Phish and Grateful Dead, re-imagined by Holly Bowling

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Holly Bowling, a classically trained pianist, has spent the last few years re-imagining the music of two legendary bands: the Grateful Dead and Phish.

Bowling will be at Soho Santa Barbara Sunday, January 29th.

How it all started

“I went to see Phish play a show in Lake Tahoe a few years ago. They played a 37-minute improvisational masterpiece that was incredible, and really captivated me. Over the next year I wrote it out, note for note, and arranged that piece of improvisation into something that was playable on the piano.

It’s fun to dive into pieces like that, where you don’t figure them out on the first listen. There’s a lot to dig into, and it’s kind of like a puzzle you get to unlock. I love that kind of stuff.”

On the process

“I work away from the piano, at first. I’ll just work with headphones, a stack of manuscript paper, and do a lot of writing, hearing it in my head and moving bits and pieces around. As I get closer to the end, I’ll go over to the piano and double-check that what I think I’m going to hear is what I’m hearing. Then, I move the notes from the right hand to the left hand to figure out how to physically play what I’ve envisioned.”

On re-imagining the Grateful Dead

“I ended up doing a jam transcription of a particularly famous and wonderful version of Eyes of the World, from 1974 in Louisville, Kentucky. There’s a really cool contrast between darkness and dissonance, and then these cathartic breakthrough moments where the lights shine through. It slips back and forth between these musical moods.”

On playing with members of the Grateful Dead

“That was an incredible experience. I grew up listening to the Grateful Dead, so to come full circle and start learning this music, performing it interpreting it, and then right around the same time that I released an album of the Dead’s music, to get to play with several members of the Dead, has been a completely unexpected and joyful experience. It continues to deepen my love and respect for this music.”

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Bowling playing with Grateful Dead member Phil Lesh at his venue, Terrapin Crossroads, November 4th, 2016. (Jeffrey Bowling) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)