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We were up in Houston visiting a friend who was very excited about a thrift shop.

Normally I'm not a thrift shop kind of guy. I'm too particular about what I buy and I just don't like shopping that much.

But this time I was excited.

Benjy Wertheimer & I discuss playing music in prison. Healing hearts and minds with sacred sounds.

On Imported Blog

I had the good fortune to interview Benjy Wertheimer at Bhaktifest, 2011. I was really interested in his prison work, and so I asked to talk to him about it. Benjy relates with startling clarity and compassion, discussing his work with kirtan and world music at the Oregon State Penitentiary. It was truly moving to hear him talk about relating with these devoted souls who have managed to turn a prison into an ashram... Please enjoy.

(SRD) What piqued my interest was that you are playing at the Oregon State Penitentiary, and that once upon a time, Jerry Garcia Played there too. As both a dead head and a yogi, I was really curious to follow up on this connection. Can you comment on that?

(BW) Totally. Absolutely, I used to be in a band that rehearsed in the barn- Micky Hart's barn so, I actually got to see him a fair bit. I was in this band with Micky, called the Zakir Hussain Rhythm Experience. And then- there were some other, related ensembles that also would sometimes practice, and Jerry and all the guys would come by at different times! That was their primary recording space, and they always had their rigs set up, at all times. But, Jerry, interestingly enough, of all The Dead, was the one who was most interested in what we were doing, with this ensemble, I think. I mean, Micky was certainly engaged in it, directly. There's a certain kind of rock-star mentality that people get into, and even though Jerry was perhaps, arguably, the biggest rock-star of all of The Grateful Dead, he was also the one who seemed to be least on the rock-star trip. He was really accessible. He would look straight at you and take an interest, 'cause you were there. And, I was playing Tabla, and I was doing some of this other stuff, and he was really curious about it. I liked that, a lot.

(SRD) Did he ever mention the prison project to you?

(BW) No, he didn't. I had heard about that because the woman who's a chaplain at Oregon State Penitentiary knew about that and mentioned that. She said 'There are a lot of different people who've played here, including Jerry Garcia.'

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