[Interview] The Grass is Dead Brings New Life to the Swamp

The Grass is Dead

The Grass is Dead recently concluded a bluegrass-filled weekend at Swamp Side of the Moon, a grassroots festival held in Trail Lakes Campground in Ochopee, Florida. The event sought to bring new life to the swamp by gathering good people with good music in an almost forgotten part of the Everglades.

The festival was curated by The Grass is Dead frontman, Billy Gilmore, along with campground owner, Jack Shealy. We talked with Brian Drysdale, the band’s drummer who assisted with promotions of the event. Along with his recap of Swamp Side of the Moon, Brian also tells us what it was like performing at this year’s Suwannee Hulaween and Roots Revival. The Grass is Dead will be playing at 1904 Music Hall on Friday, December 2nd. You can purchase tickets here.

You put a huge effort into promoting the recent Swamp Side of the Moon event. Tell us how this came to be.

Billy [Gilmore] is friends with all the guys from South Florida – Crazy Fingers, and a bunch of bands – so they came up with the idea to do a tribute to Pink Floyd. Then the artwork was created around it. A bunch of people volunteered, vendors showed up and it was amazing. It was a true grassroots effort.

We built the Facebook page up, blasted it out, got a lot of likes. It was incredible. It took a monumental amount of work, but I love doing this kind of stuff. I worked eighteen hours a day for three days straight. Fingers crossed that we can do it again.

Who all played during the Pink Floyd super jam?

All of Crazy Fingers, plus Billy Gilmore. There were two drums – the drummer from Stinky Pockets, which is another Billy Gilmore band. So it was a combination of three bands. We had two drum kits going; the sound was amazing. Evans Media Source ran the stage production. Ernie Evans is great because he’s technically knowledgeable and he’s a great musician. He plays mandolin and guitar really well and is big in the bluegrass scene all through Florida. His assistant Larry Payton is a great mixer and really knows how to dial in our sound. We were so grateful to have their help.

What did you learn about the people who live in Ochopee, Florida?

The Shealy Family are really an amazing group of people. They have had the Skunk Ape Headquarters for over 30 years now and people come from all over the world to camp there. They have these amazing structures called chiki huts that are fashioned in the traditional Miccosukee Indian method. So going there, it’s really eco-tourism, but more like glamping because of the cabins. It’s a place you can really experience nature and the natural environment. The stars at night are incredible to say the least.

The legend of the skunk ape [swamp ape / Florida Bigfoot] is what brought back their tourist business. They’re world-renowned now. We’re working closely with Jack Shealy. He’s also a great musician. He plays killer slide guitar. They’re good people. They actually have a pet alligator, you should see it for yourself!

What is the whole mission behind The Grass is Dead? What is your goal behind the music?

I would say, to make people happy, to have fun and to play as much music with each other as we can. It’s as simple as that.

What’s it like playing in the band? You are a newer addition to the group, correct?

I love playing with these guys. I’m really fortunate. With my situation, I had stopped playing for a while. I’m really fortunate to have the opportunity to get to play music again and create. From what Billy told me, the band was formed way back in ’98. I became friends with him about four years ago. I was in the campground with my snare and brushes tied around me with a guitar strap. I’d come up in the jam and do a little bluegrass shuffle.

That slowly became a regular thing, where I’d sit in with him at the campsite during Spring Fest and Mag Fest. Billy asked me to bring the full kit about a year ago. Right after Hulaween last year was the launchpad. We played at Hulaween last year as the Billy Gilmore Band. I played the snare and brushes and we had a great set. Billy called me after and asked if I wanted to do some gigs in south Florida. I said, “there’s nothing more I’d like to do!”

Speaking of Suwannee Hulaween, we caught your late night set at Spirit Lake during this year’s Hula. You played with members of Jon Stickley Trio during that set. That was a great show.

Yes! Jon and Lyndsay Pruett came up and played with us. They’re amazing. We love playing with them. Jon shreds it; Lyndsay is incredible. After the gig I looked at Lyndsay and said, ‘it just feels like home up there on stage.’ It’s been about sixteen years since I’ve known Lyndsay. We were playing together in St. Augustine at The Mill Top with a little band I had back then. Just to look over sixteen years later and Lyndsay’s playing fiddle, and there’s Billy, and there’s Jon – the whole crew was there and it was incredible. Jared Womack sat in with us. He’s incredible on the dobro. I just met him recently. And we had Nico and Jack, too – it just felt right; it felt like home.

We felt the same way watching from the audience. Everything was right on time. A couple weeks before Hulaween, The Grass is Dead also played three sets at Roots Revival. Tell us about that. Did you get enjoy any free time?

[laughs] Not so much. That’s the one downside to playing three shows; you miss so much. You can go to the festival two different ways – plan it all out like, ‘I’m going to see every single thing I want’ or you can just wander around. Those days are kind of in the past now. We focus on rehearsing and playing. But we still have time to watch some things. I can’t tell you how many amazing sets I’ve seen out there.

The Grass is Dead 2
The Grass is Dead – Roots Revival 2016

Do you have your sights set on seeing any upcoming shows?

I’m mostly focused on the gigs right now. But I gotta tell you, that Pink Floyd “Swamp Side of the Moon” set with Bubba and Billy and all the guys from Crazy Fingers, that was pretty incredible.

So you actually got to experience Swamp Side of the Moon as a spectator?

Yeah! I got to kick back. I also got to see some new bands like some guys from the Everglades. Gator Nate played. He’s like a one-man-band. He plays guitar, harmonica, kick drum and percussion. That was really cool. Another group of guys called Whiskey Varnish did their thing. Billy played with his buddy Victor Bucannan; he’s an amazing flat-picker. So they did some bluegrass stuff.

I really became a convert to bluegrass after going to Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park. I grew up in the 80’s so everything I knew was on the radio. I listened to Nirvana and played in punk bands, all kinds of crazy stuff. I saw Doc Watson play in 2001, a few years before he passed, at a tiny festival in North Carolina. It was called The Doc Watson Music Festival. That was a life changer for me. And then Del McCoury and all those greats – that’s what sealed the deal with me for bluegrass.

What is planned for the show at 1904 Music Hall this week? Do you usually improvise or do you have the songs planned out?

Normally, we start talking about the set the day of. There are so many songs to pick from and we’ve played so much together this year. A lot of times when we break out a new song we’ll all have worked on it individually. They’ll text me some songs and I’ll work on it and see how I fit in. Then we sit together and play it a couple times through before we perform it. Usually we refine it the day of the show and pick which songs we want. Billy is great at picking the songs.

Which three Grateful Dead songs are your favorites to play?

I like “U.S. Blues” as my all-time favorite. I enjoy “Brown Eyed Women” because I like to sing every now and then. We’ve also been pulling out this Jimmy Cliff tune that’s fun – “Harder They Come.” We’ll probably have to set those aside for a while because we’ve had so much fun playing them this year. We’ve probably did them too much. We’ll be bringing some new ones to the table shortly.

That’s the great thing about doing The Grateful Dead – there’s such a huge collection of music. It’s never the same show. We never really play the songs the same way twice. It’s a lot of improvisation. That’s what keeps it fresh. We always allow for some free flow, if we want to extend the jam a little bit and take it out further. That’s the spirit of The Grateful Dead.

About Trail Lakes:


Trail Lakes Campground is family camping in the Everglades with the conveniences of home. Trail Lakes offers Wi-fi, showers, laundry, firewood for purchase, cabins, RV and tent sites, only minutes from Everglades City. It’s real wilderness family camping!

Read the great reviews on Trip Advisor.

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