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    It’s a start…and a very good one at that. Louisville has many unique music festivals, from big name festivals like Forecastle to smaller events like Waterfront Wednesday. However, what Louisville has always been lacking is the kind of festival that truly embodies festival life.

    Festivals where you catch a whiff of incense (and other fragrant odors that go hand in hand with live music) upon entering. Festivals that include hoopers, spinners and a Shakedown Street where you can purchase glass pipes, hemp necklaces, tie dyed tapestries and everything else hippy related. GrateVille Dead brought all that and a “grate” line-up in its inaugural festival at Brown-Forman Amphitheater nestled along the Ohio River.

    GrateVille Dead’s organizers, Dennie Humphrey and Ashley Angel of the Monkey Wrench, were leaving Abbey Road on the River and thought, “Why isn’t there a Grateful Dead on the River?” From that moment, they knew they were onto something and began planning. Using the 50th anniversary of the Grateful Dead  and Jerry Garcia's birthday as a catalyst for their festival, Humphrey and Angel put together an all Grateful Dead line-up of local bands that included Hot Iron Skillet, The Merry Pranksters, Slow Down Johnny, Phiasco and the headliners The Rumpk Mountain Boys.  

    As I passed through the gates of GrateVille Dead, I was immediately impressed by its set up. Vendors, food trucks and beer tents lined the main walk just behind the stage. I was greeted by the sounds of The Merry Pranksters covering "Not Fade Away". As I turned toward the amphitheater, on my left, I was surprised to see how busy that concert area was in spite of how early and hot it was. Kids and adults alike were dancing to the sounds of the Dead. As the afternoon sun set, more and more people filled the amphitheater, filling it to capacity by the time The Rumpke Mountain Boys started their set.

    Humphrey and Angel found the perfect location to host GrateVille Dead, Brown-Forman Amphitheater. It provided cool breezes from the Ohio river, a beautiful backdrop of the Big Four Bridge, and plenty of grass seating. However, everyone was there for the music, and it did not disappoint.

    I missed Hot Iron Skillet, arriving just as The Merry Pranksters began their set. The Merry Pranksters have been covering the dead for almost three decades, and it is obvious. They played an impressive hour-long set, and the highlight for me was their cover of “Shakedown Street.” Phiasco was next, and for being a Phish cover band, they did a great job changing gears and playing only Dead songs. I was surprised when I hear Screamin’ John Hawkins and Tyrone Cotton introduced after Phiasco. They were not advertised on the line-up, but were a welcome addition with their soulful sound. Slow Down Johnny followed and melted the faces of the fans during its set. The addition of Born Cross Eyed keyboardist, Christopher Fuller, to the band was a needed addition to finalize its sound.

    But it was The Rumpke Mountain Boys who brought Brown-Forman to life. Their foot stomping, jamgrass sound got everyone up and dancing when they opened with “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” which was written by Bob Dylan but often covered by the Grateful Dead. The Rumpke Mountain boys kept the energy high throughout the entire set and filled the amphitheater with their unique, old timey, whiskey spilling, bluegrass songs.

    For their first foray into organizing a concert, Humphrey and Angel nailed it. They captured the essence of what a Grateful Dead experience is like. It was good vibes, great music and a steal for only $10. I look forward to what they have planned for next year.

    John Miller's picture

    About John Miller

    I am a Louisville based photographer who specializes in concert and event photography. You can check out more of my work at or contact me via email:

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