The Jam Stampede with John Kadlecik | NYC | Review

Words by: Chadbyrne R. Dickens | Images by: Suzy Perler

The Jam Stampede with John Kadlecik :: 04.16.12 :: Gramercy Theatre :: New York, NY

John Kadlecik by Suzy Perler
John Kadlecik, widely known lead guitarist for Furthur and co-founder of Dark Star Orchestra [check out his official site for more info], effortlessly proved to a small, loyal crowd on Monday evening at the The Gramercy Theatre in Manhattan, that he is a guitar tour de force. Following a set of solo acoustic rarities and covers, he joined in with old friends from the Zen Tricksters days. Comprised of veteran stalwarts, the headlining act, The Jam Stampede, booked this Monday night excursion to euphoria on Furthur’s off-night from an extensive run at the Beacon Theatre for good reason. The timing of the gig afforded us the opportunity to witness Kadlecik open the night with an acoustic set, and wait with baited-breath in the hope he would take advantage of this opportunity to sit-in at this special Grateful Dead tribute performance.

Having recently caught a solo John show at Sullivan Hall, I knew what to expect from the opener. John’s sweet and clear voice delivered one eloquent song after another. Naturally, the crowd arrived in hopes of another Grateful Dead love fest, but he did not immediately answer their call. After a fresh take on a couple obscure Robert Hunter covers, the crowd was so entranced by his waxing musical deliver that John ribbed them, “Wow. It is so, so quiet in here!” John’s voice is crystal clean and clear. If Pigpen’s voice conjures up Thunderbird, John’s is a smooth flowing Molson Golden. Transitioning into a gentle rendition of Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna,” a tune the Grateful Dead covered a few times, the pleased audience, recognizing the sounds of a familiar tune, sang along to the parts they knew while growing visibly animated. Although John chose specific songs from his soul, it was obvious from the audience, although satisfied, that they were anticipating even more.

The Jam Stampede w/ John Kadlecik by Suzy Perler
Naturally, when one buys a ticket to hear John, who predominantly performs with the most famous jam outfit in history, one wants to witness what they perceive to be his most pronounced skill. Watching John play an entire set of mellow acoustic tunes is similar to a man being invited over to Megan Fox’s house only to play Scrabble. One is so excited to hear John jam that is takes time to accept his subtle solo performances, regardless of how good a Scrabble player he may be. Placed near the back end of the opening set, highlights included John Lennon’s “Watching the Wheels” and a surprising, tasty rendition of Phish’s “Fast Enough for You.”

Recharging between sets, I found JK straddling a doorway alone, savoring a few recharge moments before unleashing his fury on us. Knowing he has a very unique place on the music scene, he plays some of the most beloved songs in musical history with a band that has no equal in terms of passionate fan following. Naturally, I asked what many of my peers wanted to know:

“With the vast Furthur catalog at your disposal, what song is the one you are always most chomping at the bit to play?”

He reflected for a moment. If John’s reserved delivery yet often quirky speech aren’t reminiscent of John Denver, his bespectacled face hiding an innocent, boyish face certainly is. He replied matter of factly, “Whatever song is next.” Even after all the years and all the shows, he simply relishes the chance to shred his guitar with his innate prowess, picking on the strings with some old friends, all onstage buoyed by his presence. Kadlecik shared how he feels fortunate, due to his success as the lead guitarist for Furthur, to have an opportunity to play a setlist of songs of his choice that are not always Grateful Dead related because he may not otherwise have the chance to do so if not for his notoriety in recent years.

The Jam Stampede w/ John Kadlecik by Suzy Perler
Finally, Jam Stampede took the stage and immediately plunged into the familiar repetitive E and D chord exchange of “The Other One.” A veteran line-up with recent experience playing gigs like Brooklyn Bowl and Sullivan Hall, Wayne Scheller (keyboards), Tom Circosta (guitar), Klyph Black (bass), Dave Diamond (drums), and Mike Mizwinski (guitar) contagiously and confidently took over the Gramercy Theatre so effectively even the grumpiest curmudgeon would be compelled to tap a foot in unison. After a pass through the first verse, the band instantly reversed gears by slowing down and segueing into a solid “Morning Dew.” It was during this song, and guitarist Miz’s guitar demonstration at the conclusion, that I was converted into a true believer in this band. The crescendo was so intense, involved and inspirational that I was instantly impressed with the talented musicians surrounding the stage.

The set progressed with familiar grooves, highlighted by a tightly conceived and melodious “Unbroken Chain”, complete with the requisite improvisational noodling after the second verse. Lizzy Friel, lead singer of the well-respected Jerry tribute act Reflections, joined the band to provide luscious harmonies on numerous songs. Having recently become engaged, Lizzy exuded a radiant glow which only facilitated better vocals during her guest turn.

There are 324 Grateful Dead cover bands in the U.S. according to, which included those quality outfits I have seen like Reflections, Ship of Fools, Splintered Sunlight, Wig Jam, Dead Sessions, Reckoning, Cosmic Charlie and Dark Star Orchestra. By the end of this entertaining and engaging evening, I was convinced that I’d just witnessed the most rewarding tribute experience. Jam Stampede tackles each and every number with an altered angle offering a unique take on timeless classics. Rather than replicate and spit out versions as a Jerry wannabe act, the band utilizes the Grateful Dead’s song structures as a foundation or starting point to then explore the vast musical landscape around it. By accentuating new and original points within a tune, varying the chord structure, and even changing the crescendo spots, they effectively maintained interest from an audience who remained surprised at a show where one has heard and sang along to all the songs so many times previously.

The Jam Stampede w/ John Kadlecik by Suzy Perler
Three members of the band played with one another with the old school jam outfit The Zen Tricksters, and the chemistry still translates well. All the players are masters of their domain, lifelong veterans who respect their craft and put forth the due diligence necessary to play this music right. Mr. Black, the bassist set up center stage, with the physical appearance of Ron Wood meets Peter Wolf upon first glance, but ultimately one can hear and see more of a reincarnation of Rick Danko. Despite the band being comprised of such quality players, it was Mike Mizwinski’s virtuoso guitar work that was the impetus for most of the crowd talk between and after sets. I don’t doubt that anyone in attendance now acquainted with Mizwinski would ever pass up an opportunity to see him ‘own’ his guitar with such authority, passion and skill again. Not a household name yet, but without question, Miz has the chops to be a superstar.

Having witnessed the first set’s talent, people were angling for a better view, competing for a closer spot near the stage in anticipation at the start of the second set. “Help > Slip > Franklin’s” was a tight and energetic place to start. John Kadlecik had graced the stage for numerous songs throughout, and watching as he often leaned back to allow Mike to take over the patented Jerry solos was reminiscent of a baton being passed. The music was so energetic and together, even the usually mundane “Playin > Uncle John’s” pairing took on an interesting dynamic due to the band playing with a mutual purpose and connection, with Lizzy again joining to add to the myriad of voices, which collided in a wonderful harmonic melting of sounds. However, it was the encore of “Bertha” that culminated a most surprising and special night of celebration amongst old friends. JK and MM alternated spots to improve, inspire and demonstrate each other’s virtuoso guitar work.

The Jam Stampede w/ John Kadlecik by Suzy Perler
With the intensely loyal Grateful Dead fan base, it is sacrilegious to offer up any true analysis or constructive criticism about any aspects of a show. If one suggests anything negative about the Dead, one is ostracized with a dunce cap in the corner without water. However, we all know that nothing delivers absolute perfection. Cognizant of the high quality jamming by Furthur, having seen over 100+ shows with Garcia, I remain challenged when forced to separate the current incarnation to the epic heights they once managed to attain. It’s similar to someone dating a beautiful 20-year-old lover. They may still love this person at age 60 for all the right reasons, but most likely won’t feel the same passion they did for them at 20 because the older version is simply not as alluring when the two ages are juxtaposed. Perhaps this latest round of Furthur shows best demonstrates that point to any old school Head. When witnessing Jam Stampede attack the same songs with renewed vigor and a fresh, renewed energy and approach, one can’t help feeling as equally passionate at this $15 gig as at a $200 Furthur one. Just because no one named Weir or Lesh is onstage it doesn’t mean they can’t deliver epic versions of the songs those legends have played hundreds of times for decades.

I vividly recall occasionally spotting a bumper sticker on 80s Dead tour that simply stated: “The Fat Man Rocks.” Although meant in endearing levity, I never accepted this misguided attempt at humor. Chastising another about weight, even if one respects them, never demonstrates good taste. Intelligent men know that if you mention any similar remark to your girl, you are destined for a night in the dog house. Similarly, I never could comprehend how anyone so blatantly competent and proficient would consistently garner the moniker of “Fake Jerry.” Considering that “Fake Jerry” could never be a proper label anyway, as there is no mortal presently strumming a guitar who can approach the talent and icon status of Garcia, ultimately, it was a catchy, cute if not an accurate moniker. After this intimate showcase of guitar talent, I discovered first hand there is a John and a Mike, and fortuitously for those in attendance, they are both very real originals in their own right.

John Kadlecik Setlist
Down to Eugene, Givin’ Me the Business, Yellow Moon, American Spring, It’s Alright, Visions of Johanna, The Light That Has Lighted the World, Watching the Wheels, Seen Love*, Sister Smiles*, What’s Become of Mary*, Fast Enough for You*, Illegal Smile

* – with Lizzy Friel on harmony vocals

Jam Stampede Setlist
Set I: Other One > Morning Dew > Box of Rain*# > Simple Twist of Fate# > China Cat > Rider* > Unbroken Chain# > Other One > Deal*

Set II: Help > Slip > Franklin’s > Playin*# > Uncle Johns*# > Playin*# > Lovelight# > Bertha#

# with John Kadlecik
* – with Lizzy Friel on harmony vocals

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