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From: MARIN INDEPENDENT JOURNAL,
Thursday, April 29, 1993
Paul Liberatore, 'New life with the Dead'
"Since he sang the national anthem with Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia at the
Giants' home opener at Candlestick Park, Vince Welnick has watched his fame
spread beyond the world of rock n' roll into the aisles of his neighborhood
"I can't even go to the grocery store now without a bunch of
jumping on me," he says with a grin at the Grateful Dead's studio in San
Rafael, where he was rehearsing this week with a new electronic jazz group,
Vortex. "I used to be able to go to the market without people recognizing me
. Now I can't.
Not that he's complaining. Life has been sweet for Welnick since
the newest member of the Grateful Dead, the most popular and successful
concert band in the country.
For one thing, the 42-year-old musician is still sporting the
remnants of a
sunburn from a vacation in Mexico he took after a recent Dead tour. "I
couldn't afford to be in Mexico if it hadn't had been for the Dead," he says.
"It's better than winning the lottery every year."
Welnick took the musical equivalent of the Big Spin in 1990, after
dose death of Grateful Dead keyboardist Brent Mydland.
He was one of several local keyboard players who auditioned to become
Mydland's replacement. It was a gig he desperately needed.
As founding member of the Tubes, the theatrical-rock band that scored a
string of hits in the mid-70's, including "Don't Touch Me There" and "Talk To
You Later", Welnick had been able to buy a 30-acre spread in Sonoma County
with a barn and a three-bedroom ranch house.
When the Tubes faded and fell from sight in the '80s, Welnick
played for a
time with Todd Rundgren, but eventually found himself out of work and facing
some rugged times financially.
"When the Tubes' recording contracts ran out, Lorie (his wife of
and I ended up renting the house and living in the barn," he remembers.
"Before the Grateful Dead, I was between jobs. I didn't know what to do."
Welnick was so hard pressed he didn't even have a keyboard of his
own when he
drove down to Marin a day before his audition for the Dead opening.
As luck would have it, the Dead's keyboard technician, Bob
Bralove, let him
use Mydland's equipment. As he was trying the gear out in the band's studio,
Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir walked in.
"I met Bob and Jerry that day," he remembers. "Before then, I
my hopes up. I just thought I'd see how it went. But after meeting them, I
was fired up. I thought this could be like family again, like it and been
with the Tubes. Instead of me just being a sideman, O thought this could be a
After his audition the next day, Welnick went home to his barn in
"A week later, we were living in the hayloft and wondering if I
got the job
or not," he says.
Then, finally, the word came. Weir called with the good news,
tempered with some dark humor.
Welnick was reminded of the band's alleged keyboard curse, which
the fact that three of the Dead's keyboard players have died before their
time: Ron "Pig-pen" McKernan of lover disease, Keith Godchaux in San Geronimo
Valley car crash and Mydland from an overdose of drugs.
"He told me, 'You're next up. Is your life insurance paid up?'"
recalls with a wry smile. "I was gifted with the curse. I could die from
worse things. I could die from boredom. I was totally elated. My life got
back on track."
While Mydland never felt completely accepted by Deadheads, even
years with the band, Welnick had no such problems. He instantly recalls his
first concert as a member of the Dead.
"That was Sept. 7, 1990, at the Richmond Coliseum outside of
soon as I played the slightest hint of a riff, the crowd lit up. Somebody had
made up stickers that said, 'You, Vinnie' and 'We love you, brother Vince,'
I'm flabbergasted at the unconditional love you get from Deadheads. You can
mess up big time and they're still going to love you. I love them back."
Three years after the Grateful Dead changed his life, Welnick and
have moved deeper into the Sonoma countryside. they bought a new house on 10
acres where they love with 13 cats, two dogs and a pair of horses.
When he isn't playing keys with the Dead and covering their high
parts with his soprano voice, Welnick works with the Affordables, a band that
includes Bill Spooner and Prairie Prince from the Tubes.
And he's recently thrown in with Bralove, the keyboard technician who
befriended him, in Bralove's new jazz group, Vortex, which plays tomorrow
night at the Great American Music Hall.
All of this reminds Welnick of a premonition he had as a boy.
"I had this flash when I was 11 years old," he says. "I was
riding my bike
at night and I stopped under a street light. I had this vision of thousands
of people with their arms stretched out and I was on stage. I had this
feeling that it was going to come true. Now, when I walk on stage with the
Grateful Dead, I know that it has."
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From: DUPREE'S DIAMOND NEWS, (1992) Mike Fanning, 'The Digital Realm'
The first major San Francisco event of the new year served to
past with the future in a celebration of one-time countercultures that now
find themselves considered cutting edge and influential. computer
programmers, multimedia practitioners, hippies, gurus, media prophets,
artists, musicians, and futurists could all relate to pieces of the scene that
unfolded at the Digital Art Be-In. San Francisco's original Be-Ins happened
without sophisticated publicity and demonstrated the power and diversity of a
new way of thinking and a new kind of audience. The modern Digital Art Be-Ins
are getting closer to a staged rock concert event, but they are still
persevering at keeping the element of diversity alive. This time, the leaders
of the "electronic frontier" billed their annual bash in such a way as to
imply a connection with the "rave" scene, frequently happening in the same
geographic area of the city, and also with a much more long-lived tradition,
that of the Deadheads.
The Digital Art Be-In is touted as a "celebration of electronic
multimedia creativity and the new human dimensions being facilitated by
digital media". the fifth annual event was held January 8th at the Fashion
Center. The trendy area South of Market boasts several similar warehouses
renovated into modern shopping structures for a hip, young clientele. The
event was held in conjunction with MacWorld, the computer exhibit/conference
sponsored by Apple Computer, where computer professionals and Mac users
observe the latest Mac applications and technology. At prior gatherings, the
attendees from out of town were in need of evening entertainment, so five
years ago they started the Be-Ins, organized by Michael Gosney, editor of
Verbum, the magazine of digital art, design, and multimedia, to provide it.
In the setting of a party with bands and speakers, the vendors of digital
products for entertainment purposes could show their latest wares. Starting
in 1992, they opened the gates to the general public and the rock concert
nature of the event overwhelmed the exhibitors. This time, they improved the
balance between the show and the exhibits with the assistance of Bill Graham
Presents and an infusion of mellow vibes from the kind of concert-goers who
are accustomed to simultaneously shopping at an outdoor hippie flea market and
dancing to the beat of a hot jamming band.
Gosney had met sometime Dead lyricist John Barlow, who is active
circles, and through him had met Bob Bralove, who does marvelous things with
sound for the Dead and was the creator of the jam-drums-space extravaganza
Infrared Roses. Gosney's Be-In became an obvious debut venue for Bralove's
new project, his own band, Vortex, specializing in modern technology space
rock, with jazz, classical, and psychedelic elements fused and molded. vortex
was the headline band and brought out a large share of the hippie component of
the audience, dancing around during the opening acts with long hair and tie-
dyes, alongside trendy yuppies, 90's SOMA-types, and nerds in ties.
The evening began with words from the self-styled "Maestro of
Galen Brandt, who wore a dress of black and white alternating colors that
showed repeating patterns of the phases of the moon and really made an
impression under the flashing lights of the stage. Throughout the evening,
she returned to introduce most of the acts and speakers. Paul Saffo, who
spends his days advising corporate "suits", told the audience, "The revolution
is not theirs, it's yours." Brett Leonard, the Hollywood virtual reality
expert and director of Lawnmower Man, encouraged the audience to use their
camcorders, which he called "the future of movies". He mentioned a few of his
upcoming projects, including a Lawnmower Man sequel and a virtual reality TV
There were two stages, one large and one small, to facilitate
without long breaks, but the small one was rarely used, so their were
equipment-changing breaks anyway. This allowed for browsing in the separate
exhibit area, "The Digital Frontier," a scene akin, perhaps, to a Dead concert
parking lot scene in the 21st Century. The room featured vendors using
digital technology for entertainment, contrasting with the more practical
business uses demonstrated at the more serious MacWorld. It resembled a
carnival or amusement park where patrons could try out each "ride" for its
thrill, excitement, and entertainment value. The most popular exhibits were
the virtual reality ones, where people waited in line for an opportunity to
put on a helmet and a glove that simulated their transportation into an
interactive video world, or to step into a dark room of three-dimensional
video imagery. There were exhibits where people were filmed before a dark
background and their images were projected onto a screen and integrated with
pre-recorded animated characters. Some people manipulated light and shadow to
produce sound. There were digitally produced art images on prints and T-
The most interesting exhibit to a Deadhead greeted us just as we
exhibit hall. The booth was outfitted with a small sound system playing live
Dead tapes. A Deadhead crew from Braindance Development exhibited for the
first time a new computer product aimed at Deadheads - "Daily Tripper", a
personal information manager (essentially a computer-based day planner). When
loaded onto a personal computer, the software enables a user to record his
appointments, phone messages, recipes, birthdays, shopping lists, and more
into the system and access them to keep his or her life structured and
scheduled. The product is to be marketed in conjunction with Grateful Dead
Merchandising. They were targeting the January Chinese New Year's shows to
distribute flyers making the product available by mail. Logistically, it
would be difficult to demonstrate at a show, but the Be-In location was
perfect for it. Susana Millman, who took the vibrant photographs used for the
screen images, was at hand to discuss the project. At different times, Julie
Bowers and Jim Johnson, also creators of the unique product, operated the
mouse, demonstrating its ease of use and how the different days of the year
yielded on-screen mentions of Dead trivia and band members' birthdays. The
eagerly described the system to a consistent flow of interested customers.
The music brought us in, the attractive Dead-oriented screen images (projected
from a laptop onto a monitor) caught our eye, and we stayed to observe and
compliment what we saw. I noticed really nice close-ups of all the band
members and particularly remember the image of the tie-dyed King Kong from
Madison Square Garden. One typical drawback of a day planner is that it is a
chore to keep track of one's schedule in such minute detail, but this product
looked like it would be fun to use. They demonstrated a Macintosh version,
but and IBM compatible version will be available also.
For the second time in a week and a day, I was at an event where
"smart drinks". (The first was Zero's New Year's Eve concert). These are
being sighted more frequently at various Bay Area entertainment events. There
were usually lines of people waiting to buy them at the Be-In. They have
strange names and contain mixtures of different fruit juices and vitamins and
are marketed as healthy alternatives to alcoholic drinks. the places that
sell them can charge as much for them as for mixed drinks, making them more
profitable than soda for a place that either has no alcohol license or caters
to a crowd that is health-oriented and not strongly disposed to drinking. The
one I tried tasted good, but I didn't notice the kick effect discussed in the
advertising. I half expect them to show up at the Shoreline this upcoming
Throughout the evening's entertainment there were tow screens over
stage showing computer-generated video imagery. The pictures overhead were
frequently overwhelming, moving so fast that each could barely be perceived
before it was replaced by another. Shapes and colors made trippy patterns to
useful during the performance/speech by Dr. Timohty Leary, a Trance-formation
production. Dr. Leary was dressed in a colorful outfit and backed by a group
of technical wizards he named, "Laura, Genesis, Andy, and Dave". He has
presented his latest act, imparting his modern message of mind-expansion using
technology, in a number of cities, but he singled out San Francisco, which he
called "the front line of the future, the greatest city in the would, we all
He recalled for the audience the first Human Be-In long ago, on a
afternoon in Golden Gate Park with the Grateful Dead. He describes his role
in life as "producing trances in human brains," something he is doing today,
has been doing for twenty years, and something the Grateful Dead do "every
show". When he got into the heart of his performance, the audience was
bombarded with an onslaught of sound and color to accompany his ranting and
chanting. He concluded by warning the audience members to not drive for at
least a half hour in order to come down from the experience.
There were tow disappointments for the crowd. Both Jon Anderson
Rundgren were mentioned in the program handed out at the door, but neither of
them actually performed. They had not been mentioned in the pre-event
publicity so no one had purchased tickets to see them. However, since they
were the biggest "name" performers in the program, there was a little
grumbling. The "maestro" even introduced Rundgren at one point, but he never
arrived on-stage, so they instead showed two of his videos, produced using the
Next came World Entertainment War, a modern-style, mediaconscious
clever lyrics for their songs that frequently parody the strangeness of the
entertainment age. The lead singer entertained the liberal-oriented crowd
with political comments and stage antics. At one point during their
performance, the overhead video screen showed the band in the same image as
on-stage, except that on the screen they were accompanied by an "anti-matter
hologram from the future". The band kept the crowd dancing for a set that
included the opportunity for the audience to bat around the "media-ball", an
oversized ball that made different sounds depending on where it was hit. It
was reminiscent of the ball used by D'Cuckoo at their live performances. The
area of the hall used by the bands was a little small for the size of the
ball, but the audience kept it going gamely.
It was about 11:30 when Vortex cam out to play, and the crowd was still
there. This was the band they had come to see. Michael Gosney chose to
introduce them himself and was obviously proud they chose his event for the
debut of a band that seemed to fit so perfectly. He described it as a new
project that allowed Bralove and friends to channel their excess energy. The
band members were all very impressive, technically speaking, with their
instruments. Though their tunes seemed improvisational in style, they had
obviously rehearsed and were in sync with each other. The music ranged from
the kind of space that the Dead do to jazz pieces and classical-style jams.
There were no lyrics, so it is not possible to attempt to provide a song list.
They were free-flowing jams, with different members taking the lead at
different times. Bob Bralove played the keyboards, but was frequently also
focused on a mixer board he had on-stage next to his keyboard that enabled him
to turn dials and make sound adjustments to the output of the entire band.
Vortex also had its own accompanying video images, and the sound was ably
handled by Ultrasound. Sometimes it was difficult to dance to the music,
while other times the dance floor was full of people moving very fast. At one
point a recording of a funky beat and the words "dance to the music" could be
heard among the sound mix. Other passages were almost "New Age", though the
volume was rather loud. When the visuals got especially psychedelic, the band
did too, and the whole place seemed to make a psychic connection tot he roots
of the Be-In. without any recognizable songs to anchor me, this band kept my
interest during the entire set, which lasted just over an hour.
Bobby Strickland was a marvel on the horns, practically pulling
out one for
each song, mellowing out the cacophonous space with soft sax notes in the
right places. Usually, Henry Kaiser's virtuoso space guitar style is so
unique and bold that he rises about his surrounding musicians and pulls the
music in his direction, toward the avant-garde edge. With Vortex, he fit in
more evenly, and the band went to the edge at his side. Paul van Wagneingen
on drums and his brother Mark van Wageningen on bass both had several turns
during the set to shine with solos and kept their respective sounds right up
there in the style of every jam that came around. It usually sounded bigger
than a five-member band, since Bralove seemed to have extra sounds at his
fingertips to fill in any gaps as he designed the sound output while it was
The audience was impressed by the hefty set of songs. I heard words of
praise and respect from folks all around me, and not just those who appeared
to be Deadheads. No one in the band said a word on-stage the entire show, so
any news about future gigs was not forthcoming. It seemed likely that those
of us present would gladly see them perform again, and would tell our friends,
too. The band quietly left the stage, all with smiles, which were contagious
in the audience as well. They played no encore despite the frenzied applause
they received and the words of the maestro that she would go backstage and
check if there were to be any more tunes. The future of space music looks
very bright with the advent of a band like Vortex.
With the headline act concluded, the show began to wind down,
though the hall
remained open until 2:00 a.m. for a dwindling crowd. I mused upon the
prospects of entertainment for the future and the use to which artists can
apply the coming wave of electronic inventions. It was nice to think that we
weren't there for the sake of business, for the sake of money, for the sake
of capitalist competition. These evolving innovations have even more powerful
applications in helping artists and musicians create new and different works
to thrill us and bring about more fun and wonderment. If our entertainment
dollars and our eclectic tastes need new outlets, this shows that there are
new, shining options looming. Looks like an evolution to go with the
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