Little Miami Brewing Company, located in the Cincinnati suburb of Milford on the banks of the Little Miami River, is a venue I've been playing regularly for more than a year. It has a tasty, well rounded selection of beers to satisfy whatever your beer preferences are, and they also whip up delicious wood fired pizzas.
A few months ago we were scheduling new dates, and Halloween was offered. At first I was a bit hesitant, with Halloween falling on a Thursday, and also knowing that a good portion of the brewery's clientele were young families, etc... so I thought it might be a tough night to draw a crowd due to trick-or-treating, etc.
Little Miami Brewing Company - Milford, OH
Beer is on tap and to go via growlers and crowlers at the taproom.
Played: 9/1/18; 11/15/18; 2/22/19, 10/31/19
Another thought I had, though, was that Halloween also offers a great opportunity to do something different... and some musician friends and I had been long talking about putting a hootenanny together... so I proposed to the brewery that we tie together the Halloween and Grateful Dead themes (a natural fit due to the skeletons, etc.) and I'd pull together a band of musician friends and we'd to a night of strictly Grateful Dead music. The idea was that the band would be artists who normally concentrate on their own original music but also love the Dead, so for us it would be a one-night-only chance to learn and perform the music to a big crowd, and for the audience it would be a chance to see Dead music performed not by a typical Dead-tribute band of musicians, but rather artists who were rather out of their element doing this type of show. And my other idea was that I wanted to use primarily acoustic instrumentation, but tackle some of the Dead's more epic pieces... so the audience would also see some big Dead pieces that they wouldn't normally hear done on acoustic instruments. This was partly for the challenge of it, and partly because I wanted it ultimately to not sound like a typical Dead tribute band using all the same effects Jerry did, etc.
The core band consisted of myself on guitar and vocals, a few members of Cincinnati/Athens based band Freak Mythology (my son Brad on guitars and vocals, Ryan Shephard on lead guitar, and Travis Hanna on drums), Trevor Tisdale from Pittsburgh on guitar and backing vocals, my long time collaborator Mark Daly (who played on both of my Voodoo Loons albums, and has played with countless legends like Levon Helm, Bela Fleck, etc.) on mandolin, and a few other friends on guitars, percussion, and banjo on a few tunes each, but who ultimately had to bail out due to schedule conflicts. Mark was in Chicago, Ryan in Athens, and Trevor in Pittsburgh, so everyone got a copy of the potential setlist a few weeks in advance. Brad and I had a 45 minute conversation with Travis, who was the least familiar with Dead music, about some cues and tempo variations, and the day of the show I went over a few songs with Ryan and Trevor... and that was all the preparation we had. No practices, no rehearsals.
By the way, Freak Mythology is nominated for Best Rock Band for the 2nd year in a row in the CES awards, and had played the legendary massive annual Halloween Ohio University street party in Athens the prior weekend, which they filmed for a forthcoming video release. You can see a sneak preview of one of their tracks here.
Ryan and Trevor arrived in Cincinnati the morning of the show, and Mark was supposed to fly in from Chicago, arriving just a few hours before the gig. The night before Mark texted me that his flight had been cancelled, and he probably wouldn't arrive until around 8pm (the show started at 7). I panicked a bit, redid the setlist to put the more “rootsy” material for mandolin in the 2nd half of the show, and hoped for the best. It snowed in Chicago, and at 6:30pm Mark texted me that they had been delayed for de-icing and were finally taking off. When you look at the setlist below, Mark walked into the venue (thanks to his wife Gigi's speed demon driving) just as we were finishing Going Down the Road Feeling Bad, and was plugged in and playing by the next song, Friend of the Devil!
Even though I knew all the players were pros, I was confident that we'd do well, but at the same time I was a bit nervous due to the lack of rehearsal, and the fact that some of the material we chose was pretty ambitious and had a lot of changes to nail. If we nailed them the show would be great, as people wouldn't be expecting some of the tunes we chose... if we missed them things could seem a bit sloppy and uneven. We were offered the opportunity to stream the show live, and I decided against it as I thought we would also be filming. In retrospect I regret that decision, as 90% of the show was nailed, and whatever flubs encountered were pretty minor... plus a last minute issue prevented us from filming. Luckily there is audience-shot footage floating around that I'm trying to compile (if you took any video or photos, please send to me ASAP!), and we do have a complete audio recording.
Online buzz about the gig was pretty heavy, and in the weeks leading up to the show both Brad and I had been approached by strangers at other shows about how they had heard about what we were doing, and planning to attend. Heading into the stretch we felt pretty confident that we'd have a good crowd.
We got stuck in rainy traffic heading to the brewery, and didn't arrive to set up until a bit after 6pm... less than an hour from showtime. We scrambled to setup and do a quick soundcheck, and there were less than a dozen people when we arrived. Half of me envisioned putting all this together to end up playing to a handful of people... and the other half felt that with it being a weekday, rainy, and Halloween that our crowd would just be a little late, after all, the online response had been pretty heavy. Sure enough, when I played the first song (solo), the place was filling up, and when I opened my eyes at the end of the song (I often sing with them closed so I don't get distracted and forget lyrics) it was packed. At the end of the night people who arrived right at the start said they couldn't find a seat all night (which was fine, as they were dancing). Not only did we get a big crowd, but it was a Deadicated one, singing along, getting jazzed and loud when the band was playing particularly hot, or nailing something they especially wanted to hear. We couldn't have asked for a better crowd. Also, when we arrived at the brewery we were impressed to see that they had special t-shirts printed up for the event, and I'm told they sold well. They had the Halloween Night of the Living Dead tag on the front with a Steal Your Face emblem with the brewery's logo incorporated into the circle, and on the back it read Dennis O'Hagan & Company, a lightning bolt, and Oct 31, 2019. Contact the brewery if you want one!
With the exception of a 5 minute break to get Mark set up, we played straight through our 3 hour set without stopping, and at the end they wanted more, the brewery said they'd stay open past close, so we played an additional half hour... so 3 ½ hours of non-stop Dead, which left us exhilarated but drained. We had envisioned a rowdy afterhours party at a joint down the street, but by the time we were done, socialized with the audience, packed up, and got to the bar we were all pretty wiped, so we had a few drinks at the bar and headed home to bed. Suffice it to say most of us didn't feel so hot the next morning, though.
Musically we all had a great time. We pretty much nailed all changes we had worried about, and the few flubs we had were minor flubs that just happen. To put it in Dead terms, we probably missed fewer queues and forgot less lyrics than Weir does on an average night ;-)
Moments that especially stand out in my mind were Brown Eyed Women, the Truckin > Other One > He's Gone segment (click for video), nailing Terrapin Station (first time I'd ever attempted to play it), then flowing right into a really fun Drums segment where we had most of the venue drumming on their tables and clanking their pint glasses along with us... Not Fade Away>Going Down the Road Feeling Bad, the Ripple that Mark and I played alone that had the crowd singing along, a ridiculously smoking Eyes of the World where I got to get all jazzy while Ryan to my left and Mark to my right just blew the roof off trading solos, and a Fire On the Mountain that we hadn't even planned to play but did by request, that contained just some really hot playing. Also really enjoyed watching Brad and Mark play beautiful versions of Friend of the Devil and Deep Elem Blues. Really, the more I think about it the more moments I think of... so it would probably be easier to say that the whole show was a lot of fun minus two or three frustrating moments, but in a 3.5 hour set that's pretty damn good!
We've since had two offers to do it again, and we're all very busy with our own things, but ya never know... it was a lot of fun! I've learned to never say never.
Due to being rather tied up with the show, I didn't get a chance to really explore the beer menu for new selections, so I stuck to past favorites: My Dad's Truck (7%), which is a deliciously hoppy NE/Hazy IPA, and Peace Frog (6.3%) which is a really refreshing and unique citrus IPA “brewed like a Belgian wit with orange peel in the kettle, and lemon and lime in the fermentor.” I highly recommend either, along with a host of others... but I'll get deeper into the reviews of the newer beers after my next visit around Thanksgiving. Here's the setlist:
Not Fade Away > Going Down the Road Feeling Bad, Friend of the Devil, Deep Elem Blues, Me & My Uncle (Dennis + Mark) Ripple (Dennis + Mark) Jack Straw (Dennis + Mark) Uncle John's Band (Dennis + Mark) Dark Hollow (Dennis + Mark) Eyes of the World, Deal, Birdsong, Fire On the Mountain, Franklin's Tower > Good Lovin', Iko Iko > Man Smart, Woman Smarter
Photos courtesy of Kailey Kappel, Jay and Debbie Shephard, Dave Hanna, Gigi Daly, and Little Miami Brewing Co. The pic with SYF logo is the t-shirt design, on back is the band name, lightning bolt, and date... contact the brewery if you want one!