"I am Bill Walton of the Electric Waste Band. We are a rock & roll band and our intergalactic tour pulls into Petco Park on Thursday, August 8th, with a 4:20 p.m. start."
And just like that, my recent interview with San Diego legend Bill Walton began. After a storied, Hall of Fame basketball career (in which he won two NBA championships with the Portland Trailblazers and Boston Celtics, respectively), Walton is now focused on elevating the play of a different type of team -- a local, long-running Grateful Dead/Jerry Garcia tribute group.
The towering Walton, who was born and raised in La Mesa and still resides in San Diego, is a frequent guest percussionist in the Electric Waste Band (comprised of drummer Danny Campbell, keyboardist Dave Chesavage, guitarist Mark Fisher, drummer Ed Fletcher, guitarist Robert Harvey and bassist Bob Rosencrans) and often spotted at their weekly Ocean Beach Monday night residency shows -- which they've been playing for nearly three decades.
"I started as a fan, I evolved into a roadie and now I'm a percussionist and vocalist...without a mic," Walton joked. "The Electric Waste Band has been playing at Winston's since 1992 and I go as often as I can but I have a very full work schedule so I don't get to go to all of the shows, but I try to get there as much as possible because it's a fantastic scene. It's a great time and I love rock & roll. I love dancing. I love percussion and drums and it's all about the rhythm. It's a core community of tremendous human beings that believe in hope and optimism and joy and peace and love and sacrifice and discipline and honor and team -- all the things I live for and believe in and try to stand for."
With the San Diego Padres hosting an inaugural Grateful Dead Tribute Night as they take on division rivals Colorado Rockies on Thursday, Aug. 8, Walton and his EWB bandmates have been invited to kick off the festivities and perform on the Park at the Park's Sycuan Stage for Deadheads and Friar Faithful alike.
"The Padres and the Electric Waste Band are really the same thing," Walton continued. "It's people who love San Diego, who love life and who represent the positive aspects of what we can do as a community to create a world as it could and should be ... We're inviting everyone to come down and be part of the magic ceremony and a celebration of all good things in life."
Walton said he hopes the Padres organization makes the Grateful Dead Tribute Night a yearly tradition.
"Our goal is to make it an annual event and to convince the Padres that this is a fantastic way to involve more people in the community ... It's going to be the greatest time ever and that's our job -- to make it happy, to make it full of love, to make it inclusive, to make people feel like they're part of something bigger than just our own individual lives.
"That's what the team is all about, that's what music is about," he continued. "The music is beautiful, it's incredibly creative and dynamic and vibrant and it's cohesive! It's going to be a beautiful day, we're going to be surrounded by the skyscrapers of downtown and the fantastic park and the Tony Gwynn statue and [we'll be] lookin' out over the ballpark where they'll be running around the ballfield all night long."
The show, which appropriately begins a bit after 4 p.m. (ahem), should be an epic affair.
"We don't have to wait for the midnight hour, we start at 4:20!" Walton said jovially. "We're gonna be going for 2 hours and 25 minutes of nonstop action so bring your dancing shoes and an open heart, an open mind and a clean and clear soul. We're going to the edge -- and then we're going beyond."
The effusive Walton seemed slightly surprised when I asked him if he had a particularly favorite Grateful Dead song that EWB performs during shows.
"It's all one song, Dustin. It's all one song and it's all one concert. Some songs are longer than others and some concerts are longer than others. But in our world, we don't live in the quantitative, decision-making world where it's about 'one,' it's about 'everything' -- it's about the infinite nature of who we are, what we're doing, where we're going and why we're doing it ... [It's about] the positive nature of good-time people making good-time music and the interplay between the audience. I mean, our audience is fantastic. They're our people. They're passionate, they're enthusiastic, they're committed and they come and we give everything we have."
The EWB set should be a rousing opener for the game which will also feature Walton throwing out the first pitch. And for those that believe in the power of positive thinking, he's putting some good energy out into the universe for the team.
"We're gonna warm it up. We're gonna lubricate the entire area and then it's just going to flow effortlessly and seamlessly right into the game, and the Padres are going to win -- and go on and win the championship! Never underestimate the power of the Grateful Dead or the Electric Waste Band!"