After a meteoric rise from obscurity to a national touring band, Grateful Shred has made the most of its time in the spotlight. The initial lineup, featuring Clay Finch and Sam Blasucci alongside Shred core two Austin McCutchen and Dan Horne, woke the Grateful Dead cosmos with a unique laid-back harmony driven sound. The band literally went from playing the Shakedown Street vendor area prior to Dead and Company shows to touring the United States.
Formed in 2016 after a one-off Grateful Dead cover show, Shred took to social media to get eyes on them. But, just a few years into their voyage, the wind shifted – Covid-19. The break allowed the band to catch its breath after three-plus years of incessant touring.
Unfortunately, so much time off led to the first major shift in Shred’s foundation – the amicable departure of Finch and Blasucci to focus on their project, Mapache. The lineup change forced McCutchen and Horne to create a new lineup and sound.
Slideandbanjo.com caught up with McCutchen and Grateful Shred prior to their fall tour opener in Nashville, and again for their tour-closing shows in Las Vegas.
The story of Grateful Shred includes bassist Horne, a member of several bands including Circles Around the Sun and Beachwood Sparks. McCutchen was trying to work with Horne on a solo project, and the story picks up the story from there.
“I found Dan Horne…coincidentally, I moved into his house called Liberty Hair Farms, where his recording studio is,” McCutchen recalls. “My buddies Sam and Clay, who also made a record there, moved in. So, we were all sharing this house together.
”One night I had a country gig that my regular band wasn’t available for, so I said, let’s do a Dead set. It’s the music we were playing while hanging around the house. We did it and it snowballed from there.”
Following the “one-time gig,” Shred booked a couple of shows which kept the wheels in motion until the project could sustain itself, creating what McCutchen was looking for – the ability to play in front of a crowd.
He explains, “Live music is my lifeblood for having fun with music. I’ve spent time recording but have always known live music is my thing. The Grateful Shred thing just seemed to happen and it felt easy. People responded to our music. Obviously, the Dead’s catalogue is so vast which makes it really fun to mix it up.”
The moment that sent the band’s popularity soaring is the “Busted at the Bowl” video, a YouTube video with over 400 thousand views; the video features Shred members starting an impromptu set in the parking lot of the Hollywood Bowl before a Dead and Company show in 2017. They don’t get too far before drawing so much attention that the police shut them down.
Instantly creating Shred-cred, this was another bit of good fortune that doesn’t get past McCutchen.
“We’ve been dealt some pretty good cards,” he states. “It’s been cool to roll with it and push forward and continually make stuff happen. Things have gone our way. Even that video happened magically. It was put together at the last minute, and boom!”
With the wind at their backs, the band sailed into 2020 with big plans and expectations. Then Covid caused the world to shut down, and along with it, the momentum of Grateful Shred. According to McCutchen it was a big kick in the gut.
“At the time it felt devastating. We had some fun stuff lined up for the summer that we had put in a lot of work to put together. On one level it was harsh. Not being able to play music when there were so many things on the books was devastating.”
Horne shares the same sentiments, adding, “That’s how it felt. We were literally going to go on a west coast tour. Tickets were selling well. The band was sounding great and everyone was getting along. When covid hit, we were like ’hey – the second we can do this again we’re going to do it.‘”
McCutchen and his bandmates were able to find a positive from their unscheduled break. He continues, “We had been grinding for so long for a few years…Look at things from a different perspective. I appreciate being able to stop to take a break and reset.”
The Covid vaccine allowed Shred (and the rest of the world) to try and get back to normal. While everything had gone pretty close to plan from the beginning, the departure of Clay Finch and Sam Blasucci left the band with two major holes to fill.
McCutchen and Horne decided to shake things up. Their biggest move was adding a second drummer to the lineup; Alex Koford (Phil and Friends, Terrapin Family Band) joined long time Shred collaborator Austin Beade on drums as the band doubled down on its rhythm section. Koford’s vocals were a huge benefit to the band and by the end of the fall run, his contributions were prominent throughout the nightly setlists.
Another huge part of the fall 2021 lineup was keyboardist Adam MacDougall who, according to McCutchen, “looks like he wants to stay in the picture.” MacDougall, a member of CATS with Horne, brings instant credibility along with his spacy keyboard grooves and adds another vocalist to the mix.
The Nashville kickoff to the fall tour featured Omar Velasco and Taylor Kropp on guitar, both of whom offer a different take on their approach to playing the Dead. The diversity of the guitar styles, mixed with a double dose of drums and MacDougall’s keys, created an in-your-face experience that was noticeably different from pre-Covid Shred sound.
Velasco stayed on for the whole tour and by the time the band hit Las Vegas, he showed a noticeable ease and familiarity with the music. The tour’s last two shows painted a perfect picture of what this lineup of Grateful Shred brings to the table.
The band will wrap up their 2021 schedule with a December 30 show in Solana Beach, CA, followed by New Year’s Eve at The Wiltern in Los Angeles. While nothing specific has been announced, the band has made it clear they plan to hit the road and keep things rolling in 2022, and for McCutchen, the ability to get Shred going again has been a long time coming.
“Right now, Shred is about 70% of what I’m doing,” he exclaims.“ I’m happy with that. I’m happy to play live music and entertain. I’ve been comfortable up front.”
As for the future, McCutchen concludes. “I can’t think five years down the road. That’s too far. It would be nice to play bigger outdoor spaces….Dan has a studio and we think it would be fun to do recordings. We’ve done the video content. That’s been our approach, and what got us the first wave of attention.”