Sage & Spirits
Jake: My earliest musical moment, I would have to say would be somewhere around the age of 3, my family was deep into music. A lot of musicians in my family. And I remember my dad would say that I would emulate metronome-like sounds, like a turn signal, and be pretty spot on, so they put me on a drum set at about 3. And I remember they tied some kind of like foam blocks to my feet because I couldn’t reach the petals. But that was the first real memory I have of being behind a drum set. In elementary school I played the violin, which I thought was easier to carry around. But it made my cat insane. And you know you’re bad at violin when your parents are like, how about you go back to the drums?
After elementary school, I started playing the drums, did a little bit of marching band, did a little jazz band with some cool people in our middle and high school. I actually played in a little jazz band with Erik Deutsch, who was the keyboardist for Leftover Salmon for a little while. He was a couple years younger. And then you know, I had jean jackets, heavy metal patches, just things that were, you know, making my parents upset. Enter my cousin, David Wolf, who, I don’t want to say I was kicking and screaming, but I was definitely not too interested in going to a Grateful Dead show at age 13, but there I was. And my first memory of that was they opened with “Touch of Grey,” which was on the radio. So it was RFK, ’89, I believe and, I’m like, this is them? And I couldn’t really figure out what the scene was. I couldn’t figure out what Phil was doing. I was like, what’s the bass player doing? Loved the double drummers. And then I was also pretty young, so the smell. What is that smell? What is that everywhere?
Rob: What is that smell?
Jake: He took me again the following year and I remember we were just chatting and we got shh’d, because we were talking through “Dark Star,” which at that time I didn’t know. To me it could have been, you know, anything. I remember my cousin turning around and saying like, go sell a veggie burrito or something. I don’t know. My cousin’s hard core Philly.
After that I went to Juilius Hartt School of Music in Connecticut. I was a percussion major. I also did some percussion studies at the University of Colorado under Bill Hill, who is the World Symphony timpanist, who is just awesome. He does all the Red Rocks shows, so he did the Garcia stuff, the birthday celebrations. And he’s just a really cool guy. And I remember I got to Colorado and I got this gig with Shakedown Street, the original Shakedown Street, Ted Galloway of Shake Down Street. And I asked Bill to teach me how to sound like two drummers simultaneously, and he took on that challenge. And from there, you know, I met Rob probably, 20 years ago, or—2001 or 2002.
When I was in Shakedown Street, I started this thing called the Rocky Mountain Grateful Dead review, where the concept was to just gather some friends around the Rocky Mountains that would play Grateful Dead music in another project who might be free at that time, and put something together. And it was fairly loose and that’s been going on for about 15 years now. Rob hopped in on that, thankfully, up in Vail. And I try not to do any of them without him.
And you know, that kind of morphed into the Sages thing during the pandemic. We just found a lineup that was really spectacular, and moved forward with a different branding, I guess, name and title.
Rob: I’d come out to Colorado because I’d met a girl. And I can live anywhere with what I do. So it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Jake: For me I came here both because I kind of, I got to understudy with Bill Hill. And working through the University of Colorado in Denver, I got to work doing some music industry studies, doing some music engineering and percussion performance and percussion studies. So after graduation in Connecticut, I was looking for something to do. And this kind of popped up, and I came through right after graduation with my friend Aaron. And I just fell in love with Colorado. I was like wow, there’s no humidity here. And no bugs! It just rang my bell and I’ve been here ever since.
Rob: And then Sages and Spirits happened. Well, you know, we did some shows during COVID at Cervantes’ Ballroom (a Denver club), as the Rocky Mountain Grateful Dead Review. It didn’t have Melvin, it had John. And so we didn’t, you know, we didn’t really worry about the name too much, because it was COVID and blah, blah, blah. And then we did a private gig down in Mexico with Melvin, Jay, Jake, myself, Skip Vangelas, our bass player in Dark Star. And so they wanted to know what name we were and so John came up with Sages and Spirits and sort of that’s the band that we call ourselves, when Melvin’s playing with us, yeah.
And we did a gig at the Dillon Amphitheater after our Dark Star Red Rocks show with Melvin and Jay, and it was under Sages and Spirits. And the thing that we’re doing out in California at Skull and Roses is going to be the same thing, but we’ll also have Rob Barraco playing keyboards with us because Melvin—Melvin likes to talk in the third person for some reason; he goes, “Melvin doesn’t want to solo on that song.” So we have Barraco on the other side of the stage as the piano, and so, I guess take some of the stress off of Melvin. And that’s actually pretty cool, it’s the best sort of Dead slash Garcia thing combined. It’s pretty neat, I think.
The way we do it with that big a band is it’s a little bit different. You know, you’ve got, you know, Melvin playing Dead tunes, with a B3, and you have got Jay Lane in there too, it’s just it’s kind of a really good mix of the both. It’s kind of like the best of both worlds is what I like to call it.
Jake: I kind of look at it like, if you took a Grateful Dead set list like, you know, an ‘80s set list, you got the “Bucket,” “Sugaree,” “Help-*Slip” in the second set, and you look at a Garcia Band set list from around the same time, “How Sweet It is,” “Run for the Roses”, “Rubin and Cherise”, and if the Garcia Band had a Weir sitting in and another drummer and then the Dead had a Melvin and then you intertwined them where you have Jerry, Bobby, Jerry Band, Bobby, Jerry Band. Jerry drum bass, that’s what it is.
Rob: It’s different because you have the Garcia Band stuff took their risk on an a rhythmic guitar player, and then you’ve got the Dead stuff with two keyboard players, not unlike what the Dead did with Vinny and Bruce, I suppose, or, you know, one played a B3 and the other one played, I’m not even sure what it was, but some calliope sounds going on there, but it’s kind of like that. And so it gives us a chance to sort of play all the catalogs of both bands, on a high level.
It’s like anything, you know, you play less when there’s more, and I think the way we set this particular stage up is we’ve got Melvin Seals on one side of the stage, kind of like he is with JGB, and Rob Barraco is on the other side of the stage playing piano. As opposed to loading up one side of the stage with all the keyboards. Spread them out a little bit, you know, like in stereo, so if you are close to the stage, you kind of hear in stereo. There is really two of everyone except for Skip. So Skip, two guitars, two keys, one Skip.
I think Miles Davis said it appropriately. It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play and I think, you know, the more people that are on stage—I don’t want to say you dumb it down, because it’s really a bad term, but you certainly simplify what you are doing, whether it’s playing two note chords or triads or something like that, less notes is more space for everybody else to play some notes. And if everybody is thinking about not playing a lot of notes, then the whole thing has lot of room to breathe.
Jake: I just think saying choosing carefully.
Rob: And Skull and Roses is such a cool place to play, right there on the beach in Ventura, California. I mean, it’s got, you know—there is nothing that sucks about it. It’s a little dusty maybe when the winds start blowing. So the impact is low. We’re looking forward to it.