Byline: Mark Faulkner, Shorelines correspondent
About 15 years ago, Dave Hendershott and some friends began their musical exploration of the Grateful Dead's music and philosophies. As the Glass Camels, Hendershott and his bandmates have transcended the tribute band label simply by staying true to the ideas of the band that inspired them in the first place.
"At one time, we would play for five bucks a piece and there would be three or four people in a room," Hendershott said. "There really wasn't a scene for what we did in Jacksonville, we kind of carved it out ourselves. Luckily, we had the Grateful Dead because everyone that was familiar with them could come see us and get a little piece of the home pie."
Tonight, the Glass Camels celebrate their 15th birthday in the building where it all began, the Ocean Club in Jacksonville Beach. Back then it was called Pier 7 and Hendershott worked there as a bartender.
The band got its start when Hendershott was given an opportunity to host a theme night along with his bartending responsibilities. He put together a Deadhead night in which he played Grateful Dead tunes and other music in the same bluegrass/rock/folk fusion family.
"Scott Sisson happened to be next door," Hendershott said. "He came in for a drink and said he had some drums in his car. The next week we set up a drum set and he brought his buddy Andy King, Dave Roberts and another guy named Rick and we played -- again, while I was bartending."
In short order the Camels were performing throughout the city. They got gigs at several nightclubs, including the original Applejacks in San Marco, downtown at the Metropolis and at the Milk Bar.
The Camels have also gone through their share of lineup changes. Hendershott said the core group consists of him, Sisson, Ed Richardson, Paul Wells and Brian Homan. There's a number of local musicians who sit in with the group on a regular basis or were full-fledged members in the past. Tonight's show features a number of those old friends.
"It's the perfect gig for us," Hendershott said. "We've known each other musically for 15 years. Magic moments can happen on stage for us. For the listener too, but it's just as much for us. It's fulfilling."
Hendershott said the band's philosophy has always been built on taking musical chances and creating an environment in which musicians are encouraged to improvise as much as possible.
Sometimes it creates those magic moments, other times it falls apart. Hendershott said they've even stopped in the middle of a song when it wasn't working. He said they've been lucky to draw groups of forgiving listeners ready to follow them on their explorations.
He's also been encouraged by the number of jam bands popping up in the local scene. Hendershott credits the Grateful Dead's influence in continuing to nurture the love of live performance.
"It's all about the live thing, not about the recorded thing," Hendershott said. …