Bassist Oteil Burbridge took part in a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on Friday with his wife Jess. The two touched on a variety of topics including his work with Dead & Company, the couple’s adopted daughter Kavi, the mythical Col. Bruce Hampton and many more as they responded to questions posed by Reddit users.
While Burbridge is most recently known for his work with Dead & Company, the storied bass player’s roots in the jam scene run deep. Throughout the session, Oteil discusses his tenure with the post-Grateful Dead incarnation, as well as his time in The Aquarium Rescue Unit backing Hampton, The Allman Brothers Band, and much more. Fans also get a slice of his domestic life with input from his wife Jess, as they discuss the ways that recent world events have shaped the happenings within the Burbridge household.
More of the early questions had to do with Dead & Company, where Oteil plays alongside Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart, as well as John Mayer and Jeff Chimenti. While many fans remember exact details from concerts for a variety of personal reasons, one Reddit user asked if Burbridge remembers specific moments and songs as well, or if they all just blur together on a 20-something date tour. Specifically, the user asked if Oteil remembers the “Sugaree” that “blew the roof off” of the Boston Garden in 2017.
I don’t remember that particular Sugaree but those moments are the reason that we do this. We live off of each and every one of them and we’re very grateful that they always come again. I do remember when nature coincides with it, like when Mickey hits the beam and a thunder and lightening storm breaks out or when the rainbow happened over Santa Clara. Those are kind of hard to forget!
In that same vein of time blurring together on the road, another Redditor asked Jess about the difficulties involved with being married to a full-time musician who spends long periods of time away from home.
It’s not as hard as it used to be but we’ve been together for 14 years now so I’ve had plenty of time to get used to it! It’s definitely hard seeing the kids miss their Daddy and of course I miss having my parenting partner for support. But if you’re married to a touring musician, you have to become pretty independent to continue to thrive in your own life.
We’ve taken Nigel on a few Dead & Company tours and took both Nigel and Kavi to Mexico this year for PITS. We love having the kids out with us on the road. It’s pure joy seeing Nigel sing along with Fire on the Mountain or Shakedown Street and dance out on the lawn. It’s a fun experience having the whole family on our tour bus and watching the kids bond with the crew. But of course having the kids out on the road changes the whole experience too. There’s no late night after-show hangs with friends when you know you’re gonna be waking up at 6 am with the kids!
Another well-researched Redditor wondered where the Burbridges connection to Indian culture stems from. Ranging from the Indian-style face paint that Oteil occasionally dons onstage, to the Indian theme of his and Jess’ wedding, to their adoption of their youngest child Kavi from India.
Oteil and I have always felt a strong connection and interest in Indian culture. We love the food, the music, the spirituality and the art. We chose to adopt from India because India has the highest population of orphaned children in the world (31 million). We also knew we wanted a daughter and there is such a huge need to find families for little girls in India.
Kavi is continually exposed to her birth culture at home through all the Indian artwork that we have, the Indian food we eat regularly, the Indian music we listen to, the Indian holidays that we celebrate, the Indian kids books that we read to her and the Indian families at her preschool. One day, we are excited to return to India with her when she is a little older. In the meantime, we are happy to learn about and celebrate her birth culture with her as she grows.
Given the complete shutdown of live music due to the pandemic, including the cancellation of Dead & Company’s summer tour, another person wondered what it is Oteil has been up to with his newfound downtime.
I’ve actually been focusing most of my energy on the podcast that I am about to launch with my friend, comedian Mike Finoia on Osiris Network. We met when I did Mike’s podcast last year and got into a real heavy spiritual conversation and decided that we wanted to do a podcast of our own with that focus. Then the pandemic happened, George Floyd got murdered and all the protests broke out. So while we still want to do a podcast about music and comedy and art and spirituality and community, we also want to talk about the really important things happening in our society right now. We believe that they are all inextricably connected so there are no “off limits” subjects.
In that same vein of the recent protests over the death of George Floyd while in police custody, another Redditor asked Oteil how he sees the Black Lives Matter movement intersecting with the Dead community, and how we as fans can promote the movement.
I’ve personally seen it intersect just on my own Instagram and that’s why my new podcast is so important to me. While I don’t want to tell anyone what to do, I do want to try to inform people about black history and black experience and other things that they may not know. Then they can let their own hearts, minds and spirits lead them back out into the world to make change. The whole deal with racism is that it’s just another form of fascism. Racism is a convenience for classism. If all the slaves were white, if they escape, all they need is a fresh set of clothes and they are 90% on their way to freedom. If all the slaves are black, this becomes impossible obviously. The issue of racism is ultimately an issue of human rights and the reason you need to be concerned with human rights is that YOU ARE NEXT. You all have recently seen videos of police attacking white women sitting cross legged on the ground in non-threatening positions, push an old white man over and hurt him so badly that he was bleeding out his ears… you’ve seen cars run into white protesters and people being abducted by unmarked federal agents. So now you can see that you’re next. And that is why I believe we have world-wide protests. Fascism is fascism whether it manifests as classism or racism or religious fundamentalism.
The conversation eventually led back to the music, as more pointed questions revealed that, if he wasn’t playing with Dead & Company and could perform with any musician living or dead, Oteil would choose to share the stage with Jimi Hendrix, Duane Allman, and Jerry Garcia. Burbridge also mentioned that the rest of his idols he would just like the chance to see, such as Charlie Christian, Howlin’ Wolf, and Bob Marley.
Surprisingly, Oteil also revealed that practicing bass has not been a regular part of his quarantine schedule.
Quarantine life hasn’t been too bad for us. We’ve been really fortunate to have a backyard for the kids to play in and good weather most of the time. Jess has started creating art again and working in ceramics. She is amassing quite the collection of work and is hoping to have an exhibit post-COVID. She will be starting to sell her work soon as well. As for me, I haven’t been practicing hardly at all. I’m really worried about my callouses going away. I actually was up late last night practicing around 1 or 2 in the morning for the first time in a while. I’ve been really putting my energy into my new podcast, but I’ve got to get these fingers back in shape. I plan to put on a couple of Dead & Co. sets and just play all the way through with the recording and that will be a good way for me to get some miles in.
In one revealing, albeit brief, response Oteil also commented on the future of Dead & Company after Weir, Hart, and Kreutzmann are unable to perform and whether the group would continue in some fashion.
Bob, Bill and Mickey have mentioned that to us and I certainly hope that we would find a way to do just that.
Of course, there was, and always will be, questions about the late Col. Bruce Hampton. Specifically, one user asked about the phenomena of the avant garde musician’s psychic abilities.
He was very psychic in lots of ways. If he slept in close proximity to you, at a certain point before dawn in whatever stage of sleep that you’re in that’s not deep sleep but not fully awake yet, he could know everything about your life. I saw it happen when we stayed in the penthouse of this club owner’s club. The club owner also lived in the penthouse. At breakfast the next morning, Bruce blurted out some things that had been happening that no one else on Earth knew but the club owner and the two or three other people involved. The club owner completely freaked out. All the blood drained out of his face. Bruce was also good at spotting extra-terrestrials in public places. He always said that the biggest airports and casinos were the easiest places to see them because it was easier for them to blend in. He pointed out a couple to me and it changed my entire life. Bruce was definitely part extra-terrestrial himself. I said “part-alien” one time and he got a little upset with me. He barked “I am an EXTRA TERRESTRIAL not an alien!” He taught me the difference. Bruce was a terrestrial with some extra!
To read more of the Oteil and Jess Burbridge AMA, head over to Reddit.