Bob Weir and Phil Lesh go Furthur
A line of cars extends out to the highway as passengers patiently wait to swap their ticket stubs for the durable, multi-colored wrist band. Already there is a buzz in the air about how if you snip off the excess length of a few wrist bands, you can weave them together and falsify one.
Vehicles of all sorts file into the massive, open lawn area. Little Honda Civics, old VW vans and bugs, giant Econoline vans spewing exhaust, a brightly colored mini-bus, new pick-up trucks, the works-they all stack in one after the other. The people park with a car length or so in between each vessel, leaving room for a tent and a shade structure. Thunder clouds loom in the distance, offering the threat of rain, but no one seems to mind. The sun is out and excited faces begin to survey their surroundings. Strangers introduce themselves, they will be neighbors for the next three nights and there is nothing better than a good neighbor.
Beers are cracked open and tent poles begin to fly about, as camps are assembled. Music drifts through the spring air and in the blink of an eye the parking lot/campground is becoming a party. Girls run by skipping in tie-die dresses, little kids chase each other around barefooted, dogs are barking, a rooster is crowing, transient kids make their way up and down the aisles of cars selling mushrooms, acid, pot-brownies and other assorted narcotics; and respectable old-timers recline in their lawn chairs to watch the magic that is happening all around them. Camp sites turn into makeshift vendor booths; selling tie-die clothing, smoking accessories, food and a variety of other handmade crafts and goodies.
All these people; young, old, knowledgeable and naïve; they are all here to see three nights of music at the first ever Furthur Festival. Furthur is the current formation of the classic San Francisco band, The Grateful Dead. From May 28 through May 30, 2010, the iconic band took over Angel’s Camp in Calaveras County just a few hours east of the Bay Area to perform three nights of music.
Each night promised to be two full sets of assorted tunes and then a third set where they would be playing one of three classic albums: Working Man’s Dead, American Beauty and Terrapin Station.
The festival was a success. All three nights delivered incredible renditions of every song they played, many of which had not been played in a very long time. For old and new fans alike the three nights was just about as good as it can get when it comes to hearing Grateful Dead music.
Not many bands have the musical stamina or integrity to do three nights of five hour concerts, a quality that has set them apart from so many other bands through out their existence.
Furthur is only two original members of The Grateful Dead. On guitar and vocals there is Bob Weir accompanied by his long time musical companion Phil Lesh on bass and vocals. The two original members have toured for years since the death of Jerry Garcia in 1995, but they had done so with their individual solo bands.
In the spring of 2009 the two reunited along with original drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzman and toured the U.S. as The Dead. For this tour, Warren Haynes of the Allman Brothers Band and Government Mule took over lead vocals and guitar in place of Jerry Garcia. This tour reignited the spark between Weir and Lesh and they decided they wanted to get back together and breathe new life into the timeless music.
The result was Furthur. Further was the name of the magic bus that Ken Keesey and the Merry Pranksters tooled around the country in, in the early 1960s. They, along with the Grateful Dead became famous for hosting parties called Acid Tests or Trips Festivals; in which they would give out LSD to everyone and just watched to see what happened. The Grateful Dead were a mainstay for many of the events, including one at San Francisco State University on October 2, 1966.
Weir and Lesh wanted to assemble a team of musicians who they felt comfortable playing with. The band is known for their improvisational ways and they needed musicians who could hear what was happening and be able to react accordingly. There was also of course the issue of who is going to take over the part of Jerry Garcia.
John Kadlecik had been the lead singer and guitarist for Dark Star Orchestra, a Grateful Dead tribute band that has been playing entire replicas of Grateful Dead shows since 1997.
In an interview on Lehigh Valley Music on February 14, 2010 by John J. Moser; Bob Weir said, “We went through the various options and listened to a lot of guys, and John seemed like a good idea on a number of levels. First off, he knew most of the material. And so it would require a whole lot less of the back-breaking rehearsals that it takes to teach somebody a whole book. I don’t know if Phil or I have that in us to do again. But, fortunately, there are a number of players who know our stuff, know our book. And of those folks, given that we play with a number of them, it was time to check out a couple more. And we started playing with John and it just, it clicked – the guy’s great.”
To back the three front men, they employed Jeff Chimenti on keyboards and Jay Lane on drums; both of whom had played with Bob Weir in his band Rat Dog. Too remain in the tradition of two drummers they harnessed the ability of Joe Russo from Benevento/Russo Duo. To give the band the vocal depth they needed, back up vocalists Zoe Ellis and Sunshine Becker also joined the band.
The new group premiered to sold-out audiences for two nights in September 2009 at the Fox Theatre in Oakland. After these shows the band hit the road for a small U.S. tour followed by a two night run at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in down town San Francisco for New Years Eve.
After the New Years run, they treated Marin County fans to a small show at 19 Broadway night club/bar in Fairfax, which was then followed up by a nearly two-week run of live “rehearsal sessions” at the Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley. The town was turned up-side down as Dead Heads descended upon the small town, with or without tickets to the intimate live shows.
On March 12, 2010 Furthur celebrated Phil Lesh’s seventieth birthday by holding a concert at Bill Graham Auditorium. Lesh thanked the audience and as he does at all shows he publicly remembered the young man who donated his liver to Phil Lesh in 1998, Lesh then encouraged everyone to become an Organ Donor. This remembrance was particularly heart felt because it was his birthday.
Shortly after, Lesh announced to fans through his website, philzone, that Jay Lane would be leaving the band to rejoin one of his original bands, another Bay Area great, Primus. The Furthur Festival in May would be the band’s first show with just one drummer.
As of now Furthur is still on the road. Selling out shows across the country, choosing to do multiple nights at some-what smaller venues and keep ticket prices reasonable rather than giant arena shows; they keep fans delighted and guessing each night as to what songs they will play and where they will take the music next. Their New Years Eve shows at the Bill Graham are most likely going to remain a tradition from here on out; a two night extravaganza of floats, midnight antics and delirious, mind-altering crowd mayhem.
There is more than one pan on the stove though. Weir has been working with the Marin Symphony to create a musical experience being billed as “First Fusion”. Weir and accompanying musicians will join the Marin Symphony to create unique renditions of selected Grateful Dead songs. A project that has been in the works for over a year, it will debut on May 7 at the Marin Music Auditorium in San Rafael. Proceeds will go to benefit the Marin Symphony and other Marin music programs.
As if Marin wasn’t getting enough love from the band, Lesh is close to purchasing a building in Fairfax to turn into a music venue. He plans to name it Terrapin Landing, and let it stand as a sort of home for Grateful Dead music and a place for him and his friends to host intimate concerts. The plans are still in the preliminary stages, and as of yet the purchase has not been made, but with recent press coverage the reality of it seems to be materializing.
Furthur will be back to the Bay Area for two nights at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View on June 3 and 4. The boys have not been there since their 2009 tour as The Dead. The venue was built by legendary Bay Area concert promoter Bill Graham in 1985 to 1986. The shape of the venue is meant to resemble the Grateful Dead’s “Steal Your Face” logo.
Since the beginning the music of Grateful Dead has been about the fans and about community. The phenomenon of their followers, the open taping policy and sharing of the concerts and the relentless touring is only matched by a few other bands; and even with those bands, it is partly done in appreciation or in absence of the Grateful Dead.
But they’re back. Old fans are rejoicing to hear the music being played so well and new fans are happy to be given a chance to witness and experience one of America’s most interesting cult followings. They are a band that has transcended time and demographic and rests at the core of the jam band/festival scene which is very much alive from coast to coast to this day. Their music and their following started it all, and now in 2011, they are once again astounding crowds and creating followers of young and old.