Grateful Dead Life Lessons From Oteil Burbridge to Teach Your Children During The Holidays

Dec 04  / Wednesday

Oteil Burbridge is many things, but first and foremost he is a father. For someone who has played as a member of Dead & Company, Allman Brothers Band, the Aquarium Rescue Unit, and more, Burbridge's biggest achievement in life is being the father of Nigel and Kavi.

On December 13 and 14, Oteil Burbridge, Melvin Seals, Tom Hamilton, Duane Trucks, Jacklyn LaBranch, and Lady Chi are coming "Home for the Holidays" to celebrate the Jerry Garcia songbook. Since the holidays are the perfect time to teach our children about the importance of being kind, friendly, and grateful to others, we went to Oteil for guidance. Please enjoy reading this interview and let it inspire you! 

1. Meeting new people at shows can be one of the most exhilarating parts of the experience... that instant friendship and connection with everyone around you. In "Scarlet Begonias," Hunter writes, “Strangers stopping strangers just to shake their hands.” What has the Grateful Dead taught you about being open to making new friends and being kind to others, and how would you take that wisdom and pass it onto future generations? 

Oteil Burbridge: I’ve always been open to making friends with new people. I find that no matter how different we seem to be we are really all the same. But I have always marveled at the open, communal nature of the Grateful Dead tribe’s gypsy culture. I am part of a music camp called Roots Rock Revival and my son Nigel comes to camp with my wife Jess now that he is old enough. At Roots last Summer, he made friends with this boy who was 4 or 5 years older than him. They were inseparable much of the time, playing in the creek, running around the meadow, finding flowers and rocks and other “treasures”. I was so busy teaching and it took me quite some time to notice that the boy didn’t speak any English! I think he was from Brazil. Yet they were talking to each other constantly. Obviously they had no problem communicating across the language barrier! I think the key is that kids innately reach across these barriers and maybe we just have to not train them otherwise. My son and this other little boy only needed to understand what a smile means to play together for days on end. Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile.

2. During "Brokedown Palace," Jerry sings, "Going home, going home. By the waterside, I will rest my bones. Listen to the river sing sweet songs to rock my soul.” Being a touring musician, what does being home for the holidays mean to you? How do you teach your children the importance of loving and appreciating their families?

Oteil Burbridge: There is nothing better to me than being at home. I’ve been on the road since my early twenties and there is little romance left for me in living out of a suitcase. Now I have two children ages 1 and 4. It’s extremely hard for me to leave them and my wife every time I go. They are used to having me around a lot too so it’s hard for them too. Thank God for video chats. Our littlest one, Kavi, is recently adopted and for two years we’ve been talking to our son Nigel about what it means to be a big brother. We got matched with his little sister a year and a half ago and have had her pictures up all over the house since then. We talked about all the things he could teach her, we read books about adoption to him and taught him that it is love that makes a family and not just blood relation. He became as impatient as we did for her to be home after waiting for so long. He is an awesome big brother and loves to play with her and make her laugh. Having Kavi home finally, this will be the best Holiday season for our family. 


@jessbburbridge and I have been talking about adopting a child since we fell in love 14 years ago. And we started the process in earnest 2 years ago. Legally we were not allowed to announce it publicly until we passed court in India. Now, after so much paperwork and waiting, here we sit in Lucknow, India, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, with our sweet girl Kavi. Kavanah Lucia Burbridge has made us a family of 4 and we can’t wait to be back at home with Nigel and start the next amazing chapter in our lives. Honestly I hope this will inspire some who have thought about adopting and maybe even some who have never considered it. Playing stadiums is great, surreal, fantastic, even unbelievable. But believe me it doesn’t even come close to this. On the other hand, wait until she meets her crazy, colorful, beautiful musical family back home in America. She has no idea just how big her family really is! If I had the world to give........ #kavicominghomesoon #dreamcometrue #burbridgepartyof4 #bigbrothernigey #lovemakesafamily

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3. Inside “Franklin’s Tower,” Robert Hunter writes, “If you get confused, just listen to the music play.” How has music been a guiding force when life gets challenging? What kind of music do you listen to with your children?

Oteil Burbridge: Music was my dad’s religion. I have never known life without it. Many years ago at my lowest low I gravitated to Marley, Bobby Blue Bland and Rev James Cleveland for that deep healing. Since my brother Kofi passed away I was struck at how I was connecting with Jerry’s voice and the tone of his guitar in a much deeper way. It’s medicinal really. With the kids we listen to all kinds of music around the house and in the car. It ranges from songs from Disney movies to Howlin’ Wolf to songs he learns in school. I grew up in a house that was filled with every different type of music known to man. We want Nigel and Kavi to have the same experience. I want it all to feel familiar to them as adults.

4. In "Comes a Time," the words tell us, “Don’t give it up, you got an empty cup. That only love can fill.” How has the Grateful Dead's music and your experiences playing the music made these words ring true to you?

Oteil Burbridge: I had my first child right after the Allman Brothers Band ended and right before starting with Dead and Company. It was a time of massive change in my life. And with so many of my old mentors and bandmates passing away starting in 2017 and the passing of my older brother Kofi earlier this year that song speaks to me in ways that I couldn’t have foreseen before. Many of the Grateful Dead songs feel that way to me. The more you have lived the more they mean to you. It’s my family and our love for each other that keeps my cup filled. It’s amazing to feel so much love from this community too. I feel like so many of them are hurting with me and celebrating with me as well.  

5. One of the most commonly quoted Grateful Dead lyrics is... “What a long strange trip it's been." Life has its ups and downs, and those seem to determine whether it's an enjoyable trip or miserable ride. How would you use those words to encourage, inspire, and help the future generation get through hard times?

Oteil Burbridge: There’s no escaping the fact that you have to take the good with the bad. You might as well accept it. I have struggled with it a lot in my life and I have had it so easy compared to most people on the planet. I guess if I had any advice it would be to realize just how many people on earth have it harder than you do. And you don’t have to look in some far-flung country. I see people confined to wheelchairs with a better attitude than me and it puts me in check right away. And if you are struggling with something truly awful then reach out to others. I think one of the things that we are here for is to comfort each other. My wife and kids can turn my day around real fast! 

6. Hunter’s wisdom tells us in "Ripple," "There is a road, no simple highway, between the dawn and the dark of night, and if you go no one may follow, that path is for your steps alone." What advice would you give your children in regards to staying true to one’s self? 

Oteil Burbridge: Well, we’re not really there yet with them at their age but in general we make sure that Nigel feels like whatever he is into is valid as long as it doesn’t hurt him or anyone else. Fortunately, he doesn’t get off on hurting other people so its not really a problem! Though he certainly has a mischievous side, he is really sweet inside and we always encourage that. At 4 years old, he already knows that we totally support whatever he’s into as long as it’s not too dangerous. We love that quote, “In a world where you can be anything you want, it’s always good to be nice.” Now if I cold just live by that successfully myself then I would be a lot better off. I know my kids are watching me all the time though so I have even more incentive to do better.

Get your tickets HERE for Home for the Holidays: Celebrating Jerry Garcia on DEC 13 + 14!