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Aryeh Naftaly first saw The Grateful Dead by accident - when he was an eight year old riding his bike in San Francisco in the late 1960s and came across a free concert in the park.
"It was in the Polo Fields and there were thousands of hippies dancing. Only when I rode down closer did I see a band over in the corner," recalled the 46-year resident of Moshav Mevo Modi'im.
Naftaly's own long strange trip has led him back to the Dead 40 years later as the musical director and guitarist of a musical tribute show in honor of the "yahrzeit" of Jerry Garcia, the Dead's iconic leader who died 12 years ago.
Despite that watershed event which effectively meant the death of the Dead as a touring unit, fans of the band - both affectionately and derisively known as Deadheads - have continued to follow offshoots of the band, adopt next generation "jam bands" who take their inspiration from the Dead's exploratory improvisations, and download and stream the thousands of live Dead shows available in the websphere.
"They still have a following 12 years later - they're a legend," said Naftaly, who despite his early exposure to the band, only became a fan a dozen or so years later. "They offered something you couldn't usually find in rock music - it was almost a jazz like approach to the songs, they never played the same way twice. One time there were solos here, next time solos there."
Naftaly, who moved to Israel in 1981, pursued a career in music and founded the band Ein Safeq (meaning "No Doubt") in 1987, based in part on the boundary-crossing ethics that he found in the Dead's music. He described their sound as a combination of "rock, folk and soul sung in English and Hebrew." Naftaly and Ein Safeq found a like-minded soul in Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and they even became the famed Jewish spiritual leader's backing band for two years.
"Musically, there's no real connection between the Dead and Carlebach, but it attracts the same kind of people. A lot of Carlebach fans are also into the Dead. Spiritual is a word that gets tossed around too much, but both Carlebach's and the Dead's music appeals to the heart and the spirit that opens you up," said Naftaly.
"People went to a Dead show for a positive inner experience and to be with other people like them. It's not something you see too often anymore. Concerts are usually just reproductions of albums or music videos - nothing really original happening. It's more a mass fan experience. Deadheads weren't fans, they were part of the experience," he added.
He hopes that the tribute show on Saturday night in Jerusalem at the Yellow Submarine will bring out that communal atmosphere, and he's excited about finding out who will show up.
"I'm hoping we'll get an assortment of people in the audience - of course all the old Deadheads and ex-hippies, but also a lot of younger people. Even in Israel, kids are rediscovering the Dead. I really have no idea who will come," he said.
The band Naftaly has put together for the show reads like a who's who of Jewish rock - with former band mates from Ein Safeq, members of The Moshav Band and guest appearances by Soul Farm's Noah Solomon, Eliezer Blumin from Yud, and Reva L'Sheva's Yehuda Katz. While most are "old-timers," who were able to experience the Dead firsthand, the bass player, David Swersky, is a tender 31 years old and was introduced to the Dead's music by his parents and their friends of Mevo Modi'in.
Those former and current Deadheads who do venture into the tie-dyed time machine Saturday night will be treated to a kaleidoscope of Dead classics including "Eyes of the World," "I Know You Rider" and "Ripple," songs that hearken back to the band's early 1970s peak.
"That period was great. My favorite Dead album is Europe 72 - there's a few songs there that never appeared on any studio album, so these are the definitive versions. They were at their songwriting peak - the same two year period as American Beauty and Workingman's Dead," said Naftaly, adding that even though the Dead's Bob Weir sung and wrote almost as many songs as Garcia, the show would be top heavy with Garcia material -which will suit the followers of the Dead in Israel just fine. For after 12 years of waiting, they can finally get their truckin' on.
The Grateful Dead Tribute Concert at Jerusalem's Yellow Submarine will take place on August 11. Doors open at 9:30 p.m. Tickets cost NIS 50 in advance and NIS 60 the night of the show.