Saturday, July 23, 2016

Larry and Teresa Steam Up Bull Run

It's been a great season for concerts, including Bob Weir guesting at Sir Paul's Fenway concert last weekend.  A review I read talks about the blessings bestowed on us this summer by certified rock royalty, such as Sir Paul.  Be that as it may ... and I can't imagine why I'd ever bad-mouth Paul McCartney ... one of the great things about great music is that it's ecumenical, democratic, expressive of the human spirit.  It isn't only dispensed by royalty.  And we were very glad after a foray into arena rock to get back to seeing the best artists of our generation in small venues.

Which brings me to seeing Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams at the Bull Run.  How could such an incredible act not be adored by the millions?  The Sawtelle Room at the Bull Run was two thirds full of  enthusiasts, but come on!  Oh well, one of the charming things about seeing an act like Larry and Teresa at a club in Shirley MA is that there's absolutely no pressure.  We all showed up on a Friday night and had a great time.

Picked up Sarah and Dave at West Concord and drove out there on a steamer of a mid-summer, New England night.  Ordered some great food and beer, talked with our table-mates, some of whom we'd met before at great Bull Run concerts (this was our 35th at the Bull Run by my count), and mellowed out in the air conditioning.  We stepped outside for a bit and Justin Guip was blabbing on his cell phone, Jesse Murphy (guest bassist) was doing some homework, listening to his ear buds on the bridge, and Larry in his black get-up was in his car texting and presumably roasting.  I went inside and headed to the bathroom, but Teresa jumped in front of me on her way to the lady's ... I almost followed her in.

They came on a bit late, as most acts do, though the room was more than primed for them.  No late arrivals here, we were all ready for the night.  They opened with a few numbers off their record (strange that they'd release a record last year and only tour for it now?!?) and ended up doing most of the numbers we'd expect from them in a short set, with a double encore.  For some reason, the sound wasn't great for the first few numbers, but then they got it straightened out with a bit of advice from the band.

As a listener pointed out, "Larry, the room's full of Deadheads heah!" A guy at our table recognized Dave's t-shirt from when Larry and Teresa played with Phil & Friends a few years ago.  The biggest whoops of the night were reserved for the "Dead" songs: Samson and Delilah (If I Had My Way), Deep Ellum Blues, Big River (an absolutely crackling version), and an encore of a song actually written by the Dead, their incredible a capella cover of Attics Of My Life.

But there was more for the Deadhead and music fan to go nuts over, such as Teresa belting out Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning, a tidy and precious rendition of Julie Miller's Midnight Highway (both of which we'd seen them do with Phil), and their top-of-the-heap (and it's a big heap) cover of the Louvin's You're Running Wild.  This was great stuff and the thing that had me riveted was watching Larry pick the country blues on his acoustic and his Telecaster while Guip and Teresa hammered and wailed behind him.  Again, how come the place was not full to see this stuff??

For me, the song of the night was Larry's If You Loved Me At All.  He's written some of the best stuff ever, and this was done perfectly.  Teresa has that twang (Larry: "I married Elly May Clampett, without the oil wells"), and Larry has that perfect, American, honest, gritty quality to his singing and playing.  He did a solo bit, where he picked out the tricky melody of Blind Mary from 18th century Irish harpist Turlough O'Carolan on his small acoustic, and then Duke Ellington's Caravan.

Another shorter than anticipated night at the Bull Run ... we'd all made it there on a Friday and were ready to go all night.  But the band wasn't; an act at this rank on the pecking order has to do a lot of traveling.  Larry and Teresa absorbed the accolades and tried to deal with the many requests (I shouted out for When I Go Away and the two looked at me like, "Thanks for the request but we're not ready to do that tonight," so I shouted out for Mountains Of the Moon, which made Teresa laugh (an obscure Dead song we'd seen them do with Phil)).

After the encore of Attics and Deep Ellum they signed for the crowds but we escaped into the steamy night and had a relatively quick ride back to Quincy and then to Woburn, making it home in time to go to bed by midnight.

Pictures here!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Dead At Fenway Park! Saturday

Yowza, time to truck into the city again and see Dead & Company at Fenway Park (7/16).  What a way to wake up!  We’d spent the morning downloading pictures and blogging and stuff, and had already downloaded and heard most of the show from Friday night by the time we had to leave.  The Friday show was great, perhaps the best of the tour so far, and the “second day” question was hanging over us … would the show tonight be as good?  You never know with the Dead.

Sarah and I parked in her building after a pretty quick trip in, and then had a slow, mellow walk through the Common, the Garden, and up the Commonwealth Mall, past the succession of iconic Boston sculptures to Hereford, than over to Boylston and up and across the Fens, including crossing the Muddy River.  It didn’t look black on that sunny afternoon, but had been in last night’s encore!

We waited in line at Yard House to show IDs and get wristbanded (the door on Van Ness was not open, you had to go through the front) and the place was already chock-full at 3:30!  They soon stopped letting people in because of fire codes, though Dave and friend Parker made it after taking the T from Quincy.  We had a leisurely late lunch and a few beers, conjectured about what we were about to see, and then headed over to the intersection of Yawkey Way (whilom Jersey Street) and Van Ness to meet friends.  We’d agreed to meet there at 5:30 and I was a few minutes late, but I then proceeded to stand in the middle of the intersection for about 20 minutes and no sight of them (though Scott and Michelle showed up)!  Oh well, not surprising that we had a hard time meeting up in a crowd like that.



And what a crowd it was.  By the end of the night, Fenway was packed as far as I could tell … don’t know if it was an official sellout [just saw on the Red Sox Facebook page that it was a sellout, except they apparently didn't sell the section under the press box?!?].  And this included all of the turf except for the stage and the grass part of the infield being covered with seats.  I’d guess that at least 40,000 people were there, possibly way more.  But back to the corner of Yawkey and Van Ness … after waiting for a while (and getting a t-shirt) we decided we’d better start in right away, knowing it might take a while.

Almost had to push our way down Van Ness to get to Gate B, but then entered and knew where to go.  It was just as much of a rush as it had been the day before to actually walk onto the field at Fenway.  Sarah and I took the time to tour around the field and she snapped pictures of me in front of the seat I was in when Dewey Evans caught a fly ball in my lap, and then posing at my shortstop position in front of the infield grass that was so perfect it had to be a painting.  Then made it to our seats in section B7, a few rows back and a few seats farther left than Friday, but essentially in the same spot.

BobR was sitting in front of us, totally unexpected!  We picked out W&L in their seats behind us and they eventually saw us too and waved.  At the break, Sarah found our friends F&P and B, though A was over sitting with their son behind the visitor’s dugout.  Again, Fenway Park was packed with friends … and then the band came on.



John was wearing a white t-shirt … guess his flirtation with picnic cloths was over.  The others were pretty much the same, though Bob’s hair was perhaps even more disheveled than it was Friday.  Hadn’t seen his stool before on the tour, but it was there last night.  He acted a bit tired at the end too, they are probably very glad to have a few days off and be returning to their native time zone.



They launched right into the Jam that we all know leads to Truckin’ and we were off on another beautiful Fenway evening, with the sky showing some blue but getting more overcast as the evening went on, though thankfully rain and thunderstorms held off once more.

Here’s the first set and some notes:

  • Jam into Truckin' – Kind of fun to look around and see half of the people get what song they were playing right away, and then hear the other half of the crowd roar only when they lit into, “Truckin’, got my chips cashed in….”  And this was a titanic Truckin’ with an outro that could have turned into anything.
  • But what it turned into was Big River, Bobby leading the way.  Maybe it was the humidity or the Park being so full, but the sound wasn’t quite as good Saturday night.  John tried to take off on this, but the song never really fell into place, though Jeff did his best on organ.
  • I was hoping we’d get a brace (at least) of cowboy songs, but they came to a full stop, and then John started picking They Love Each Other.  Donna came out and the crowd went nuts, could be that some of them were unaware of her presence on this tour.  The harmony singing and particularly her singing on the “Lord you can see…” choruses was excellent.  John definitely achieved takeoff on this song!
  • Deal – This was the third time (in 4 concerts) we’d seen these guys do Deal and so it was a little disappointing to get such a repeat, though this was done very well.  This really is one of the best little pieces of music that Garcia ever wrote, and the song contains boatloads of lyrical possibilities (see Hartford post) that John and Jeff love exploring.  Go to it guys!
  • I called the next song in the middle of Deal; for some reason I was sure they’d do Bird Song next and by gum they did.  Don’t know what made me think that.  This wasn’t the best Bird Song in terms of diving full-tilt into the dark take on life that this song implies, but again the vocals were very good, and there were plenty of stretches of instrumental brilliance.  The Dragon of ensemble Dead playing almost emerged here and the song was riveting.  But in all, another case of a bit more practice with Donna and they might get there with this one.
  • Passenger and Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad – I have to admit I was off to the bathroom and the beer line as soon as Bird Song ended and it’s a good thing I made that strategic decision.  The tunnels were packed with people, even during the set!  There was a line for the bathroom and I had to wait for at least 10 minutes for beer.  Caught a bit of these tunes snaking down into the depths of Fenway (I was very bummed I missed Passenger), but the crowds pouring into the tunnels as GDTRFB ended and I was trying to exit were scary!  I was very glad to push my way back into the open air and have some time to sit in our suddenly un-crowded area after that.  Sent shivers down my back to imagine trying to navigate them during the set break.

Caught up and yucked it up with BobR and friends after a bit of rest, and then we bulled our way up into the field boxes to visit our friends there for a bit.  They could see the stage without standing on tip-toe since they were elevated a bit, but were jammed into those small Fenway seats that are kind of a nightmare themselves.

Back to our seats and the crowd was now pouring out of the tunnels, it was really kind of frightening how jammed with people it was, though we were ostensibly in the open expanse of left field at Fenway Park!?!  The guys came back out after an average-length break and we were off again, for the final time on this stand in Boston.



We’d been hoping and hoping that Donna was going to be at Fenway and that they’d play PITB.  It happened!  Here’s the second set:

  • Playing In the Band - Dave called it from the first few random notes from Bobby.  We were so ready for this!  Need I say that this is one of the most essential songs of Western Civilization (and I mean West of Alpha Centauri)?  John got out the old wah-wah filter for this and at times it seemed there were four guitars playing ... might have been some looping going on,  Bobby may have played this song a few times before.
  • We were waiting for them to come back into the chorus after the jam and for Donna to scream and rip the foundations of our world.  But before you knew it they were starting up with ...
  • Estimated Prophet - My Dog, I've heard this song so many times I couldn't believe at first that they were playing it again and I also can't believe that it hasn't been played out yet.  But it hasn't been by a long shot.  Perhaps here Bobby first showed signs of being tired, and he didn't elevate this vocally like he can (on one chorus he sang, "Don't worry about me now, I ain't getting old").  But the firm of Mayer-Burbridge-Chimenti did the deep dive into this song and the team of Kreutzmann-Hart was right there with them.  This was excellent stuff and again featured great harmonies between Oteil and John.  Really, this may have been the song of the night ... just ridiculously good stuff.
  • Then those guys were done being fantastic ... for the moment ... and so Bobby started up He's Gone, singing the "Rat in a drain ditch" verse in his best 2010's, raspy style, and then John and Oteil and Donna and Jeff coming in on the chorus.  This is one of those songs that means a lot to everyone who's paying attention, "Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile."
  • Wait, why would they do Sugaree now when they had their mojo working and could go into like, TOO (just a suggestion)?  Maybe because it's another of the most excellent things Garcia ever wrote and was done as well as Deal, wonderful!  Played a lot and a bit of a sing-song for the masses here, but good.  Again, maybe another sign of being a bit tired.
  • And then another incongruous thing, Bobby and Oteil were suddenly right in the middle of Fire on the Mountain.  Odd place in the setlist for this, but maybe they were playing songs they knew they could kill.  And they did kill this, very plus version, especially Oteil floating above everything and John and Jeff (and Bob of course) hammering the melody.  Or maybe they were doing songs they'd practiced with Donna.
  • Drums/Space - This interlude is evolving and hopefully won't evolve *into* anything, just become more itself.  In some ways, this is becoming the highlight of the night.
  • And then a majestic descent into Days Between.  From their accounts, this seems to be one of the most meaningful songs in their quiver to the original members.  To me, this was one of the best versions I've ever heard because of the great timing from the band-leader, the pitch-perfect passages between verses, and ethereal piano from Jeff.
  • Not Fade Away - Got to please the crowd and this song is one of the most epic sing-alongs ever, thanks and RIP Buddy Holly!  To see Bobby and Donna belting this out was beyond description.  This was a very perfect version.


The crowd was clapping of course, and everything was wonderful.  I looked around at Fenway and was feeling very good,  Then the guys came back out for the encore.  I don't know if I've ever seen Saturday Night, though it's one of the most classic songs ever and I've been there many a Saturday,  Anyway, guess what they played for an encore?

One More Saturday Night - No overt politicizing here, just the rock and roll of the ages, including a totally satisfactory Donna scream!

[Sarah's pix from Saturday]

Far be it from me to be analytical (if you've read this far, that's a joke).  I feel these were two of the best nights of the tour.  Friday featured a classic setlist and upbeat playing.  Saturday was tired but endlessly baroque.  Let me conclude my thorough exegesis by saying we were lucky to be there for both nights, in many ways!

Again I have to mention the awesomeness of the setting.  Fenway Park was delightful, and they’d set up a humongous stage, worthy of a stadium rock show, in deepest center field, but extending out to where Fred Lynn would play for a straight-away hitter.  When I turned around to see the whole park, as I often did, the seats were crammed with Deadheads dancing and having fun.  Lights from the stage played over the crowd, the grandstand, and the boxes where Jean Yawkey used to sit primly and watch her team.  And the almost-full moon floated up among the clouds, beyond the Cumberland(!) Farms sign, peeking in and out through cracks in the gathering cover.

I loved seeing the Dead in such a setting in the middle of my city.  I used to live and work in the Fens, 40 years ago!  But I came away from there saying that I may never go see a stadium show again.

Fare Thee Well in Levi’s Stadium last summer and these shows at Fenway were great.  But it wasn’t like going to see a concert, more attending an event.  The field at Fenway is not tilted towards the stage of course, and I had to stand on my tip-toes to see the band, and sometimes just could not see them through the heads in front of me.  Sarah and Dave had a worse time.  I need to see the band play to most appreciate the music … that’s why I go to concerts.  Sure, we were close enough to catch glimpses of interplay between the musicians, and see how Bobby’s gestures set the pace for the band.  But I needed to see more, and could barely see the drummers’ heads, let alone their kits.

And the security was a pain in the butt.  Friday night was ok, but with the packed crowd on Saturday they had set up steel gates around every section and would only let you in if you showed your ticket.  I had to flash mine about 25 times during the course of the evening, and they’d only let you in to section B7 (our section) via a circular path that was just stupid.  They were way past the point of considering the comfort/ease of the concert-goer in their decisions about access, which I hate.

We were meat as far as the concert organizers were concerned, we were not humans attending a concert.  You could say the same line is crossed all the time when dealing with large crowds of people.  I don't think people should stand for this, and I'm calling out the concert organizers as being uncaring about individual concert-goers' experiences.

As we left, we had to bluff our way past a cordon of security people to get to the exit we knew we wanted, otherwise we’d still be smashed into a cramped line in the bowels of Fenway.  No idea what they were thinking there, except maybe it was not wanting that many people on the scaffolding they’d set up over the bullpens, which was shaking while we crossed it!

Next time Dead & Company plays Boston they should do Thursday and Friday night at the Wang Center for the aficionados.  I know I'd be there and would pay a high price (but don't tell them that).  Then they should play the third night at Gillette and charge a low price, and might fill the stadium but I'd watch it from home.  Everyone would be happy!  It would cost them more in overhead to play two sites, but probably not as much as to move to a totally new city, they'd be able to contract for labor to do the package.

Oh well, I may be saying something different next summer, but if you ask me today I’m not going to see a rock show in a stadium again, so there!



So that was it for the Dead at Fenway.  We made it outside after a bathroom stop, and met up with S&M for the long walk back to Beacon Hill.  The crowd was still all around us like a cheap picnic tablecloth, including some motorists who did not want people walking in front of them, though the line of traffic they were in was not going anywhere.  We headed down Boylston and the crowd did not thin out until we were past the Hynes!  Had a nice walk from there and a chance to see Copley Square and some of the lovely architecture in Back Bay on a Saturday night.

Crossed into the Garden and just had to show S&M the Make Way For Ducklings sculpture, then up the Hill past the nicely-lit Massachusetts State House and down to the underground garage, where our car waited to take us home (S&M hitched a ride to Stoneham).  Got home and washed off my feet and legs in the tub before going to bed ... yuck!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Dead At Fenway Park! Friday

Just a (relatively) quick post this morning about Dead & Company last night (7/15/16) because we have to depart in a bit for tonight’s show!  Being in Boston, on our home field, I knew lots of people who were going to attend and this was a huge social occasion as well as a great musical event.

One could just imagine what it would be like:

Well ok, I've just found out that the above photo may be a fake.  But we were psyched!

Left work at 2, had to go home first for forgotten sandals and water, and then made it to the parking lot at Ipswich and Van Ness by 3:30 or so (@$55!).  I was early … much better than being late, and hung out at Yard House where eventually the forces gathered.  Stopped by the car to dump Dave and Sarah’s stuff and then strolled into Fenway Fucking Park, out onto the field to see the Grateful Dead (that is, Dead & Company)!

We went up one of the short runways to the bleachers, but then instead of turning up into the stands we kept straight over a runway they’d made … pretty much where Jack White had been standing when he played the “Bleacher Theater.”  I stopped as we crossed the bullpen and told Dave that’s where we saw Bob Stanley attack many a beach ball with a rake, which I’d been telling him about recently.

He wanted to hurry to our seats but Sarah and I were absolutely awestruck, as we were all evening, by the fact that we were now in the middle of Fenway Park.  Maybe I’ll gush more about this later but it sent a chill up my spine over and over and over to realize that our seats were exactly where Jim Rice used to play when there was a righty up, etc.  We saw new angles of the ballpark I’ve seen many times that I’ll remember for years whenever I’m watching a game.



Took the crowd a long time to get in.  No one seemed to believe that the show was really going to start at 6:30.  But it did.  The guys came out and lined up and lit into a jam, and the beer stands and bathrooms emptied, as a flood of late concert-goers rushed out.

Here’s the first set with some notes … again, probably add more later:

  • Jam into Jack Straw, perfect Fenway July start; I should have guessed that they’d open with this on such a hot, wonderful, summer day.
  • The Music Never Stopped with DONNA!  We were hoping she’d show up and she did!!  But it was really a train wreck on the first bridge, they ended up doing it and then the second as a round so Bobby could follow her and get some order/harmony in there; really jammed out, longest ever??
  • Cracking tight short Next Time You See me … they instantly own this song.
  • Loser … long and slow and beautiful with Donna; very good harmony, she and Bobby singing together as well as I’ve ever heard.  They picked the right song here!  At the end, Bobby said, “Miss Donna Jean, great to have her.  And now a little something for the kids, and another slow song!”
  • Then a great Peggy-O out of nowhere.  This was a surprise.  Their cover is not as good as the more folky ones I’ve heard, such as the arrangement Phil Lesh does, but still a great song and John had some fantastic leads.
  • Then Help/Slip/Frank’s – Great opening chords … talk about a chill down the back …  but then a false start to singing by John on Help On the Way, so around again; fantastic drumming on Slipknot! and then absolutely epic Franklin’s Tower with John shredding it.  Bobby explained the political process at the end.



The break between sets was pretty long but needed to be in order to deal with VERY long bathroom and beer lines (we could only get Bud Lite but were later directed to a stand where we could get Harpoon by our neighbors).  Then the band came back out and played an amazing second set after that incredible first set.

Trying to keep this short as I say, but this show was special.  I’ve heard and/or seen most of this tour, and this first Fenway show was the best of the tour IMO at first hearing.  As with Hartford, we were not looking straight at the stage (we were way left this time) and the seeing was not great, even from pretty close seats.  And there was some sloppiness, especially with fitting in Donna, but…

But the playing was fantastic.  John was so eager to rip off great leads (he was wearing a picnic tablecloth) that he was like a bronco busting out of the chute.  What can I say, Bob Weir pulled off another of his great band-leader performances; great singing and great timing.  And not sloppy at all were Oteil and the drummers, who filled our heads with incredible rhythm in that incredible setting.  As I say, listen to that tape!  And Jeff!!  They’ve turned his organ facing front and put him closer to the center of the stage … I think everyone recognizes how important his contributions are to this band.



As I say, the second set was as wonderful as the first:
  • St. Stephen!  What a second set opener, like Boston Music Hall in 1976!  Meandering jam with hints of several other songs … what was coming next?  Then back into the last verse and “… the answer to the answer man?”  And then…
  • The opening notes of Dark Star without missing a beat.  Dark Star in Fenway Park on a summer night!!!  They did their “spacy” Dark Star rather than their apocalyptic one.  Jeff had us in outer space with organ sounds from another dimension, John, Oteil, Bobby, the drummers … OMG!  Dave and I agree this was one of the best Dark Star’s we’ve ever experienced live.  They dropped into a jazzy jam in the middle of it … not heard that before, and ended it with a reggae jump into the “Mirror shatters” verse.  This was a bunch of Pranksters letting it all hang out.
  • Into … wait, Bobby’s strumming but the others aren’t starting and then Oteil kicks in and: full-blown Terrapin Station with Jeff doing dreamy things on piano!  Donna on harmony again and she had her high points all night, but needs a bit more practice with the varsity IMO.  John and Oteil are meant to sing together.
  • Drums/Space – This was different, more of a Drums/Space Jam than the traditional drum solo and then instrumental weirdness.  This was weird all the way through, especially with Mickey at the helm of the clown bicycle horns!
  • And John was then toodling a bit but looking at Bobby like he's got an INTENT and suddenly everyone looks that way and suddenly John starts into a reprise of Terrapin Station!
  • Yay!  What's next?  OMG, not a false note into the intro to Morning Dew.  Not to be described, I was so glad to see this in Fenway Park with thousand of friends in the middle of summer, but the backdrop of course were the horrors in Nice the day before, the attempted military coup in Turkey that day, the presidential election, etc.  Just focus on Bobby singing and don't get distracted...
  • Fell apart a bit after John's crescendo, but then Bobby counted it off and wham: Casey Jones!  John gave the lead the psychedelic kick it should have.
  • Encore: Black Muddy River - Garcia and Hunter did not stop writing great songs in the 70s ... this is one of their best and John sings it very well, and I was very delighted to see it done live..  There's a Muddy River in the Boston Fens of course, though I don't know if they knew this.
  • U.S. Blues - Woohoo!  A second encore.  This is another song that has to be sung on a summer night in the (almost) beginning of July in an historic ballpark.  Nice job, but now time to go home.


WOW!  We hung out at our seats for a bit while the crowd tried to file out.  Went out the way we’d come in (for beer and bathroom breaks we used the door in the left-field corner, I kept asking people if this was the Manny Ramirez Memorial bathroom and they didn’t get it … Philistines!) so we could exit by the car.

Got to the car but then had to wait forever to get unblocked in the lot.  Dave ended up taking off to walk over to the Hynes stop.  A nice neighbor gave me a Heineken to ease the waiting.  Pretty quick ride home after that (gave J a ride, no Row Jimmy though!) and still before midnight by the time we got to bed.

Pictures from Sarah here.



Monday, July 11, 2016

Green River Festival 2016 Sunday, w/Less Rain

Ack!  It was Sunday morning already!!  As mentioned at length, we had such a great time at GRF in 2015 that we knew 2016 would have a hard time equalizing that; and several logistical things were not absolutely perfect, such as getting poured on yesterday.  But whatever, we were having a great time and were sad to think that this would be the last day.

Went over to breakfast and said hi to Jerry the cat, who ran the Black Mountain Lodge, even though the very nice owner and her daughter thought they did.  A couple of hard boiled eggs and excellent home-made cranberry muffins, and then back to the room for some iced tea and a shower ... and I was ready for another day!  Well, we still had to do some drying of chairs, hats, and stuff before leaving.

The weather forecast was ominous once again, but we sucked it up, packed it up, and hit the road for Massachusetts before the others were totally awake.  Got to Greenfield CC about the time we had on Saturday and this time Sarah headed for the people line, getting an excellent spot, while Dave and I crawled into the parking lot with the rest of the car parade.  Got the same great spot, facing out of there, and chilled in line for 45 minutes or so until they opened the gates and let us in.

Good thing we had such a great position in line because the hordes absolutely descended once they let us in.  The line at 12:00 was as long as it had been Saturday, we assumed ... we couldn't see the end of it as it snaked up the hill into the college campus itself!  And inside the field area the frantic rush was on to set up chairs and throw down blankets or farther back, umbrellas.  People were unfailingly polite of course, but this was a you-snooze-you-lose fest.

And this after the Biblical rains of the day before!  We'd been thinking Saturday that some people would stay home with the gloomy forecast (and possibility of lightning), and we'd been thinking the same Sunday after Saturday was such a downer weather-wise.  But the whole area was instantly as full as I'd ever seen it at that time of day, even though they'd moved the vendors' carts back into a bit of the parking area so there would be more room on the field.  The GRF has become a must-see event, and we couldn't argue with that sentiment with the lineup they had set for that Sunday.

Sarah stopped by the information booth to inquire about the rain coat she'd left with Ellie Buckland on Saturday.  Ellie had actually had it cleaned, dried, and folded for Sarah, wrapped up in a plastic bag with a nice note!  What a charming touch from both ladies.  And Dave showed his Good Samaritan side also, helping a collapsed concert-goer to medical assistance during one of the incendiary sets of the afternoon.  When Dave got back to his place in front of the stage, his Ginger Libation had been knocked over!  Oh well, he did the right thing and that's plenty of reward itself.

Set up our chairs, bopped around the main field a bit, and then headed directly down to the 4 Rivers stage to see the opening act, Sonya Kitchell.  I'd heard a few tunes of hers on the radio but was unprepared to love her set as much as I did.  She was on an electric guitar (picked up an acoustic once in a while), had a lead player, a bassist, a drummer, and a keyboardist, and proceeded to rock the hell out of the early afternoon.

Sonya looked like the folkie I'd heard on the radio, wearing a beautiful tiara of flowers and sporting a conservative, dark brown print dress.  And she sounded like a folkie in some ways with her delicately crafted songs.  But the stories the songs told were gritty, and her playing, especially when she got down with the other guitarist, had more crunchy rock than soft landings.  And I was delighted when she ended her last tune with a guitar lead that degenerated into feedback, and then leaned up her guitar in front of the amp, blaring the feedback across the lower field!  There were some people who didn't know what to make of her, but I loved it.  And she expressed delight that the rain held off for her set, which sentiment was universally shared.



Wow, what a start!  Next up was a bit of a slow spot, and I had time to tour the craft tents and to find some river rock earrings for Sarah.  Winterpills took over the 4 Rivers Stage and were just like every other time I've seen a song or two of their's before bailing.

The Parlor Room Stage was taken over by a tribute for Jeff Martel, a long-time GRF guy who'd died in a traffic accident.  Jim Henry was one of the large cast of characters they had for his tribute.  And up on the main stage it was pretty slow too, as a 30-year tribute to the GRF turned out to be a succession of talking heads ... we thought they might have a musician or two.  Oh well, ate some more stuff from La Veracruzana and then headed back down to the Parlor Room Stage for what turned out to one of my favorite sets of the weekend.

Bridget Kearney (bass player for Lake Street Dive, of course) has a side project with a New England Conservatory mate of hers, Benjamin Lazar Davis, and their writeups (and what I'd seen on YouTube) had them featuring Ghanaian and Trinidadian rhythms, and some odd time signatures and sounds.  Not exactly my cup of tea (and I was ready to bail for Birds of Chicago on the 4 Rivers Stage).  But when I saw them live, Bridget couldn't help but shine brightly as the great, poppy, lyrical, talented, perfect musician she is and I stayed for the whole set, riveted by her music.  The crowd at the Parlor Room Stage was as big as I saw it the whole weekend for that set.

They did one LSD song (Hello? Goodbye!), and a bunch of others she'd obviously written.  Some were in odd times but they were unfailingly catchy and infectious.  Bridget was on electric guitar and for most of the time played it like a bass, bouncing with inflection on the upper strings and wringing the soul out of the songs.  Benjamin played an acoustic and picked out the melody, while banging out the rhythm on a kick drum and at times a high-hat.  But then Bridget would suddenly rip off a mind-bending lead on the high strings, sometimes adding a filter that made her sound like she was playing a drum herself.



As I say, this was one of the most magical hours of the weekend for me, and I didn't want it to stop.  But when it did I didn't wait to applaud, I moved up the hill quickly and around to our seats while the North Mississippi Allstars lit into their first song!

Don't know if you've heard the Dickinson brothers, but they play loud rock and roll from deep down in the Mississippi swamp.  Luther Dickinson (whom we'd seen with Phil and Friends a few years before) was on guitar, brother Cody Dickinson was on drums, and they had a bass player.  That trio nailed the GRF crowd to their seats for the next hour.  The rain may have started during their set, but no one was paying any attention to it.



They burned up the place, making it hotter and hotter.  They did Next Time You See Me and Sitting On Top Of the World, and a tidal wave of blues, feedback, and rock rhythms that all piled up on top of each other.  Good thing they were a small band, they were dealing so much sound that if there'd been more of them our heads might have exploded!




I have to admit I slipped off in the middle of their set, though this was difficult, to hurry down to the 4 Rivers Stage to see Margo Price.  Margo is one of the bright young lights of country to my ear.  When I was trying to describe her to my non-country-fan friends I couldn't help but tell them that she was like Merle Haggard, Not that she sounds like Merle Haggard, I'd go on, but she's got that same mesmerizing quality to her singing and the set-pieces in her songs ring with the same truth that Merle's did.  Their eyes had glazed over already.

Margo's set was far from perfect though.  She was up there in a dress and a hair-weave that didn't really work (especially in the humidity), playing a guitar that went out of tune easily, and having interruptions all over the place.  She broke a sting, the rain started up as heavy as the day before and people reacted in a panic, and her pedal steel player had to move his rig to right behind her to stay dry.

But even with all these distractions, her set had a few moments of recreating the sound I'd heard on the radio, and I was very glad I'd seen her.  When she's up there on Mount Rushmore or whatever, I can say I saw her when.

OK, back up to the main stage to settle in for the acts of the Festival.  Next up was Los Lobos, and OMG, they were better than I'd ever seen them, though the rain persisted off and on throughout their set.  David Hidalgo was just firing up the late afternoon on his assortment of guitars (their equipment was on stage all afternoon, protected by tarps, which were unveiled to help set them up quickly).  Louie Pérez spent the set mostly at center stage, playing an incredible rhythm guitar, but finished up on the traps.  Cesar Rosas was in fine voice and was playing mind-altering leads, and Conrad Lozano was not holding back the big bass notes.  Not to mention Steve Berlin on funky woodwinds and Enrique González on drums.



They opened with Down On the Riverbed, played some songs from their new record (which Hidalgo apologized for, he knew the people were there to hear their classics), did a funky The Neighborhood that almost couldn't be recognized until the chorus, and finished their set with Bertha ("It was pouring rain but not a drop on me").  I've heard that song a million times, but this arrangement was tuned exactly to their sound and was fantastic!



Wow, that could have been the Festival-crowning act right there, but it wasn't.  By that point on a Sunday the GRF crowd is usually starting to pack up and leave, and we'd thought that the rain would hasten this annual exodus.  But it didn't happen this year; when we looked around, the field was still jammed full of standing, raving people, and when we looked toward the stage, we saw a stream of people going left and right, and up and down.  We almost got trampled a few times, though we were standing in front of our chairs, by frantic concert-goers rushing past us to try to get up to the front.  Most of our friends had come up to our seats for the last two acts and we were packed in like sardines between that and the milling crowd.



Geez, after saying all this about the other bands, what more can I say about Tedeschi Trucks Band, except that they were hands-down the best band of the Festival?  As much as I've gushed about other guitar players, Derek Trucks stepped up to the plate and played a thrilling, consistent, amazing set, probably better than I've ever heard him.  Susan Tedeschi exceeded anyone else we'd seen on vocals: Kam Franklin, Cary Anne Hearst, even Peter Wolf.  Her voice FILLED the evening air, you could probably hear her beautiful and powerful singing back in Boston (she was facing East).  And add incredible performances by Kofi Burbridge, the firm of Greenwell and Johnson on drums, Mike Mattison, Kebbi Williams, et al.!




The rain stopped and the sun peeked through the clouds over Susan's shoulder, as it set towards the ridge behind her.  They had David Hidalgo out for a tune and Luther Dickinson for a few.  On one song the lead vocals featured a duet between Mattison (the third most impressive member of the band IMO) and their new vocalist, Alicia Shakour.  And then her father, Mitch Shakour came out and shared the piano and the organ with Burbridge!  This made 14 (counting Dickinson and MShakour) incredible musicians on the stage, playing awesome rhythm and blues together.

They did Glory Bound, Made Up Mind, *nothing* from the new record I believe, and lots of new stuff.  But no one paid much attention to what they played, it was how they played it.  It was so riveting I could barely breathe.  We were at our seats for that set, perhaps 35 feet from the stage, and barely out of the turbulent crowd but dancing up a storm ourselves.  And from that distance we probably got the best available sound.



So they finally ended and that was it for the Festival.  A steady rain was falling again, and we packed up pretty quickly after a last porta-pottie trip.  They were barely approachable at that point and the field that had started so lush and green was now one big, trampled mass of mud and smooshed grass, covered with discarded cups and bottles.  Did these people think they were at Gathering Of the Vibes or something?  We picked up what we could and got out of there to our well-positioned car.  We exited the sneaky way and hit route 91 for the North, arriving a half hour or so before the T family ... all our other friends had gone home.

How to sum up?  I still think the 2015 concert was about as much fun as it gets, but 2016 was not far behind.  If not for the rain, maybe it'd be in front.  We've been there enough times so we know when to dodge the lines and how to quickly make timing decisions about what act to see next.  The theme of the concert to me was excellent guitar playing and excellent sound.  I can't get over how well it carried and the quality of the loudest notes.  It was a great decision to move the vendors back and leave more room for the crowd to act confused, as it does.  I met friends there, and we all had a wonderful experience!  I'm already looking forward to next year.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Green River Festival 2016 Saturday, w/Rain

As you might expect, we were a bit tied to our beds on Saturday morning after a lengthy Friday night, but also quite a bit ready to get to Greenfield Community College for another day of great music.

The hotel had a nice little American hotel breakfast going in their funky common room (jukebox from the early 80s, the largest cappuccino machine you've ever seen), and we took turns sampling that.  The morning also featured Gerald ("Jerry"), a middle-aged black cat who was not to be ignored.

But we packed up soon and were out of there, heading South on 91 towards the horizon line.  Unfortunately, the horizon line was pretty close as we navigated through banks of fog and sudden, intense showers all the way down there (25 miles or so).  I had to turn my wipers on and off more times in that stretch than is humanly possible.

Whatever.  We were in line (and then soon in, got a spot pretty much just where we'd been the night before), the skies were misting, the air was cool, our rain-gear was ready, and we were all set for another long Saturday at the GRF.

We'd run into our friend Suze (who was taking photos) on Friday night, and I asked her what band she was especially looking forward to.  She of course prefaced her response with the disclaimer that it's hard to choose, they're all good, but recommended Lula Wiles as the band that would most hit us from the blind-side.  And that's how Saturday started.

Lula Wiles is a great trio of women, including Berklee products (and 2014 Freshgrass contest winners) Isa Burke and Ellie Buckland, with bassist Mali Obomsawin.  I loved their vocal arrangements, which often featured the "chorus" taking over the "melody."  This was fresh stuff, delivered with a trio of smiles.  As always at GRF, you could just see the young band thinking, "OMG, this is more people than have ever heard us before!"



Burke is a very solid instrumentalist and Buckland has a sweet voice.  Obomsawin showed some talent too, though she sometimes couldn't keep up with the more experienced pair on the tight harmonies they'd sketched out.  This was a great Saturday start, and when Ellie expressed dismay that she hadn't brought a raincoat (verily, it looked like the skies were going to open sometime that afternoon), Sarah delighted her by showing up at the signing session to offer her blue raincoat (we had extras).  It fit Ellie perfectly.

So that was just the start!  I trucked down to the 4 Rivers stage to see Hannah & Maggie, this year's "Simon and Garfunkel" pair (see The Milk Carton Kids last year).  The two had met in the Smith College a capella group and their voices were fantastic, especially on that misty morning.  They had a lot of good songs about the magic and sorrow in daily life, but the voices were what made their act.  Individually they were excellent, and they harmonized wonderfully.

Stopped by the Parlor Room Stage after that and caught a bit of Mister G, though he was having a hard time coordinating movements among all the kids he had on stage.  You have to rub your belly and *then* drop to the floor, not the other way around!

Back up to the main stage for some grub and some Anthony D'Amato, who definitely had one of the silliest hats of the show and was accompanied by a rocking guitar/bass/drums trio.  He's got some slightly over-serious songs without a lot of hooks, but was better than expected.



OK, time for Amy Helm.  We've seen Amy several times (Levon Helm Band, Olabelle, etc.), and were prepared for a great set by her and the Handsome Strangers ... we thought.  She came out with a new bass player (Adam Minkoff ... don't know how anyone could be better than Byron Isaacs??) and stalwarts drummer David Berger and guitarist Daniel Littleton.

And they produced the set of the Festival to that point!  OMG, this was great stuff, with Amy giving  her whole soul to an incredible setlist.  They did some of her songs, like Roll Away, Sky's Falling (my favorite, this is a great song), and Gentling Me, her great cover of Sam Cooke's Good News, and some old stuff like Little Richard's Slippin' and Slidin'.

Daniel Littleton is a force of nature.  He plays a rack of beat-up old guitars, and incorporates powerful feedback from his small six-string acoustic and tenor guitars into his sound.  Sure he'll pick up a Stratocaster or other old thing, but what he's most trying to do is play as many sounds as possible that'll fit in with the hoots and hollers Amy is doing over at center stage.  We were lucky enough to be right in front of him (we'd moved up front for this set), and we (and everyone else within hearing distance) were suitably agog at his wooden pyrotechnics.



They clustered around the mike for a few songs (including a folky arrangement of Springsteen's Atlantic City!), but the most powerful statements were when Amy was punctuating her vocals on the bass and tom-tom drums.  Of particular note was a striking cover of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down with Berger milking the harmonium.



And the Kids were on next, and I didn't stick around for much of their set.  Hannah Mohan is an impressive guitarist, but I just stayed for a tune of two and then started ramblin'.  Picked up some food and stuff and then caught repeats of Lula Wiles on the Parlor Room Stage and The Dustbowl Revival on the 4 Rivers Stage.  Actually, they both played several songs they hadn't done earlier, such as a cover of Lucinda's Crescent City by Lula Wiles (sung by Ellie) and some good ol' country blues by Dustbowl Revival and Liz Beebe.

Time to settle down again at the main stage for Shovels and Rope.  I was eagerly anticipating this band, which I expected to be a great hit with the GRF audience, as they were.  We moved up front again and saw a transcendent act by Carrie Ann Hearst and Michael Trent.  Their set was interrupted by instrument changes of course (that's one of the great things about them, that they share instruments and well, everything), but was more atmospheric (at a loud level) and moody than straight-forward country blues.

They did the most popular songs from their first record: Birmingham, Cavalier, O' Be Joyful, and a set closer of Hail Hail.  And they also did short takes on The Devil Is All Around (with some political comments), Coping Mechanism, and Ohio.  But their set centered on getting their sounds to meld and ended up with them shouting in each other's faces, while sweat rolled down their arms on a cool July day.  As I expected, GRF *loved* this and when we turned around to look, the whole field as far as we could see was up and dancing at 5:45 on a Saturday afternoon!



And then the rain came.  Well, it was never far away.  The day had been cool and misty but really not *rainy* through Amy Helm's set.  It was one of those afternoons where there were always a few drops, and some of them came in sequence, but not really persistent.  Soon after Amy's set though, the rain started coming down in a way that made you say, "Uh-oh."  The sky brightened a bit for Shovels and Rope, but after that the rain was a serious issue for the rest of the night.
But fuck that, next up was The Suffers!  I've blogged about being blown away by them opening for Lake Street Dive, and they were just as good if not better.  Kam Franklin is a fabulous singer and a great entertainer, and the rest of their 10-piece band will rock your soul.  Too bad the heavens totally opened during their set and the rain was so hard it almost drowned out the music.  But they took it in stride and probably thanked Dog that they were under a tent.  Long tour to go for them, and hopefully some fame on the end of it, they're great!



The light was pretty much gone and the water was coming on down from on high at a serious rate at that point.  I had a poncho on but was basically soaked, and everyone was in the same state.  I sucked it up and went off for another ramble, catching a few songs by the catchy Australian group Oh Pep! at the Parlor Room Stage and then squishing over to the 4 Rivers Stage for some of The Felice Brothers.  They were odd, doing a guitar ballad, a couple of Irish drinking songs, and a country-rock song in the time I saw them.  Pretty good, but not enough to make me stay...

Headed back to the Parlor Room Stage after that and met up with Dave.  The Alchemystics were just coming on and they had a lot of people on stage.  We saw a couple of rap/reggae/blues songs that I found pretty entertaining but Dave found a little without focus.

The main thing was that *we* were losing focus as the rain continued and we got slightly colder and colder.  We all had dry clothes back in the car, but knew if we changed into them that they'd just get soaked too and then we wouldn't have any warm clothes for the eventual ride North.

Our plan had been to catch a few songs from the very-successful Dawes after Shakey Graves (a TV star) finished blasting the main stage with random noise, and then to head down to 4 Rivers for a late-night set by Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds, which all who'd seen her on YouTube (like me) were really psyched for.  But the rain combined with the temperature drop were just too much.  We knew we had to retreat at that point if we were going to live again and rock out the next day!

P&D ended up staying for Sister Sparrow (they won the prize for endurance that night), but we were out of there and back at the hotel in Brattleboro, driving through fierce rain squalls the whole way up.  As it turned out, there was no rain up in Brattleboro and we were able to hang out outside, munching after-dinner snacks and watching the kids play soccer in the parking lot.

Had to stop that quick so others at the hotel could get some sleep, and an expedition headed off for the bowling alley.  Not us though ... we had to get to sleep so we'd be ready for Sunday at the GRF!






Saturday, July 9, 2016

Green River Festival 2016 Friday, Rock On!

We had such an absolute blast at the GRF in 2015 that there was no question at all when tickets for 2016 came up ... we got the early-early-bird price ASAP.  And then they announced the lineup and it featured the "Wheels Of Soul Tour" that's happening this summer: North Mississippi Allstars, Los Lobos, and Tedeschi Trucks Band!!!  In the past few months they've announced a lot of other great bands, but we were already there.

Some hassle about getting a hotel/place to stay this year that would a) have a pool, b) be reasonably close to Greenfield, and c) be cheap.  But we eventually found a non-four-star hotel in Brattleboro VT (the Black Mountain Inn) that checked all the boxes.

We'd been on vacation since the Dead & Company show (see previous post), but showed up back in Woburn on Thursday and smoothly changed gears to Festival.  We were on the road by late morning Friday, July 8 and after a wonderful lunch in Motley Gardens, we continued through Keene and over the river to Brattleboro.

Installed our stuff in the small room quickly and headed on down to Greenfield!  Dave grabbed a chair and headed up to wait in the people line while we were still stuck in the car line.  But then he called me and said to come on up, that the car line was just for people getting parking passes, which we had already.  The officials at the head of the line were not pleased when I told them that my son had said it was ok for us to cut ... but they didn't argue and we were well-positioned in the parking lot and waiting in the people line before you knew it.

Gates opened a while after 4, we grabbed a great spot of lawn 35' in front of the soundboard, and GRF 2016 was in full motion!

First up was Charles Neville, from the renowned Neville Brothers.  He's living in New England at this point and had a very well-rehearsed band including two family members: Khalif Neville on keyboards and Talyn Neville on drums.  Those two were perhaps not top-top talent, but Neville also had a fine bass player (who's name we didn't get) and a wonderful, creative/funky fiddle player in Sarah Hubbard.  They were also joined by guest vocalist Samirah Evans on their last few tunes.  And they did the first "Grateful Dead" song of the weekend, Hey Pocky Way.



And this was such a great start to the Festival!  Charles Neville was wearing tie-die and a beret, like the cool hipster he is, and he was playing the alto saxophone of the Gods.  I moved up front during his set and was so glad to experience what I've touched on at times: hearing his instrument rather than the PA's amplification of it.  Not that the PA was bad (see below). but that up close and personal his tone on the sax was ethereal.

And let me say that the sound system all through the three days of the GRF was exceptional.  We've been there something like 8 of the past 10 years, and one of the best things of the Festival is their attention to detail and quality.  From the first note of the Charles Neville set to the last note of the Tedeschi Trucks set, an all three stages, they brought us the sounds that we wanted to hear.  I often say, "Why don't we have speakers like that?" when I see a good setup, but to light up the vast expanse of the GRF with such quality tunes is a delight.

At times the sound on the Green River Stage (the main stage) leaked over into the the Parlor Room Stage (the third one), but this was never that bad.  It was also so  much fun to walk down the hill towards the Four Rivers Stage (the second one) and be grooving to the sound on the main stage but then have that just vanish and instantly be hearing the sound coming from the 4 Rivers Stage, loud and clear across the distance of several soccer fields.

Next up was The Dustbowl Revival, and these guys were great!  Their emphasis was on having fun and it just so happened that they had a vast number (8) of incredibly skilled musicians on the stage while they had that fun.  On guitar, washboard, and vocals is Liz Beebe (I would have run away with her if I hadn't already committed to following Sarah Hubbard to Colorado in a whirlwind conversation a few minutes before seeing Liz), but her and Z. Lupetin's great vocal stylings are just the surface of what this band offers.  You need to hear these guys!



Geez, I'd already sampled great food from La Veracruzana (same as last year, my favorite food vendor), great beer from Berkshire Brewing Company, and heard two amazing bands, and the Festival was just starting!  Now it was time to be brought down a bit by the latest incarnation of NRBQ.  They feature the vainglorious Terry Adams and this year had a horn section.  But they really don't rock and I wandered off soon...

To the 4 Rivers Stage for their Latin Night set.  The band I saw (Dave showed up too) was Xixa, and this sure was eclectic.  Yeah, they were a Latin band and did a couple of smooth, rhythm-heavy ballads.  But their lead guitarist was kitted-out like a death-metal demon (silver knuckles on every finger, makeup), and both he and the other guitarist had chunky silver-turquoise medallions.  They mixed it up a bit and sawed those axes, and though their grimaces were not as scary as they would have liked, this was a fun set.



Great stuff on the 4 Rivers Stage, but it was time for another in a long sequence of porta-pottie/water/refill pauses (I was successful in drinking as much water as beer over the weekend).  And the rain was hanging over us like ... well it was right there: a bunch of dark clouds, mist, and fog that didn't go away all weekend.  The rain pretty much held off on Friday, but see below.

OK, time for the real thing ... Peter Fucking Wolf was going to be leading us into the night.  But first I ran into Gary (BBC) and asked him about my long-time-but-rarely-seen, dear friend EJ.  He said, "Well, he's right over there."  I was over there in a second and the two of us had to retreat behind the soundboard, we were so anxious to talk to each other.  It was so great to see EJ, and I hope to do so again!

But as you all know, the point of this blog is documenting the music as well as the experience, and this set of music was extraordinary.  I'm an old J. Geils fan of course, but really dig the stuff Wolf has been doing lately as well, and I was primed to see this guy.  And then his set far, far, exceeded my expectations.

The hallmark of this GRF was incredible guitar playing (see Sunday), and the bar for that was immediately set very high by Kevin Barry and Duke Levine, accompanying Wolf along with a drummer and a bassist.  They absolutely ripped the shit out of the heavy sky, and Wolf was an unbelievable front man.  His jacket was off and on many times during the course of the night, and his mike was swinging at the most dastardly times.  He showed the timing of a James Brown and the [small] stature and sinewy grace of a John Lincoln Wright.



Wolf did songs from throughout his career, to the great delight of the crowd.  A couple of his recent, more folky songs, but also things like Looking For a Love, Cry One More Time (with a shoutout to Gram Parsons), Pack Fair and Square, and Wolf's bluegrass arrangement of Love Stinks (which had many jaws dropping).  Barry and Levine were just burning up the Friday night and Wolf was hopping back and forth, freaking out on the beats pouring off his accompanists, blowing like Magic Dick (well, not quite), and blasting out the baritone vocals on his breaks.  This was the kind of stuff you don't ever want to stop, these guys were singing the blues!

Whew!!  The set ran late with a couple of encores, but was finally over by 10:30 or so.  We were very delighted that our great GRF friends had showed up at various times of the evening and all saw Wolf's act ... the gang was all here and rocking.

We grabbed our stuff and hurried on out to the car, where our well-planned parking space served us well for exiting as quickly as one could.  Soon back on route 91 up to Vermont and landed back at the Black Mountain Inn.  The adults (and random kids) gathered at a picnic table off in a corner of the grounds and gabbed and whooped it up into the night.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Dead & Company, Hartford 2016

The zeitgeist is so strong right now, but if I read this post in a few years it might not be as obvious ... but in 2016, Deadhead Nation have been dying to see Dead & Company again.  Their summer tour has been VASTLY anticipated.  As posted before, we saw them in Worcester last year and I have not heard one bad thing about them.  In fact, everyone I've talked to about Dead & Company has gushed about them.  Their return is BIG news among Deadhead-dom.

The Fall 2015 tour was amazing; they didn't do a Winter or Spring tour, and when they finally announced a Summer 2016 tour (back in March?), many people got tickets immediately.  Especially with the historic venues they were going to play, including three major league ballparks (correction: two major league parks and one Div 1 football stadium).  One of these is Fenway Park and we've got "turf" tickets for both shows there this coming July.  But never mind that, we also got tickets to see them in Hartford this June 28th!!

They've been on tour since June 10 and Hartford was basically the end of the first leg, hitting up various places on the East coast and as far West as Indiana.  After the Hartford show they have a few days off and then surface in Colorado, from where they'll depart for Wisconsin, Michigan, and then back East to Fenway for the last dates of the second leg of their tour, which will resume a few days after that out in the Pacific Northwest.

But enough setting the scene, we were VERY excited to see them, to have tickets, and to have the date be so wonderfully positioned to kick off our summer.  The present day tried to fuck things up of course, including Dave being sick and the traffic being amazingly oppressive for a Tuesday afternoon.  But we were eventually trucking down to Hartford with Dave and his friend J, and arrived there through a final madhouse of cars trying to get into the parking lots by 5:30 or so for the 7:30 show.  It was mobbed!

Perfect timing apparently to get the farthest spaces in the parking lot from the venue itself (which is partly good but mostly bad).  I suspected that the parking lot was built on a toxic waste dump.  And there were no porta-potties!  But whatever, we pissed in the woods by the railroad track, set up our chairs, and had a few sandwiches and beers while the authorities did a few desultory sweeps of the lots and a few vendors strolled by with their wares.

Rain and thunderstorms had been forecast, and we sure experienced some rain on the way down there and the way back, but that evening the rain mostly held off and luckily, the lightning was being very lazy and didn't come close.  OK, done with the hanging out, time to trek over to the venue: Xfinity Theatre.

The official t-shirt stands were set up in the plaza in front of the amphitheater, and Dave ended up getting a good one.  We entered and found our seats, which were close to the stage but as far right as could be, up against the wall.  Oh well, wish we could have seen better (a lot was blocked by Jeff's keyboard setup and we couldn't even see him that well), but the sound was fine and we had a wonderful, wonderful time.  Our seats way over on the right were $85 and I saw that almost every other seat in that section was $150, so we couldn't complain.

Wandered up to the lawn to check things out.  The far side of it overlooked the load-in lot and there were 5 tour busses parked there (which of the band doesn't get his own bus?), and at least 10 identical tractor trailers with sleek, red cabs.  Then eventually wound back to the seats.  By then our section was pretty filled, though people were still streaming in at 7:30.  The show started pretty much on time anyway.  What can I say, the guys came out and lined up as expected and we were flying!  Here's the first set:

Hell In a Bucket
Cold Rain and Snow
Queen Jane Approximately
Big River
Row Jimmy
Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo
Cumberland Blues

Dead & Company are phenomenal, and the most fascinating thing about the phenomenon is John Mayer's playing.  Great songs have a depth of melodic possibilities, and one of the great things about Garcia was that he could plumb all the melodic possibilities of a song and present them in a freaky order that had you standing on your ear.  Mayer can do the same thing, with the same songs, exposing different melodic possibilities and standing on different ears.  He plays the whole song, not just drifting on top of it but exuding the guts to dive deep under the dark surface and emerge with a gem.  Person after person I've talked to says he's the best fill-in for Garcia they've heard since Garcia's death, and then quickly follow that up with, "But he's more than a fill-in!"  I'm in total agreement.
  • Hell In a Bucket was not the most dynamic start to a set, though this song can really rock and they warmed to it very quickly.  Fantastic Barlow lyric.
  • Cold Rain and Snow has always been a favorite of mine.  This song has *possibilities* (see above) which have been plumbed by some great guitarists over the years, but Mayer has plenty to add and he went right to it.  Listen to these leads!
  • This was one of the best Queen Jane's I've heard, one of the classics from Dylan's finest period.
  • Big River started off really funky, or disorganized, or both, but then they got it together and killed it.
  • Row Jimmy and Mississippi Uptown came from outer space and thundered through our souls.  What I said about John; and Oteil on bass and harmony was incredible, and the drummers were just hammering stuff, and Jeff was so in sync with everybody...
  • BUT don't forget Bob Weir.  He played it all a little mellow, not using an aggressive guitar sound, and not over-expressing on his vocals.  But when you speak of melody or rhythm or dynamics or anything musically ... well, you just have to listen to him.  I was listening to him as hard as I could, never mind the other incredible musicians on stage.
  • Cumberland was great too, though we knew it signalled the end of the first set.  This was possibly not as good as the first set we saw in Worcester last Fall (which was AMAZING), but still beyond belief.
They've been trying to keep up the pace of their shows, being old guys playing an ambitious schedule.  Bob did a short plug for registering to vote (they had booths on the plaza), and announced a short break.  For once, we believed him!  Time for a piss and beer, but they came back pretty soon.

There had been a lot of conjecture about what they'd play, and dismay at the fact that they'd played all their best songs over the weekend and so wouldn't be repeating them.  But come on ... all their best songs?  They have so many great songs they could play for a long time at a high level without repeats ... and they did.  We anticipated Estimated and Eyes, and that's how they started:

Estimated Prophet
Eyes Of the World
Deal
Viola Lee Blues
Drums
Space
The Wheel
Black Peter
U.S. Blues
  • Not the best Estimated I've heard, but I've heard a lot and this is one of those ineffable Grateful Dead songs.  The harmonies all night were great, with John contributing spacey (spooky in this case) overtones (and lead!) and Oteil reinforcing the tenor.  But the thing that stood out the most here was Weir's vocal, done in a subtly sad tone rather than a frenzied or preaching one.  It was like the apocalypse had already occurred and he was just repeating what he'd been telling us for decades.
  • OK, this was a great Eyes.  Again, I've heard so many, and there has to be a feature for one to stand out.  The feature here was that Oteil did a mellow, funky, spacey, perfect solo, deep into the second jam.  You have to hear this.
  • Deal has become part of the second set-Estimated-Eyes palette for them,  Still not sure how I feel about this, but this was a great cover.  They opened the second set in Worcester with it, and this wasn't quite to that level, but great.
  • Viola Lee Blues!  So glad that they're continuing to do this song, though the casual observer would have had a hard time believing that John was really up for a solid year.  He just doesn't look that tough.
  • Drums and Space were good, with Oteil (maybe someone else??) contributing some African-inflected rap and Jeff actually beating away on the drums.  Mickey got out his kalimba or something again.  As mentioned, we did not have the greatest sight lines, but we could hear the clown horns going at full tilt.
  • And then we were treated to their evolved cover of The Wheel, which was one of the high points of the night.  John does a "Stay just a little bit longer" tag (that is, he sings "Try just a little bit harder" with that melody), and then they shift it into a reggae beat that stands the song on edge.  And this song is pretty good anyway, to say the least.
  • I've come to realize that Bobby is going to sing Black Peter to me until I like it.  Search "Black Peter" in this blog to see all the times he's tried that.  I put this song near the top of my Dead pantheon and I continue to be a bit bothered when Bobby sings it and doesn't get the gravitas that Garcia (or Jim Lauderdale, listen to his cover) gave it.  But though the lead vocal wasn't there for me, it was closer, and the playing and harmonies and arrangement of this were just top-notch.  This cover of Black Peter spoke to me the way you want a great song to do.
  • Pretty quick U.S. Blues to end the set, sung by John.  They were getting tired and so were we.
OMG, what a fantastic experience!  They were on a tight schedule again, and barely left the stage before coming back for a short and tight Touch of Grey.  Then they gave quick waves and were off to Colorado.  See you guys at Fenway Fucking Park in a few weeks!!

Let the crowd exit for a bit.  One of the good things about our seats was that we were right near the exits.  Long trek over the toxic waste to our car, where J was waiting.  He'd scored a pit ticket!

We got out the chairs (and beer and sandwiches) and had to wait about 45 minutes before the line started to move at all, and then we eventually loaded up and got in it.  Long crawl to the highway before we broke free and headed back to Massachusetts.  I slept most of the way back (as did J), but Dave coached Sarah very well through torrents of rain, and the bus made it back.  In bed by 3:30 or so!