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  • Benjamin Collins

Zach Nugent Band in California - Part 01 of 04

Updated: Nov 23, 2022

Zach Nugent Band performs on 4/20/22 at The Chapel

On a Wednesday night I find myself far from home in The Mission in San Francisco, standing on the side of the street, rain pouring down, and the world's most expensive guitar next to me. We're waiting for our Uber to take us back to the hotel after a long day of travel and of course, the massive 4/20 reunion gig at The Chapel. That night, Zach Nugent and his band consisting of Scott Guberman (Phil Lesh & Friends), Cotter Ellis (Swimmer, Dead Set), Joe Agnello (Swimmer, Dead Set), Craig Privett (Half Step), and Sunshine Garcia Becker (Further), took the stage with numerous special guests to perform an incredible show.

Within the chapel's walls that night was three of the late Jerry Garcia's guitars. 'Wolf', 'Alligator', and Jerry's Martin D28 were all present and ready to be played that night. If that wasn't enough, Phil Lesh's 'Mission Control' bass, a beautiful, complex, and monstrous work of engineering designed to provide four seperate outputs (one for each string) and control the Grateful Dead's infamous Wall of Sound in 1973 and 1974 with the controls on the bass. Bob Weir's 'No Fun' Casio guitar that he and Bob Dylan played in the '80s was also on stage that night being played.

And if THAT wasn't enough, we were joined by multiple people who made the music happen back in the day! Cheryl Rucker (Melvin Seals & JGB) and Jacklyn LaBranch (Jerry Garcia Band) both sang a few songs with the band. When they sang for the first time in sound check, I had to fight back the urge to scream in excitement. That was the sound I've heard time after time on the beloved recordings of Jerry Garcia and his band in the late '80s and early '90s. It was absolutely chilling.

Furthermore, Peter Rowan of Jerry's band, Old And In The Way, made an appearance and sang while playing Jerry's Martin on stage. And everybody's favorite, "Big Steve" Parish spoke some words at the beginning of the show, telling stories of his days as Jerry's right hand man and of the guitars he cared for night after night for all those years.

The vibe in the room that night was collosal. The room expanded with every note played, eventually crescendoing as midnight approached. Zach swapped over to Jerry's Alligator, after he had been playing 'Wolf' for most of the night. A hot hot Morning Dew came from the ashes of a smoldering set of playing by the band, and once the first notes of Dew began, you could feel the energy in the room shift. That haunting post-apocalyptic ballad that is so iconically Jerry was played to perfection that night with Zach Nugent and his band. At the very crescendo, I stood at the back of the room, watching wave after wave of light, sound, and matter itself wash over the audience in haunting screams from Jerry's dusty strings, channeled by Zach.

Euphoric doesn't even begin to describe it.

Getting to photograph this band, on this night, in this city, with these instruments making these sounds, was surreal. An ultimate "pinching myself" moment. The energy of the Grateful Dead, the best band of all time, was abound and it lives on in this city and in these people. This world is at its best when music is being played.

Two portraits I took of 'Big Steve' Parish. This is a story in and of itself.

Touring with Zach Nugent's band was a check mark in my bucket list. My first official tour as photographer of many I am sure. And to have it be this tour as my first was something extra special. I've got two more nights and then a day off full of photos to share so stay tuned! Parts 2-4 coming soon! Follow me on Instagram or Facebook to stay up to date!

By Ben M. Collins

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