The Grateful Dead kicked off their Fare Thee Well tour this weekend at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. They brought back a lot of their most classic jams, but they also took the opportunity to debut an hour’s worth of brand new material, composed by Neal Casal.
The new song material began as a joke when Justin Kreutzmann, the filmmaker who directed the visual projections for the show’s set break, asked Casal to produce five hours of original music for the intermission. Casal recruited a group of musicians who he then named the Franklins of the World. The music will vary from performance to performance, as in keeping with the Grateful Dead’s style, but the new jams are definitely all interesting.
The idea behind the intermission music is to express the general essence of the Grateful Dead, but not to copy any of the actual songs directly. “So we would do something in the the realm of ‘The Wheel,’ but isn’t ‘The Wheel’,” Casal said. “Or we’d go for the general vibe of ‘Playing in the Band.’ We had some guidelines to work from, but we just went from there.”
The new material was recorded over the course of two days at Castaway Seven Studios in Ventura, CA and was a collaboration of such rock legends as Adam MacDougall, Dan Horne, and drummer Mark Levy. Considering the short amount of time, some of the music is improvisational but everybody involved is very happy with it. “We’d start out in the style of a Dead song but eventually stray from the script and end up in these spaces where none of us had been before,” Casal explained. “It became quite an adventure, which didn’t end up sounding like the Grateful Dead, but was in the spirit of the band.”
Some of the songs are over 20 minutes long, and they are never repetitive. This five hours of new material is not currently available for purchase or download, but it might be in the future. The Grateful Deads are also celebrating their 50th anniversary of being together as a band. Casal has never been a member of the band, but is a good friend who has worked with them a lot in the past.