Spirit of the Dead still rising in the South

Eran Remler has been holding an increasingly popular grassroots festival called Dead Gatherings in honor of the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia.

 ITAMAR BECK, blues harpist who has been a regular at the Dead Gatherings. (photo credit: TOMER ROTTENBERG)
ITAMAR BECK, blues harpist who has been a regular at the Dead Gatherings.
(photo credit: TOMER ROTTENBERG)

One of the wonderful things about musicians – if, for a moment, one may err on the side of selfishness and dark humor – is that when they pass on corporeally, they leave us with so much we can continue to enjoy. The roll call of greats that have moved on to celestial pastures sometimes makes one wonder, naturally tongue-in-cheek, if the good Lord gets down and grooves to the sounds of Beethoven, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra and others on a regular basis, in divine person as it were.

Around 26 years ago and way before time, Jerry Garcia joined that necessarily constantly growing list, at the age of just 53. Garcia, along with the various other members of the seminal Grateful Dead, put out a ton of recordings – that is besides the numerous bootleg tapings of live shows, graciously endorsed by frontman Garcia and the band – gave thousands of live shows, and inspired many musicians across all sorts of genres.

They also spawned generations of adoring fans – a.k.a. Deadheads – while Garcia was around and thereafter. Eilat resident Eran Remler is one of those who got in on the Deadhead act post factum, although he soon made up for lost time.

Now, the thirtysomething teacher is doing his damnedest to spread the word, and to make sure his fellow Deadheads and other rock devotees get their musical entertainment fix and, hopefully, get the younger crowd on board, too.

For the last few years, he’s been holding an increasingly popular grassroots festival called Dead Gatherings, which has evolved into the Kimat Histaparti (Almost Cut My Hair) Festival scheduled for the family-friendly Shittim site in the Arava over the weekend of May 19-21.

 THE CROWD at a previous Dead Gathering grooves to the music. (credit: TOMER ROTTENBERG) THE CROWD at a previous Dead Gathering grooves to the music. (credit: TOMER ROTTENBERG)

The festival blurb describes the open-air program as an event “in the spirit of the Grateful Dead’ and, as such, is “entirely dedicated to the community around us, music lovers everywhere and, of course, to the members of the music industry whom we want to embrace after two challenging years.”

Although it used to feature acts and DJs offering only music by the Grateful Dead, Garcia and their offshoots, these days the roll call of acts takes in a suitably broad sweep of styles and subgenres, as befits the adulated rockers’ eclectic take on their craft.

Yair Dalal stars in the curtain-raiser on May 19. While the seasoned oud player and violinist may not, for most, conjure up thoughts of anything musical other than definitively ethnic Middle Eastern sounds, the fact of the matter is that before the sexagenarian instrumentalist-vocalist rediscovered his Iraqi roots, he was a diehard bluesman. His latest album, the suitably entitled My Old Love which came out towards the end of last year, saw Dalal resume creative battle with some old pals, the Lobo Blues Band guys with whom he pounded the national music venue beat over four decades ago, with a bunch of some younger players in the mix, too. Many of the aforesaid sidemen will be around to support Dalal on the Shittim stage.

The Grateful Dead were anything but a one-trick stylistic pony, spreading their wealth of multifaceted talent and joie de vivre across all manner of musical endeavor, from rock to country music and from blues to jazz with plenty more betwixt.

THAT SAID, there is definitely a strong blues streak running through the Shittim programming, with the likes of veteran bluesman Mickey Shaviv popping up everywhere. During the course of the three days Shaviv will front his own trio, and also contribute to a tribute to late lamented troubadour Meir Ariel. Ariel, who died in 1999 at the age of just 57, would have turned 80 last month. Shaviv is best known as a guitarist-bassist-vocalist but the Dalal gig will find him keeping time behind the drum set.

So, what brought young Remler around to rock to the sounds his late dad grooved to when he was a youngster? “It took a while. Yeah, there were all sorts of fights over music,” he chuckles. “I told him the music was OK, but you can’t compare it with Pink Floyd and all those guys.”

Remler got there in the end and now he is looking to pass the message on as far and wide as he possibly can across generational divides. That refers to followers and exponents alike, with the accent very much on personal, spiritual and, of course, sonorous harmony. “We want to connect our audience with this music and we want to connect all the musicians to the music of The [Grateful] Dead. It’s all about bonding and music, and that’s how Kimmat Histapartee came about.”

The name of the event, if you hadn’t noticed, comes from the Hebrew translation of a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young number which appeared on the band’s big-selling 1970 album Déjà Vu. Incredibly, the foursome’s second ever gig was at Woodstock in 1969, in front of a half a million people. Suitably, the first time Remler got a bunch of groups together to rock it with a paying audience was in 2019, marking the 50th anniversary of that landmark pop and rock event in upstate New York.

Remler feels it is high time we reconnected with that spirit of unison which so memorably and, as it sadly transpired, briefly pulsated so brightly and powerfully at Woodstock. “These days, in Israel, unfortunately things are only becoming messier,” he notes, referencing the fragility of our post-coronavirus shenanigans economy. “It is almost impossible, today, to put on a festival like this. The cost of the license is so high. Everything is ridiculously expensive. We are only managing to do this because we established a nonprofit, and it is thanks to our 240 members who pay in a monthly sum that we can put on events like this.”

After lockdowns, vaccines, masks and all the manner of fun and games we have been through these past couple of years, a breath or two of unsullied desert air, the wide expanses of the Arava, and plenty of blues, rock and roll, and pop music could be just the ticket to banish those pandemic blues.

Elsewhere across the three-dayer down south, the festival-goers will be able to catch the likes of psychedelically-leaning rock band Electric Zoo, hardcore bluesman Itamar Beck, Ouzo Bozouka led by acclaimed guitarist-vocalist Uri Kinarot, and surf rock outfit Rasco with Dialgo stretching the genre expanse deep into jazzy, funky and more unfettered climes. And of course, a lineup of DJs playing music by the good ol’ Dead.

Garcia and Co. will also be there in mind and spirit, if not sound body, at the Fennario Seeds Dead Set and at the free-for-all Jerry Garcia Party and Grateful Dead Party slots.

For tickets and more information, contact: (054) 995-5693 and www.gratefulmusic.co.il.