To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Grateful Dead, JamBase teamed with Telefunken to produce the Songs Of Their Own 50-day tribute series featuring a daily cover of a Grateful Dead original song and culminating with our grand finale 50th video premiering the day of the final Fare Thee Well show in Chicago on July 5. We started the series with a list of 100 Grateful Dead original songs (exclusively their tunes, not covers they often played) and asked many of our favorite artists to record cover versions either at the JamBase office in San Francisco, at one of the many venues around the Bay Area, at Telefunken’s Connecticut studios and beyond. No song was allowed to be covered twice, and today’s participants Incidental Animals ran around “Bertha.”
The Dead first played “Bertha” as the first song on a night that showcased several other new songs, when it opened (as it would many more shows) their February 18, 1971 concert at The Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York. Sung by Jerry Garcia who wrote the music to words provided by Robert Hunter, “Bertha” was played numerous times throughout the rest of the 1970s, but by 1980 started to showing up in fewer and fewer setlists. The Dead included their April 27, 1971 performance of “Bertha” on their 1971 self-titled live album (aka Skull Fuck) and performed the song live nearly 400 times. The final version of the tune came June 27, 1995 at The Palace in Auburn Hills, Michigan.
Recording this video happened among a whirlwind of activity at Terrapin Crossroads on May 8. Incidental Animals had only performed a few live shows together at that point, so a long soundcheck was a necessity. The original plan was to record a stripped down “Bertha” on the backstage patio at Terrapin like we had for Keller Williams (link) and Leftover Salmon (link) but time was starting to get away from us. We shifted gears and instead planned to tape an acoustic encore performance of “Bertha.” We broke down the cameras and microphones, grabbed a beer and settled in for the night. Then Nicki Bluhm walked in, was asked to join the performance and quickly jumped at the idea.
As the band began rehearsing “Bertha” for the encore, after one great run-through keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth astutely pointed out, “You guys know we could have just recorded that?” So that’s exactly what we did. With the band already running late to start the show, we set back up and recorded a wonderfully stripped-stripped down backstage version of the song. But the setlist had already been meticulously planned to have “Bertha” in the encore slot. Since we were hanging out for the show we decided to film the live stage version as well, hoping we could use footage from both performances and stitch the two together in post-production.
When time came to edit the video, much to our delight the tempos were remarkably close to each other (a difficult task, especially when a band isn’t playing to a click track) making seamless edits back and forth easier than we had anticipated. It goes to show just how professional and seasoned these musicians are that almost four hours and two sets of electric music, that they settled into the same pocket.
We hope you enjoy this unique combination of the two performances for today’s Songs of Their Own video.
Audio and video recorded and edited by: Jake Alexander