, and I’m so happy to be able to say this! Since our last studio release in 2005 we have put a lot of live shows on archive.org but haven’t gotten back in studio. It’s gonna be a ton of fun, tracking live, hoping for minimal overdubs, to get the real live sound. Since adding drums two years ago, our ideas of what the Grass is Dead could have become has been tons of fun. Our fallen brother Corey Dwyer and I, along with Bubba(Newton), used to talk a lot of being able to take this project on the road, with drums, and now it’s all happening. I couldn’t be happier musically, really. I miss Corey more than anyone knows, but I’m happy to try to do my best to honor the sound we were creating and dreams to achieve. Couldn’t have ever done any of this without him, Bubba, Brent, Brittany Reilly, Jack Schueler, Nico Swarley , and our new lineup with Jon Murphy, Jared Womack , Steve Pruett, and Brian Drysdale have all been part of creating a sound and keeping it going! It’s been an amazing 19 years so far! Looking forward to seeing how far that Golden Road will go!
The new lineup includes founder and front-man Billy Gilmore on vocals, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, and just about anything else that has strings; Jon Murphy on upright and electric bass, and vocals; Jared Womack on dobro and vocals; Steve Pruett on mandolin and vocals; and Brian Drysdale on percussion, drums and vocals.
Whether on stage or just jamming around the campsite, you can feel the camaraderie and mutual respect that they have not only for the music but for each other. They have found that secret formula for making music that entertains, inspires, and captivates the audience. You will be hearing and seeing a lot more of these guys as they rapidly rising in the ranks as one of the hottest bands on the scene. Check out the Grass is Dead website for more information on tour dates, album releases, merchandise and more.