Musical wizard Bruce Hornsby has waved his wand again with Funhouse Fest 2017, his gift to hometown Williamsburg.
Funhouse will feature Hornsby in diverse performances along with other national and international acts. The aura of Hornsby’s own magic-making extends into a Saturday-night set featuring the music of his dear friend Jerry Garcia.
Hornsby and his band, the Noisemakers, will present “Bruce Sings Jerry – the Music of the Grateful Dead,” featuring the British group The Staves and other special guests at 8:45 p.m., June 24, on the Lawn of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg on South Boundary Street in Williamsburg. The Virginia Arts Festival is co-presenting Funhouse Fest with Hornsby.
Hornsby is a remarkable man – one of the most prolific of American singer-songwriters. His gifts extend through a range of activities and accomplishments.
He is always looking to expand his avenues of creativity and exploration. Those avenues include, among others: acting, hometown radio-station ownership, creating songs for a Broadway musical, SCKBSTD, including “Don of Dons” a song ahead of its time about Chairman Trump, and producing albums for such artists as Leon Russell, among a host of other world class talents.
One of his longest, deepest collaborations has been with the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia – with Jerry himself, with the band, with related projects such as The Other Ones, and in Garcia and Dead tribute groups, events and recordings. He also was the presenter inducting the Grateful Dead into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
This writer is privileged to have seen him with Jerry and the Grateful Dead several times in the San Francisco Bay Area as well as with Dylan in Portsmouth. Looking forward to the Garcia/Dead set, Hornsby was gracious enough to answer a few questions. He mentions his brother Bobby, a Williamsburg real-estate agent and musician, and his nephew R.S. Hornsby, Bobby’s son, who at times played in Bruce’s band before a 2009 car accident near Crozet ended his life.
Ron Wray: You’ll be doing the Jerry Garcia/Grateful Dead set with the Noisemakers, right? With the Staves on some songs? Can you share who any of the “special guests” will be?
Bruce Hornsby: The guests will come from the Funhouse lineup, from Saturday’s groups and also maybe some Sunday groups. I think some members of Hiss Golden Messenger will participate, for instance. Also, my brother, Deadhead Extraordinaire Bobby Hornsby, will probably jump out there.
What determined which of Jerry’s work you are doing?
It’s really simple: Garcia songs that I love.
Can you reflect on whether it will be derived from memories of work you played with him (1) directly as a duo, (2) with the Dead, with you as a member of the band, (3) with The Jerry Garcia Band, and/or (4) played with bands that have come after his passing, The Other Ones, etc.?
Mostly from my time playing in the Grateful Dead from 1990-92, with several sit-in appearances from 1992-5.
How much of what you’ve chosen to perform (so far, I realize you may want to change/improvise) comes from the likes of “American Beauty” and “Terrapin Station”?
Mostly from the 1970s period and the late eighties.
In the Garcia set, do you plan to play the whole thing on piano/keyboard or will you play any other instruments, such as dulcimer?
Almost all on the piano, with maybe one song on dulcimer.
How much and in what ways does Jerry Garcia remain a presence in your personal life/memories? Any significant/fun/moving/etc. memories in particular come to mind?
I think I miss Jerry more than most anyone I know who has passed on through the years. I miss my nephew RS more, (if one can quantify such things), but Garcia was a totally unique, special person that had a great impact on me and so many others. I also miss phone-pranking him.
Any reflections on the significant number of musical icons passing in close succession, most recently Greg Allman and Chris Cornell? Do you think much, or at all, about age, mortality, and such at this point in the race? Does remembering/playing Garcia come into this realm in any ways? I ask this, being of a certain age myself, and seeing a number of “aging” poets/writers also passing in rather quick succession lately. You seem perpetually young!
Whew, there have been so many losses lately, including the great Col. Bruce Hampton of “Sling Blade” fame. I used to sit in now and then with the Allmans, and sit side-by-side with Gregg as we played the two keyboards – beautiful memories. He was always very welcoming and complimentary to me. I played an Obama benefit in Northern California with Chris Cornell, who also was a beautiful soul. My son Keith was with me, and was a big fan of Chris, and Chris was very kind to him.
Do you expect to play with any of the Dead again? Are you playing any other festivals?
I’ve been their “Cousin Brucie” for thirty years now, culminating in the unforgettable Fare Thee Well concerts two years ago. I’d be really surprised if I never again find myself on a stage with members of the Grateful Dead.
For more about Funhouse Fest, or to purchase tickets, click here.