Nearly two decades ago, Joan Osborne jammed with the four remaining members of The Dead. The ultimate purpose was to see if she might be a good fit to join them on the road, filling in for the late Jerry Garcia. “It was pretty intense, sort of a Grateful Dead bootcamp experience,” says Osborne.
Getting the gig was the easy part, it turns out.
“It was quite a steep learning curve,” Osborne says. “I certainly knew some of their music, but I was not a Deadhead before I got this gig. When they go on tour, they have so many hundreds of songs, that every night, the show is completely different from the night before. And so it wasn’t like I just had to learn one show. I had to learn hundreds of songs, and it was a different show — and [each] show is four-hours long — every night.
“So it was a lot of me sitting in dressing rooms and listening to live recordings that they would tell me to study, and getting my vocal parts right during the day. Then at night, it was a four-hour show. And then I would collapse into my bunk on the tour bus and then get up the next day and do it all over again.”
Osborne is taking time out from touring her own solo material — including her new album Radio Waves and 2020’s critically acclaimed Trouble and Strife — to immerse herself yet again in the world of the Dead, in advance of next week’s “The Days Between” festival.
The annual celebration of Garcia, his life, and career, falls over the nine days between what was his birthday, Aug. 1, and the day he died in 1995, Aug. 9.
The Hamilton Live has scheduled four Dead-focused concerts, including one on Saturday, Aug. 6, featuring Osborne accompanied by regular collaborator Jack Petruzzelli, as well as Marc Muller of tribute act Dead On Live.
(Dead On Live will offer a note-for-note recreation of the Grateful Dead’s Europe 72 album on Friday, Aug. 5, at the Hamilton.)
“It’s a tribute to Jerry Garcia, so that’s what we’ll be performing,” says Osborne, who concedes she’ll include in the mix one of her own hits, 1995’s “One of Us.”
“It’s unlikely that I will be able to leave the stage without singing that song,” she says. Osborne has never tired of singing the song, written by Eric Bazillion.
“If you have to have a pop song that you’re known for all over the world, that’s a good one to have,” she says.
“It really does have these deeper meanings — it’s talking about faith, it’s talking about your relationship to the sacred. And whenever we start the song, you can see people’s eyes light up, and you can feel the excitement in the audience. What a wonderful thing to do and to have as part of your working life. So I’m very grateful that the song has the impact it does, and that people still want me to sing it.”
“The Days Between: Joan Osborne Tribute to Jerry Garcia” is Saturday, Aug. 6, at 8 p.m. at The Hamilton Live, 600 14th St. NW. Tickets are $35 to $65. Visit live.thehamiltondc.com or call 202-787-1000.
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