As the “pioneering Godfathers of the jam band world,” the Grateful Dead were one of the driving forces behind bringing psychedelic rock to the forefront of music in the 1960s. Known for its live performances of musical improvisation, the group's music was stimulating to the mind yet soothing to the soul.
Now, former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart wants to share his own mind-bending journey with fans.
Athens is one of the last stops for the Mickey Hart Band on its “Superorganism” tour, which kicked off in early August. The band is performing with the Tea Leaf Trio and comes to the Georgia Theatre Monday.
On its latest album, the band breaks new ground by combining music and science in a way that actually allows Hart to jam out with his own brain.
Hart believes music could be a powerful form of therapy and can act as a healing agent. For “Superorganism,” the legendary drummer teamed up with Adam Gazzaley, a University of California San Francisco neurologist to explore this theory.
By wearing an electro-studded EEG cap developed by Gazzaley, researchers were able to capture Hart’s brainwaves and work with its band mates to transform these waves into music by arbitrarily assigning different musical notes to different brainwaves.
“Every measurement of the brain is being taken, and so you get the waves and then you turn the waves into sounds through a computer," said vocalist and keyboardist Joe Bagale. "So what you’re hearing is essentially what is going on in his brain. Although the sounds are being generated by a computer, the activity is being generated by Mickey’s brain."
In concert, Hart actually takes out the EEG cap to perform a song, projecting a video of his brain onto a big screen and letting the audience see a visual of the science at work.
“You can see the different parts of his brain light up as he’s interacting with it and interacting with the band. It’s pretty cool,” Bagale said.
Bagale has been playing with the Mickey Hart Band for over a year. He said that jam bands such as The Grateful Dead and Phish were the “soundtrack to my life” while growing up and helped influence his decision to pursue this type of music.
“Every one of us in the band, he kind of just really pushes us to reach our maximum potential," Bagale said. "He doesn’t just want me to play the keyboard just to play the keyboard — he wants me to do something that’s never been done ... He loves it if we just go for it.”
Even though walking into that environment at first felt restrictive, “I’ve really dug it. I’ve really learned to go for it,” Bagale said.
And just like the good old days of The Grateful Dead, the Mickey Hart Band is known for its musical improvisations.
“I would say [the concerts] are 85 percent improvised," Bagale said. "You never know what’s going to happen. We have the set list, but we don’t always stick to it and each song is done differently every day pretty much.”
Even though this concert marks the first time for the band to come to Athens, it already shares a connection with the Classic City. Widespread Panic band member Dave Schools joined the band as the bass player for the 2011 tour.
As the tour winds down, Bagale said even though being on the road can take its toll, the people are what made it worthwhile.
“The thing I will really miss the most is the hanging with everybody. It’s a great group of musicians, a great crew. Everybody really gets along nicely. That’s the best part about it, you know. If the hang wasn’t cool, it wouldn’t be that much fun.”