by C. J. Hirschfield – Pre-pandemic, you’d find local singer/songwriter/producer/author/Grateful Dead historian David Gans on the road approximately 80 days a year. He’s been a performer for half a century, and has done live concerts in 45 out of 50 states. But if you think that sheltering in place has in any way slowed down his mojo, productivity, income or overall happiness, you’d be wrong. Thanks to a football-sized unit that allows him to create remote programming from anywhere, being able to shelter with his favorite person on earth, experiencing the joy that comes from raising a new kitten, and living in his beloved Oakland, David admits to feeling “insanely lucky” these days.
“Literate, improvisational folk-rock, with looping,” is how Gans’s style has been described. His vibe is warm and funny, and his enjoyment of connecting with people and other musicians is palpable.
Gans performed his last road show in March, but his weekly “Tales From the Golden Road” call-in show on the SiriusXM Grateful Dead Channel (co-hosted by Gary Lambert) has continued, after a brief hiatus. The show has been going strong since 2008, with Gans able to talk with Deadheads, do interviews, answer questions, quash rumors—and promote his own work, which includes numerous books and CDs. And a handy and portable Comrex unit has always served him well as he programmed from wherever he was at the time—a hotel room, a guest room in the home of a house concert host, and even once from a kitchen in a bar, with the only requirement being internet access. SiriusXM’s production team members were forced to leave their New York studio and set up remote operations from their homes in D.C., Brooklyn, and Queens. Gans was patched in from his home on Haddon Hill.
When the world sheltered in place, Gans watched all of his friends doing online concerts, competing with famous people with no place to perform. “This road warrior pivoted to concerts from home, at a time when everyone else is bored to tears,” he said. Beginning in April, he decided to play a live show every day (streamed on two platforms) and see who showed up. And they do show up, usually 40–50 people each day. Gans says that since he started this daily livestream, he’s played more than 325 different songs (he meticulously catalogues them on a spreadsheet). Grateful Dead, the Beatles, and his own original material and improvisations dominate the list. Also included are favorites from his youth like Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan and Jackson Browne (“songs that are in my DNA,” he said). He also brings his audience in; one fan messages requests several mornings a week. “I play different songs every time—every performance has something new.” He says that about 150 songs are in regular rotation. “For eight months I’ve been engaged in an ongoing interrogation of my catalogue—exercising my memory, expanding my repertoire, and pleasing an audience,” he said. “I’m having the time of my life.”
And a funny thing happened—his bookkeeper informed him that he was making as much money streaming (thanks to tips) as he made on the road. The only exception is revenue lost from the selling of merchandise, particularly his book This Is All a Dream We Dreamed: An Oral History of the Grateful Dead, described by Vanity Fair as “an epic jam.” Gans wants folks to know that he and his co-author Blair Jackson live just a few doors down from each other, so if you place an order, it will be signed by both of them—just in time for the holidays.
Gans is no longer hosting house parties for forty as he did pre-pandemic, but he has given three free concerts in his front yard, joined by his neighbor Scott Guberman, a keyboardist best known for his work with Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh and by Jeff Hobbs, a brilliant Oakland multi-instrumentalist.
At this point, Gans says that “my creative life—everything—is in my laptop.” Technology allows him to produce, make copies, stream from anywhere, design shows and write songs.
He doesn’t miss the epic rainstorms that plagued many of his outdoor concerts over the years while he was on the road, but he does miss the many friends he’s made along the way. He describes being part of a global culture, saying that, because he plays Dead music, and knows all the songs and style, he can jump on stage with people he’s never met, and make good music.
To Gans, spending more time with Rita Hurault, his wife of 26 years, is a joy. “We lead a ridiculously conflict-free existence,” he said. Hurault, a former teacher who now focuses on creating lovely California landscape art and volunteering at Children’s Fairyland’s gardens, joins Gans for regular hikes in Briones Regional Park, and in supporting local eateries hit hard by the shutdowns.
They also enjoy the company of their two cats—Ringo and a new kitten named Percy (pronounced Purrrrr-cy).
“We’re old people at the top of our game,” is how Gans describes himself and Hurault.
The name of his company? Truth and Fun, Inc., and it sounds like it’s been a winning recipe for David Gans during both good and tough times.
For information on all things David Gans, including shows, books, and discography, go here: https://cloudsurfing.gdhour.com/.
C. J. Hirschfield recently retired after 17 years as Executive Director of Children’s Fairyland, where she was charged with the overall operation of the nation’s first storybook theme park. Prior to that, she served as an executive in the cable television industry where she produced two series, ran San Francisco’s public access channel, and advocated on behalf of the industry. She has penned a weekly column for the Piedmont Post for 13 years, and now writes regularly for EatDrinkFilms and Splash Pad News. She holds a degree in Film and Broadcasting from Stanford University.
Hirschfield currently lives in Adams Point and serves on the programming team for the Appreciating Diversity Film Series showing free documentaries in Oakland and Piedmont, as well as on the advisory board of Youth Beat, a youth media training program that provides low-income Oakland students with the tools and opportunities they need to thrive in today’s workforce.