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From: MARIN INDEPENDENT JOURNAL, Thursday, April 29, 1993

Paul Liberatore, 'New life with the Dead'

"Since he sang the national anthem with Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia at the Giants' home opener at Candlestick Park, Vince Welnick has watched his fame spread beyond the world of rock n' roll into the aisles of his neighborhood supermarket.

"I can't even go to the grocery store now without a bunch of sports fans jumping on me," he says with a grin at the Grateful Dead's studio in San Rafael, where he was rehearsing this week with a new electronic jazz group, Vortex. "I used to be able to go to the market without people recognizing me . Now I can't. Not that he's complaining. Life has been sweet for Welnick since he became the newest member of the Grateful Dead, the most popular and successful concert band in the country.

For one thing, the 42-year-old musician is still sporting the remnants of a sunburn from a vacation in Mexico he took after a recent Dead tour. "I couldn't afford to be in Mexico if it hadn't had been for the Dead," he says. "It's better than winning the lottery every year."

Welnick took the musical equivalent of the Big Spin in 1990, after the over- dose death of Grateful Dead keyboardist Brent Mydland. He was one of several local keyboard players who auditioned to become Mydland's replacement. It was a gig he desperately needed.

As founding member of the Tubes, the theatrical-rock band that scored a string of hits in the mid-70's, including "Don't Touch Me There" and "Talk To You Later", Welnick had been able to buy a 30-acre spread in Sonoma County with a barn and a three-bedroom ranch house.

When the Tubes faded and fell from sight in the '80s, Welnick played for a time with Todd Rundgren, but eventually found himself out of work and facing some rugged times financially. "When the Tubes' recording contracts ran out, Lorie (his wife of 17 years) and I ended up renting the house and living in the barn," he remembers. "Before the Grateful Dead, I was between jobs. I didn't know what to do."

Welnick was so hard pressed he didn't even have a keyboard of his own when he drove down to Marin a day before his audition for the Dead opening. As luck would have it, the Dead's keyboard technician, Bob Bralove, let him use Mydland's equipment. As he was trying the gear out in the band's studio, Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir walked in.

"I met Bob and Jerry that day," he remembers. "Before then, I hadn't gotten my hopes up. I just thought I'd see how it went. But after meeting them, I was fired up. I thought this could be like family again, like it and been with the Tubes. Instead of me just being a sideman, O thought this could be a kinship."

After his audition the next day, Welnick went home to his barn in Sebastopol and waited. "A week later, we were living in the hayloft and wondering if I got the job or not," he says.

Then, finally, the word came. Weir called with the good news, which was tempered with some dark humor. Welnick was reminded of the band's alleged keyboard curse, which stems from the fact that three of the Dead's keyboard players have died before their time: Ron "Pig-pen" McKernan of lover disease, Keith Godchaux in San Geronimo Valley car crash and Mydland from an overdose of drugs.

"He told me, 'You're next up. Is your life insurance paid up?'" Welnick recalls with a wry smile. "I was gifted with the curse. I could die from worse things. I could die from boredom. I was totally elated. My life got back on track." While Mydland never felt completely accepted by Deadheads, even after 10 years with the band, Welnick had no such problems. He instantly recalls his first concert as a member of the Dead.

"That was Sept. 7, 1990, at the Richmond Coliseum outside of Cleveland. Ad soon as I played the slightest hint of a riff, the crowd lit up. Somebody had made up stickers that said, 'You, Vinnie' and 'We love you, brother Vince,' I'm flabbergasted at the unconditional love you get from Deadheads. You can mess up big time and they're still going to love you. I love them back."

Three years after the Grateful Dead changed his life, Welnick and his wife have moved deeper into the Sonoma countryside. they bought a new house on 10 acres where they love with 13 cats, two dogs and a pair of horses.

When he isn't playing keys with the Dead and covering their high harmony parts with his soprano voice, Welnick works with the Affordables, a band that includes Bill Spooner and Prairie Prince from the Tubes. And he's recently thrown in with Bralove, the keyboard technician who befriended him, in Bralove's new jazz group, Vortex, which plays tomorrow night at the Great American Music Hall.

All of this reminds Welnick of a premonition he had as a boy. "I had this flash when I was 11 years old," he says. "I was riding my bike at night and I stopped under a street light. I had this vision of thousands of people with their arms stretched out and I was on stage. I had this feeling that it was going to come true. Now, when I walk on stage with the Grateful Dead, I know that it has."

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From: DUPREE'S DIAMOND NEWS, (1992) Mike Fanning, 'The Digital Realm'

The first major San Francisco event of the new year served to connect the past with the future in a celebration of one-time countercultures that now find themselves considered cutting edge and influential. computer programmers, multimedia practitioners, hippies, gurus, media prophets, artists, musicians, and futurists could all relate to pieces of the scene that unfolded at the Digital Art Be-In. San Francisco's original Be-Ins happened without sophisticated publicity and demonstrated the power and diversity of a new way of thinking and a new kind of audience. The modern Digital Art Be-Ins are getting closer to a staged rock concert event, but they are still persevering at keeping the element of diversity alive. This time, the leaders of the "electronic frontier" billed their annual bash in such a way as to imply a connection with the "rave" scene, frequently happening in the same geographic area of the city, and also with a much more long-lived tradition, that of the Deadheads.

The Digital Art Be-In is touted as a "celebration of electronic art, design, multimedia creativity and the new human dimensions being facilitated by digital media". the fifth annual event was held January 8th at the Fashion Center. The trendy area South of Market boasts several similar warehouses renovated into modern shopping structures for a hip, young clientele. The event was held in conjunction with MacWorld, the computer exhibit/conference sponsored by Apple Computer, where computer professionals and Mac users observe the latest Mac applications and technology. At prior gatherings, the attendees from out of town were in need of evening entertainment, so five years ago they started the Be-Ins, organized by Michael Gosney, editor of Verbum, the magazine of digital art, design, and multimedia, to provide it. In the setting of a party with bands and speakers, the vendors of digital products for entertainment purposes could show their latest wares. Starting in 1992, they opened the gates to the general public and the rock concert nature of the event overwhelmed the exhibitors. This time, they improved the balance between the show and the exhibits with the assistance of Bill Graham Presents and an infusion of mellow vibes from the kind of concert-goers who are accustomed to simultaneously shopping at an outdoor hippie flea market and dancing to the beat of a hot jamming band.

Gosney had met sometime Dead lyricist John Barlow, who is active in computer circles, and through him had met Bob Bralove, who does marvelous things with sound for the Dead and was the creator of the jam-drums-space extravaganza Infrared Roses. Gosney's Be-In became an obvious debut venue for Bralove's new project, his own band, Vortex, specializing in modern technology space rock, with jazz, classical, and psychedelic elements fused and molded. vortex was the headline band and brought out a large share of the hippie component of the audience, dancing around during the opening acts with long hair and tie- dyes, alongside trendy yuppies, 90's SOMA-types, and nerds in ties.

The evening began with words from the self-styled "Maestro of Ceremonies," Galen Brandt, who wore a dress of black and white alternating colors that showed repeating patterns of the phases of the moon and really made an impression under the flashing lights of the stage. Throughout the evening, she returned to introduce most of the acts and speakers. Paul Saffo, who spends his days advising corporate "suits", told the audience, "The revolution is not theirs, it's yours." Brett Leonard, the Hollywood virtual reality expert and director of Lawnmower Man, encouraged the audience to use their camcorders, which he called "the future of movies". He mentioned a few of his upcoming projects, including a Lawnmower Man sequel and a virtual reality TV series.

There were two stages, one large and one small, to facilitate changing sets without long breaks, but the small one was rarely used, so their were equipment-changing breaks anyway. This allowed for browsing in the separate exhibit area, "The Digital Frontier," a scene akin, perhaps, to a Dead concert parking lot scene in the 21st Century. The room featured vendors using digital technology for entertainment, contrasting with the more practical business uses demonstrated at the more serious MacWorld. It resembled a carnival or amusement park where patrons could try out each "ride" for its thrill, excitement, and entertainment value. The most popular exhibits were the virtual reality ones, where people waited in line for an opportunity to put on a helmet and a glove that simulated their transportation into an interactive video world, or to step into a dark room of three-dimensional video imagery. There were exhibits where people were filmed before a dark background and their images were projected onto a screen and integrated with pre-recorded animated characters. Some people manipulated light and shadow to produce sound. There were digitally produced art images on prints and T- shirts.

The most interesting exhibit to a Deadhead greeted us just as we entered the exhibit hall. The booth was outfitted with a small sound system playing live Dead tapes. A Deadhead crew from Braindance Development exhibited for the first time a new computer product aimed at Deadheads - "Daily Tripper", a personal information manager (essentially a computer-based day planner). When loaded onto a personal computer, the software enables a user to record his appointments, phone messages, recipes, birthdays, shopping lists, and more into the system and access them to keep his or her life structured and scheduled. The product is to be marketed in conjunction with Grateful Dead Merchandising. They were targeting the January Chinese New Year's shows to distribute flyers making the product available by mail. Logistically, it would be difficult to demonstrate at a show, but the Be-In location was perfect for it. Susana Millman, who took the vibrant photographs used for the screen images, was at hand to discuss the project. At different times, Julie Bowers and Jim Johnson, also creators of the unique product, operated the mouse, demonstrating its ease of use and how the different days of the year yielded on-screen mentions of Dead trivia and band members' birthdays. The eagerly described the system to a consistent flow of interested customers. The music brought us in, the attractive Dead-oriented screen images (projected from a laptop onto a monitor) caught our eye, and we stayed to observe and compliment what we saw. I noticed really nice close-ups of all the band members and particularly remember the image of the tie-dyed King Kong from Madison Square Garden. One typical drawback of a day planner is that it is a chore to keep track of one's schedule in such minute detail, but this product looked like it would be fun to use. They demonstrated a Macintosh version, but and IBM compatible version will be available also.

For the second time in a week and a day, I was at an event where they sold "smart drinks". (The first was Zero's New Year's Eve concert). These are being sighted more frequently at various Bay Area entertainment events. There were usually lines of people waiting to buy them at the Be-In. They have strange names and contain mixtures of different fruit juices and vitamins and are marketed as healthy alternatives to alcoholic drinks. the places that sell them can charge as much for them as for mixed drinks, making them more profitable than soda for a place that either has no alcohol license or caters to a crowd that is health-oriented and not strongly disposed to drinking. The one I tried tasted good, but I didn't notice the kick effect discussed in the advertising. I half expect them to show up at the Shoreline this upcoming season.

Throughout the evening's entertainment there were tow screens over the big stage showing computer-generated video imagery. The pictures overhead were frequently overwhelming, moving so fast that each could barely be perceived before it was replaced by another. Shapes and colors made trippy patterns to useful during the performance/speech by Dr. Timohty Leary, a Trance-formation production. Dr. Leary was dressed in a colorful outfit and backed by a group of technical wizards he named, "Laura, Genesis, Andy, and Dave". He has presented his latest act, imparting his modern message of mind-expansion using technology, in a number of cities, but he singled out San Francisco, which he called "the front line of the future, the greatest city in the would, we all know that".

He recalled for the audience the first Human Be-In long ago, on a January afternoon in Golden Gate Park with the Grateful Dead. He describes his role in life as "producing trances in human brains," something he is doing today, has been doing for twenty years, and something the Grateful Dead do "every show". When he got into the heart of his performance, the audience was bombarded with an onslaught of sound and color to accompany his ranting and chanting. He concluded by warning the audience members to not drive for at least a half hour in order to come down from the experience.

There were tow disappointments for the crowd. Both Jon Anderson and Todd Rundgren were mentioned in the program handed out at the door, but neither of them actually performed. They had not been mentioned in the pre-event publicity so no one had purchased tickets to see them. However, since they were the biggest "name" performers in the program, there was a little grumbling. The "maestro" even introduced Rundgren at one point, but he never arrived on-stage, so they instead showed two of his videos, produced using the Video Toaster.

Next came World Entertainment War, a modern-style, mediaconscious band with clever lyrics for their songs that frequently parody the strangeness of the entertainment age. The lead singer entertained the liberal-oriented crowd with political comments and stage antics. At one point during their performance, the overhead video screen showed the band in the same image as on-stage, except that on the screen they were accompanied by an "anti-matter hologram from the future". The band kept the crowd dancing for a set that included the opportunity for the audience to bat around the "media-ball", an oversized ball that made different sounds depending on where it was hit. It was reminiscent of the ball used by D'Cuckoo at their live performances. The area of the hall used by the bands was a little small for the size of the ball, but the audience kept it going gamely.

It was about 11:30 when Vortex cam out to play, and the crowd was still there. This was the band they had come to see. Michael Gosney chose to introduce them himself and was obviously proud they chose his event for the debut of a band that seemed to fit so perfectly. He described it as a new project that allowed Bralove and friends to channel their excess energy. The band members were all very impressive, technically speaking, with their instruments. Though their tunes seemed improvisational in style, they had obviously rehearsed and were in sync with each other. The music ranged from the kind of space that the Dead do to jazz pieces and classical-style jams. There were no lyrics, so it is not possible to attempt to provide a song list. They were free-flowing jams, with different members taking the lead at different times. Bob Bralove played the keyboards, but was frequently also focused on a mixer board he had on-stage next to his keyboard that enabled him to turn dials and make sound adjustments to the output of the entire band. Vortex also had its own accompanying video images, and the sound was ably handled by Ultrasound. Sometimes it was difficult to dance to the music, while other times the dance floor was full of people moving very fast. At one point a recording of a funky beat and the words "dance to the music" could be heard among the sound mix. Other passages were almost "New Age", though the volume was rather loud. When the visuals got especially psychedelic, the band did too, and the whole place seemed to make a psychic connection tot he roots of the Be-In. without any recognizable songs to anchor me, this band kept my interest during the entire set, which lasted just over an hour.

Bobby Strickland was a marvel on the horns, practically pulling out one for each song, mellowing out the cacophonous space with soft sax notes in the right places. Usually, Henry Kaiser's virtuoso space guitar style is so unique and bold that he rises about his surrounding musicians and pulls the music in his direction, toward the avant-garde edge. With Vortex, he fit in more evenly, and the band went to the edge at his side. Paul van Wagneingen on drums and his brother Mark van Wageningen on bass both had several turns during the set to shine with solos and kept their respective sounds right up there in the style of every jam that came around. It usually sounded bigger than a five-member band, since Bralove seemed to have extra sounds at his fingertips to fill in any gaps as he designed the sound output while it was being played.

The audience was impressed by the hefty set of songs. I heard words of praise and respect from folks all around me, and not just those who appeared to be Deadheads. No one in the band said a word on-stage the entire show, so any news about future gigs was not forthcoming. It seemed likely that those of us present would gladly see them perform again, and would tell our friends, too. The band quietly left the stage, all with smiles, which were contagious in the audience as well. They played no encore despite the frenzied applause they received and the words of the maestro that she would go backstage and check if there were to be any more tunes. The future of space music looks very bright with the advent of a band like Vortex.

With the headline act concluded, the show began to wind down, though the hall remained open until 2:00 a.m. for a dwindling crowd. I mused upon the prospects of entertainment for the future and the use to which artists can apply the coming wave of electronic inventions. It was nice to think that we weren't there for the sake of business, for the sake of money, for the sake of capitalist competition. These evolving innovations have even more powerful applications in helping artists and musicians create new and different works to thrill us and bring about more fun and wonderment. If our entertainment dollars and our eclectic tastes need new outlets, this shows that there are new, shining options looming. Looks like an evolution to go with the revolution.

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