On Saturday night, Headcount, the progressive grassroots organization that works to register music fans to vote (among other things) will present a free live webcast called The Bridge Session. The event will feature Grateful Dead co-founder Bob Weir along with a band assembled by Scott and Bryan Devendorf of The National, and will be webscast live for free at 9 p.m. EST from Bob Weir's studio in California.
A setlist comprised of both Grateful Dead and National tunes will be performed, as well as cover songs with a political slant, according to Hidden Track, which adds that Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow will lead a roundtable discussion at setbreak that will “focus on issues that potentially unify people of divergent ideological perspectives - specifically, getting money out of politics and protecting the First Amendment." We recently spoke with Devendorf about the show, which you can enjoy for free through this website Saturday night, in the comfort of your own home or office (Brooklyn's Littlefield will also be screening it live).
How did this come about? Also, what is it? Well I was kind of in the dark for awhile too about what the scope of the event was until we saw the press materials prepared by the organization that’s organizing it, which is Headcount. Are you familiar with them?
Yes. There were some e-mails floating around several months ago, like, “Hey guys, would you be up for doing a session with Bob Weir”. As it turns out, we (me and my brother) are huge fans. [Pauses] I think it’s more about raising awareness for the organization, to get people registered to vote.
Is one of the reasons it was called The Bridge Session was you know, bridging the gap between this divide between the hipster/indie music fans and the great dirty, unwashed hippies jam-band fans? Um, yeah I guess that’s one, yeah. I guess the Bridge metaphor is very, um, broadly [laughs] applicable. I guess that’s one potential meaning!
It wasn’t called the Bridge Session at the time [it was proposed to me]. It was an idea to do a simulcast event at the Bob Weir Studio to benefit and to raise awareness to help people in their endeavors to register people to vote. We did an event for them in 2008 in Cincinnati, and it was a really good experience. When does this opportunity to fly to California to play with a member of a band we’ve listened to a good deal of our lives happen again? As far as the, you know, socio-political-cultural divides and people being brought together by this, I don't know. Number one we get to play with Bob Weir. Number two... I guess?
Had you met him before? No, never.
But you’ve been to Grateful Dead concerts? I went to a few, this was in like ’94-’95 which was one of their last tours of those years. I’ve always listened to the stuff from the eighties, the seventies, and the sixties on tape, or CD or whatever. I've seen Ratdog. That’s one of Bob Weir’s other projects. Saw them play up in Connecticut like two years ago or so. I’ve seen Furthur a couple of times.
He's a legend. But does he wear shorts too often? Um, I don’t know. I guess if you live in California you wear shorts around.
Do you plan on wearing shorts to fit in?I can’t wear shorts. My legs are long and thin.
Bob Weir does have very nice legs actually. Yeah, I guess. I mean there’s a Three Rivers Stadium (show) and the entire band has shorts on.
Is everybody in The National into the Grateful Dead, or is it just you and your brother? Yeah, me and my brother. The twins, I know, have a long standing appreciation for the band, a love for the band as well. Matt, he may be the sort of non…he’s not anti-Dead, he just sort of doesn’t listen to the Grateful Dead like we do.
Why do you think The Grateful Dead is so polarizing? I live in Williamsburg and until a few years ago if you said you liked the Grateful Dead or you said you like Phish people would roll their eyes and assume you have terrible taste in music and that those are the only bands you listen to and you're huffing nitrous oxide. I feel like that’s a bit of a stretch [laughs]. I know what you’re saying, but as far as nitrous and all that goes I don’t know. I guess you can turn the table and say the same thing about people who go to all kinds of concerts.
Exactly. I’m embellishing for the sake of argument, but you know what I mean. But maybe now it seems like the pendulum in music-as-fashion is swinging towards a more inclusive view, and that if you like the Grateful Dead or Phish it doesn’t mean you’re not "cool." Right. Yeah, I mean, I don’t know. Are those bands getting acceptance amongst younger fans?
It seems like it. For instance, there’s this coffee shop on Bedford Avenue. I go in there and sometimes you’ll hear the Grateful Dead or even Phish playing Right. So you’re sensing a shift..
Or an openness. A realignment. [Laughs] I hear what you mean. There is a general, overall openness to all things . Everyone, I think, recognizes that we’re all in this together and tolerance... I think to pigeonhole a person for any sort of taste issue is weird. [Pauses] But yeah, I hear you. Maybe there's a different demographic age/group coming up that can find something sort of new that’s sort of nostalgia for American things. The Grateful Dead is sort of like the quintessential American Rock band, with the whole Cowboy thing. The whole attitude…they’re very DIY! As a collective group, they invented all this stuff that’s used today in live musical presentation, be it monitors or PA’s all that kind of stuff. They have an integral role in that. If you don’t like the music that’s fine. But I think they’re undeniably important in a music-history sense, for a lack of a better term.
Agreed. I wanted to ask you about Trey [Anastasio, Phish frontman]. Some members of The National played with him on his new album?
Peter Katis, who has engineered a lot of our records, has mixed with us, he was recording Trey’s newest record up in his studio in Connecticut. I went up to play a drum track here and there on a couple of songs, and then Thomas Bartlett came in and played on some stuff. I’m not sure who else. But then Trey came to play with us at a few shows at the Beacon Theatre in December.
Had you met him before? Do you like Phish? I was really into Phish. It was sort of a weird Quantum Leap moment. Like, I’d never met him and then went up to the studio and there we are carrying drum gear up the stairs and I saw this guy, like, twenty years ago playing with Phish in Cincinnati. It was strange. I had seen them in '91 and the like, I don’t know, ’95-’96 several times. I saw them at a New Year's Show at MSG in…I don’t even know, 2001 or ’02. If I had to rank them I'd say I probably listen more to the Dead.
I don't think their music similar. Phish used to get lumped in a lot with The Grateful Dead, but, musically they’re not that similar to the Dead at all. I totally agree. They have similar instrumentation, but aside from that they’re completely different.
So what was this Quantum Leap moment like? What was it like working with him, and having him come play with you at The Beacon? It was amazing. For the session I was extremely jet-lagged and totally out of it. It was the day before Thanksgiving. It was strange. He’s a super nice guy who’s probably talked to literally thousands of people in his lifetime but has this air of just being really…interested in whatever you're saying.
Did he just tell you what he wanted or was it in any way collaborative? It was kind of open-ended. Peter, who was recording…he was also producing…he kind of gave us a direction. Trey was mostly just encouraging, like, “love it” “great” “cool”. We didn’t really get too specific with parts or anything.
How did it come to pass that he came over to the Beacon and sat-in with you guys? It was in the context of trying to do something different each night of the run, and we thought why not ask some of the musicians we love to sit in. So I asked him and he was said sure. He lives nearby so it was just a walk down the block for him.
Will you stay in touch or go see a Phish show again?
Yeah, definitely. Of course we were in Cincinnati for New Year's, but he put my cousin on the guest-list for the New Year's show at Madison Square Garden, so that was pretty cool. I’m not one to e-mail people randomly to ask for favors like that, but I'd love to see Phish again someday.
So what's going on with The National? What’s the current status? Are you working on anything? We’re working on a new record. We’ll probably start recording in September. Right now we’re all doing different stuff. Matt is in L.A. for a few months. We’re kind of taking it easy.
Before I let you go, please declare your favorite Grateful Dead song and your favorite Phish song for the record. That’s tough.
Sorry. I think for Phish, there’s a live version of “Reba” they did in Indianapolis in 1994 I think. [Editor's Note: This show?] I always liked that song. And the Dead…there’s so many great songs and there are so many different performances of those songs…I have to say [long pause] “Ripple” is such a great song, but the one I probably listen to the most is “Uncle John’s Band” from Oakland Coliseum, from New Year's in ’79…It’s either Halloween or New Years.