Earlier this year I'd been watching and watching Furthur's site like a one-eyed hawk, ready to pounce when they announced a Northeast tour. They played Port Chester NY in April and I almost, almost got tickets for that but it's a bit far for me and I was sure they'd come closer. The finally announced a summer "amphitheater" tour with two dates in Boston ... and for the second of those dates I'd already gotten tickets to Emmylou Harris. Oh well, I snapped up tickets to Meadowbrook in Gilford NH and the first Boston show and spent a long time smiling and smiling.
Tuesday the 16th finally arrived and after a busy day at work I left at 3, picked up Sarah in Billerica, and headed on up. Meadowbrook's tucked right next to Lake Winnipesaukee with lovely scenery and beautiful mountain backgrounds and the drive up on a hot, bright, summer day was gorgeous. We had tickets to their West Entrance lots and arrived at around 5:30 ... with barely any traffic delays ... to find exactly what we'd expected: a dirt and rock parking lot in the middle of NH forest already half full and soon packed with hippies playing frisbee, grilling, drinking beer when the security wasn't looking, and mostly being very, very mellow in the hot sun (90 degrees when we arrived).
The car we pulled in behind was a VW bus with CA plates, and the people living out of it were delighted to be iconoclasts. They set up a tent that brought us some grateful shade and set up tables to peddle their pottery and posters. Security was omnipresent though, and the bastards soon confiscated their posters, probably because they were in copyright violation. Pretty harsh. I also saw a Gilford Police paddy wagon roar through the crowd and pick up another hippy who'd obviously done something to piss them off.
Oh well, as I say it was exactly what you'd expect. Scott and Michelle showed up about a half hour after we did and we all had a few Sobes and sandwiches, and then trundled past the crowd/Shakedown Street into the site. When we got there I realized I'd left my wallet in the car! What is it about me with Furthur and forgetting my wallet? Sarah had money though and we paid for a CD of the concert we were about to see at the Gnomes and Hobbits booth.
Scott and Michelle had seats a few rows back from us and we all found our places, which Sarah and I were a little bummed about. We were in the 11th row in a great outdoor-with-canopy venue BUT we had the two farthest left seats in the row and from there we wouldn't be able to see the drummer, the backup vocalists, and maybe the keyboard player. Oh well, we had a TV monitor in front of us (which turned out to be kind of sucky picture-wise, they need to upgrade).
But then a guy in a wheelchair with a well-chewed cigar in his hand came up and introduced himself, Patrick. He could not get his wheelchair to his seats and so asked if we wanted to trade ... being right at the edge of the 11th row was ideal for him. And his seats were 11th row, same section but about 25 places farther right ... and they were VIP tickets! We thanked him profusely, he thanked us profusely, and we took our places right as the band appeared and tuned up, then launched into Scarlet Begonias.
What can I say, we and everyone else in the packed amphitheater were instantly back in one of the finest places in the world. Strangers stopped strangers just to shake their hands, we all danced and danced (I got blisters on my feet from my sandal straps), and the band was as good or better than ever.
The show's probably still too recent for me to be objective about, but this was unquestionably a well above average Furthur show. Some observations are that Bobby was not jumping around but was still as on fire as I've ever seen him; he was taking this absolutely seriously and his guitar playing was phenomenal ... several times during the show I had to force myself to stop listening to Bobby and listen to the other players. John had an excellent evening himself, and I think some of his ... not just leads ... but his leading guitar presence on some songs, was approaching Garcia territory. Russo and Chimenti are just so good and I don't want to damn them with faint praise but here goes: Russo's cymbal sounds took me away, how do you make such delicate noises when you're being an octopus all over your traps? And Chimenti on the other side was all over his keys, from piano to organ to synth and back; from our angle we could see his skinny/hairy bare legs working the pedals on his organ, though we couldn't see his hands.
And though our seats were great, we could not see Sunshine at all, except for her expressive hands once in a while. I wish the camera had shown her more because she and Jeff are a big part of what puts this band in the stratosphere IMO. Who's left? Oh yeah, that tall old guy on the bass. Phil is a musical genius and he seemed to recognize that the rest of the band was in the sweet spot and so didn't feel he had to or should step up and dominate. His bass soared above and through the rest of the sound.
First set was a Scarlet Fire sandwich: Scarlet Begonias, Big Bad Blues, Brown-Eyed Women, Tom Thumb's Blues, Corinna, Fire On the Mountain. This was perhaps the best BBB I've heard, drawn out to a proper bluesy tempo and sung with the winsome conviction the words require. Phil nailed the vocals on Tom Thumb, as did Bobby on Corinna. The drumming on Fire was beyond infectious.
OMG, that was good! We resumed normal breathing, hung out with Scott and Michelle, high-fived with Patrick, hit up the VIP bathroom, and did our between sets thing. Between sets at a Dead/Furthur show is a surreal experience where you are still in awe from what you've just seen and heard and you know that it'll just get better. And then it did.
A word about security, they were all over the place in the first set and were very strict about keeping people out of the aisles, showing wanderers to their seats or kicking them out, etc. But then in the second set they were nowhere to be seen, like their shift had ended and they went home, and the pipes and joints came out and the aisles started to get clogged with people wildly dancing. As I say, exactly what you'd expect.
The second set topped the first, it was a sandwich within a sandwich! Here's the list: China Cat Sunflower > All Along the Watchtower, Mountain Song, Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Throwing Stones, Wharf Rat > Franklin's Tower, and then I Know You Rider (of course) as an encore.
Second set observations: China Cat was lovely, right off the bat Bobby emphasized that he was leading the band and he was playing some great guitar; they also did a nice vocal arrangement where they swapped lines (not just verses) between Phil, John, and Bobby. Watchtower was maybe the throw-away song of the set; so many people have done this song so well it seems futile to do it unless you can top that; they did a good job of jazzing it up, particularly with JeffC on organ, but failed to knock it out of the park. The people in front of us were *so* delighted to get a Mountain Song that we could not help but rave with them, this is one of the great things about Dead/Furthur concerts, that a song can mean so much to you and/or your neighbors and that's what it's all about. I'd predicted a few songs they played, and the Help On the Way troika was one of them; there have been some great versions of this through the years and this would not rank with them, but was still beyond delightful. I'm a bit burned out on Wharf Rat, it's a great song but I've heard it so many times, but this cover of it was extraordinary ... just listen.
We all let out a huge breath of relief? sorrow? end-of-delight? at the end of Franklin's and perhaps began to think about the drive home. Of course we all knew what was coming up for the encore. After a lovely Donor Rap they teased us with bits of La Cucaracha (to the best of my encyclopedic musical memory) and then launched into a killer I Know You Rider complete with copious Phil bombs that had everyone in the place rocking and reeling. Oh how perfect and wonderful!
After the show, paid a last visit to the lovely VIP bathroom, picked up my CDs from Gnomes and Hobbits, wondered where Scott and Michelle were, and then made our way out to the parking lot. The traffic was not moving so we set up our chairs, Scott and Michelle appeared, and we all had a few beers and sandwiches until the traffic freed up and we could start on the road back. Sarah drove and I have to admit that I was asleep almost as soon as we left the lot, though we had the CDs of what we'd just heard cranking on the car stereo.