Grateful Dead tribute band to play Gabe's


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This year, thousands of Deadheads around the world — including in Iowa City — will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the advent of the Grateful Dead, which burst onto the rock ’n’ roll scene in 1965.

The Schwag, including some of the original Deadheads, is a Missouri-based tribute band dedicated to continuing the sound of the Grateful Dead; it will jam out Friday at Gabe’s, 330 E. Washington St.
Schwag leader Jimmy Tebeau said he first saw the Grateful Dead in 1989 at the Alpine Valley Music Theater in Wisconsin and was immediately hooked on its sound. His band became the one of more than 450 Grateful Dead tribute bands in the United States.

The Schwag, however, is meant to honor the Grateful Dead rather than copy its style. This is an approach Tebeau said has received the seal of approval from Grateful Dead bass guitarist Phil Lesh, whom Tebeau met in St. Louis and who signed his autograph with the message, “Good luck.”

“We just take the songs and reinterpret the music,” Tebeau said. “We are not a recreation. We are a perpetuation.”

It’s been seven years since the Schwag last performed at Gabe’s, then called the Picador. (The band had to leave its light engineer behind in Iowa City after he fell in love with a woman in the audience, to whom he is now married; they have a child.) The Schwags members said their goal is to put Iowa City back in their rotation of tours from here on. Friday’s show will consist of two long sets and will last for around three hours.

“We have sold quite a few tickets in advance, so it should be a great turnout,” said Scott Kading, the owner of Gabe's.

“We’ve had big crowds to see rockabilly, hip-hop, rock, and a solo artist four days in a row; over the next few months, we have a show scheduled almost every day.”

Kading hopes to have quite a few “Grateful-Dead-type shows over the next year.”

Started in 1991 as merely the Schwag, the group added the Grateful Dead Experience to its name because, Tebeau said, a concert by the Schwag has a kind of vibe that goes beyond what is seen and heard.

“Our goal is to take the audience on a musical journey, one that involves us and the audience,” Tebeau said.

The Schwags has a running song list of more than 200 songs from the Grateful Dead and the Jerry Garcia Band. Tebeau played the bass with the Jerry Garcia Band for more than four years and has seen it in concert 77 times.

“We are the longest-running and top tribute band for the Grateful Dead,” Tebeau said. “This is a full-time job for us; performing is not just a hobby.”

Since 1991, the Schwag has performed 3,000 concerts in the United States. The group has played alongside acts such as Chuck Berry, Bill Nershi from String Cheese Incident, Drew Emmitt and Vince Herman from Leftover Salmon, Butch Truck from The Allman Brothers Band, Fred Tacket from Little Feat, Mike Gordon from Phish, and even Grateful Dead keyboardist Vince Welnick.

Tebeau’s musical aspirations were tested when he spent time behind bars from May 2013 to May 2014. At the Schwags’ 2010 Schwagstock music festival — held annually on Tebeau’s property in rural Missouri — Tebaeu was accused of a music/drug related crime that put him in prison, where he continued to perform in the prison's musical department and play in four different bands.

“I spent that year re-evaluating my music career,” he said. “When arrested, I was in two touring bands, and I owned the camp ground. I think the Schwag almost got away from me.”

However, after Tebeau was released, the Schwag immediately picked up where it had left off.

“In the [Grateful Dead] song ‘Truck,’ the lyrics say, ‘What a long strange trip it’s been.’ It couldn’t be more true,” Tebeau said. “It’s amazing how popular as a band we have become: We averaged 5,000 people at those festivals.”

Tebeau made the decision to “do one thing and do it really well” and dropped the Jerry Garcia Band to turn his focus solely to the Schwag, in which all four members majored in music while in college.
“I got a great band and crew,” Tebeau said. “What we do makes a lot of people happy. They get excited for us to come back. I’m having too much fun doing this and don’t plan on stopping.”

The Grateful Dead Experience: The Schwag
When: 10 p.m. Friday
Where: Gabe’s, 330 E. Washington
Admission: $10 

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