It's always been easy to typecast musicians as troublemakers and delinquents. From the '50s through the '80s, rock music was widely accepted — and mythologized — as the soundtrack of rebellion and social upheaval; a natural enemy to bastions of order such as schools and churches. But it's still unusual when a bona fide rock star accepts a diploma and gives a surprise performance at the high school from which he was expelled.
That was the scene at Colorado Springs' Fountain Valley School on May 30, when legendary Grateful Dead singer/guitarist Bob Weir visited for the school's alumni weekend. Weir, the subject of the new Netflix documentary The Other One, attended Fountain Valley as a sophomore in 1962-63. At the event, he celebrated his classmates' 50-year reunion, where he was honored with an induction into the school's Arts Guild ... and his diploma.
In a short speech after receiving his accolades, Weir fondly recalled his time on the school's undefeated football team, whose waterboy John Perry Barlow became his close friend and future Grateful Dead lyricist. Weir also talked about his interactions with music, science and English instruction, and his penchant for "creative mischief," which ultimately resulted in his dismissal from the school.
While apocryphal Deadhead legend suggests that Weir was expelled from Fountain Valley for smoking pot, both Weir and staff at the school are quick to insist this wasn't the case — it was more simply his mischievousness and "unrestrained exuberance."
"In the end," chuckled Weir during his speech, "I was just a bit too rambunctious for an institution that needed to preserve some semblance of order." Ultimately, Weir admitted that receiving "the boot" was the best thing to ever happen to him, as he was well on his path by that time. "I found that path here; that's what this place is all about."
One of Weir's classmates brought acoustic guitars and held an earlier impromptu jam with him and head of school Will Webb, but the real surprise for attendees was when Weir joined local band The Fever for spirited renditions of "Shakedown Street" and "One More Saturday Night."
Dave Grimsland, the group's keyboardist, explains that the band had no idea Weir would be joining them. "We did the best we could to prepare [in about] 15 minutes," Grimsland says of the experience, which proved just as exciting for the band as for the audience. "For me, it was a dream come true. I saw roughly 60 Grateful Dead shows back in my college years."
In another local crossover between education and rock music, band students from Mesa Ridge High School have been enjoying a good deal of national radio play lately, courtesy of a collaboration with Los Angeles-based indie pop band Trapdoor Social.
Trapdoor Social came across "The Pride of Mesa Ridge" marching band while passing through Colorado Springs on tour, and vocalist Skylar Funk was sufficiently impressed with the young musicians to write a song, "Fine On My Own," which showcases the marching band. Along with receiving regular rotation on RXP, the song has been the winner of Las Vegas station X107.5's new music "Beatdown" competition 10 times in a row, edging out songs by Modest Mouse, New Politics and others.
In keeping with a history of altruistic and environmental efforts, Trapdoor Social is donating proceeds of "Fine On My Own," along with a PledgeMusic campaign they set up, to attempt to raise $10,000 for Mesa Ridge's music program. According to a statement from the band, "High schools all around the country are having their art budgets cut, so it's important that we do what we can to keep art education accessible to the future Da Vincis and Mozarts of the world."
As for the week ahead in local music happenings, popular bluesman Big Jim Adam, now based in Florida, will be returning to Colorado Springs for two shows. On June 13, he will be headlining the Feast of St. Arnold Beer Festival at the Chapel of Our Savior. Gypsy jazz quartet Mango Fan Django will also be performing at the event, so if you like blues, jazz, beer or the Lord, how could you go wrong? For the more strictly secular, Adam also appears at the Gold Room the following day, June 14.
Finally, in an event that is bound to catch the interest of longtime local rock fans, Zen Radio will be reuniting at Ivywild School for a 25th anniversary show. The trio has announced that, after the reunion celebration, they expect to continue playing at showcases and festivals, so this is likely your best opportunity to see them locally. You can also catch up with them at a meet-and-greet following the performance.