Furthur guitarist John Kadlecik talks Deadheads, psychic spaceships, and rocking in the shadow of Jerry Garcia
In the film Rock Star, Mark Wahlberg sings in a tribute band—through happenstance, he eventually takes over the position of lead singer in the genuine band. Although the story is based on heavy metal mavens Judas Priest, it is also the tale of John Kadlecik. After years in Grateful Dead tribute band Dark Star Orchestra, Kadlecik got the tap on the shoulder to replace the empty Jerry Garcia spot in the newly incarnated Dead band, Furthur, featuring original members Bob Weir and Phil Lesh.
Although his first performances with Furthur at the Fox Theatre in Oakland two years ago were a wild success—there was some doubt as to whether or not Kadlecik could attain musical nirvana with his bandmates. From his home outside Washington, D.C., where he’s been gearing up for Furthur’s fall tour, which stops by the Monterey Fairgrounds Oct. 7-8, Kadlecik explains what happened: “I like the metaphor of a band as a psychic spaceship. The lead guitarist is really in the captain’s chair, but in this situation, the senior officers on the bridge have been captains of their own ships and are experienced. It’s like the first time a pilot lands a plane—the instructor is right there with him on the second stick. The more safe landings we’ve had with interesting acrobatics, the more they trust me.”
He may have won over his band mates, but Kadlecik is reluctant to harbor any scorn or praise shown by fans. “There are always people who are critical, and plenty of musicians out there who think they know what should or shouldn’t be—and they are certainly entitled to their opinions,” he says. “I can’t let that stuff go too deep into me. I don’t let the compliments go too deep either. I critique myself and I’m a pretty harsh critic of myself.”
It’s hard not to make comparisons between he and Jerry, though. Perhaps it’s Kadlecik’s infectious chuckle and wicked sense of humor—or maybe, it’s the fact that when he takes the stage, his guitar connects to something deep, resonant and hauntingly familiar.
His devotion to the band is nothing new. As a Deadhead youth, Kadlecik would panhandle in parking lots just to pay for gas to attend the band’s next show. “I did a little of everything—I did vending on one whole complete tour,” he says. “Veggie burritos, grilled cheese, and I made my own silk-screened T-shirts.” Reminiscing about his days as a tie-dyed fan, Kadlecik continues, “I was a dancer and a consciousness explorer—a fan of the alkaloids—but by the time I went to my first show I was also an aspiring musician in a band, so I had commitments to my band that I always put before my entertainment.”
Unlike Wahlberg’s character, success has not gone to the head of the Midwest native, who appears to have been in the right place at just the right time. Kadlecik expresses a common sense attitude toward his newfound position: “Every band is subject to the whims of its members. People change, whatever. I have a pragmatic attitude. I don’t color it—I just celebrate the way it is now.”
With a museum dedicated to the Grateful Dead at UCSC, and volumes of literary journals dedicated to the band, there’s little debate about the importance of the Dead as a seminal American musical aggregate—but Kadlecik insists that Furthur isn’t stuck in the past. “I think it’s important to see Furthur as a band for Bob and Phil to present new material—to celebrate their friendship, [rather] than the latest Grateful Dead nostalgia trip.” And with sold out performances across the nation—the group is gaining new fans, while making the old diehards happy. “The band was always clearly committed to going for it—for the now experience.”
Furthur plays at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7 and Saturday, Oct. 8, at the Monterey Fairgrounds, 2004 Fairgrounds Road, Monterey. Tickets are $45. For tickets and details, visit furthur.net.