Thirty-eight years ago, during the Haight-Ashbury heyday of West Coast pop music, a gleefully visionary guitarist, Jerry Garcia, couldn't contain himself.
Already the creative force behind the Grateful Dead, the multitalented Garcia kept trying new instruments and forms. He even built a new band - the New Riders of the Purple Sage, nowadays better known as NRPS - around his fascination with one of the most difficult stringed instruments, the pedal steel guitar.
"Not to idolize the man, but he was the hippest guy, the most musically dedicated person I've ever been around," says Buddy Cage, who replaced Garcia as NRPS steel player in 1971 and has been in the band, more or less, ever since. "He was the ringleader, the organizer, the one who pushed everybody to keep coming up with new music. He changed me, and all of us."
This weekend, the reconstituted New Riders - who call themselves "America's premier psychedelic cowboy band" - will be one of the headline acts at the American Roots Music Festival in Falling Waters, W.Va., an hour and a half west of Baltimore.
Cage met Garcia when the Dead were on a coast-to-coast rail tour of Canada in 1971 - the one immortalized in the film Festival Express, released in 2004. Garcia had been spending so much time playing Bay Area bars and pizza joints with the nascent New Riders, his Dead bandmates told him he had to cut it out. "I have to get back to my day job, guys," he told his NRPS bandmates.
Two years ago, a newer version of New Riders - including Cage, original member/lead guitarist David Nelson, and Hot Tuna guitarist Michael Falzarano - assembled to record and tour in earnest for the first time in years. Their current repertoire includes many old standards, as well as some newer material.
"Our music is based around familiar, simple songs," says Falzarano, "but each time we perform, the execution is different. It may sound polished, but every night, it's an act of nature."
American Roots Music Festival
Potomac Pavilion, Falling Waters, W.Va.
Today and tomorrow
Donna Jean and the Tricksters, 7 p.m. today and tomorrow; Melvin Seals and JGB, 10 tonight; Peter Rowan and Tony Rice Quartet, 9:30 p.m. tomorrow
$58 (weekend pass). Available online at americanrootsmusicfest.com. Call 301-642-0115 for information.
For driving directions, go to americanrootsmusicfest.com.