(photo credit: Lorelai Kude)
They may have been archetypical hippies, but they weren’t naive.
That’s why the Grateful Dead, the band that epitomized the Woodstock Nation better than anyone else, never appeared in the film or album of the same name commemorating the 1969 event that immortalized Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, The Who and the other 1960s icons whose careers exploded in its aftermath.
“They were the only artists to have the business savvy to realize they were getting ripped off,” says Aryeh Naftaly, the 52-year-old leader of The Elevators, who will be performing a tribute to the rock legends on Thursday night, August 2, at the Jerusalem Woodstock Revival.
“All the acts were being offered $5,000 for the rights to appear on the album and in the film about Woodstock, and the Dead said, ‘No way. This is going to be worth a fortune.’ They tried to negotiate for more, but it didn’t work out, so that’s why they’re not in the film or the record. Some people don’t even realize they played at Woodstock.”
That anonymity didn’t prevent the San Francisco-based 1960s psychedelic pioneers from flourishing in the 1970s and beyond with a shift in style that focused more on wellcrafted, melodic country-tinged rock alongside their trademark extended improvisational weirdness. That blend, along with the charisma of guitarist Jerry Garcia and the unfailing promise of taking concertgoers on a musical journey with no road markers, created a loyal following known as Deadheads, who continue to keep the band’s music alive, 17 years after their demise due to Garcia’s death in 1995.
Even though Naftaly first took notice of the band in the late 1960s while riding his bike past a free concert the band was giving in his native San Francisco, he didn’t really take a liking to them until a few years later, when they released a powerhouse series of recordings – Workingman’s Dead
, American Beauty
and the live Europe ’72
– which highlighted songs and tight playing over tenacious jamming.
“What attracted me to them was that the quality of the songwriting was phenomenal,” says Naftaly, a resident of Moshav Mevo Modi’im.
“It’s a shame that so many of the great songs on Europe ’72 – like “Jack Straw” and “Tennessee Jed” were never recorded in the studio.”
Naftaly, who moved to Israel in 1985, pursued a career in music based on the Dead’s musical philosophy of spiritual exploration, and in 1987 he founded the band Ein Safeq, which occasionally backed Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Since the band broke up in 1998, he’s released five solo albums and worked with many artists such as Ehud Banai and Hadara Levine- Areddy.
Naftaly never gave up his love of the Dead, though, and performed tribute shows regularly over the years with like-minded musicians.
Four years ago he formed The Elevators, who feel equally at home playing Grateful Dead music as they do their own original Hebrew Jewish soul songs, as exemplified by their 2009 debut album Olim. Joining him on guitar and vocals are Rob Steiner on keyboards, Tom Curran on bass and Michael Roth on drums, all versed in the nuances and modalities of Grateful Dead music.
Alongside Geva Alon performing Neil Young, Crystal Ship with a Doors show, Ummagumma with a Pink Floyd tribute, and a host of others, The Elevators will take the stage for the first time at next week’s fourth annual Woodstock gathering at Jerusalem’s Kraft Stadium. It won’t be the first time the Dead are being represented at the festival, though, as kibbutz jam band Tree presented a powerhouse set two years ago, heavy on the explosive late 1960s heavy side of the band. According to Naftaly, this year will focus more on songs, but with the Dead it’s difficult to separate the song from the jam.
“We’ll take a well-crafted song and deconstruct it,” says Naftaly. “I think that the whole idea behind their music is that you never know where it’s going to go. And if you do try to plan it out, it won’t feel right. That’s why we leave the arrangements open and see what the moment brings across. It’s a like a conversation – you never know how it’s going to develop.”Gates open for The Jerusalem Woodstock Revival IV at Kraft Stadium 5 p.m. More information is available at www.woodstockfestival.com