“Celebration, Devastation, and Redemption” - Part One
Dear Jerry: Celebrating the Music of Jerry Garcia
14 May 2015 - Merriweather Post Pavilion - Columbia, MD
for The Lot Scene by Parker
Set One: Communion with Phil Lesh - The Wheel > Uncle John's Band, Standing On The Moon, Liberty; Allen Toussaint - Get Out Of My Life Woman; David Grisman with Sam Bush - Shady Grove; Peter Frampton with Bill Kreutzmann - (I'm A) Roadrunner; Buddy Miller - Deal; Jorma Kaukonen - Sugaree; Jimmy Cliff - The Harder They Come; Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Dave Schools, Bill Kreutzmann and Jimmy Cliff - Attics Of My Life (intro) > Fire On The Mountain
Set Two: Billy and The Kids - Help On The Way > Slipknot! > Franklin's Tower; Disco Biscuits with Bill Kreutzmann and Tom Hamilton - Scarlet Begonias > I Know You Rider > Scarlet Begonias; moe. - Loser; O.A.R. - St. Stephen
Set Three: Los Lobos with Bob Weir - Not Fade Away > Bertha; Trampled By Turtles - Brown-Eyed Women; Yonder Mountain String Band - Shakedown Street; Bob Weir - Days Between; Grace Potter, Bob Weir, and Matt Burr - Friend Of The Devil; Eric Church - Tennessee Jed; Widespread Panic - Morning Dew; Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart - Touch Of Grey; A Host of the Evening's Performers - Ripple
Admittedly, this was a bit of a challenging review to even approach, much less write. A night of so much music billed and performed by so many artists, all in homage to our Jerry and his timeless works. And, of course, what with the scheduling tragedies and disappointments, et al, the plot thickens even further. But let’s get to everything in the right order, shall we?
First and foremost, I have never seen Merriweather Post and the surrounding areas mobbed so thoroughly as I did last Thursday. It would be an interesting statistic to know how many people just came for the parties in the parking lots, no ticket, no worries. Given that we had to park somewhere on the backside of Mars to find a spot in an MPP lot, I’d wager the number of the ticketless was legion. Certainly boosted the celebratory air of the evening, even if it meant a brisk, lengthly walk. But, eyes on the prize, we all knew the end game was so very worth it.
Second, alas, DC’s infamous awful rush hour did us in and we lost the first five songs of the show to traffic. It really was tragic — hate it when that stuff happens. So, sadly, we missed Phil with Communion and also missed Allen Toussaint but at the very least we walked in to David Grisman and a little Sam Bush playing us a tight little “Shady Grove” all the way to our seats. Not a bad way to make an entrance if you can’t be there for the start of the show! Coming alive with “(I’m A) Roadrunner”, the legendary Peter Frampton was up next for my first full song of Dear Jerry. And he killed it. It was just the beginning, too, in terms of star power, nailing Jerry songs summarily time and again, and right there in the pavilion with me. Certainly the closest I have ever been to the likes of Frampton or Cliff or Bobby or Billy or Mickey — needless to say, it was a mighty cool experience on so many levels. But let’s get back to some music, yes, as Buddy Miller stepped up next with a rock solid “Deal” which was extremely popular with the fantastically drunk fellow standing next to me, as well as with the rest of us. “Libation-assisted-merriment” was in expectedly full force at Dear Jerry…I’ve rarely kicked so many tiny Fireball bottles in my life. What the hell? It was a party, right? “Sugaree” was now up in the queue, performed by Jorma Kaukonen whose serious guitar chops made this a true delight, even for a song I already love. Then, I must admit, I fell a bit prey to some star-struck energies as Jimmy Cliff took the stage for a couple of numbers. Just seeing yet one more living legend in a lineup of legends was so powerful, so real. And then to get a “The Harder They Come” live from Jimmy, all smiles and baseball cap, well that was just surreal. And marvelous. Just as marvelous as when Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart, and Dave Schools joined Jimmy and the house band (which, it must be said, was just incredibly good and filled with its own music greats like Sam Bush for instance) for “Fire on the Mountain” following an “Attics of My Life” Intro. Mickey Hart’s lead into “Fire” set us all dancing with instant recognition and we were off for a fun, fun ride that consisted of spot on vocals from Jimmy as well as righteous rhythm from the Devils all anchored by Bobby’s iconic presence. A big, bangin’ version of one of Jerry’s best. Thanks for that and thanks for such a great set, everyone!
The second set opened with Billy and the Kids who gave us a sweet and savvy trio of “Help On The Way” into “Slipknot!” into “Franklin's Tower” — all in the classic Dead sound and style that we’ve come to expect from Billy’s boys over the years. The perfect way to get a show of the magnitude going once again and back wandering and weaving through the intricate musical life of Jerry Garcia. One of my clear favorite acts of the entire night was up next: The Disco Biscuits with Bill Kreutzmann and Tom Hamilton. I had no idea what to expect and I am glad I didn’t because I was blown away. Easily the best jams of the night, the most explosive energy, the highest height of the show. So it was “Scarlet Begonias” into “I Know You Rider” and back into “Begonias” and it was stupendously awesome music. Mad guitar solos everywhere and very tight musical texture. Damn was it good!! An absolute crowd favorite as well. Bravi, boys!! And thanks! The easily recognizable faces of moe. came forward next for a happily predictable “Loser” — I say “happily predictable” because it seemed a good and obvious choice for them plus I really wanted to hear them play it at this show. I am glad I wasn’t disappointed. One cool point about this show, too, is that there were so many folks of renown scattered in amongst the seats around us: Leon Russell was right in front of us to the left, Timmy Carbone was spotted — it was really cool to see them all enjoying the fruits of Jerry as well. A unique night of music to be sure. Speaking of which…the final song of the second set was “St. Stephen” performed by O.A.R. Unfortunately, the sound was terrible for this song really screwing the band. This was a problem for the remainder of the show. Just bad levels for various performers. Boo juice, sound folks!!
After another very brief set break, we were back with some Los Lobos and Bobby for a couple: “Not Fade Away” into “Bertha”. It was my first time seeing Los Lobos so that was a bonus, plus there was some particularly exquisite guitar interplay between Bobby and some of the Lobos making for a very fine music experience. The band also surrendered the vocals to the crowd for a good portion of “Not Fade Away” which was pretty incredible to hear — thousands of Heads all united in song. Good stuff. Trampled By Turtles followed with “Brown-Eyed Women”, however, the only thing I can really say is just how horribly terribly awful the sound was for their entire song. From where I stood it was atrocious. Again, levels all akimbo. Not sure what the hell happened there, but it diminished the show. Quite significantly. So sorry to Trampled. A nice “Shakedown Street” was next on the menu from the newly announced Yonder Mountain String Band 2.0 (it’s official). Yet again the sound was wonky for some folks, vocal mics inaudible. Terrible. But the song evened out and rocked towards the end, thanks to Allie whose energy always brings such shine to a YMSB 2.0 show. Weir’s soulful intensity was on display in “Days Between” bringing a stormy energy to the concert that segued nicely into Grace Potter joining him for a mild and lovely “Friend of the Devil” right afterwards. Um, not sure how to approach the next act as it was my least favorite of the evening and the very least in a host of a great tributes to Jerry Garcia. Besides, his version of “Tennessee Jed” simply wasn’t good, to put it plainly. It is not a person I’d like to hear cover Jerry ever again. This person is country music’s Eric Church. And, moving on… Another of the high points of the evening came from Widespread Panic just killing “Morning Dew”. True to form, the fellas nailed it down. Really solid musicianship, really solid vocals, and solidly entertaining and pleasing to the crowd. A better version of that song that I’ve heard, I’d say. Then, it was hard to tell if the show was winding down or not (there wasn’t much guidance as to what was going on for us in the crowd) as Bobby, Billy, and Mickey came back for a kick ass “Touch Of Grey”, my first favorite Dead song (yeah, I know — weird). It was a perfect tribute song to Jerry played by his grey-haired friends and bandmates. I am smiling now just at the memory. And the final song of the evening was performed by the largest supergroup I have ever witnessed as almost all the night’s performers joined the Dead members for a huge “Ripple” sing-a-long with the crowd. Talk about picture op central! So cool. So great to sing and dance and smile and enjoy the night. Just incredible. I just wish that was how the story ended…
You might notice that a few of the performers billed are conspicuously absent from my review: Railroad Earth, Greensky Bluegrass, and Bruce Hornsby. If you don’t know already, due to curfew and scheduling issues, the show ran long and acts had to be cut. These aforementioned acts. Needless to say we were all wondering what the hell happened (as well as the bands we were sure). Once the information started coming out, understanding dawned on us all but only led to further frustration and disappointment. Especially after so many late addition acts were put in who got to perform thereby bucking those billed from the start. It is a sad and sticky situation and it needs to be addressed. I know from their Facebook statements that RRE and GSBG were both devastated by this snubbing — and they should have been. I also know both bands are moving forward because they are amazing, however, it was plain to see the effect this situation had on some of my favorite musicians. So, it would seem the night of “so much” music turned into the night of “too much” music. And some folks had to give. Additionally, it turns out the folks on the lawn didn’t even know the show was ending, that the supergroup was even performing, or that they all took a huge bow at the end because the jumbotrons were only playing “Ripple” lyrics. Another terrible oversight that negatively impacted so many. I only bring these things to light in the hopes of our community tightening things up regarding shows like this. We all payed dearly in many ways to be there, including the bands, and we had our expectations trounced by over-lofty aspirations for the evening.
Final word: it was still an incredible evening of music. But, as a friend of mine put it, Blackbird Music had an A+ sitting right in their hands and they just let it get away. I am inclined to agree.