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Living the Dead

F.O.M.O., Whistler’s Grateful Dead tribute band, drum up a full experience for fans




WHO: F.O.M.O. (Grateful Dead tribute)

WHERE: Pemberton Legion

WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 22, 8 p.m.


Whistler is a Grateful Dead town. The skull and lightening bolt logo adorns an impressive number of car bumpers and if you've strolled through the village at 7 a.m. you'll have heard Jerry Garcia's reedy vocals floating from the Whistler Village Gondola P.A.

The Grateful Dead, the pioneering psychedelic jam band from San Francisco, represent the free-spirited, hippie idealism that Whistler was initially founded on. As it was being refashioned into the world-class resort it is now, a new generation of Deadheads or Deadhead-sympathizers arrived to find a groovier way of life in the mountains.

"Back when I got here in the early 90s, there were all these hippie kids hanging out in the summer, listening to the Dead and going on Dead tours. We're still here," says Rob Hughes, the heavily bearded co-founder of Whistler's own Grateful Dead tribute band F.O.M.O.

So when F.O.M.O. (an acronym for Fear of Missing Out) played its first show on Jerry Day in August of 2010 - the annual celebration of Garcia's death - dozens of middle-aged Dead fans crowded around. The bar was packed. Anyone who was in the Village that day would have seen - and should probably remember - some seriously groovy hippie jams emitting from the Citta patio, wafting out into Town Plaza. It was a scene, man. All the band members looked as though they'd been through one rock and roll party after the next just to be there that day. And then there was Hughes, doodling on that gee-tar, with a beard like Gandalf's before it ever went grey draped over the fretboard.

There are dozens of Grateful Dead tribute bands currently active in North America, most of them limited to playing the areas around their hometown. A few have toured around, but it's a tough gig when original Dead members are still touring the original songs as the Dead (not the Grateful Dead) and Further.

Which is one small reason why F.O.M.O. has no intention of touring. Right now, they're keeping it local and today they're practicing in the garage of drummer Brad White's Pemberton home. The instruments are set up in a circle around the edges of the tiny practice space. Soon, very soon, they'll release the Dead. It's no small task. The original Dead members were accomplished musicians. Their improvisations, for which they were notorious for, were the product of a group of musicians with exceptional chemistry.

Fortunately, F.O.M.O. does a fine job in tribute. Each of the members has played together in and around Whistler, in some form, over the past two decades. They know their instruments and, increasingly, they're getting more comfortable with each other.

Since that first gig in 2010, they've played around 10 shows in Whistler and Pemberton. In May, they sold out the Pemberton Legion. Fans were arriving in busloads from Whistler. Their 50-song repertoire draws from all over the Dead's 30-year career, leaning heavily on the old concert staples ("Dark Star", "Turn On Your Love Light") while straying away from the more mainstream tracks like "Uncle John's Band."

"We're at the point now with the number of tunes that we've learned, we're more comfortable and we can do two or three shows fairly close together without being repetitive," Hughes says.

Unlike Whole Lotta Led, Whistler's well-known Led Zeppelin tribute band, F.O.M.O. avoids reproducing Dead songs note for note. Instead, in true jam band fashion, they play within the framework of the original songs, just like the Dead would do. That's the nature of their music - no one song was ever played the same and every concert was unique.

And in true Dead fashion, F.O.M.O. will stretch "Dark Star" well past the halfway mark and will usually morph four or five tunes into stretch of continuous music.

"That will be half the set," says drummer Brad White. "We played in Birkin in June and we played for four hours. It seemed like nothing to us. We enjoy doing it, right?"

He adds, "It's not just about the music, it's about the experience, right? It's about getting together. It's a good crowd. Everybody likes the crowd. We'll play in a bar and the people will enter the bar and will go 'These are the nicest people we've ever met.' Everyone helps almost everyone out. That's part of the culture of the people coming to see us. Some of them are friends but then they get their friends to come and it just grows, right?"

Yeah. Right.

Tickets for the show are available at Pemberton Legion, Pemberton Esso, Pemberton Valley Supermarket and the Whistler Cigar Co. for $10.




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