Billy & The Kids brought a little bit of soul and a whole boatload of jams to Pier Six Pavilion, Baltimore, MD’s gorgeous outdoor, waterfront amphitheater, on Wednesday. It wasn’t as easy a night for Bill Kruetzmann (Grateful Dead, Dead & Company) as he had originally envisioned when he booked the two waterfront gigs of this short, two-show run in Baltimore and New York, sadly.
Though Billy had familiar faces like bassist Reed Mathis and drummer Jeff Franca on the kit beside his to thicken the rhythm section, guitarists Tom Hamilton (Joe Rousso’s Almost Dead) and Daniel Donato (Daniel Donato‘s Cosmic Country), and Aron Magner (Disco Biscuits) on keys and even fresh face Kanika Moore (Doom Flamingo, TAUK) along for the ride, but he was haunted by one face that wasn’t there, James Casey (Trey Anastasio Band), as well as the wildfires devastating his beloved home in Hawaii.
Casey is involved in an ongoing battle with cancer and simply couldn’t make the shows while over the last few days, Kreutzmann has been on the mainland to rehearse for the shows and has had to watch footage on the news of the tragedy befalling the island state. Kreutzmann was visibly shaken when he described the stories and reports he was getting from friends back home during an interview segment with the percussive legend that streaming service nugs.net aired during the set break of last night’s show. Fundraisers for both Casey and the residents of Maui can be found at the linked text and Kreutzmann made a heartfelt plea for both to close out his short chat with the streaming service.
Hamilton and Billy got things going with the familiar strains of “Bertha”, though technical difficulties had the vocal mics not working at the venue. Though unfortunate, it simply gave fans a chance to truly appreciate the interplay of the guitarists as Hamilton and Donato jammed together through the first verses, choruses, and the beefy instrumental section in the middle.
Billy & The Kids – “Bertha” [Pro-Shot] – 8/16/23
Coming into the closing verses, the full range of sound was playing and everything was firing full steam ahead. One of the nearly infinite joys that make up the gift the Grateful Dead and its members gave to the world is in the form of the near instantly recognizable catalog of truly flexible, unforgettable songs.
For instance, though Kanika Moore and her funky, sultry voice might not be tailor-made for these jam band classics she very easily found places and tunes to sprinkle with her sweet, magical touch. She made standards like “Touch Of Grey”, “They Love Each Other”, “Scarlet Begonias”, and “Ship Of Fools” her own while truly shining on a couple of covers clearly slipped into the set, like Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman” and Patti Smith’s “Because The Night” brand new with that Dead influence.
Though not as new as Moore, fresh-faced Daniel Donato seems to be catching fire of late, and his fretboard work all night and his vocals on covers like “Beat It On Down The Line” and The Beatles‘ “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” were some of the evening’s big standouts. On the other side of the spectrum, good old Tom Hamilton, between his regular JRAD work and these pop-ups with Billy K, is always welcome. His guitar sound, in particular, has been so honed to these tunes that he makes singing and playing truly intricate songs look like child’s play. The fact that an ear-to-ear grin nearly always stretches across his face is all the answer any fan needs if they wonder if he ever grows tired of such a steady diet of Dead tunes.
Billy & The Kids – “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” (The Beatles) – 8/16/23
All this help gave the legend at the center of it plenty of fun tools to play with and deconstruct the material he spent his life helping craft. Whether it was trading grins with Mathis as they provided a base for the stellar work on keys from Magner and the rest of the band or his jamming with kit-mate Franca and their epic second set starting work, Kreutmann was clearly having a ball. After such a long, strange trip he’s taken to get to this stage in his life it’s wonderful to see him reaping the rewards of all that hard work and still finding new facets of it all to challenge and stimulate his seemingly endless love of it all.
That love, the same love that rang so true when he spoke of Casey’s plight and the tragedies of America’s Island state, speaks not just to his ability to care but to the overall message at the core of the Grateful Dead. Though the original band is gone, the fanbase they attracted all those years and their legacy are ever-expanding wonders to behold for a lot of different reasons. At the center of it all is something humanity could always use more of: empathy and honest love of everyone around them. In the end, all they and Billy K ever really wanted was to give the people a reason to smile, smile, smile.
Setlist: Billy & The Kids | Pier Six Pavilion | Baltimore, MD | 8/16/23
Set One: Bertha (Grateful Dead), Touch Of Grey (Grateful Dead), Beat It On Down The Line (Jesse Fuller), That’s What Love Will Make You Do (Little Milton), Help On The Way > The Wheel (Jerry Garcia), They Love Each Other (Jerry Garcia), Shakedown Street (Grateful Dead)
Set 2: Drums > Space > Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds (The Beatles) > Terrapin Station (Grateful Dead), Foolish Heart (Grateful Dead) > Scarlet Begonias (Grateful Dead), Boogie On Reggae Woman (Stevie Wonder), Deal (Grateful Dead)
Encore: Ship Of Fools (Grateful Dead), Because The Night (Patti Smith Group)