By Chris Shull
Special to The Star-Telegram
Ft. Worth Star-Telegram 10/9/97
FT. WORTH -- Brand names have taken over pop music. Jerry Garcia of Grateful Dead fame was nowhere to be found at Caravan of Dreams last night -- he's dead, you know -- but the frat boys and hippie chicks where out in force to celebrate his music just the same.
Jerry Garcia brand music is captivating music, it's true, slowly chugging grooves that evolve around the blues but are not bound tightly by its form. The Jerry Garcia Band is manned by competent and passionate musicians, eight players and singers who captured the young audience before the first chorus of the first tune.
But the only reason anyone braved lightning-filled skies and ignored a baseball playoff game was because Garcia's name is in the title of the band. Hey, they played with him. Hey, they were buds. But to sell his music without his presence seems a tawdry exercise in commercialism.
Not that any of the college-age crowd cared. Baseball-capped frat boys lined the front of the stage, and lithe young ladies wearing cool glasses writhed to the beat. But what does this adoration say about music today? Can just the name of a faded star bring out the kids? The ghost bands playing the music of Glenn Miller and Count Basie at least keep a dying form of music -- big band swing -- alive. The grooves presented by Garcia's ghost band only revived the bottom line.
And all this in the presence of a real-life -- alive -- Fort Worth star. Guitarist Mason Ruffner opened the show with a blazing blues set that recalled local guitar heroes without compromising anyone's good name. Ruffner graduated from high school in Richland Hills in 1977 and moved to New Orleans, where he made his mark and an unremarked first record. But 1987's Gypsy Blood launched him into the big time, sharing the spotlight with Stevie Ray Vaughan and other guitar-driven blues acts.
Ruffner's power-blues music is still powerful and infectious; in a dozen-song opening set he played tribute to Dallas guitar slinger Bugs Henderson while setting out on his own individual path.
That his music didn't go over as well as the Garcia-brand tunes is apparently a matter of market forces rather than groove, for Ruffner's was a much more individual and stylistic brand of blues.
But whether it's potato chips or blues bands, these days it's all in the packaging. Last night at Caravan of Dreams, a real live Texas guitar slinger took a back seat to Jerry Garcia's ghost.
What's the matter with kids these days?