John Kadlecik’s love for the dead lands him his dream job.
By John McCooe
When Bob Weir and Phil Lesh evolved the Grateful Dead into a new touring group, Furthur, in 2009, John Kadlecik quickly proved that he was the perfect fit to fill the role of the Dead’s legendary lead guitarist, Jerry Garcia. HIGH TIMES caught up with Kadlecik when Furthur came to New York City’s Beacon Theatre for an eight-night run this past spring. After sparking a joint, Kadlecik described his background as a musician.
“I was kinda late getting into most classic rock,” he admits. Originally a student of the classical violin, Kadlecik says his love for improvisational music eventually inspired him to pick up a guitar.
Kadlecik saw his first Grateful Dead concert in 1989 and continued to attend as many shows as possible. Yet his desire to play led him to perform, write, and record with several bands in the early to mid-’90s, including Midwest Hempfest regulars Hairball Willie, a group that played originals, Dead and more. Then, in 1997, Kadlecik created Dark Star Orchestra, a band that recreates live sets from the Grateful Dead’s legendary 30-year history. “At first it was just a fun thing to do for a bunch of ‘Deadhead’ musicians ... the whole DeadBase was open to us for setlists.”
Coincidentally, his time with DSO turned out to be the ideal training for his dream job. In the fall of 2009, Kadlecik happened upon an email in his spam folder that would change his life forever: “There was this message from Matt Busch [Bob Weir’s manager] asking if I would audition for the band,” he recalls. “I thought I was being pranked.”
But it was no joke: Furthur wanted him as their lead guitarist. After impressing at the audition, Kadlecik was asked to clear his schedule for the next two years and get ready to hit the road.
Although he was as well-prepared as anyone could be for the awesome new gig, the transition from leading DSO to playing in Bob and Phil’s band was no small feat. “Mostly, it’s just been getting to know what different looks mean and getting some sort of subliminal communication clear with each other – and that takes time,” Kadlecik says. With a chuckle he adds, “Those guys stood next to Jerry for 30 years. I think both of them have put a lot of time into some form of shamanic delivery for their vocals. They’re telling a story to the tribe, and there’s stuff carrying in their voice that’s almost completely antithetical to what pop music is about. I aspire to that, but I can’t speak to whether I get there or not.”
Kadlecik may not have achieved shamanic status yet, but channeling his “inner Garcia,” he’s able to play a huge part in facilitating a genuine experience for fans. And pot has played a big role in that.
Kadlecik readily admits that he smokes “a lot ... I smoke, in part, to be a voice for the spirit of the plant – having it be a filter in the improvisation.”
It’s a spirit that flourishes at every Furthur show. And Kadlecik is enjoying every moment of his long, strange trip.