Oteil and Jess Burbridge in Rwanda.

Oteil and Jess Burbridge in Rwanda.

By Justin Cox

Traci Thaler met Oteil Burbridge during a chance encounter on a plane flight last New Year’s Eve. She immediately recognized him as the bassist for Dead & Company – the current incarnation of the Grateful Dead, which features original members alongside musicians like John Mayer and Burbridge, who has also played bass for popular acts like The Allman Brothers Band and the Zac Brown Band.

Thaler is a massive Grateful Dead fan, so she knew she had to talk to him. She introduced herself, initiating a fun conversation that eventually landed on a popular Grateful Dead fan blog called Grateful Dean, which Burbridge said he had read and found hilarious.

“Oh my!” said Thaler. “Dean is a friend of mine who started a Facebook Group (for Grateful Dead fans). You should join.”

The private Facebook group calls itself The Clams, and much to Thaler’s surprise, Burbridge loved the idea of joining. He became an active member among about 400 die-hards and has even held meet-and-greets at concerts with many of the group members. Thaler says she has been blown away by his kindness.


© Dead & Company

As a gesture of thanks, Thaler wanted to give something back to Burbridge, but struggled to answer the question: “What do you do for a rock star?”

By this time Thaler had met Burbridge’s wife, Jess, who is the former Director of Marketing and Communications for Gorilla Doctors. Thaler knew Oteil was an active supporter of the group and had even donated publicly to Gorilla Doctors in the past through the sale of popular t-shirt bearing his name.

With that, she set the process in motion by creating a whole other private Facebook group, this time omitting Burbridge, and laying out the plan to her fellow Clams. The result was a $1,650 donation to Gorilla Doctors in Burbridge’s name!


© Dead & Company

“More than 60 people contributed anywhere from $10 to $100,” said Thaler, who made her own contribution on top of that and ultimately delivered the donation to Gorilla Doctors.

“That’s pretty good for a bunch of deadhead hippies,” she said. “That man is so kind and sweet, and so is Jess.”

At first the gift surprised Burbridge, but then he thought more about the folks who pooled the money.

“I realized that this community is truly like no other and that I shouldn’t really be surprised at all,” he said. “The Clams are proactive, positive, and zealous. They take action when they feel that they can make a positive change in the world. What Gorilla Doctors is doing is exactly the type of thing that they believe in and want to see more of.”


© Dead & Company

He says The Clams represent some of the very best of the Grateful Dead community, which is already a passionate group to begin with. Thaler says that the Clams’ make a deliberate point to focus on the positive (whereas some groups can often trudge into the “They’re not The Dead without Jerry” territory).

Burbridge echoed that positive attitude in a recent email with Gorilla Doctors:

Before the first Dead & Company shows, I had to prepare myself for the fans to reject what we had to offer because it was a new band coming on the heels of the last Grateful Dead shows that would ever be played and they were worried that the sacred feeling in the music might not be preserved. I had read a lot of these kinds of sentiments online. It was daunting to say the least. Fortunately we won their hearts and have been lifted by the support and spirit of the fans. I can honestly say that of all the fan groups that I have come across, The Clams really represent that spirit. The love and support that they give each other, the band and organizations like Gorilla Doctors is really just the norm for them. They are truly special.

And for that we at Gorilla Doctors thank them for their positivity and their generosity! Thanks as well to Oteil and Jess for building this bridge between the Grateful Dead Community and our work with gorillas in Africa!