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Spoonful co-founder surprised by acoustic gigs

Woodstock veteran reunites with pal from '60s jug band

Who: John Sebastian and David Grisman

When: Sunday, 8 p.m.

Where: McPherson Playhouse

Tickets: $50/$55 in advance at 250-386-6121 or www.rmts.bc.ca

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John Sebastian's wild and eclectic music career took a left turn in 2005 when the veteran performer joined forces with bluegrass giant David Grisman for a one-off concert.

That gig led to a few more, and the popularity of those necessitated Satisfied, a homespun set of originals and covers featuring only Sebastian, Grisman, and their stable of acoustic instruments.

Sebastian supporters will find the collaboration in stark contrast to the majority of his pop catalogue with the Lovin' Spoonful, the popular New York group he co-founded in 1965 with Zal Yanovsky. Those fans aren't alone.

"That I would be doing this -- playing acoustically with no accompaniment -- did come as a surprise," Sebastian said from his home in Woodstock, New York. "I never could have anticipated it. Every other project that was meaningful to me, I felt like I knew exactly what was going on. This has an element of mystery to it."

The riddle is revealed in the liner notes to Satisfied, which tell of a friendship between Sebastian and Grisman that dates back to 1962. The two spent a brief period of time together in the Even Dozen Jug Band before going their separate ways, Sebastian to the Lovin' Spoonful and Grisman to a solo career highlighted by collaborations with Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead.

The new project is a comfortable fit for Sebastian, 64, whose solo career (he left the Spoonful in 1968) has been dotted by uneven patches. Working with Grisman again renewed his appreciation for folk music, the type of which he played on the streets of Greenwich Village as an impressionable teenager.

"We know so many of the same tunes," he said of Grisman. "We'd been in this jug band when we were 18, and each of us had this interest in old-time music. His flops over into bluegrass and mine into blues."

The image of a tie-dyed Sebastian on stage at the Woodstock festival is etched into the minds of many baby boomers -- those who were there, and the millions of others who saw the movie, heard the soundtrack or were told about this perma-smile hippie who used to sing Do You Believe in Magic (which was a Top 10 hit for the Spoonful in 1965, and helped the band gain entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.)

The legend of Woodstock is a tough one to live down, Sebastian admitted.

"Too bad for me. That's just one of those things."

Catch him on the right day, however, and he will spin mind-altering tales about the festival's backstage area -- Sebastian was part of the "welcoming committee" -- or the medical tent that housed fans tripping on LSD.

Sebastian lives in a house not far from the Woodstock site. He was a fixture in the area during his Spoonful days, thanks primarily to his friend, Woodstock resident Bob Dylan, who Sebastian worked with on Dylan's 1964 classic, Bringing It All Back Home. Sebastian never had a fixed Woodstock address until the mid-'70s, when he hit paydirt with Welcome Back, his hit theme song for the TV series Welcome Back, Kotter.

Touring with Grisman has its artistic merits, yet the most enjoyable aspect for Sebastian, who sings and plays harmonica and guitar, is the between-song banter. He learns something new every night -- about Grisman and himself.

"Both of us have tales to tell. I find myself confessing to secrets because Grisman was there and he knew it. David and I go back so far, and even though we haven't had daily contact during the interim, it was very obvious to me that we know each other so well. It is a very conversational evening. We have a setlist that we ignore, but we do conscientiously make one up every night. Something happens during the course of the show, and we come off stage and think, 'Sh--, we never got around to playing so and so.' It has a lively aspect to it."

mdevlin@tc.canwest.com