Tony Abrams

Tony Abrams, Jerry Garcia Birthday Bash organizer. Photos by Larry Hendricks

For almost 12 years, Tony Abram has been organizing Flagstaff's Jerry Garcia Birthday Bash. The concert celebrates the life and music of The Grateful Dead singer-songwriter and guitarist Jerome John "Jerry" Garcia who died in 1995. Abram said the concert has always been about showcasing local talent and kindness, and during its fifth annual event he linked up with Habitat for Humanity in an effort to give back to the community.

“To date, we’ve raised more than $50,000,” Abrams said. “All that from some dirty hippies playing some psychedelic music — not so bad.”

This year, in addition to organizing the 12th annual Jerry Garcia Birthday Bash in August, Abrams is putting together Grateful Festival, a two-day festival featuring nine acts playing the music of The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers Band and The Band. The festival will be held May 25-26 at the Pepsi Amphitheater at Fort Tuthill County Park. Tickets are $35 for a two-day pass or $20 per day. VIP tickets are sold out, with $10 from each going toward Habitat for Humanity.

Rather than simply perform the music of the iconic acts, Abrams said he’s put together a show that recreates the famous Summer Jam at Watkins Glen in 1973. The festival in New York was attended by an estimated 600,000 people. Featuring the Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers Band and The Band, Summer Jam has become mythologized in rock history for its huge turnout, hours-long sets and furious thunderstorm that covered much of the audience in mud and cut The Band’s set short.

Abram’s band Flagship of Fools will recreate The Grateful Dead’s set, King Harvest will recreate The Band’s set and Arizona Hired Guns will take on The Allman Brothers Band's, all verbatim according to Abrams.

“When I thought about this event, I knew I could make a Grateful Dead cover, I knew I could make a The Band tribute, but The Allman Brothers was tougher. When I reached out to [Arizona Hired Guns], they were ecstatic. They said, ‘We already play 13 out of 16 of the songs on the set,’ so I think I chose the right people.”

Other acts include Legion of Mario, Dave Logan Band, Craig Yarbrough of the Grand Canyon Guitar Society and Xtra Ticket featuring Dave A’Bear of the Jerry Garcia Band.

Abram said he was introduced to The Grateful Dead when he was 13 and ended up seeing the band perform more than 100 times all over the country.

“[The Grateful Dead’s music has] showed me the world, literally. I went through my metal phase, my pop music phase and then I got turned on to The Grateful Dead,” he said. “Not only did it let me see the world and meet people around the country, it turned me on to the roots of The Grateful Dead, their influences. I got turned on to Americana, bluegrass, R&B, jazz. There are so many influences that I was now exposed to. It was eye-opening in many ways.”

Organizing the Grateful Dead-themed concerts is a labor of love, Abrams said, but one with a purpose. Eventually he’d like the Grateful Festival to “turn into a hippie version of Pickin’ in the Pines,” but he’s holding out on big dreams. For now, he’s happy the community has come together thus far.  

“It’s very humbling when you have these hippie dreams and you can do it with the help of the community.”

Grateful Festival lineup:

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May 25, beginning at 11 a.m.

Xtra Ticket featuring Dave A’Bear of the Jerry Garcia Band

Flagship of Fools

Legion of Mario

Dave Logan Band

Craig Yarbrough

May 26, beginning at 11 a.m.

Watkins Glen Summer Jam, a special set recreating the iconic festival in 1973

Arizona Hired Guns (as The Allman Brothers Band)

Watkins Glen All Stars (as The Grateful Dead)

King Harvest (as The Band)

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