Sam Grisman Project readies for second leg of tour

Sam Grisman Project readies for second leg of tour

The landscape of music is ever-evolving. Every decade stakes a claim to a particular genre of music. The 1940s get swing, jazz, and blues music. The 1960s saw the British Invasion of rock and roll cross the Atlantic Ocean. The 1970s was the era of disco. Glam rock and pop infiltrated the 1980s. Grunge and alt-rock blasted from speakers throughout the 1990s. The last 20 years have claimed hip hop, EDM, and R&B… For better or worse, the music flows with the times. 

But, how does one preserve the artistry of musicianship in a morphing scene?

Sam Grisman Project is showing us the way.

Samson Grisman — son of legend David Grisman — has taken it upon himself to ensure that the foundation of “jam band” music remains vital and rooted in whatever direction the future of music takes us. Graciously, I was invited to live a “Penny Lane of Almost Famous” moment during the band’s first-ever tour. Okay, so it was really more of a “William Miller moment”, but my big-rimmed hombre sunglasses definitely had me channeling my inner Penny Lane.

Prior to the first show of the tour, I spoke at length with Grisman about his music, on his father’s legacy, about Jerry Garcia, his current bandmates, and more. At the conclusion of the interview, I packed my bags and headed to San Diego where Sam Grisman Project invited me to crash their rehearsal before documenting the quartet rocking the first show of their first tour — a history-making night.

Sam Grisman Project is: Sam Grisman | Ric Robertson | Chris English | Aaron Lipp

How did you guys all meet and start playing music?

  • SGP: It’s actually, it’s a pretty funny story. Ric and I have known each other since we were 14 years old. We met at a week-long intensive mandolin camp called the “Mandolin Symposium”. It was very serious, you know, and there weren’t very many kids there. You had to submit an audition tape and there was like a whole panel that decided your place in beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels. I was just the token bass-playing kid there in a sea of mandolin players. And while all these other kids were all just ripping the mandolin and not really singing, Ric kind of had a different emphasis and from day one… he was the one who had the gumption to sing a song and he really had a good voice. I mean he cringes when he listens to early recordings of himself now, but he could really sing from the moment I met him and he could also play guitar… he wasn’t squeamish about looking around the room, realizing there were five mandolin players in the gym, and picking up a guitar — even at the Mandolin Symposium. He’s always kind of had a multi-instrumentalist lean to him. He’s always been an entertainer and a songwriter, and we connected that first year at the Mandolin Symposium not because he thought I was my dad’s kid or anything like that, but because I was the other overtly Jewish-looking kid at this camp. He literally walked up to me in the cafeteria on the first day and said, “Hey man, I’m Ric. Did you get bar mitzvah-ed last year?” … And I was like, “yeah, … you?” [Laughs]
  • But yeah, anyway, he would actually sing a song… I still love to play instrumental music, but songs are really my favorite; sing-songs, that is. But, we have a really good mixture of that happening in the Sam Grisman Project. I met Aaron through Ric. They’ve been playing music together for years. Aaron is from the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York and built himself a cabin in a recording studio that’s sort of a haven for everyone over the years. It’s a great place to make music and to write songs. When I first met Aaron, I kind of felt like I’d known him for years just because of the chemistry that he and one of my closest friends had already developed. Same with Chris. He’s from the Rochester region. He grew up playing music in the church and also toured for a while. He’s just one of the most positive, effervescent, kind, and just genuine outlooks I’ve ever known — an amazing drummer. The other dudes started to tell me about Chris English a while back and when I finally met him, it was like meeting a long lost friend. We kind of all knew that this was going to be the band or at least the core of it.
  • We all like to play such a wide variety of music. It really opens the doors to add different, talented friends at different places and I have visions for all these possible characters to add to the mix, but we’ll save that for a later date.

How has David Grisman impacted your life as both a musician and his son?

  • I unwittingly take music very seriously just because of my conditioning. I grew up with the most serious musician father I could have possibly landed. I’m grateful for that. Some of my earliest and fondest memories are just being around the house and listening to my dad and his friends playing music. I remember specifically how Jerry [Garcia] lit up the space and how everybody was having a great time constantly when he was around. And the music that those guys made is like the soundtrack to some of my earliest childhood memories. I don’t have a memory of when he passed. I was fairly young… about to turn six. But I do remember his laugh and the way that he smelled and the fact that my parents would let him smoke cigarettes in our house, but absolutely nobody else.

How does your music differ?

  • We’re certainly paying tribute to those guys’ legacy, but I wouldn’t say that we’re strictly a tribute band in the sense that we’re not really preservationist with regard to our interpretations of the songs. So, you know, we love [my dad and Jerry’s] material; we grew up on it. We also have been writing our own music since we were kids, playing different genres of music, and even playing electric instruments sometimes. All of that has kind of influenced the way that we interpret classic material.
  • And you know, I’d say we’re very true to the forms and the feeling of the music, but it’s not beyond us to reimagine one of their songs in a completely different style or with a different groove; we certainly play our own arrangements of these songs. We’re not trying to sound like my dad and Jerry, because they were such fierce individualists; they were constantly trying to sound like themselves and it would seem like such a disservice to them and their legacies to really try to copy anyone including them.
  • So we’re just a bunch of friends who love this music and love each other. We care deeply about it and each other, and we want to sound good, but we don’t want to sound like Jerry Garcia and David Grisman. You might as well just listen to their records, because it’s some of the best music ever made. But, I’m also a fan of a lot of jam band music and, you know, just music in general. I’ve noticed over the years the amount of love and appreciation for that catalog, but also the lack of representation in the landscape. It just doesn’t seem like very many people play a lot of these classic songs. I can’t wait to lean into it with my friends…

Do you currently have any music out?

  • Aaron’s a great recording engineer and he actually engineered the little EP that we released earlier this year called the Temple Cabin Sessions, Volume One. Aaron is one of the most versatile, multi-faceted musicians I’ve ever met and he’s really just the ultimate jack-of-all-trades, master-of-all. Temple Cabin is the studio and cabin that Aaron built for himself in Naples, New York. The EP features the four of us, as well as Alex Hargraves and our friend Tyler Neal. 

Will you be playing those songs on tour? What can we anticipate from a live set?

  • Yeah, we’ll certainly be doing a bunch of original music and Ric will be opening a lot of these shows solo, as well. We love playing Ric’s songs as a band. Aaron is a tremendous songwriter and so is Chris. I’ve been writing instrumental music since I was a teenager, but I have a very high standard for instrumental music. We only have so much space any given night: I’m trying to represent my dad’s catalog and Jerry’s catalog, as well as their collective catalog that they made together. There’s a lot of bases to cover and when we can, we’re playing two long sets of music. Our new year’s gig had a 44-song setlist. We played for over four hours and had an amazing time!


Because of who I am as a person, I arrived late and tip-toed my way alongside a friend into tour manager Rachel Ward’s home to the beautiful sounds of the Sam Grisman Project. We brought a large amount of tacos with us, so we probably weren’t all that quiet. Anyway, kittie-cornered in the living room, fighting off exhaustion, the quartet played song after song, pausing briefly only to rib each other. After swaying along to a handful of songs, the guys took a well deserved taco break.

Ready for tomorrow?

  • SGP: Yeah, we love so much of this material. There are some amazing people and there’s some good energy and space and people really wanting to hear this stuff. There are no rules. We’re just trying to go out there and play good music. Honoring this material gives us an opportunity to get in front of some audiences and, you know, make some smiles. That’s the whole goal. 

How has the acceptance and feedback been thus far?

  • So far, we’ve had an amazingly positive reaction from basically everybody we’ve played for, but also from our peers, from our musician friends who seem to be particularly excited about this project. We’ve had a lot of amazing musician friends reach out and congratulate us. We’ve also had a lot of friends offer to contribute their services. I can see this project continuing for a long time to come, adding different friends and expanding on the repertoire when we can, going down different rabbit holes that certain instrumentation will open up for us and we’re gonna get right to that at the end of this tour. We’re adding Alex Hargraves for the last five dates, but it will be a four-piece for most of the tour.

Tacos ingested, smoke inhaled, the musicians got back to it and I spent the remainder of the night in awe, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the first night of the first-ever Sam Grisman Project tour.

Sam Grisman Project live at Winston’s, OB:

Friday, January 6th, 2023 Sam Grisman Project kicked off its winter tour at Winston’s OB in San Diego, California — one of eight sold out nights!

Jumping right in with the electric sounds of “Stealin'”, cheers of excitement rang out in unison as the line of people made their way in, already shouting “I love this song!” Concertgoers were then treated to a medley of “Don’t Let Go” into “Bottle of Wine” and then back into “Don’t Let Go” for what can only be described as a mind-blowing meld.

Moving down the setlist, fans danced to “Jackaroo”, “Catfish John”, “Grateful Dawg”, “Friend of the Devil”, “Wind and Rain”, and “Crossword Boss”. Each song brought the crowd closer to the stage as if the only way to absorb the beauty was to be apart of it. I paused, breathless, and realized the historical significance of the moment I was living. Unbelievable.

With a few originals sprinkled in there, such as Ric Robertson’s “Getting Over Our Love”, “Choices and Chains”, “Thinkin’ About You”, and “You’ll Be Going Again” (an Aaron Lipp original), the notes graced our ears reminding me of something Sam said in our interview a few nights before regarding making music with his friends:

  • SGP: We’re definitely really lucky to have each other and we certainly believe in each other on a really high level. We wouldn’t rather be doing anything else than playing music with each other. I just think it’s finally time for the four of us to put all of our energy towards this thing for a while and see where it takes us. Everybody’s kind of been forced to cobble it together with a bunch of different gigs here and there and tours with other people’s projects… I wanted to create a container for my friends and I to have our own band and our own autonomy, where we write the setlist every night together and, you know, everybody gets an opportunity to play their music and to sing their favorite songs that my dad and Jerry played and to sing their favorite Jerry songs or play their favorite Dawg tune, play an original they wrote and sell their merch at the merch table.
  • I would love to build a community and find the other people out there who are as passionate about all these songs as we are. I’d love to carry as many people onto the roots and the origins of some of this great music that we all know — you know, Grateful Dead music. But, it’s got all these great traditional roots and blues roots and all right. I would love to carry on in the tradition of teaching people about the history of music and cultivating a passion for the great undiscovered musics of the world… which is just endless. Just endless amounts of great music out there.

The boys carried on with fan-favorites “Rain and Snow”, “Iko Iko”, and “Mississippi Moon” into “Teddy Bears’ Picnic” into “Gomorrah”. After a quick intermission, the Sam Grisman Project was back at it, giving us a 11-song second set (not including the encore).

The energy pulsated with each beat of “They Love Each Other”, followed by “Twilight”, “He’s Gone”, “Poky Way”, and “Shady Grove”. From time to time, I took a lap around the venue. The eclectic group of people sharing blissful moments of musical euphoria was everywhere I looked. Unity, that night, felt like warm blanket draped over your shoulders. The warmth flowed on as the band continued with “Peggy-O”, “Been All Around This World”, “Dawg After Dark”, “The Thrill is Gone”, “I Won’t Lie”, and Robertson’s “Thinkin’ About You”.

The roar of excitement from the crowd drowned out the final notes and continued on as the musicians took bows. An encore was inevitable and they chose two incredible songs: Jerry Garcia’s “Shenandoah Lullaby” and “I’ll Take a Lullaby”!

I look forward to the day I hear someone say, “No way! You photographed the first Sam Grisman Project show of the first ever tour?!” Historical. I’m telling you.

What’s next?

Sam Grisman Project starts the next leg of tour tomorrow, February 7th, 2023 in Nashville. Grab your tickets for this and future shows here or via the ticket links below. If this next leg is anything like the first, you won’t want to take your chance on waiting. These guys are selling out shows fast!

Artist links: Website | Instagram | YouTube | Spotify

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