Rainbow Full of Sound Have The Dead Covered at Putnam Place

“You never know when the muse is going to show up,” says Waynard Scheller of Rainbow Full of Sound, a Grateful Dead cover band appearing at Putnam Place for the first of four shows this Thursday (February 20th). “It’s kinda like the energy, the magic in the music, the X factor that Phil Lesh refers to. It’s present in our music. It is one of the unique things about Rainbow Full of Sound and is probably the thing that inspires me to keep it going and the thing that keeps people coming back to see us again.”

As a music journalist, I think of classic Grateful Dead as a trapeze act performing without a net.  There’s a kind of tension as Jerry Garcia swings out on the trapeze bar noodling on guitar. Will his muse trigger Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart? Will he figuratively grip their improvisational skills? Will the band lock in and fly through the roof of the tent, conquering the bonds of gravity or will they collide, fall to earth, crash, and burn? 

It’s that X factor that inspired Waynard Scheller as a youngster and thousands of others to follow the band from date to date around the country. Like Dumbo the Elephant, The Dead were their magic feather. Hold on to that feather and you can fly. Drop it and you fall back to earth.

By its very definition, a cover band lacks some of that adrenalin rush of performing without a net. The established structure of whatever song they perform becomes the proverbial net. They’re not likely to lose their grip, but if they do, the structure of the song they’re performing has been established by The Dead. It’s their safety net. 

Rainbow Full of Sound will be performing the specific songs The Dead did on their Europe ’72 tour in the order Jerry and the boys did them sequentially from night to night, venue to venue. Putnam Place becomes one of those venues four different times on this tour. “We’re going to reperform each (Europe ’72) show song by song, all 21 shows. So, we’re basically retracing the entire tour. We’re recreating the entire tour one show at a time. We play every song they played in the same order.” Scheller who is the keyboardist and leader of Rainbow works with an ever-changing cadre of about 30 musicians, six or seven of whom perform at any one show.

“It’s interesting,” says Scheller. “When (The Dead) went to Egypt there definitely was an X factor. There’s definitely a mystique and some elements that are there (in our performance), and I don’t know for sure what they are or what they mean. I’ve observed and thought from time to time that there are these elements, but I mean I couldn’t explain what they were or what they are, you know?

“I followed The Dead around the country as a kid, and then as I got older to be able to work with some of my heroes was an amazing thing. I was contacted by some of the Garcia family, and they asked us to perform. So, we went out to California, and we performed. Bob Weir joined us for a full set, and I ended up touring with (guitarist) John Kadlecik for (the) Furthur (Band) for two years. So, I ended up working with Bobby again. I sat in with the band when we were on tour in California. 

“Things just evolved. (I worked for) a couple of different organizations doing technical director roles and associate producer events, and I ended up on stage with different people like Hot Tuna members Jorma (Kaukonen) and Jack (Cassidy) at one of the events I was technical director of. You do the right thing, and the right thing happens. One thing leads to another, and that’s how it all happens.”

Rainbow Full of Sound’s publicist is Dennis McNally who was the Dead’s historian and publicist for decades. Dennis would not put his reputation on the line if the group he’s promoting didn’t have the juice. So, it would be unfair to say that Rainbow Full of Sound suffers from all the common issues of your standard cover band. 

Even though they’re performing the setlists of each stop on The Dead’s Europe ’72 tour, their performance is not a note for note replication. “We do try to capture the vibe from each show and from the tour. But we don’t try to recreate or do what they did. We have our own take on it, and we try to stay true to our own sound. So, we’re not perfectly trying to stay true to what they did exactly. You can’t really, anyway.   

“The vibe just naturally came through as we started to play the show and rehearse. It naturally just happened which is really cool. We didn’t find any conflict because for me the greatest part is to be able to improvise. It just comes naturally. The vibes from the ’72 tour also kinda just flowed out, and I was actually surprised at how that happened ’cause it’s a unique sound in that ’72 era that they had.”

Rainbow Full of Sound will perform at Putnam Place this Thursday, February 20th, March 19th, April 30th, and May 21st. Three out of four Putnam Place shows will feature guitarist Andy Morse of the Wheel, an area Dead cover band. 

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