Dead Again

Wearing a polo shirt and khaki shorts, Michael Kennedy doesn't look like a Deadhead. But the 30-year-old from Pompano Beach is hanging out on a recent Saturday night at Tavern 213 in Fort Lauderdale, right alongside the tie-dyed masses, grooving to the tunes of Grateful Dead cover act Uncle John's Band. Kennedy says he's here because the group captures the "unique sound" of the Dead, whose tunes "are motivating in an emotional sense."

Sonia Chandra, a 16-year-old from Fort Lauderdale, says Grateful Dead music has filled her with "peace and love" for the past four years. "I started to like Jerry Garcia the year before he died," she explains. And while Sonia fits better than Kennedy into the "hippie" mold associated with the Dead by outsiders, at least they have the music -- the earthy, rhythm-and-blues-based rock -- in common.

"On Saturday nights, we definitely capture the spirit [of the Grateful Dead] -- obviously on a smaller scale," says Uncle John's lead guitarist, Robert Bienstock.

What hard-core Deadheads are missing, however -- besides their namesake band, of course -- is an outdoor show with the feel of a Grateful Dead concert. But now, at least once a year, they'll have a chance to re-create the granola-munching, bead-trading, feel-good vibe of a Dead show.

More than 2000 Dead devotees, young and old, vegetarian and nonvegetarian, tattooed and tattooless, are expected to attend Jerry's Birthday Bash Saturday at Tree Tops Park in Davie. At the party they'll hear not only Uncle John's Band, but another Dead cover band, Crazy Fingers, as well as Blood on the Tracks, which covers Bob Dylan songs, and percussion ensemble the Crystal River Band.

Meanwhile, guests will be able to check out other activities at their idol's birthday blowout. Incense and crafts will be on sale, and water games scattered throughout the grounds will offer participants chances to cool down.

And revelers who get the munchies can chow on grilled dishes for vegetarians and meat-lovers alike. But they'll have to save room for cake. After all, it will be a birthday party, albeit a posthumous one. Jerry would have been 56.

-- Cathy Areu Jones

Jerry's Birthday Bash takes place Saturday, August 1, from 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Tree Tops Park, 3900 SW 100th Ave., Davie. Admission is $3 to $5, which includes the $1-per-car entrance fee. Proceeds from the event will go to the Octagon Wildlife Sanctuary and Rehabilitation Center. Call 954-370-3750.

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Cathy Areu Jones