Saturday, May 19, 2012

Do You Hear Bells Baby?? Point Reyes and Terrapin Crossroads

Saturday, May 19th

Dave and I were hunkered down in bed after another glorious day, now getting towards the end of our exhausting California trip, and we’d kind of hoped for a lazy Saturday morning.  That was not what we found.  Sarah was up and around early and there was no way she could be quiet in that small, cramped room.  But the real wake-up call came when the beep-beep of a truck backing up outside of the bathroom window turned into a deafening cacophony that Dave described later as robots fighting: probably a creaky old dump truck picking up and smashing down a series of dumpsters out in the alley.

Whatever … the Sea Breeze motel was exactly what it had advertised itself as and exactly what we’d expected, a quick and affordable motel as close as we could get to San Francisco without running into big-city prices.  The late-night crowd had dispersed the night before only when the police came and cruised the parking lot, and the crowd started up again early with some surf-casters on the nearby beach and a pack of surfers in wetsuits who seemed about as interested in surfing as snowboarders on a mountain usually seem interested in snowboarding.  They were just paddling around in the surf and having a great time bragging to each other, and probably complaining about the waves not being as high as they like them.

We got up with a groan and made our way over to the attached bar/restaurant (Nick’s Rockaway Beach … this was Rockaway Beach, Pacifica), which had stowed the live music setup and was now geared for an acceptable breakfast, though they fell a little short of a California culinary experience.  We got eggs, toast, and hash browns and they did put orange slices on our plates, but I had to ask for hot sauce and they only had Tabasco.  We ate quickly and made rude comments about the surfers, who were obviously enjoying themselves notwithstanding.  We went to get Vicky soon and she was covered with salt, having spent a wild night being splashed with surf spray.  I had to use a hotel towel to clean the windows and I apologize to the maid-person who found that gritty towel among our discarded pile.  Oh well, it worked and we wouldn’t have been able to see out the windows otherwise.

But enough prevarication … we were looking forward to a very special day and, even though the first part of the day would be spent at one of our prime California destinations, Point Reyes NS, the thing that had us almost hyperventilating was that we’d be going to Terrapin Crossroads that night.  As mentioned, we had gotten as close to San Francisco as reasonable the night before so we’d be well positioned for the drive up to Marin County that morning.  We wanted to be able to spend most of the day at Point Reyes and then have plenty of time to get to San Rafael and Terrapin Crossroads ( that evening.  As touched on in the introduction, Phil Lesh (Grateful Dead bassist) had recently opened a restaurant/music club near where the Dead used to have a studio.  He and friends were playing there regularly that late Spring after an extensive Furthur (his band with Bob Weir) tour that had them in Boston in early April.  They’d only been offering tickets in person at the box office, but had recently started to sell some online, usually after they’d been available at the box office first.  I believe that all of the shows had sold out, some immediately and some (the mid-week ones) after a while.

I was checking their page every day and finally they announced another group of shows, including one on Saturday, May 19th which was perfect for us.  And they announced that tickets would be available online from the beginning!  They went on sale at 3:00PT on a Thursday in early May and I was at the computer with the mouse a-ready as soon as the clock ticked over to 6:00ET … I had the receipt for three will-call tickets in hand by the time the clock ticked to 6:01!  This was going to be a “Phil Lesh ramble” and the tickets were $75, but that was nothing as compared to the $150 they charge when Phil plays with his “Phil and Friends” band.  But Phil is a musical perfectionist and we knew that the band we’d be seeing: him, Chris Robinson, Tim Bluhm, Jeff Chimenti (from Furthur), Jaz Sawyer, Mark Karan, Grahame Lesh (Phil’s son), and Jon Graboff, would be well-rehearsed and exceptional.  We were psyched!

But first San Francisco and Point Reyes, which was easier said than done.  Though we were close to San Francisco, we still had to get through it and then North, which took forever!  We paid up and got on the road up route 1 at 9:30.  The road turned into a freeway and the traffic turned fierce, then we were all unceremoniously dumped out onto a city street, through block after block of rolling hills and the charming San Francisco houses, in pastel colors with Spanish colonial details.  We got to Golden Gate Park and followed route 1 North, twisting through the park and then the Presidio, while the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge got nearer and nearer.  Soon we were roaring up the entrance ramp to it and actually crossed the bridge at 10:00, just a half hour after we had left Pacifica … that was the easy part of that morning’s trip.

The Golden Gate Bridge is going to have its 75th birthday this year and a big deal is being made of it.  It’s three lanes in each direction and is wonderfully funky, spanning one of the most breathtaking gaps in the western coast of the US, from the classic American city of San Franciso to the hills of Marin County.  There are large sidewalks on it and one is shut down, which means all the non-car traffic goes on the other one, and boy were we glad not to be there!  There were joggers, walkers, baby strollers, racing bikes, tricycles, touring bikes, sting-ray bikes, probably unicycles, roller-bladers, pushcarts, tourists standing in the middle of it all to take pictures, Segways, and probably other stuff too packing every inch of the “sidewalk.”  No one was making any progress and I can’t believe any of them were having fun.  If you go to San Francisco, don’t fall for all the ads about taking a fun walk/bike/Segway/whatever over the Golden Gate Bridge.  ‘Nuff said about that.

We got to the Marin side and the speed limit dropped as the freeway went through some twists and turns as it climbed up a steep hill into Sausalito, and then we all picked up speed again quickly as we went back down the hill.  Signs were already warning us motorists that if we were headed for Muir Woods we were out of luck: the parking lot was full and we had to take the next exit for a shuttle bus but were probably already too late and should just go home.  We took the exit for route 1 in Tamalpais Valley anyway, which was the road to Muir Woods as well as the way we were going.  It was one big traffic jam and we agonizingly inched our way up switchbacks down into and up from the valley, heading for the coast.  Things loosened up a bit after we passed the entrances to Muir Woods in Mill Valley (which we would have liked to see, but that was out of the question because of the crowds and the time).

We were finally back to the cliffside-road-over-the-ocean milieu and the beauty returned … actually, it had never really left, even in the middle of the city.  But the big difference between this and Big Sur and South was that we were in the middle of a never-ending parade of other cars and cyclists along the twisting and perilous road.  It was then that we remarked on what we’d been noticing all along: there are an incredible number of white cars in California.  Don’t think I’m crazy, see for yourself!  There are also an incredible number of Mustangs and other hot cars, most notably Mitsubishi Eclipses.  If you tallied the number of cars that are either/or white (counting off-white and light silver), Mustangs, Mitsubishi Eclipses, or convertibles that number would equal the number of cars that are none of the above.  We had a new road hobby!

And the bicycles are oppressive.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally in favor of recreation and this would have been a fabulous road to cycle along, but the number of cars combined with the number of bicycles on the road made for an absolutely dangerous situation.  It should have been dedicated to one or the other, or else widened enough to not put everybody in constant peril.  And some of those bicycle riders were acting as if they owned the road … again not to argue about whether they should own the road or not, but to pass other bicycles without looking behind them (as some of the riders were doing), to turn without signaling, and to stop to take a break in the middle of the road was just obnoxious and showed a lack of respect for others sharing the road.  Oh well, ‘nuff said about that too.

After what seemed like hours (but wasn’t quite) we were only in the precious town of Stinson Beach and still slogging our way through precious and endless Marin County.  The traffic suddenly disappeared, but we still had miles and miles to go up to Bolinas and Olema along the San Andreas Fault (yes, that one), and we finally turned off into the Bear Valley VC in Point Reyes NS at 11:13.  As we got out of the car there were hawks circling overhead, the day was blue and beautiful, the air crinkled with that soft, salt, Pacific feel, and there were a lot of tourists … the parking lot was already pretty full.  We had a plan of attack for Point Reyes but the VC was at the entrance and we wanted to check with the rangers there to see if they recommended anything we hadn’t already scoped out.  Had a nice talk with a ranger (who didn't want/need to see our Parks Pass, she pointed out that this was a National *Seashore* and they are supported by our tax dollars), but this just verified what we’d already concluded, that the best hiking trails were in a totally different part of the park than the outer, jutting-out-into-the-ocean part we really wanted to see.  So this was pretty much a waste of time too (though scenic) … we got back in the car and headed out to the point.

However, to get to the point from the peninsula entrance is a long drive itself, part of it through more precious towns where everybody slowed to 20 and looked for an antique store or an art gallery.  Then suddenly we made it out to the rural, wild part of the point, where farms pop up along the route, the road narrows and becomes full of potholes (from the farm equipment probably), and you’re surrounded by cows (also at times the smell associated with them).

Whatever … it was beautiful and this was the environment Sarah and I remembered from having been there in ’86: long fields leading down steep hills to salt marshes filled with grasses and birds and beyond that the endless blue of the Pacific, all spiced with a hard, chilly, merciless wind.  At last we made it out to the Point Reyes Lighthouse parking area at 12:02 (2 ½ hours after leaving Pacifica, though this had been some tough driving and it seemed like forever) only to find the parking lot full.  Cars were spilling out of it and parking on the sides of the narrow road, so we did the same and then got out and walked up to the lighthouse attendants’ dormitory and the sprawl of small out-buildings.

The California coast is very jagged and tricky for mariners and the constant on-shore breeze has been piling people up on the rocks for centuries.  A place like Point Reyes is even tougher because it sticks out so far from the shore and is so isolated.  Actually, in its Southern lee is a peaceful (well, relatively) cove called Drake’s Bay where Sir Francis Drake stopped to repair his boats and hide from the Spanish Inquisition (and then come back home to England and defeat the Spanish Armada).  But the Point itself is a nightmare of several-hundred-foot cliffs, treacherous rocks, strong currents, and the ever-present wind … some of the highest winds ever have been measured at Point Reyes.  And the Northwest coast of the peninsula is a long, long, long ocean beach with deep water just offshore that’s just perfect for shipwrecking unsuspecting boats on a dark night.

Anyway, the point is that people put a lighthouse out there long ago and that tending it has been one of the worst jobs ever since then.  Have you seen The Horror of Fang Rock (a Dr. Who episode of course), where lighthouse keepers go crazy and corpses come back to life?  Well it was just like that for much of the existence of the light.  Modern technology has made things much better for the lighthouse keepers, but I’m sure that job is still crazy-making, especially in the dead of winter when there’s salty ice all over the cliffs, weeks and weeks of fog, and the wind is at its most fierce and the temperature drops below zero.

We didn’t stop in the small VC out at the Point; it was packed because most of the people who’d parked at the end of the road and then walked the half mile out to the Point itself did not want to then walk down the 300+ stairs to the lighthouse in a perilous ledge of the cliff and then back up.  But we did, that’s what we were there for!  When you walk down there you can tour a nicely restored building that used to be the dormitory and weather station for the keepers, small outbuildings that held coal and oil, and the house itself with a really nicely-restored works and huge Fresnel lens.  Just below the lighthouse is the modern station, with a stronger light and an automated horn, both of which rarely require attendance compared to the constant tending that used to be needed.

We stood there and soaked in the sun but were battered by the wind, the chill, and the feeling that we were in a place where man didn’t belong.  It’s no wonder that the old keepers went cuckoo like clockwork.  We climbed back up the long stairway chiseled into the rock, and marveled at all the wildflowers even out there in the rock, and at the persistent conglomerate that topped the granite.  Back to the top, then down the road past the row of vultures hovering above the Northwest cliffs in the high wind, and then back to the parking lot, where we jumped in the car and headed down towards the salt-water farms, then turned right out the lonely, one-lane (or at least very narrow) road to Chimney Rock.  We weren’t alone out there, but thankfully the crowds hadn’t (yet) followed or preceded us out there and we pulled into the 100-space lot with a few other cars in a hollow of the point, where we had a lovely view South over Drake’s Bay and some shelter from the wind.

“Some shelter” was not much though.  There was one picnic table there but the people who had claimed it didn’t even try to put their food out because the wind would have whipped it away in a second.  We were starving and there was a shuttle bus shelter there (not in use in May), so we lugged our lunch stuff over to it and huddled in its shelter to make and eat sandwiches.  Some sort of colorful swallows had apparently been busy all Spring making nests in the shelter and so were very annoyed with us taking it over.  They hovered just outside, shaping their wings to swoop back and forth across the entrance but not daring to come in with us there.  Silly swallows!  We were just having lunch and would not have eaten them.  We finished quickly however, lugged the stuff back over to Vicky, and then found the trailhead out to Chimney Point.

The old lifeboat station was on the shore below us, probably in the most sheltered cove of the bay but still wild.  Some sea lions had taken it over and were arrayed in repose all around it.  The wind increased to a gale as we walked through the beautiful meadow of grasses and wildflowers beyond it, slowly rising up toward the crest of that tip of the Point Reyes peninsula, and then had a full view of the Pacific glittering to our right while the deep blue and white-caps of the bay extended in front of us and to our left.  The trail gets pretty narrow along the ridge out towards the point and there are signs all over the place warning people not to go near the cliffs, since they might crumble and dump you several hundred feet down among rocks, surprised sea lions, and pounding surf without hope of rescue (even if you survive the fall).  It’s amazing the number of people along there who didn't heed the signs, a succession of Darwin award candidates.

Made it out to the end of the trail and were a little disappointed that Chimney Rock is not more spectacular but what the heck, everything about the place was breathtaking!  We hung out there for a little bit but the wind was overpowering and we turned around and made out way back up to the ridge trail and then down the trail into the hollow that marked the parking lot and the turnoff to the lifeboat station.  This was yet another in the string of remarkable, lovely, brilliantly colored, exotic places that we’d seen during our California vacation and we hung around a bit more when we got to the parking lot, walking a ways down another trail that eventually led down a precipitous path to Drake’s Beach.

But then it was time to go.  We got back into Vicky by 2:33, knowing that it might take a couple of hours to get to our hotel and get prepared to go see Phil Lesh that night.  Woohoo!!  We were psyched all over again!!!  We drove back down the narrow Chimney Point road, through the cow farms, past the beautiful meadows and bird marshes, through the small precious towns, and then exited at the funky intersection of Point Reyes Station.

We pointed the car up the Point Reyes-Petaluma road and pressed the pedal to the metal, past sunny Nicasio Reservoir and over the sharp hills and sudden valleys through the farms and ranches over the 20 miles (though it seemed like three times as long) to Petaluma.  Petaluma is a pretty big town on route 101 and was the closest-to-San-Francisco point to the North of town where we could get good hotel rates without getting into the really high prices or outrageous bed-and-breakfasts.  We had a room in the Best Western there and it was quite a relief to pull into a pretty empty hotel parking lot in the raging hot sun (no wind here!) by 3:42.  We checked into room 249, unloaded just the stuff we had to, and then Dave and I went for a swim in their pool to cool down and a shower afterwards to wash off the chlorine.  Dried off, got dressed in appropriate gear, and then we were off South to San Rafael and Terrapin Station at 4:50.

We crossed back over route 101 in Petaluma and turned South on it for the 22 mile drive to San Rafael.  You have to do a little whoop-de-do off the highway to get to Francisco Boulevard and Yacht Club Drive … Terrapin Crossroads sits among car dealerships and a marine fittings store, but has a nice sign on the road and is hard to miss.  Who doesn’t notice a Terrapin playing a tambourine?

There seemed to be a crowd already, but it was just 15 people or so milling around in front.  Finding a parking place was no problem, even though Vicky was totally out of place among Deadhead vehicles.  We walked dazed towards the building in the hot late afternoon, somehow slightly afraid that this was all a dream and we’d be turned away.  But we checked out the place a bit (which marked us as true Deadheads to the people hanging around … we weren’t rushing anywhere; one of them said “Yeah, Barton Hall!” to me when he saw my Ithaca College t-shirt and was delighted when I responded, “We were just listening to that, great Morning Dew!”), figuring that that closed building that was thundering Terrapin Station from inside (apparently the sound check) was the performance hall and the one with people in it was the restaurant …brilliant!  We targeted a door in the restaurant and walked right in.

The people at the maĆ®tre d’ station were still not quite done with setting up at 5:30 but we told them we had a reservation for that time and waited patiently while they got their act together.  This gave me a chance to ask the key question of one of the guys.  “We’re from Massachusetts,” I started.  “Oh … I’m so sorry!” he said.  Basically what I wanted to know was what we had to do to get a good spot for the show.  We had come all the way from MA, we were there early, this might be our only opportunity to see Phil and Friends up close, and we wanted to know what we had to do and we’d (within reason) do it.  He understood and was very helpful: “You see those people outside?  Well that’s the line,” he said.  This meant two things: 1) that we’d have to get in the line at some point to get in and 2) that we didn’t have much to worry about since there weren’t hundreds of people there already, there were just 20 or so freaks totally enjoying themselves.

Then they escorted into the restaurant, giving us a choice of sitting out on the deck overlooking the canal or sit just inside.  We had a hard time deciding, so they nicely put us at a great, comfortable table just inside the open glass doors that overlooked the flower-filled patio.  It’s really a pretty place that used to be a fancy seafood restaurant, it was only about a sixth full when we got there and was maybe half full when we left … they could even squeeze in a lot more tables if they needed to, lots of room to grow.  A very nice, laidback, and efficient waitress named Celeste (our age??) brought us a big carafe of “twice-filtered water” right away and took our beer/coffee order (Lagunitas, see above).  We were a little nervous about not spending too much time over dinner, but she brought the drinks quickly and then took our food order.  I got an asparagus, basil pesto, grilled onion, and goat cheese pizza, Sarah got a fancy cheeseburger with excellent pickles and fries and a side order of grilled asparagus with Spring garlic butter and boiled egg, and Dave got a pizza with portobello mushrooms, sausage, arugula, and fontina cheese.

The food came quickly too and was excellent!!  Everything about it was incredible: the presentation, the ingredients, the preparation, and most of all the taste; this was the definition of artisanal food.  I guess a place like Terrapin Crossroads attracts great talent … I’d like to work there!  I have to mention the crust of the pizza, which was the lightest, most flavorful pizza crust I’ve ever had, not to mention the basil and the asparagus.  The Lesh family envisions Terrapin Crossroads as a center for the arts, and culinary arts is one of them, at which they do exceptionally well.

In the middle of the meal it turned 6:00 and the “box office” (which was a card table outside) opened up, so I went and got my will-call tickets with no hassle.  We were so psyched!  If the food hadn't been so incredible we would have been too nervous to eat anything, but both Dave and I finished every crumb of our pizzas and Sarah did the best she could with the massive amount of food she had.  We were exhausted from the schedule we’d been keeping and it had been a long day, so after one beer I had a cup of their staggeringly delicious (of course!) coffee, which woke me up fine.  We finished by 6:15 or so and paid up (Celeste put a smiley face on our bill, so Dave drew her a stealie on her copy).

OK, it was time to get in line!  We walked outside, trying to hold ourselves back from running and be as mellow as everyone else.  The “line” still hadn’t grown much in the interim and we kind of hung out at the back, and when other people came after us they were mellow too and kind of hung out behind us.  This was a crowd with an aesthetic, and that was to be respectful of the place and the other people … just wonderful!  Right behind us was a goateed, middle-aged guy by himself, from Houston where he taught (oenology) at the University.  He was on a business trip and was delighted, excited, and thrilled to have the chance to go to Terrapin Crossroads for the first (and maybe the last) time ever, just like us.  Another guy we talked to was the dread-locked and bare-chested one who had commented on my t-shirt; he was from Oregon and this was also his first time there, a long distance to travel and a stiff price for admission.  But he was full of stories about seeing the Dead, etc. in Oregon in the past and he just had to make a pilgrimage down to San Rafael.  Again, this was what we found in California, that half of the people we talked to were from away and were very excited about having the chance to be there.

The immense crowd of out-of-control Deadheads (note sarcasm) swelled to 30 or so by the time the doors opened at 6:30 for the 7:30 show and you should have seen us stampede the three entrances they opened!  Well actually, there were not a whole lot of us and everyone was very polite and waited his or her turn.  We got wrist-banded, ultraviolet-logo-stamped, and then headed right into the hall, where some people took the bistro-style tables along the outer edges of the rectangular hall (there were a few tables and these people who had obviously been there before wanted a seat rather than moshing with the crowd).  The rest of us stumbled around in a panic trying to decide where we wanted to stand: right in front of Jeff’s full keyboard setup (with organ, electric piano, synth, and Leslie), center stage in front of what would probably be Chris Robinson’s mike, close to the bar, or where most of us ended up, in the Phil zone.  The guitars were in their stands and Phil’s brown six-string was what we all gravitated towards.  Then we all looked at each other and smiled and relaxed; half the people sat down (nice soft-surface floor) and the other half headed for the bar to get drinks.

Yeehah!  Nice beer, nice people, nice rock and roll stuff all around us with Grateful Dead logos on it, and a wonderful, small hall that looked like they could pack in a couple of hundred people at most.  I have to say that this was one of the most fun times ever, everyone there was so excited and so mellow at the same time.  By 7:30 the place was only about half full when Grahame, Phil, Chris, Jeff, and the others (Tim Bluhm wasn’t on stage for the first number) came out and started tuning up.  The hall filled up *really* quickly at that point, most of the people barely exhaling by the time they entered … it was like a wave of pot smoke coming in from the parking lot.  And then the band launched into Sugar Magnolia (sung by Grahame) and we all started jumping up and down and freaking out.

Here’s the first set list: Sugar Magnolia (Grahame, with Phil and Chris), Operator (Chris), Dire Wolf (Tim), Appaloosa (Chris), I Need a Miracle (Chris), Mason’s Children (all, of course), Liberty (Grahame and Phil).  Geez, now I have to say something coherent about it!  Perhaps the most wonderful thing for me was that it was a new slant on GD music, since the lineup was so guitar-heavy and the band was all about hitting the hard edge of the songs and milking them rather than letting them speak (or not) for themselves.  Sugar Mags was the opener and was a show-stopper, Grahame was covered with sweat by the end of it he emoted so much.  Chris Robinson just impressed the hell out of us; he strummed rhythm and slurred his vocals but got all the words right and was so on top of the loneliness of Operator and the false braggadocio/wanting of I Need a Miracle (not to mention the song he wrote, Appaloosa) that the crowd was on his side immediately.  Jon Graboff on steel contributed such a new, funky, wired sound to the music and Mark Karan provided a more than driving lead guitar.  Jeff Chimenti was as marvelous as always, Jaz Sawyer knew how to play tasteful drums to 4-5 guitars and stayed in the background, and Grahame was just dynamic.  And then there was Phil, who at the age of 72 still gets better and better each time he takes the stage.

We were dancing and dancing.  There was this tall, old guy standing about halfway between me and Phil’s speakers and he sometimes blocked the sound from them … his name was Phil Lesh.  Most of the band members were wearing in-ear monitors and Phil could speak to them without speaking to the crowd so we missed some private jokes that had them all grinning and some musical directions that had them all nodding at Phil.  They were very well-rehearsed and each one knew exactly what his role was in each song, but then didn’t hesitate to show virtuosity and ensemble-awareness when he had the chance.  As mentioned, Chris was rhythm and Mark was lead but when Jon got his ethereal steel breaks and when Grahame stepped out and especially when Tim played his numbers (on which he was unquestionably the rhythm guitarist) they all got muddled around and ended up delivering some of the finest ensemble guitar sounds I’ve ever heard.  Those guys had my head whipping back and forth to follow it all but those of us in the Phil zone were the most fortunate.  At several times during the concert I had to remind myself that I’d (probably) never get a chance like this again to see Phil the master at work and when you stood there and watched his fingering and felt the sounds he was making then that made you realize that life was good.

The guys took a set break and we all hit the head, and then some of us lined up for more beer while the majority of the crowd scattered throughout the parking lot.  Crammed back in for the second set and we were a bit more squished while people tried to edge in where we early arrivers had camped (some people didn’t believe that Dave was defending his mother’s spot), but we were still just a few people from the stage.  Here’s the second set: New Speedway Boogie (Chris), Loser (Chris), He’s Gone (Grahame), Scarlet Begonias (Tim), Fire On the Mountain (Chris), Saint Stephen (all), Terrapin Station (all, with Chris and Phil doing the leads).

This was more tight, beautifully expressed, wonderful music (see May 20 post here).  You think of Speedway as kind of a simple song that you’ve heard many times, but they turned this into a serious gymnastic jam that lasted almost 20 minutes, let each instrumentalist shine, and then it was just hijacked and taken higher and higher by Jon Graboff on pedal steel.  Chris was back to his emotive, bluesy best vocals on Loser, and Grahame and Tim then kept up the vocal pace on He’s Gone and Scarlet … the vocals were one of the best parts of the act.  After Scarlet they suddenly stopped right when we were ready for Fire because the in-ear monitors were screwing up.  This was a fortuitous break as it turned out, time for another quick bathroom break and another quick stop at the bar before they came back out and just whipped into an excellent Fire On the Mountain with Chris wailing about the long distance runner and the fears we’re all running from.

A decent Saint Stephen (which for once showed a small lack of practice) then led us to the crescendo of the whole night: the best Terrapin Station I’ve ever heard.  This was what we’d heard them practicing when we arrived and they had it down!  This song easily can be dominated by the story, the musical theme, the vocals, or the bass line and I’ve heard every one of those variations, but this time all of the band knew their roles and played them to perfection.  It was Phil’s show of course and he opened with the Lady With a Fan section, but the overriding image of that number was him thrumming the bass notes and singing beautiful baritone harmony to Chris’s emotion-filled lead on the “spiral light of Venus” verse.  This was again, such an excellent ensemble sound.

They took a short break after that while we all jumped around a little more, trying to catch every bit of delight we could.  Soon we’d be leaving the new friends we’d made (and going back to Texas, Oregon, Massachusetts, or wherever) and there were some hugs in the crowd.  Phil came out and played gracious host, then launched into his donor rap which we all applauded.  And then the whole band came back out (5 guitars now, counting the pedal steel of course), launched into a cacophonous, throbbing, rolling sound, and then everyone in the building joined in with the vocals as it melded into a rocking Going Down the Road Feeling Bad.  How could we be disappointed after a send-off like that (well, *then* doing One More Saturday Night would have been ok with us but we weren’t complaining)?  Roadies came out and handed out a few copies of the set list … we got one!

Sad to leave that special place but it was time to go and the night was waiting.  Got back into Vicky and slowly cruised out of the parking lot and then the whoop-de-do through a little of residential San Rafael back to route 101 North and the rolling hills up to Petaluma.  The parking lot of the Best Western was absolutely packed with old cars when we got there!  Kind of a strange sight but we managed to squeeze Vicky into a parking space and find our way back up to our room.  We were exhausted and even though still buzzing from the thrill we’d just had, it was off to sleep quickly.


  1. I really want to see a Phil and friends set soon! Its a shame that I've never seen him groove in that light yet. Overall I enjoyed reading about your experience and I hope to one day spend as relaxing of an evening with Lesh as you have.

  2. Thanks Sid ... just saw your comment now. My son was just back out in northern CA again and managed to see their free show in "The Grate Room" on January 10th! Wish I was back there.