8 Bands Carrying on Jerry Garcia's Legacy

When Jerry Garcia died Aug. 9, 1995, an era ended … but the music didn't.

The Grateful Dead frontman had such great influence during his life that his legacy has carried on for two decades, and today, shows no sign of stopping. It's in the music of his former bandmates, who continue to play together and separately. It's in the diverse sounds of dozens of jam bands striving to keep up the vibe Garcia and company created. And it was on memorable display in a recent series of "Fare Thee Well" concerts played by former members of the Dead, joined by younger Garcia devotees such as Trey Anastasio of Phish. The series was billed as really, truly, the last time the Dead would ever play together again.

"Fare Thee Well" didn't really turn out to be forever, as Grateful Dead bandmates Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann and Bob Weir announced a month later that they were inspired by those shows to continue touring as Dead & Company. Regardless, the "Fare Thee Well" concerts were a great tribute to Garcia's legacy, showcasing the huge impact the Dead continue to have on music two decades after his death. The five shows – three in Chicago and two in Santa Clara, California – broke pay-per-view records, crashed Ticketmaster and delighted fans both old and young. 

One day, the Dead really will be done touring for good, and it'll be up to their many followers to keep the music going. Plenty of musicians have already proved they're ready to carry the torch. We're looking at eight bands that are carrying on Garcia's legacy by echoing aspects of the Grateful Dead, from established favorites to up-and-comers.

Extensive Touring – The Heavy Pets.

It's one of the first things we think about when we think of the Grateful Dead: their seemingly never-ending tour schedule and the many fans who dropped everything for a while to follow their musical idols from town to town. The Heavy Pets are among the modern-day jam bands that have taken up the call to tour, traveling year-round in addition to releasing albums. They've been around for 10 years and have worked with artists including David Grisman, who frequently worked with Garcia, as well as John Popper of Blues Traveler.

Lots of Improvisation – The Dave Matthews Band.

The Grateful Dead were famous for never playing the same song twice: Instead, they improvised together, creating new sounds with every concert. A single song could last more than a half-hour, and multiple songs often blurred into each other as the musicians went wherever the music took them. Casual fans of the Dave Matthews Band might not think of it as a jam band – and singles like "Crash Into Me" and "Ants Marching" don't really reflect that aspect of the band. But in concert, the band's members improvise just as the Dead's did, finding new interpretations of songs each time they play them, and sometimes topping the 30-minute mark, too.

Joining Members of the Dead for Revival Tours – John Mayer.

With the recent announcement that Dead & Company will continue to tour came word that John Mayer would be the latest musician to join Garcia's former bandmates. He's in good company as one of many younger musicians who have played with the Dead in the 20 years since Garcia's death. Oteil Burbridge of the Allman Brothers and Jeff Chimenti of Rat Dog will also be part of Dead and Company, joining a list of musicians that includes Bruce Hornsby, Trey Anastasio of Phish, singers Joan Osbourne and Susan Tedeschi, and a revolving cast of others that have one key thing in common: a love for the music they're carrying on.

Transforming Traditional Sounds Into Modern Music – Yonder Mountain String Band.

The Grateful Dead were a rock band that drew inspiration from so many musical genres that weren't rock. Jazz, blues, country, they all found their way into the Dead's music, as did traditional styles such as bluegrass – Garcia learned to fingerpick a banjo before he ever took up guitar – and folk. Today's festival goers still appreciate those traditional influences, and Yonder Mountain String Band is among the bands carrying that torch. Bluegrass is at the heart of its music, and the band members' instrumentation includes banjo, mandolin and fiddle.

Playing the Music of the Dead – The Dawn.

The Grateful Dead played lots of covers in addition to their own compositions – songs they performed include Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried," Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" and Howlin' Wolf's "Smokestack Lightning." Many of the bands that follow in their wake love to play covers, too … and, of course, sometimes they cover Dead songs. The Dawn is one of those bands – frontman Sean Ryan told us, "You hear Garcia in so much of today's music. The music is timeless … obviously the jam band scene is indebted to him forever and his songs and sound are covered by almost all jam bands." They're among many bands that often include a Dead song in a live set.

Appearing at Festivals – Gov't Mule.

Some of the first great music festivals included appearances from the Dead: Woodstock, the Monterey Pop Festival and the record-setting Summer Jam at Watkins Glen. In the years since those pioneering festivals, the summer music fest has become a staple on the touring circuit for many of the bands that follow in the Dead's footsteps, with big favorites like Bonnaroo and Summer Camp joined by smaller regional festivals. Gov't Mule is a staple of those festivals, led by Warren Haynes, a veteran of both the Allman Brothers Band (who helped defined the concept of jam band along with the Dead) and of a variety of Grateful Dead side projects.

Shifting Membership and Side Projects – Snarky Puppy.

The lineup of the Grateful Dead didn't remain static for long – band members came and went, and they broke out to do side projects in addition to their work with the main band. Garcia himself played with other musicians in acts including the Jerry Garcia Band, Old and in the Way along with David Grisman and Vassar Clements, and Legion of Mary. Snarky Puppy is a band that follows the Dead's lead; its dozens of musicians flow in and out of the band as they perform with each other and with other notable artists such as Justin Timberlake and Snoop Dogg.

Huge Following With Few or No Charting Singles – Phish.

The Grateful Dead had so many fans, spanning generations and continents, that it's easy to forget they didn't have much in the way of traditional "success" in the music world. They had one Top 10 single, long after their debut – 1987's "Touch of Grey" made it to No. 9 – and a handful of singles in the 1970s that barely cracked the Billboard chart. The same goes for jam band superstar Phish. If the Grateful Dead were the granddaddies of the Genre, Phish is among the fathers, the next generation that helped spawn a movement in the 1980s that built into the '90s and 2000s. But Phish's entries to music charts are rare, and the band doesn't show up much, if at all, on the radio. Phish fans find the band, as the Dead's did, through concerts, bootlegs and friends.