Terrapin Flyer began in 1999 as the house band for the Sunday Grateful Dead Jam at the Boulevard Cafe in Chicago. Through the many associations developed there and many that have continued since, the band has grown into one of the premier Grateful Dead inspired touring acts in the nation. The band draws from the a variety of skilled musicians including Grateful Dead keyboardists Tom Constanten, Bob Bralove and Vince Welnick (RIP). They also tour with Jerry Garcia Band organist Melvin Seals and Ratdog guitarist Mark Karan. Additionally, they have done one off shows with many guest musicians including grammy award winning blues harpist Sugar Blue, and musician, songwriter and music journalist David Gans. The band has headlined major festivals and prominent venues across the nation.
From the band’s humble beginnings sprang forth an ever growing network of musicians. From a loosely associated group of musicians at a jam night, a band began to develop. The original band came into fruition when they were asked to perform with Grateful Dead keyboardist (1990-1995) Vince Welnick on a cable access television show and festival in Madison, WI. After that the band continued to tour with Welnick and performed several times as “Vince Welnick and Friends including headlining the 2004 Dunegrass Festival in Empire, MI to several thousand in attendance. After several tours with Vince Welnick, the band was ready to move on to its next potent association.
An 8 day tour was planned in 2004 with Melvin Seals the consummate B3 organist of the Jerry Garcia Band for 15 years. The tour was enough fun for Melvin to recognize that this band could perform under the name JGB on it’s next tour and performed to packed houses under the JGB name on another short tour a bit later in the year. From there several shows were performed with that band as Melvin Seals and Friends. After a decade, the partnership with Melvin Seals and Terrapin Flyer continues today and features the band digging deeply into the JGB catalog and sometimes also includes Ratdog guitarist Mark Karan and Tom Constanten as well.
Vince Welnick passed away in 2006. Tom Constanten first performed with Terrapin Flyer shortly after Vince’s passing on the “Vince Welnick Memorial Tour” to celebrate Vince’s memory. The association with Constanten produced several additional tours including performing as Tom Constanten and Friends on occasion. The pairing of Terrapin Flyer and Constanten continues presently and interprets the era that he performed in the Grateful Dead from 1968 – 1970.
In 2009 Terrapin Flyer began performing with Grateful Dead midi-wizard Bob Bralove. Bralove who produced and co-wrote songs on the Grateful Dead’s Infrared Roses album was the proverbial man behind the curtain of the Grateful Dead’s legendary drums and space segments. During this part of the Grateful Dead shows from 1987-1995, Bralove was playing sampled strange and beautiful sounds on a keyboard behind the stage. After the demise of the Grateful Dead, Bralove joined Tom Constanten to perform tours and record several albums as the band Dose Hermanos. Terrapin Flyer has explored deepest space with Bob Bralove on keyboards as well as performing shows with both members of Dose Hermanos together on stage.
From 2011 to 2013, the band toured with Grateful Dead family lead guitarist Mark Karan. Mark was the lead guitarist for the post-Grateful Dead band which featured all the former members The Other Ones. He also performed for 12 years in founding member of the Grateful Dead Bob Weir’s band Ratdog. Recently Mark has been consistently performing with Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh at his new concert venue Terrapin Crossroads.
Today Terrapin Flyer performs with a lineup that continues to bring in new guest musicians, nationally recognized artists and mix up various members from its history to create new and intriguing musical dynamics to each show performed. Other members of the band include lead guitarist Josh Olken, singer Kara Cavanaugh, Bassist Janis Wallin and many other prominent players in the Grateful Dead extended family.
From a jam night to a nationally performing headlining band, through time the resume of the band Terrapin Flyer has indeed become impressive. The band has headlined such prominent festivals and has headlined major venues across the country.
So what or who is Terrapin Flyer? As you have likely surmised that is not simple to define. What is at the core of fundamentals of the band is the idea that the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia’s music still has plenty of life in it and that the music being so improvisational in nature can and should go to new places in each performance. No two Terrapin Flyer shows will ever be the same and you never know who might show up to jam at a show, but you can always count on a great time with some of the most recognized artists in the music community.