The Jefferson Theater Thursday welcomes The Mickey Hart Band, headed by former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart. And Hart won’t be the only jam band veteran gracing the stage — Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools is among the band’s supporting players. Last week, Schools was kind enough to take 30 minutes to chat with me on the phone about his life as a musician, being part of the Panic and what it’s like to be on tour with the Grateful Dead legend.
With a conversational tone characteristic of his amiable, down-to-earth attitude, Schools started the interview with a question for me, asking: “So, do you love U.Va.?” Schools grew up in Richmond and understands the allure of the University.
“A lot of my friends went there,” he said. “It was great playing there because you had a built-in crowd. My friends were still college kids.”
His friends have long since graduated, but Schools is still glad to return to Charlottesville.
“It’ll be a full-circle kind of thing,” he said. “I saw the Dead at University Hall in 1982 when I was in high school, so it’ll be cool to play in Charlottesville with Mickey.”
Schools said he always wanted to collaborate with the famous drummer. Their initial meeting, however, was accidental.
“I never wanted to meet Mickey until I could meet him musician to musician,” Schools said. “I moved out to Sonoma County and couldn’t sleep because of the music coming from my neighbor’s house. I went over, realized it was Mickey, and we decided to jam.”
Schools then outlined the specific process — which Hart calls “sonification” — that went into making April’s critically acclaimed Mysterium Tremendum, The Mickey Hart Band’s first album.
“Radio telescopes measure galactic objects,” Schools explained. “Mickey then takes that white noise and that data and turns it into sound.”
Schools praised Hart’s innovative approach to music.
“It’s almost like [Hart] is trying to create this unified field theory of vibration,” School said. “I’m really excited about what I’ve learned from him, not only as a musician but as a friend. His interest in life and science is amazing.”
Thursday’s concert, which will include music from Mysterium Tremendum as well as some of Hart’s and the Grateful Dead’s greatest hits, is bound to be a music lover’s dream, and the event also benefits music therapy research. During his career, Schools has made it a priority to put his success toward charitable purposes.
“Without seeing what music makes us feel, Mickey and I would never have been musicians,” he said. “We never would have discovered that it’s a really positive force. We were able to have that success. It’s important that we are able to give back and the future generations feel what music makes us feel.”
Perhaps karma, then, can explain why the music world has been so kind to Schools. In 2002 Widespread Panic headlined two nights of the first Bonnaroo Music Festival for one of the crowning moments of the band’s lengthy career.
“It was amazing,” Schools said. “We had no idea it was going to be such a huge success. It seemed like it was a long time coming. We’d gone to Europe and headlined festivals there and were wondering why that didn’t happen [in the United States].”
Schools is excited to take new things he’s learned this year back to the Panic.
“What happens is that I try to learn,” Schools said. “I try to stay teachable and never feel like I’m in a position as a musician that I know it all and can’t learn anything.”
As happy as he will be to get back to his old bandmates, Schools will miss playing and touring with his friend.
So, after all he has learned, what is Schools’ advice for all you aspiring musicians out there?
“The best one would be don’t do it for the money, cause there isn’t going to be any. Do it for the music and there may be some. But really,” he laughs, “The best one is probably, ‘Don’t ever sell your publishing.’”
Be sure to head to The Jefferson Theater Thursday for two sets of outer space jams — but be prepared for anything.
“On stage, when things are happening, there’s a lot of spontaneity,” Schools said. “Anything could happen. That’s the beauty of trying to do something different.”
The Mickey Hart Band also includes Crystal Monee Hall, Gawain Matthews, Sikiru Adepoju, Ian “Inkx” Herman, Ben Yonas and Joe Bagale.
Tickets are on sale at jeffersontheater.com; doors open at 7 p.m.