Zach Nugent has had quite a run, a long strange trip you might say. And most of that run has been soundtracked by Jerry Garcia’s guitar. He says he first heard Grateful Dead music at the age of 3 or 4. “Music was the Grateful Dead and the Grateful Dead was music. That’s all I knew,” he told me.
At the age of 12, when Zach picked up a guitar, “Ripple” was the first song he learned. “Or at least, what I thought sounded like ‘Ripple’,” he says with a chuckle.
Over a decade later, Nugent is still playing “Ripple,” but instead of in his bedroom in Royalton, VT, he’s playing in front of thousands of people at the Capitol Theater in New York with Melvin Seals and JGB, in the same spot and alongside the same keyboardist that Jerry played with years ago.
While his home is currently in Burlington, he was raised in Royalton and attended The Sharon Academy. Before Zach returns to the Upper Valley with his own Dead Set crew at the Skinny Pancake in Hanover on 11/26, I caught up with him in Washington, DC. Nugent has been on the road since September playing across the country and is excited to get back to his home base in Vermont. “I hopped immediately on the road when Melvin asked me to join the band and I think I’ve slept in my bed twice since.”
When asked how he found himself to be filling Jerry’s musical shoes, he points to the formation of an informal, weekly, Grateful Dead jam at Burlington’s Nectar’s. What began four years ago with a few Deadheads noodling on couches quickly took on a life of its own. Every Tuesday since then Zach has helped guide a tour de force of special guests from all over the musical map to play tunes from the Grateful Dead songbook. Usual suspects include members of jam bands like Phish, Moe., Turkuaz and Melvin Seals himself. But there’s also been less likely folks on stage, such as musicians from Lady Gaga’s touring band (yep…that Lady Gaga).
“The unifying power of Grateful Dead music is incredible” we both agreed.
While always a worthwhile evening, the one catch of the weekly Dead Sets has been that the fun didn’t start until 10pm on a Tuesday night. The necessity of hitting the road to play out of town venues on the weekends has unfortunately led to alienating would-be fans who simply can’t stay out after hours on a school night.
“Lots of people have been telling me for years, ‘I’d love to see you play, but I can’t stay up that late,'” Zach relays. Lucky for the Upper Valley, the show next Saturday starts at 9 and is on a weekend. Zach’s stoked because that means everyone can come: friends from back home, folks that have heard about him as a local legend, and even his parents – “Oh, they’ll definitely be there,” he says.