Jerry Garcia may have been one vital component of one of the most influential bands of the 20th century with The Grateful Dead, but he also enjoyed the freedom of ‘going solo’. That said, while the Jerry Garcia Band was certainly built in his image, the clue is in the title as Garcia employed the finest musicians to perform live alongside him.
There is only one show during Garcia’s career where he gives a stripped-back acoustic solo performance. That show was in Passaic, New Jersey, at the Capitol Theatre on April 10th in 1982. There he gave quite possibly one of the most beautiful performances of ‘Ripple’ we’ve ever heard.
It would be the only show that Jerry Garcia gave standing completely on his own. According to the Jerry Garcia website, the singer-songwriter was noted as “feeling uncomfortable alone on stage, he made sure that John Kahn joined him for his next scheduled show. He never played alone on stage again”.
While the performance may have felt uncomfortable for Garcia, it did provide at least one startling moment with the performance of ‘Ripple’. With lyrics composed by his longtime songwriting partner, Robert Hunter, the track acts as one of the more finely refined moments of their 1970 album.
Robert Hunter’s lyrics were composed in London in 1970 for this, the sixth song on The Grateful Dead’s American Beauty. Hunter said that ‘Ripple’ contained the lines of which he was most proud: “Reach out your hand, if your cup be empty/ If your cup is full, may it be again/ Let it be known there is a fountain/ That was not made by the hands of men.”
Garcia’s music on the record is gentle and in-keeping with the transcendent lyrics, gently guiding you down the road and putting an arm around your shoulder as you both stride along. But when this is returned to the most basic of musical reductions, a singer and their guitar, the track takes on a humbler even more genteel image.
Below you can listen to the full performance from a dedicated Deadhead bootlegger and also capture the candid (if incomplete) footage of Garcia performing ‘Ripple’ for a real heartbreaker.