Dueling Jam Bands: Phish vs. Grateful Dead

This season’s free Spring Après Concert Series at Sunday River is taking a turn for the competitive, featuring three separate battles of the bands in March and April. On March 26, New England’s premiere Phish tribute, Pardon Me, Doug, will play against Grateful Dead-inspired A Band Beyond Description for a slopeside jam band concert like no other. I caught up with Cameron Gray of Pardon Me, Doug to talk history, strategy, and spring shredding.

Cameron, a Sunday River skier since the age of 4, and a strong contender for the Best of Bethel Best Bartender award at the Matterhorn Ski Bar, is well known in the area, pouring many a mug of Switchback (for me) with a huge, friendly smile. What many do not know is that he’s killer on the drums, and has a serious passion for Phish.

“I went to my first Phish show at the age of 15. I’d been listening to them since I was 11, just collecting and studying their sound. Now, I’ve been to one hundred of their shows.”

Pardon Me, Doug has been together for four years, and began as a pipe dream when Cameron, guitarist Benny St. Clair, and keyboard player Kevin Roper were in a different cover band. Cameron remembers always having the most fun when they played Phish songs, and when the right bassist, Chris Chasse, came along, they knew it was time to give it a shot.

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Photo by Joshua Frances

“We want people to experience what they love about Phish when Phish isn’t touring,” says Cameron. Many tribute acts tend to look and sound exactly like the band that they are covering, but Pardon Me, Doug prefers to emulate the celebration aspect of a Phish concert. “We write our set lists similarly to Phish, but we tend to play the rarities that people love but don’t necessarily hear very often at their shows.”

This Spring Après Concert match-up is one that these two bands have experienced before. A year ago at Empire in Portland, Maine, Pardon Me, Doug took home the win in a battle of the bands competition against A Band Beyond Description. It was the first time that a Phish band beat out the musical stylings of the Grateful Dead coverers in this venue. But that’s not the only connection that they have. “Kevin plays with both bands, so there’s a little conflict of interest. But it’s as much of a battle as hippies can do. It’s more of a love fest, really.”

A Band Beyond Description has been together since 2001, and covers a wide variety of music including the Allman Brothers, the Band, and Bob Dylan, in addition to their Grateful Dead repertoire. “They’re really talented and know how to have fun,” says Cameron, “but I plan to give away a beer here and there to sway the votes in our favor.”

The best part about the Spring Après Concert Series is the skiing and snowboarding that takes place beforehand. Get here early to crank out turns in the corn snow, and by the time your legs are tired, the show will be starting and will run from 2-6PM, slopeside at South Ridge.

Sunday River’s free Spring Après Concert series lineup includes a reggae battle between Gorilla Finger Dub and Royal Hammer and a battle of the decades between Motor Booty Affair and Fast Times, as a part of the mountain’s Spring Fever.

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