RECORD LABEL:Organic Records
LOCATION:Asheville, North Carolina
With their second single for Organic Records, Acoustic Syndicate delivers “Bertha,” a down-home rendering of a 50-year-old Grateful Dead classic that ties together yesterday—both the Dead’s, and the band’s—and today in a modest yet self-assured way, simultaneously paying homage to the original and making an undeniable claim on the present.
“‘Bertha’ is one of the quintessential feel-good, toe-tapping Grateful Dead songs that tells somewhat of a hard-edged story while helping us dance and boogie our blues away,” says Byron McMurry, Acoustic Syndicate’s banjo player. Indeed, the song had been a staple of Dead setlists since its introduction some 50 years ago, and a near-inescapable part of the musical context in which Acoustic Syndicate developed its own strain of what would eventually become known as jamgrass.
In a deft, heartfelt performance, the western North Carolina roots icon uncovers the song’s bluegrass underpinnings, transforming the skittering, nervous energy of the original into a rootsy, steadier motion anchored less by singer Fitz McMurry’s elemental drumming than by the chugging acoustic guitar of Steve “Big Daddy” McMurry and Bryon McMurry’s slow-rolling banjo—until fiery bass (Jay Sanders) and banjo leads kick the energy up a notch before sliding into a final verse and chorus that double down on the groove.
“The song still can bring a tear to my eye to this day, depending on the mood I’m in, and Fitz’s vocal is—in my opinion—tailor-made for the song,” notes Bryon. “I saw my first Dead show in 1983 and continued as much as I could until Jerry’s death. I still feel the same emotion to ‘Bertha’ whether hearing the Dead perform it or when we are on stage performing it ourselves! It’s a joy to play.”
KEY SELLING POINTS
- Acoustic Syndicate is a trail-blazing, seminal group that helped create and shape the genre of Jam Grass
- In the group’s 25 years, they’ve headlined festivals throughout the Southeast, performed at Bonnaroo and Farm Aid, and influenced several of today’s most popular roots acts like Greensky Bluegrass, The Steep Canyon Rangers, Larry Keel, Yonder Mountain String Band, Leftover Salmon and more