Jerry Garcia, the guitarist and frequent songwriter and lead vocalist for legendary jam band The Grateful Dead, was born on August 1, 1942 and died on the ninth of the month in 1995. Every year, DC’s The Hamilton Live holds a series of shows called “The Days In Between” to celebrate his life and legacy.
Joan Osborne has a special connection to the Dead and to Jerry’s songs. At the height of her commercial popularity in the 1990s, she opened on tour for Bob Dylan and the Dead, albeit after Garcia had passed. Her connection to that music made her a perfect choice for one of these recent celebrations.
Though she’s best known for her adult alternative smash hit song “One of Us,” which made it into the set, Osborne began her music career in the blues and jam band scene in New York City, where she had moved from her native Kentucky to study film at NYU. Her major label debut, Relish, released in 1995, got her spots in festivals like Lilith Fair (and the gig with Dylan and the Dead), but her career, especially since the turn of the century, has seen her return to her roots, interpreting soul, blues, and R&B classics on How Sweet It Is, released in 2002, 2007’s Breakfast in Bed, and 2012’s Bring It On Home.
At her show at The Hamilton Live on August 6, the set included one of those tunes, a cover of Muddy Waters’s “I Want To Be Loved.”
Watch Joan Osborne perform “I Want to Be Loved” by Muddy Waters for WFUV on YouTube:
While excelling as an interpreter of songs, Osborne has remained active writing her own. Later this year, she’s releasing an album of new material, Nobody Owns You. Joan opened her set with one of the new songs, “You Should Have Danced More.”
The titular cut, she explained, was written from the advice she wants to give her teenage daughter, who, like many teenagers, doesn’t want to listen to her parents. As I shared with Joan after the show, I suspect part of the reason we dismiss our parents’ advice is that we know them too well. My own attitude has always been, at least to an extent, “Why should I listen to these people who are obviously mentally ill?” It’s often easier to hear these things from people who we aren’t so entangled with, people who we can’t dismiss because we’re familiar with all their faults and foibles.
Songs of Bob Dylan, released in 2017, is exactly what it says it is: Joan’s take on the Bard of Minnesota. The next song came from that record: “High Water (For Charley Patton).” The album got a fair amount of attention; she closed the main set with “Tangled Up In Blue,” and she sang “Gotta Serve Somebody,” from Dylan’s album Slow Train Coming, influenced by his conversion to Christianity, for her encore. (I’ve heard it suggested this song is as much about a repudiation of the self-centeredness and egoism of the ’70s, the “Me Decade,” as it is about religion, and that’s a plausible interpretation.)
Watch the official music video of Joan Osborne performing “Tangled Up in Blue” by Bob Dylan on YouTube:
While the Dylan covers form a regular part of Osborne’s sets, the Grateful Dead material was something a bit different, done specifically for the occasion. Joan and her band played “Deep Ellum Blues,” “New Speedway Boogie,” and “Eyes of the World.” She recalled a conversation between Dylan and the Dead where Bob told them he wanted to play that second one.
Even with the new songs and the variety of covers, Joan managed to get in a couple of old favorites from her songbook. “Pensacola,” she explained, had been out of rotation for about 15 years before she and the band brought it back with a new arrangement. The set also included “Stella Blue.”
I like the Grateful Dead, but I’m not a huge fan. I can be prickly about jam bands. But Joan’s take on the Dead’s material, which brought out the blues roots of many of their numbers, was a lot of fun. I don’t know that I’d have been into an entire night of Dead covers, but they added variety to a great show that covered a lot of territory. Joan has a great voice, and her singing is as exceptional as it’s always been, a real treat to listen to. Even if you’re not a huge fan of the Dead, this was a great, highly entertaining show.
Here are some photos of Joan Osborne performing at The Hamilton Live on August 6, 2023. All photos copyright and courtesy of Mark Raker.