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Wetlands 10th Anniversary Month
by AJ Abrams
Jambands.com, National
Jan 31st, 1999

The highest compliment you can pay to any band or rock club is that they created the soundtrack to your life. And that is exactly what Wetlands, and the army of bands that have played there have created - the soundtrack to the lives of our generation. Having celebrated its 10th anniversary last month, a generation of rock bands and their fans can say they grew up there. Wetlands has now solidified itself in rock history and become our own version of the legendary Fillmore. Both historic venues feature diverse and eclectic bills where bands create celestial, monstrous jams that transform the performers from bar bands into rock superstars.

One major reason the Wetlands Tenth anniversary celebration was so incredible and emotional was because it reached across every generation of musicians and music fans currently alive. Rock and roll founding fathers like Bob Weir and Col. Bruce Hampton performed alongside teenagers like Hanson, Seth Feinberg and Derek Trucks who are rock stars of the future.

The most unusual and unexpected pairing of the week came when Hanson performed with Bob Weir. Deadheads around the country were stunned and in disbelief over this controversial collaboration. It turned out to be a very enjoyable event. It was Wetlands' owner Peter Shapiro's idea to put these two polar opposites together. "I really wanted to try something bizarre and fun to celebrate music. And Wetlands is a place about experiments and good times," Shapiro said. "So one day I woke up and got it in my head that Hanson and Weir would be bizarre and interesting."

Shapiro, Weir and Hanson's people all discussed different song ideas. They sent Hanson some videos from Dead shows as well as some live tapes, including 6/28/74. That show has a "Promised Land>GDTRFB", which was one of the song pairings they wanted to play with Hanson. "Promised Land" was eventually dropped from the set.

Shapiro was restless for a few days before the show. "It was nerve-racking. I mean, what would the reaction be from the crowd? And from the Deadheads around the country? Clearly Hanson is the epitome of American pop music and the Dead are counterculture in America. But one of reasons I knew it would work was that I knew it would all come down to the music. One of the things that kept me going throughout the planning stages is I really believed that Jerry would have loved it. And it was a hoot. Music is fun and Jerry just wanted to be a musician. And the pairing of Hanson with Weir and Wasserman was just about music."

Having Bob Weir come to Wetlands was like the pope coming to bless your local church. These shows were his first east coast club appearances in 25 years. Wetlands is the epicenter of Deadhead/Jamband culture on the East Coast and Weir's visit was obviously a dream come true for Wetlands employees and fans. "We've had lots of family around over the years: Robert Hunter, Vince Welnick, Donna, Mickey Hart and Ken Kesey have all been to the club," Shapiro said. "But it has always been a dream to have the heart of the band. It was great to bring Bobby in here and Larry got to come down from Vermont and DJ for Bob Weir."

Wetland's original owner Larry Bloch said he founded the club with the Grateful Dead in mind. "I always felt that part of the vision of the club was that the Dead could come and play on stage and feel comfortable with the place," Bloch said. "So, there was some synchronicity involved when Bob Weir actually played."

Chris Zahn, manager of booking for the club, added: "Not to slight Grateful Dead cover bands, but after having so many Dead cover bands here, it was really special to actually get the real thing. The Weir shows carried different emotional levels for each person who worked here and each fan and words can't describe how great it felt." And what did Zahn think about the Weir/Hanson show? "Looking back, it feels natural now. But when they first got on stage with Bobby for rehearsal it was surreal. It was science fiction, it was bizarre. It's great that Bobby displayed a sense of humor and later we realized Hanson could actually play quite good. They are only 13-17 years old, if they keep it up you can just imagine how good they are going to be in ten years."

Countless jam bands were born out of the Wetlands scene. But Wetlands is a complete music club. "The New York Times called us a temple for Deadheads and another paper called us the temple for hip hop in the same week," Shapiro said. Every genre of music is represented in Wetlands history. No musical stone is left unturned.

Wetlands diversity extends to environmental causes as well. When I spoke with Bloch he seemed more excited to talk about Wetlands fiercely independent, anti-corporate support for environmental issues than he was about the musical history of the club. He took out a full-page ad in the Village Voice to celebrate the anniversary of the club. In his ad Larry said:

"Wetlands Preserve, where all individuals and tribes could share safe space, self expression and ritual. A roomful of love. Brought to you by nobody. Ego-Reduced. Independently produced. In this age of the corporation, independence is difficult to achieve and maintain. If you are successful, the temptations of sponsorship and selling out will follow. Alas, the trend is for more and more corporate music halls, corporate record companies, corporate radio stations and even corporately controlled bands. The mainstream media with their own immense corporate ties, readily join in. One night we're grooving to a great song, the next night that song is selling us junk on a TV commercial. Wetlands is proud to be both a grassroots environmental/social justice center and a nightclub. Our organization is funded as an overhead cost so that its work remains uninhibited by the need to raise money. Its operation is guaranteed as long as there is a nightclub. This efficient model frees our staff to focus on the tasks at hand."

The anniversary celebration kicked off on Feb. 5th with Deep Banana Blackout funkin' around. This band has become one of the premier party bands in the jamband scene. They just keep pounding pure funk into your butt for hours and hours.

Their energy level is always at warpspeed and their funk oozes into your veins and puts you in a hardcore party mood. The funk hit me harder and harder with each beer I drank. The clock hit 4:30 AM, I still had a Sierra Nevada in my hand, the band was still jammin' and I thought George Clinton was up on stage. But, DBB's lead vocalist/cheerleader Jen Durkin shouted out "DEEP BANANA BLACKOUT Y'ALL!!" and I was reminded of who was actually playing. But Wetlands was still packed and partying hard, proof that DBB is one of the few bands today that can keep the crowd rowdy till the last call.

Melvin Sparks, an under appreciated living legend, opened the DBB show. His career began in the Upsetters band backing Sam Cooke, Little Richard, Wilson Pickett, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes and Little Stevie Wonder. He is a permanently cheerful musician and his charm rubes off on you before he even plays a single note. His playing style is joyous jazz funk with some soul thrown in. His solos are breathtakingly fun runs up and down his guitar playing perfect note after perfect note. His band consisted of a funky rhythm section of bass and drums. Their magic moment occurred when they played "I Want to Thank You for Being a Friend>Rappers Delight>My Girl" to end the set. Melvin put his own signature to "My Girl" and he played it as an instrumental rocker. His guitar sang the lyrics and the song had a long, wonderful jam as it ended. Later in the week during the Powerjam Melvin did a similar instrumental version of "On Broadway" which was amazing. Melvin's set was much more musically complex than DBB's set was. It's a shame that this legend has to open for bands that are half his age.

Two nights later, moe., a band with similar party endurance traits, played a sweet homecoming show. In 1995, after one of the finest Phish shows of all time, I hopped on the subway to Wetlands and then heard one of the best moe. shows ever. moe. played their own three set marathon that ended at 7:30 AM with oatmeal and bagels being served for breakfast. People were sleeping on the benches and floors as moe. jammed away into the next day. moe. has played Wetlands dozens of times and have graduated on to bigger venues. Fans are always worried that each moe. show at Wetlands might be the final show. But, luckily for us moe. always checks into the club periodically. They especially went out of their way to celebrate Wetlands anniversary, as their tour dates were down south. But they went hours out of their way to come up north and be part of the celebration.

Perhaps moe. was a bit tired from their trip back to NYC from their previous gig, as the first set was fairly mellow. Al mentioned that "Queen of the Rodeo" was about an incident at Wetlands. They seemed to pick up some steam during "Time Ed". But the he band really came to life and ended the set with a huge, powerful version of "Meat". This is one of the few moe. songs that can become epic when the band wants it to. And they jammed it out in all its anti-hamburger glory. "Meat"'s familiar hard biting notes ended the set with an exclamation point .

Longtime Wetlands employee Jake Szufnarowski made a enthusiastic Martin Luther King style "I Have a Dream Speech" reflecting Wetlands and Larry Bloch's dream of building an independent grass roots nightclub/business/ecocenter free of corporate greed and influence. Bloch takes these principles very seriously and when the club was for sale he insisted that any buyer continue to uphold the philosophy.

After his speech, Jake presented moe. with a large trophy for playing so many entertaining shows at Wetlands over the years. "They wrote a rock opera about Wetlands, they went a long distance out of their way to play here tonight and they've played here seven out of the ten years this club has been open. That's 70% of the time Wetlands has been alive." After this long and rousing introduction moe. accepted the large trophy which looked very similar to the Heisman Trophy.

The second set opened with Rob Derhak wearing a Three Stooges mask with Moe, Larry and Curly's faces right alongside Rob's head as they played "Stranger Than Fiction". But the next song, a mammoth "Moth", turned out to be the highlight of the night. Gibb Droll joined the band and the jam went full throttle as there were now three guitars on stage. Gibb Droll is a phenomenal, energetic guitarist with a great stage persona. His energy helped turn this standard rock song into a driving, titanic twenty some odd minute minute jam. It was probably the best version of "Moth" I have ever heard.

The moe. show was fantastic and led the way into the actual week of the anniversary. The most star studded week in the history of Wetlands began Feb. 8, 9, and 10th with three nights of Frogwings. This supergroup consisted of John Popper, Butch and Derek Trucks, Oteil and Kofi Burbridge, Jimmy Herring and Marc Quinones. This allstar group lived up to everyone's expectations. They were a pure jamming machine. This band took full advantage of every opportunity they had to jam. The songs had lyrics, but the lyrics were clearly secondary as the music came first. I was pleasantly surprised with the diversity of musical styles the band showcased in their set. They opened the first set with a soaring, complex, jazzy instrumental. John Popper was not onstage for this wonderful composition titled "Kickin' J.S. Bach". It sounded similar to the Allman Brother's Band tune "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed". John Popper finally came out and sang a song he wrote as an anniversary gift to the club, called "Down at the Wetlands". Frogwings recorded the superb shows for a future album. I hope the Wetlands song makes it onto the record as a permanent honor to the club.

The Wetlands song was a great blues style rocker and they even did a calypso type Caribbean tune called "Hurdy Gurdy". The fun continued when they played "Ganja", which inspired the crowd to spark up en masse and someone even passed a joint onstage to Oteil. The Allman Brothers Band's great southern rock boogie tune "Hot 'Lanta" brought down the house. Warren Haynes joined Frogwings for this rousing encore on Feb. 9th. It was a perfect way to end the show as half the ABB was on stage and rockin' the night to a close.

Derek Trucks really came into his own as a member of Frogwings and as the leader of his own band. Derek blew everybody away as he played three straight sets of music with two different bands. The teenager is an extremely gifted guitarist and is sure to become a Wetlands regular in the years to come. His appearance with the veteran musicians twice his age was the first cross-generational moment of the week. But Derek looked like he belonged with the big boys and he was the most professional and accomplished musician of all the teenagers that played throughout the week.

While all the shows had been excellent up to this point, Bob Weir was in the back of everyone's mind the entire time. It was just too hard to believe the Bobby shows were really going to happen. Finally, as the crowd watched Bobby take the stage on Feb. 11th, we knew fantasy had become reality. Bobby's band for these shows consisted of Rob Wasserman on drums and Jay Lane on bass. Bobby opened his three-night run just as he had opened so many shows over the years - with "Jackstraw". Even though Bob was on acoustic guitar, he began the song with a short and sweet jam before he broke into the familiar line: "We can share the women, we can share the wine." Only this time instead of singing to an arena or stadium full of people like he did for 30 years, he sang it to an intimate bar full of ecstatic fans. We could finally believe it, Bob Weir was really at our bar, on our stage, playing his classic songs just for us. Who in their wildest dreams would have ever believed it?

The beautiful version of "El Paso" in the middle of the first set assured the crowd we were hearing the real thing. Bobby serenaded New York City with this pretty cowboy song and his vocals sounded perfect. "El Paso" was followed by "Desolation Row", one of many Bob Dylan songs Weir played throughout the run. And, as he has so many times with Dylan songs, he had trouble remembering the lyrics to "Desolation Row". No problem, though because the folks in the front rows told him what the words were. It was a humorous moment, as Bob needed the crowd's help to sing the song. The next song was a rousing "Loose Lucy" to end the first set. After opening the second set with "KC Moan" and "Friend of the Devil", Bobby brought Warren Haynes out to play the blues. Haynes is one of the best slide guitar players and his slide playing supplied the raw blues feeling that "Wang Dang Doodle" and "Little Red Rooster" needed. Haynes then left the stage and Bobby played a couple of songs from his solo records, including the wonderful "Easy to Slip". After Rob Wasserman's bass solo and Jay Lane's drum solo, "The Other One" stormed out of the drums just like it used to at so many Dead shows over the years. Haynes returned to the stage to add an extra spark to the grand finale of "Other One" and "Cassidy". Weir conducted the jams during this segment and throughout every night of the run. He pointed to different band members to guide them through the music and time changes. It was fun to watch him motion and yell at the other musicians right as the music would burst into a peak moment.

There is a famous Deadhead saying that "Bobby will spit on you" if you sit in the first few rows at a Dead show. In reality, Bob's spit rarely traveled the 5-8 feet from the stage into the front rows. Of course it was all a joke, but at Wetlands that joke became a reality. Bobby really could spit on you! Standing directly in front of Bobby was a dangerous and disgusting place to be. He didn't spit on purpose. But as he sang giant gobs of saliva occasionally flew out of his mouth. And huge beads of sweat rolled off his head, arms and fingers throughout his performance. I didn't actually see anyone get hit with any of Weir's Wetness, but I thought it was quite funny that it could happen.

I have had front row seats for many concerts over the years. But even in the front row of an arena or theatre there is a barrier that keeps you several feet from the stage. But at Wetlands, I sat on the stage between Bobby's sets. I was literally at his feet and just inches from him as he sang classic Grateful Dead songs. I hate to sound like a cheesy fan boy groupie, but I got goosebumps when he looked me right in the eye as he sang "A bus came buy, I got on, that's where it all began" and other famous lyrics. It helped make these shows my most personal concert experience ever as Bobby looked directly at me for several songs over the run. It was unforgetable to watch this living legend make rock history come alive right in front of me. Bobby was nice enough to make constant eye contact with everyone standing in front of the stage. He would look at one person and sing a verse to them, then sing the next verse to somebody else and on and on until he sang at least a few lines of one song to almost everyone in the front. Each person thought Bobby was singing just for them. He sure knew how to work the room even though he doesn't play rock clubs anymore.

The first set on February 12th was a fairly mellow set but the second set was as close to a real Grateful Dead set as Bobby would get at Wetlands. The highlights of the first set included "Blackbird", "All Over Now", "Maggie's Farm" and "Masterpiece". Michael Falzarano of Hot Tuna sat in on electric mandolin but didn't really seem to add much to the songs. The second set opened with a new song, which was the best song Bobby has written in years. Many Deadheads think Bobby's late 80s and 90s songs are sappy, corny and cheesy. But you can't use those adjectives to describe this new one. The rest of this set was pure Grateful Dead: "Looks Like Rain", "West L.A. Fadeaway", "Easy Answers", "Birdsong" and "Throwing Stones" to end it. The encore was one of Bobby's best all out rockers, "Sugar Magnolia>Sunshine Daydream", which featured Bobby's trademark high-pitched screams. This was a tight, energetic set and also featured more jamming than any of the other shows. Perhaps that was because Warren Haynes sat in on electric guitar for almost every song. "Birdsong" in particular had a really sweet, extended jam.

When the third night rolled around I was so used to seeing Bobby that it seemed like a natural occurrence to have him here at Wetlands. The novelty and excitement had worn off and all of a sudden it was no different than seeing the Ominous Seapods or any other jam band. But the music itself was still incredible and more powerful than your typical jam band fare. He opened the first set with a beautiful version of "It's All Over Now Baby Blue" and later played the wacky tune "Artificial Flowers". At the end of that song I yelled out a request for "Black Throated Wind" and Bobby granted my wish. A great "Victim or the Crime" was next and then my friend decided to try his luck at a request. He yelled out for "Memphis Blues". To our shock Weir said, "Well let me see if I can remember the words" and launched into it. We were both ecstatic as we couldn't believe both our requests were played. We didn't want to push our luck any longer, so we were quiet the rest of the night while the crowd tried unsuccessfully to get their favorite songs played. Surprisingly he did remember all the words to "Memphis Blues" but the next song gave him some trouble. "Ripple", one of the Dead's most moving songs, ended the first set. Bobby sang the first verse with lots of emotion. But then, he forgot almost all the lyrics to the rest of the song. It was almost a disaster, but the crowd turned it into a bittersweet group sing along. It was a touching moment as the Big Apple sang "Ripple" to Bobby.

He opened the second set with another great new song. This new one was also much better than anything else he has written recently. Next came another "Easy to Slip", but this version was more intense than the one he played on the first night. On the first night it was pretty, on the third night it was a rocker. It had a lengthy jam that segued into a "Supplication" jam and then went back into "Easy to Slip". It was one of the finest musical moments of the run and certainly the best segue. He also repeated "The Other One", but this time it went into the drums instead of coming out of them.

And then, out of the drums, came the shock heard round the Deadhead world. The Hanson brothers (Isaac on guitar, Zac on drums and Taylor on keyboards) walked out of the dressing room to play the rest of the show with Bobby. And, believe it or not the crowd loved every minute of it. Shouts of "HANSON!!!" and "MMMBop!!!" filled the air. I was shocked the crowd was diggin' it, but the music was good. Because Bobby had brought some teenagers onstage, he had to limit the songs to the basic rock tunes: "Wang Dang Doodle", "All Along the Watchtower", "GDTRFB" and "Gloria". The Hanson boys looked nervous at first and their playing was subdued and timid. But as time wore on they became more relaxed and played more out front in the mix.

Bobby looked fatherly on stage and seemed to genuinely enjoy guiding them through the jams. He constantly walked over to each Hanson brother and showed them the ropes. However, the little drummer didn't need any advice. He looked completely professional and had an extremely serious look on his face as he pounded his drums with precision. Not only was he the youngest Hanson, but he was also the most talented. Each brother took a few short, simple solos when Bobby told them to. They also came back out for the encore, which was the only encore choice for a Saturday night. Predictably, it was "One More Saturday night" of course. The ending of this memorable three-night run was a bit anti-climactic. The songs with Hanson were highly entertaining, but too basic. Bobby couldn't really stretch out because he had to play down to their level. But it was sweet to see Bobby hand the torch to the next generation of rock stars.

After three unforgettable intimate nights with Bobby it was hard to get excited to go see another show. But I had Wetlands anniversary to celebrate because February 14th was the actual day of the tenth anniversary. It was also Valentines Day, so there were very few women at the club that night. I imagine they were either all with their boyfriends or too embarrassed to go out in public without a date. The night began with a reunion party for former Wetlands employees and ended with a star studded Powerjam. Al Kooper, Bob Dylan's organist in the late 60s and early 70s, and his band the Rekooperators opened the Powerjam with some soulful blues based organ music. Kooper's classic thick organ sound laid down thick grooves and powered their jams with soulful solos. All the musicians at the Powerjam decided to honor Wetlands with cover tunes spanning the history of history of rock. The Rekooperators played "Tryin' to Live My Life Without You" and "You Can't Always Get What You Want" as well as some other classics.

The next group of musicians to take the stage featured Bernie Worrell on keyboards and Melvin Sparks on guitar. They did a smokin' blues/funk instrumental that I have heard Melvin play before but don't know the name of. After churning through this intense tune they brought Kathryn Russel out to belt out a few tunes. This woman has one of the finest sets of pipes around has sang with Madonna, Steely Dan and Paul Simon. She sang "I'll Take You There" and "Next Time You See Me". The sweet soulful sounds of her voice were broken with the electric thunder of the next group of musicians - Vernon Reid, Joe Gallant (bass), Dean Bowman (vocals) and Bernie Worrell. These guys powered their way through a thick, muscular version of "White Room" and followed it up with the Jimi Hendrix tune "Red House". Unfortunately this heavy, powerful combination only played two songs. Their distortion drenched rock and roll contained the most intense jams of the night.

Bernie Worrell stayed on stage and was joined by Warren Haynes and Rob Wasserman. They did a slow, bluesy version of "Born Under A Bad Sign". But a wonderful moment occurred when they were joined by Col. Bruce Hampton and Seth Feinberg, a 13-year-old blues guitar prodigy, for the third cross-generation jam of the week. Phish, John Popper and others have always looked up to Col. Bruce as an elder statesmen of the jam band scene. By now he must be in his mid 60s and Seth stood right between him and Warren Haynes as they played "Spoonful". This little kid held his own and was trading licks with the veteran guitar masters. Seth is such a great guitarist that when I listened to the tape of this show, I could not tell the difference between him and the other guitarists. They all sounded equally talented on tape. You can't help but be impressed with Seth when you see him wail on a guitar that is bigger than he is. He is a lot younger than the Hanson guitarist, but looked much more comfortable on the stage than the Hanson kid. I found this odd considering Hanson are an international media sensation used to playing in front of much bigger crowds than the Wetlands. Perhaps Seth looked more relaxed and professional because he is used to playing improvisational blues rock while the Hanson guitarist rarely improvises and jams like he was forced to do at Wetlands with Bobby.

The best parts of the evening were now over and Jono Manson and Craig Dreyer led a band through a lackluster set of songs I am unfamiliar with. When their set was completed a bunch of current and former Wetlands employees got up on stage to do their thing. It was around 4AM by now, and everyone was exhausted so the crowd began to leave. The tapers and soundman wanted to call it a night and yelled for the the set to end. But Peter Shapiro, wanted to give his employees and friends a few more minutes in the spotlight. So Shapiro showed his goodwill and kept the bar open for them to sing a few more tunes. It was another example of how nice, caring and loyal Wetlands has been over the years to every single band, customer and employee who has ever stepped through the door.

Peter Shapiro, Chris Zahn, Larry Bloch and the entire Wetlands crew presented New York City with an the most incredible, star studded week of music the club has ever had. "I feel good that we were really able to achieve something, and that no matter what happens from here on out that week of music will always be there. I was really able to do something," Shapiro said. "Things are very exciting and I look forward to putting energy into Wetlands for many years, to have a place for musicians to develop and for people to have a good time. We just want to put good music together and be eclectic. We may not have the best sightlines but the vibe of the room and the energy is something you feel. And it's only gonna continue after what we've done over the years. The club creates an environment that builds upon itself."