Bob Weir says that his pre-show nerves are so acute that each night is like “walking into a torture chamber” as he makes his way onto the stage.
The Grateful Dead co-founder says all these years of playing have not cured him, and, furthermore, that it could be argued that stage fright killed his late bandmate Jerry Garcia.
It does not matter whether you are playing your first gig at the school gym hall or headlining Madison Square Garden, stage fright comes for us all at some point. In some cases, it comes and goes. In others, it sticks with you. Weir falls into the latter category.
In a recent interview with Guitar World, he describes the walk out to stage as an agony. The Grateful Dead legend has played thousands of shows over the years, in a band who became synonymous with the live album, and yet, no matter how many positive experiences he has, and how much he wants to play, it’s always the same.
“People think we can’t wait to get onstage. I want to play, yes, but those last few steps on stage are like walking into a torture chamber every time,” he said. “It’s not easy.”
Asked to describe the sensation, he says it is the anticipation that gets him. But, crucially, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Being out there onstage and playing is its own relief.
“It’s the anticipation, the time before walking out,” he explained. “There is a moment onstage when I think, ‘Thank God, I’m out of here.’ I can forget myself, leave the building and let the characters in the songs have my body, my spirit and everything else. I can take a breather and not have to worry about it. As far as the size of the crowd, a living room is the toughest for me. Oftentimes the larger the crowd, the way easier it is for me.”
Like Weir, Garcia suffered tremendously from stage fright, and Weir attributes this a trigger for Garcia’s problems with substance abuse.
“And you could make the case that that’s what killed him, because he used those drugs to dull the stage fright, to dull the pain of it, because it physically hurt,” Weir said. “We talked about it a fair bit. We compared notes on how we dealt with stage fright. It wasn’t an ongoing conversation, because there wasn’t much new to add to it after the first six months that I’d known him.
“After we realised we were in the same boat, there wasn’t much more to say about it, but we would sometimes give each other looks that said, ‘It’s okay, I got past it. How are you doing?’”
Weir has spoken about stage fright before, telling GQ in 2019 that he would warm up in solitude so no one could see him play. After getting sober, he would rely on a pre-show shot of ginseng. “Every night, before I go on, it’s I can't believe I put myself in this position again,” he said. “Thousands of times.”
Despite this fear, Weir will go through this all again. He’ll suffer, he’ll take to the stage, and it’ll all be okay in the end. Last month, Weir released Live In Colorado Vol 2, the second album capturing his 2021 performance at Red Rocks Amphitheatre with Wolf Bros.
Wolf Bros started as a trio with Weir on vocals and guitar, Don Was on bass guitar, and Weir’s fellow RatDog alum Jay Lane on drums, but now there are 10 in the band, and it clearly tickles Weir how the band has grown.
“I woke up one morning with this dream in my head,” he said. “I was playing in a trio with Don and Jay. I just rolled over, picked up the phone and called Don and asked him if he wanted to do this and he said sure. As the band has grown, parts of our show still focus on the trio because we really can do something.”
To read the full interview with Bob Weir, head over to our friends at Guitar World.