Long, strange trip: Grateful Dead drummer eager to visit pot-legal Colorado

Billy & The Kids, featuring Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann, center, will perform Monday, April 20, at the Ogden Theatre in Denver. (Stewart O'Shields / Courtesy Big Hassle Media)
Billy & The Kids, featuring Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann, center, will perform Monday, April 20, at the Ogden Theatre in Denver. (Stewart O’Shields / Courtesy Big Hassle Media)

By Quentin Young

Bill Kreutzmann is planning his first trip to Colorado since the state legalized recreational pot. A self-described marijuana activist, the Grateful Dead drummer takes this kind of legal development seriously.

“When we were in Haight-Ashbury, we thought (pot) would be legal by 1972,” Kreutzmann said, referring to the San Francisco neighborhood where the Dead rose to fame for its mind-altering music.

In the ’90s, Kreutzmann moved to Hawaii, where he has experimented with growing his own marijuana. “It’s truly an art form,” he said.

This experience will serve him well when he’s in Colorado next week. He plans to serve as a judge during the Cannabis Cup, a marijuana expo scheduled for Saturday through Monday in Denver. The event includes pot competitions, and Kreutzmann said serving as a marijuana judge “takes a lot of diligent practice.”

He’ll assess submissions based on taste, smell and other factors, he said.

“I’m trying not to inhale right away,” he said. “Good luck. We’ll see how we do.”

Kreutzmann’s trip to the Mile High City also will include a special performance. His new band, Billy & The Kids, will play the Ogden Theatre, on — when else? — 4/20. The evening is billed as the “Spring ’90 Revisited Show,” and it features music from a 1990 Grateful Dead tour that Kreutzmann judges to be among the band’s best. He especially likes the era’s “Drums/Space,” an extended percussion showcase.

Dominic Lalli, of Big Gigantic, and Jason Hann, of The String Cheese Incident — both Boulder-based bands — will join The Kids for the show. Saxophonist Lalli’s appearance mirrors Branford Marsalis’ collaboration with the Dead on the 1990 tour. Percussionist Hann, Kreutzmann said, is a personal friend. The Kids include Reed Mathis, of Tea Leaf Green, on bass; Aron Magner, of The Disco Biscuits, on keyboards, and Tom Hamilton, of American Babies, on guitar.

Kreutzmann said the Kids play Dead songs accurately but give it their own stamp.

“I tell them to put their own magic to it,” he said.

The Dead’s music is famously malleable, and Kreutzmann, who makes a point not to cast himself as the band “leader,” encourages the Kids to take the material as far as they want to go with it.

“I don’t have such a thing as ‘too much,’ ” he said.

Kreutzmann is preparing for two major events this year.

He’s publishing a memoir, “Deal: My Three Decades of Drumming, Dreams and Drugs with the Grateful Dead,” next month. And the four surviving members of the Grateful Dead, including Kreutzmann, are planning to reunite for a set of final shows in July in Chicago that mark the band’s 50th anniversary.

Kreutzmann wasn’t at liberty to talk about the book or the Dead shows when he spoke with a reporter by phone last week. But he was prepared to discuss other subjects at length.

“I can talk about marijuana until I’m blue in the face,” he said.

Quentin Young: quentin@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/qpyoungnews

If you go

What: Spring ’90 Revisited Show,” featuring Billy & The Kids with Dominic Lalli and Jason Hann

When: 8:30 p.m. Monday, April 20

Where: Ogden Theatre, 935 E. Colfax Ave., Denver

Tickets: $25-$30

Info: ogdentheatre.com


What: Cannabis Cup

When: Saturday, April 18, through Monday, April 20

Where: Denver Mart, 451 E. 58th Ave., Denver

Tickets: $45 for one-day pass; three-day passes available

Info: cannabiscup.com


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