Hear Jerry Garcia’s Band Cover “Jingle Bells”

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via @Jerry Garcia | YouTube

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The Grateful Dead performed at almost all major holidays and events over their 30-year history. With concert promoter Bill Graham frequently making theatrical entrances costumed as Father Time, their New Year’s Eve events rapidly became legendary gatherings for Deadheads to turn the clock into a whole new year. Valentine’s Day, Independence Day, and even Thanksgiving all have concerts. But it seems that Jerry Garcia drew the line at Christmas.

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That’s right if you wanted to attend a Dead performance on December 25 to celebrate Christmas this year, you were out of luck. The Jerry Garcia Band, Garcia’s regularly active side project, never performed on Christmas Day, nor did the Grateful Dead. Most likely, it was done for practical reasons. Since every member of the Dead had obligations outside of the band, taking one day off to observe the birth of Christ was definitely permissible.

That’s not to say that when the Dead did perform over the holiday season, they didn’t have fun celebrating Christmas. At their performance on December 27, 1981, Bob Weir bids the audience a happy holiday before having Garcia ramble through a few notes of “Jingle Bells.” In 1971, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan participated in the Christmas spirit by occasionally playing the lead in “Run Rudolph Run.”

Not only the Dead honored the holidays; others did as well. When it came to Christmas classics like “Christmas Time’s A-Comin” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” The Jerry Garcia Band had their way. On December 12, 1975, Garcia organized a performance at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco during a JGB performance that included Weir’s band Kingfish, Keith and Donna Godchaux performing alone, and Clover (the same group who supported Elvis Costello on his debut album My Aim is True two years later).

Despite having more than half of the band in attendance, the Grateful Dead did not perform that evening. The Dead only played four shows in total in 1974, the fewest in their thirty-year touring career, following a break at the end of the previous year. Five nights before Christmas, Garcia and the JGB took the stage because Garcia wasn’t ready to stop playing live shows (the tour break was mostly used as a justification to lower the band’s massive payroll of staff).

During the performance, renowned session keyboardist Nicky Hopkins—who at the time was a JGB member—takes his microphone and requests a drink. Hopkins contemplates performing a version of “Greensleeves” while the other band members engage in something else, but he quickly changes his mind and plays “Jingle Bells” instead. The refrain of the song is sung by the audience as part of the performance. Eventually, during the song’s second half, Garcia plays a few chords on the guitar, but Hopkins is primarily showcasing his superb keyboard abilities.