Reviews > Shows
Furthur Festival, Mountain Aire, CA – 5/27-30
All photos by Alan Sheckter- click here for additional images
“Nobody told us where to park. Nobody Searched our car. We just pulled in, set up camp, and started partying. Life is good”
A common thought shared as heads from all over the place settled in to the Furthur Festival on Friday night. And while it didn’t seem quite as crazy as the stories coming from those lucky enough to have caught the Grateful Dead at these same the Calaveras County Fairgrounds playing with Carlos Santana in 1987, the Furthur Festival was indeed a three day family gathering of blissed-out deadheads basking in the continued interpretation of this timely music.
Sure there were some kids who stayed up late, partied excessively, and got a little too loose, but isn’t there always a few who fall into the category of having too much too fast? Whether your drug of choice is dancing or psychedelics, it all comes down to the music. Thankfully, for the most part, it seemed people took care of one another, and the vibrant scene only accentuated a brilliant and unique musical experience.
After arriving at the festival and scratching my head like most others at the discombobulated landscape, I figured out where to pick up our bracelets and found spot to camp. Settling in, we had plenty of time to get to know our new neighbors as the “Sound Check” didn’t kick off till about 9pm.
“Sound Check” needs to be in quotes here because as many of us had hoped and speculated, the “Sound Check” was really a full on 2+ hour set that showcased, arguably, some off the tightest playing Furthur has yet to share. Having taken in their initial Fox Theater shows last September, the New Years run and Phil’s Birthday, I’ve seen a fair amount of the band as they’re gotten to know each other. Clearly, they’re becoming more familiar with each other as musicians, and even more unmistakably, they’re having a ton of fun.
Friday’s monster set started off with a loose jam that bled in a surprise “Eleven” opener. Bobby took the vocals for this one as the band kept jamming and went right into a marvelously played “Eyes of the World.” Phil Lesh took the vocals on this Dead treasure as the “Open-Air Sound Check” quickly started feeling like an open-air jam. “Eyes” was tight, and as the boys drifted off into their next segue, Phil started dropping bombs as the band pulled back and started playing spacey distant notes, finally bringing it back together and letting loose on a sublime “Dark Star”. Three songs in and the crowd and band were already in sync. It felt like a second set and with a completely transcendent light show to match. “Dark Star” was sung by Phil, Bob Weir, and John Kadelecik before Phil took the duties on “Bird Song” and Bobby on “Loose Lucy.”
The whole set had been played through at this point and the stoke factor was high. After “Loose Lucy,” it looked like Furthur was going to take a breath, but then John goes and brings the Fairgrounds into “Dear Mr. Fantasy.” Note-for-note John owned the old Traffic tune, a late 80’s classic Dead cover. From here a huge “Scarlet>Fire” followed in late 70’s funky style as most of us figured the epic “Sound Check” was about to be done. Had it been the last notes of the night Friday would have still been a success from the standpoint of great song selection, executed brilliantly, a noticeably tighter lightshow, a happy band, and really happy crowd.
But it turned out we had a few more to go before the late night festivities got under way. The train kept running and Bobby led us all into a raging version of “Let it Grow” before Phil took the reins for his classic “Unbroken Chain.” “It keeps getting better” a guy dancing next to me proclaimed mouth and eyes wide and smiling. “Standing on the Moon” was up next, coincidentally right as the nearly full moon rose? I’m not sure but it was a pretty cool occurrence to behold with the lush rolling Sierra foothills, a stage with a great band framed by a huge steal-your –face, and thousands of rocking fans as the backdrop. “Playing in the Band” was the last full tune of the “Sound Check,” which became a joke for the rest of the evening…”yeah, great Sound Check, ha, ha”. But another verse of “Dark Star” was actually the last thing played. The first verse was repeated to be exact, before the band abruptly cut it off nodding that the “Sound Check” was officially over. For the record, anytime these guys ever do a public “Sound Check” again, it is well worth checking out.
After the set people seemed to forget about the “All-Star Jam” scheduled for late night. I forgot. I left the Furthur set so stoked I just forgot. Forgot until I was walking through the main venue as a shortcut to a friend’s campsite, and I heard some notes being plucked in the late-night concert hall. I detoured over to take a look, and found barely a hundred people in front of a stage housing Joe Russo, Jeff Chimenti, Jackie Greene, Larry Campbell, and Phil. “Uh, late night Phil and Friends!?!”
Low and behold, a mini Phil and Friends reunion (Phil, Jackie, Larry) was about to take place a no one was there. Minutes later I saw Phil bobbing up and down as I recognized he first distorted note of “Viola Lee Blues.” The ensemble jammed on through the first verse before Jackie Greene led the band through a spirited “New Speedway Boogie.” And just like that the place was packed and everyone was belting out the line “Spent a little time on the mountain…” Teresa Williams then hopped on stage as Larry switched to fiddle, an instrument he would own throughout the weekend on just about every open stage.”Peggy-O” lent itself to Teresa’s amazing voice as both Larry and Teresa also stayed on stage for “Tennessee Jed.”
A quick break saw Phil leave the stage and Jackie pick up the bass. Then Bobby came out with Mark Karan on guitar as the new configuration of musicians started into the second verse or “Viola Lee Blues.” Next was a lively “Sugaree” before the another exchange of musicians brought out Jack Cassady and Jorma Kaukonen. The Haight-Ashbury legends played on “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” and “I Know You Rider before the final verse of “Viola Lee Blues” ended the “All Star Jam.”
What a great night of music. It was only day one of the festivities and the festival was already taking it Furthur.
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