John Kadlecik admits to feeling nervous the first time he played with the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir and Phil Lesh.
“It was like feeling my life for the preceding 20 years was leading up to it,” the guitarist-singer recalled.
After all, it’s not every player who gets to meet his idols, let alone perform with them on a regular basis. Kadlecik is doing just that as a founding member of Furthur, a jam band he formed with Weir and Lesh two years ago.
Even though Kadlecik’s guitar and vocal stylings have received the highest praise from Deadheads — who have compared him to the late, legendary Jerry Garcia — he sounds a bit awestruck when describing his better known cohorts.
“These guys are going for a peak experience that you can’t manufacture,” said Kadlecik, who performs with Furthur on Saturday, Nov. 12, at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
“It’s exciting — it’s like watching high-wire guys perform without a net.”
But Kadlecik is clear: Furthur is not a tribute band. He’s already gone there with his nearly decade-long stint with the well-received Dark Star Orchestra.
That tribute act continues to perform, but without Kadlecik, who left to launch Furthur.
“Dark Star Orchestra was a conscious choice to restrain my influences to just Jerry Garcia, to see what would happen,” Kadlecik said.
“With Furthur, I can do what I did with every other band besides Dark Star. I can let it fly on the quest of trying to find something original.”
Furthur embodies the spirit of the Dead, while reflecting the improvisational feel of other groups led by Weir and Lesh after Garcia’s 1995 passing. The band also features Jeff Chimenti on keyboards, Joe Russo on drums, and Sunshine Becker and Jeff Pehrson on vocals.
“The Grateful Dead had a long, slow organic process of unfolding to become what it was,” Kadlecik said. “That’s what we, as Deadheads, all recognize. And you can’t force that.
“You can create something new that exists within the context of what that used to be.”
The Iowa native knows something about being a Deadhead. A multi-instrumentalist who also plays violin and mandolin, he discovered the Dead in his late teens and has seen about 60 shows.
That attendance level puts him somewhere in the middle of the band’s diehard legions.
“I know guys who have seen thousands of shows, and I’ve met people who clearly love the music, who were around at the time, and only saw five or 10 shows,” Kadlecik says.
As did the Dead, Furthur encourages the taping of its live shows and offers instant CDs after each performance, which usually last longer than three hours.
“This band repeats very little over the course of a whole tour — we probably know close to 300 songs,” Kadlecik says. “Jams can happen anywhere, regardless of the repertoire. If the set list doesn’t have any songs that lend itself to jamming, we’ll make a space in between two of them.”
Furthur has no plans to make a studio album, preferring instead to create music organically during a live context.
“There’s some disagreement over whether the studio CD album is a valid format anymore,” Kadlecik says. “We can write new songs and just play them, and have them available on the live recordings.”
But recordings only go so far to capturing the experience a show.
“Live music is not package-able,” Kadlecik says. “You can record live music, but the experience of seeing a band performing live is one of the last things you can’t download, or have in your cocoon in your living room.”