Oteil and Friends 11/05/17, Lincoln Theater, Raleigh NC

I haven’t been to church in a long time. In fact you could say I’ve been “out in the wilderness” for years. But at The Lincoln Theater in Raleigh on Sunday, I saw the light. I’m here to testify, it was a full-on revival!

Bassist extraordinaire Oteil Burbridge, currently of Dead & Company and formerly of the Allman Brothers, brought a band beyond description to town, and by the end of the night, the audience was in a frenzy, singing and dancing and smiling ear to ear. The Lincoln, originally built in 1939 as a movie theater catering mainly to African-American audiences during segregation, was the perfect venue for this celebration.

The first set started off with a relaxed vibe, via the title track from Oteil's new album, "Water in the Desert," which definitely has a gospel feel and message. Jerry Garcia Band alum Melvin Seals stood out immediately, coaxing the sweetest notes possible from his Hammond organ, an instrument which has deep roots in churches throughout the South. Alfreda Gerald, a North Carolina native, sang the song softly and beautifully, like a mother to her child. Seals' organ fills would continue to be a highlight throughout the evening.

Soon, it was evident that Alfreda has a serious set of pipes, as the musicians launched into "The Weight," a song written by The Band, but later covered by Aretha Franklin with Duane Allman on slide. The performance leaned heavily on the latter interpretation, with tasty guitar fills by John Kadlecik and Eric Krasno, and more delicious organ accents by Seals. Oteil looked like he was in heaven, plucking his 6-string bass, and grinning non-stop as he watched his hand-picked musicians really start to gel. Not many singers would dare to try to emulate the legendary Aretha Franklin, but Gerald was more than capable.

The hits kept coming, with John Kadlecik taking the lead vocals for Bob Dylan's "Tangled Up In Blue," and having some fun with the lyrics, substituting "some are carpenters' wives" with "some are truck drivers' wives." Like many covers throughout the evening, this performance was indicative of the Jerry Garcia Band's take on the song, with Kadlecik's vocals and guitar stylings reminiscent of Garcia. Next was a triple dose of Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come," the Grateful Dead's "Althea," and the blues classic "It Hurts Me Too." Oteil treated the crowd to a wonderful bass solo during the Jimmy Cliff song, and deftly handled the vocals for "Althea." Next there was a solo by African percussionist Weedie Braimah, with a reminder from Oteil that "Africa is the one thing we all have in common." The set wrapped up with a performance of "Unconditional Love."

Things got really funky in the second set, beginning with Oteil singing the ska classic "Stop That Train," and then Gerald handling vocals for the Isley Brothers' "It's Your Thing." The Isley tune really got the crowd riled up, as everyone on stage was feeling the funk, and Alfreda engaged the audience to help with the singing. Next up was Garcia's "Run For The Roses," with some nice vocal harmonies. Then the crowd was treated to the Dead's "Scarlett Begonias," which drove everyone crazy. Next the R&B/funk/gospel vibe of the show and the Garcia flavors seemed to melt into one, as the band launched into Garcia's "Sugaree," then seamlessly morphed into the Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There," then back into the refrain of Sugaree. 

Finally, the set wrapped up with an intense version of "Piece of My Heart" by Big Brother and the Holding Company. Not only can Gerald handle Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner's vocals, she can also belt out a mean Janis Joplin! Kadlecik and Krasno were faithful to the San Francisco guitar tones of the original recording. If that wasn't enough already, the band returned for an encore of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Proud Mary" with Alfreda leading the band into the classic slow & easy then crazy-fast rendition made famous by Ike & Tina Turner. The audience was recruited to help with the "rolling" chorus, then Oteil and Weedie had an insane bass/bongo conversation before the band returned to the song's ecstatic ending. Acting pleasantly surprised by the exuberance of the crowd, Oteil said near the end of the night, "Wow, Sunday night in Raleigh!" to which I say... Amen!

Alex Marsh
Photos by: Willa Stein

Editor's note: Our pal Robbie Dunn was on hand and taped the show. Stream it on Archive.org