Former Grateful Dead keyboardist Tom Constanten (T.C.) and ex-GD sound guru/sonic sculptor Bob Bralove (a fine player in his own right) have been making wonderful, challenging, often mind-boggling music together sporadically since the mid-’90s, most famously as an occasional duo called Dose Hermanos—psychedelic pun fully intended. They’ve released several CDs of their keyboard improvisations (as well as a DVD) and their rare performances are always greatly anticipated by psychedelic music fans with an advanced sense of adventure: after all, no one knows what’s going to flow out of their ten fingers each time they play together, including T.C. and Bralove! But they each bring diverse worlds of musical influences and experiences to the table—not to mention a shared interest in chemical enhancement.
It’s been a couple of years since Bralove and T.C. played a formal show together, but the wheels were greased for Dose Hermanos’ return when the pair played a successful “house party” at Bralove’s San Francisco residence earlier this summer. On Saturday, August 28th, however, Dose Hermanos will be jumping back into the psychedelic puddle with all four feet, digits flying every which way, at Terrapin Enterprises’ Field Trip Festival in beautiful Vasa Park along the Fox River in South Elgin, Illinois (about 35 miles northwest of Chicago). Actually, Dose Hermanos is just a small part of what promises to be a great two-day event: On Friday August 27—38th anniversary of the original Grateful Dead “Field Trip” in Veneta, Oregon—acts on the main stage include eclectic Chicago jam titans Mr. Blotto and This Must Be the Band (a Talking Heads tribute group), while on the 28th, in addition to the mid-afternoon set by Dose Hermanos, Wisconsin jammeisters Cosmic Railroad will be playing, followed by GD-inspired headliners Terrapin Flyer—which will include both T.C. and Bralove during their festival-ending set. There will also be an interesting conglomeration of smaller acts on the River Stage, crafts and lots of good eats. Ticket prices are reasonable and include camping (if desired). For all the nuts-and-bolts info, go to fieldtripfestival.com.
We tracked down T.C. and Bob Bralove to get a few more details. Asked about why Dose Hermanos was reuniting, T.C. offered “I guess it’s the confluence of karmic tributaries achieving critical mass. I’m not going to pretend to understand it,” he noted with a chuckle. What can the crowd at the Field Trip expect? “The unexpected! Of course that’s what you’d expect me to say, but it’s true…” T.C. has been playing with Paul Kantner’s Jefferson Starship for some time now and still has some more gigs with that group this year, but is looking forward to playing both with Bralove and Terrapin Flyer, with whom he has successfully gigged in the past.
Bralove, too, has played with Terrapin Flyer a bit, as well. “They’re a really good band,” he says. “They really know [Grateful Dead] music; they’re almost like historians and it was a bit daunting for me at first because I don’t know history; I’m pretty much just in the moment. I remember the first show we had in Chicago with them I was kind of hesitant, because I didn’t want to be disrespectful of what they were doing, but obviously they ‘knew” much more than me. By the second time, though, Doug [Hagman, leader of TF] turns to me when we get out on stage and says, ‘So, I really want to go into deep space, man,’ so I say, ‘OK! You know, Doug, I’m there, so all you have to do is give me a nod whenever you’re ready to jump in, and I’ll go for it and we’ll see what happens.’ So, he gives the nod in the middle of the first tune!” he laughs. “And we had a great show; the audience was really thrilled.”
As for re re-uniting with his buddy T.C., Bralove says that at the Dose Hermanos house party at his pad, “It was amazing because it felt like we hadn’t been apart as long as we had.” But don’t each of you go through your own evolutions when you’re away from each other? “Absolutely, but what happens is you feel like you have your own focus; you clarify your focus and how you’re approaching things, so for me it was like there are a couple of things that are now much better in my hands, like the way I relate to the keyboard is much better. So it feels like I can respond to him quicker. But the communication is as open as it ever was, and that’s what’s so amazing. You don’t have to re-work it. It’s kind of like when you talk to a friend you haven’t heard from in a long time and it instantly feels natural, like you haven’t been apart. Well, that’s what we’re doing, except without words. It’s kind of stunning."
Bralove adds, “There’s a dynamic that can happen with people playing together where there are certain things that can confuse you or even bother you about the other person’s playing, but when you chart the kind of path that we have, you begin to realize that some of those things are what makes the music together great—your response to it or what it pulls out of you. There are moments where you’re not sure what he’s trying to say to you, and you can get wound up in that while you’re playing, but as soon as you stop you realize, that was the conversation we were having—that was one of them—and it was fine. In fact, that’s a lot of what makes it good—that we’re not the same people.”
Bralove and T.C. will be sailing off into the unknown at a pair of electronic keyboards, so their palette will be even broader than it is when they play regular pianos. “We can do piano sounds if we want to—which is certainly one of our ‘things’—but I do love to go off in to other realms, too.”
And those will undoubtedly be spaces worth visiting for both the musicians and the Field Trip crowd.