JerryFest returned to Five Points Sunday, Oct. 1, and the event was more than nostalgia, and more than a concert.
“We’re trying to create the spirit of community, the love of music, and how that can bring a community together, and just the joy,” said Jenn McCallister. “We’re trying to create the feeling of when you’d be at the shows.”
The Five Points Association organized and hosts JerryFest each year in honor of legendary musician Jerry Garcia, who passed away in 1995.
Garcia was best known for his work with the Grateful Dead, a band the McCallisters saw perform many times, with Don catching the Dead’s only Columbia appearance, in 1985 at the Carolina Coliseum.
The couple, who co-own Loose Lucy’s in Five Points (The store is named for a Grateful Dead song, and celebrating 25 years in Columbia this year!), often took weekends off to travel to shows, and Jenn says the experience was more than just great music.
“For me it was church. It moved me, moved my spirit. I would come back recharged. I’m getting goosebumps talking about it,” she said. “It was a magical, magical time I would not change for anything.”
She and Don hope JerryFest can give all who choose to come to the free event a taste of that joy, and to put aside the troubles and conflicts of the world for a day.
“JerryFest is meant to be an oasis on a Sunday afternoon here in the city, a time to just forget about all this,” Don said of such conflicts. “For that afternoon, let’s come together. You can be who you are in a way which in that case is a music lover, and a lover of fellowship and community.”
“Think this through with me. Let me know your mind. Whoa, oh, what I want to know is are you kind?”
-The Grateful Dead, “Uncle John’s Band”
The music of the Grateful Dead reflects the spirit of community they and their fans always embraced. It ranges from rock and roll to Americana, from bluegrass to blues, and sometimes defies all categories. It has also survived when the work of many bands who started more than 50 years ago is forgotten. Dead and Company, a band which features three members of the Dead teaming up with other musicians including John Mayer, may get some of the credit for that.
“College kids still know the music, and we are delighted by that,” Jenn said. “I think now we are seeing that grow even more because of Dead and Company, this current incarnation with John Mayer has brought so many more people to this music.”
Don added that with all the recent turmoil, political and otherwise, people are turning again to the culture of love and community embodied by the Dead and other musicians who got their start in the 1960s.
“Probably more than ever now, the way things have gone, I would anticipate that sort of world view being appealing as we go forward here,” he said. “One wonders if we haven’t entered a new era.”
That culture can be a draw even for those who have never heard a Grateful Dead song, or whose musical tastes tend toward different sounds.
“I’ve been telling people even if you don’t like the music, it’s a feeling that’s created down here that day, because there’s a lot of love going on,” Jenn said. “There’s a lot of hugging. There are smiles. We put on the Grateful Dead dancing bear costume and go out there and dance with children. Everything about it is just beautiful.”
In addition to live music, Sunday’s event at the Five Points Fountain included artists, vendors and food and drinks, and is free and open to all: kids and pets are not just welcomed but encouraged to join in the fun. The musicians and vendors are all from the Columbia area.
The McCallisters, who assist the Five Points Association with music booking for the event, receive requests yearly from musicians and others from other regions, but choose to keep it local. “We have a lot to celebrate in our community,” Jenn said.
For those unfamiliar with the music, the McCallisters offered some suggestions, essentials from the Dead’s long, strange trip through 30 years of playing and recording together. We compiled them in a Spotify playlist, and you can listen here (registration is required, but it is free). Many songs by the Dead are also available for free listening at relisten.net.
The McCallisters looked for bands who will reflect the many different phases of the Dead’s career. “You’re talking about bluegrass; you’re talking about blues, and then when you get into rock and roll, different types of rock and roll,” Jenn said. “We’re trying to represent that as much as possible and give a little something to everybody.”
Even if the music itself is not your cup of tea, JerryFest and the culture of love and community it promotes could be.
“It’s not just listening to music. It’s community and family and family is still going strong,” Don said. “When you listen to ‘China Cat’ you can close your eyes and be on Haight Street, with people with bell bottoms and sunflowers everywhere.”
“You don’t have to love this music,” Jenn added. “It’s about joy and love, and that’s a good way to forget the troubles of the world, at least for that eight hours.”
We can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to do that. In case you missed the fun Sunday, though, you can find pictures and video at the Midlands Anchor Facebook page.