Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rex's Wheel – A Musical Celebration of Jerry Garcia

Artifact of the Week: Pix from "The Wheel" Rex Benefit Show
Tape of the Week: 12/04/2010 Videos

This week at Dark Star Palace, we're going to talk a bit about our recent out-of-body experience that occurred on December 4th at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. That evening, there was a very special event that the Grateful Dead's charitable foundation, the Rex Foundation, put on in honor of Jerry Garcia's musical legacy. Exactly!  Sounds pretty heavy, right? So to start with, we've got A) the legendary Fillmore, B) the Dead's own charity putting on a show, and C) not any ordinary show, but a Jerry Garcia Tribute put on by all of his old musician and non-musician friends going back to 1962....and yeah, at the friggin' Fillmore.  As you can see, the stage was set for a pretty intense evening for your typical rabid Deadhead!
David Nelson catches a rainbow
Now, my out of body experience stems a bit from reading this wonderful new book called "The Storyteller Speaks: Rare and Different Fictions of the Grateful Dead." There is a great story in there about time travel and this kid in the future who would do anything to be transported back in time to the Fillmore in 1969 to see the Dead. You'll have to check the book out (Editor's note to self: future blog post on book!!), but from the second I arrived at the Fillmore for the show, I realized I was undergoing some weird time travel experiment myself, and had just been transplanted to a Grateful Dead family reunion at the Fillmore and felt the vibe that everyone there was just WAITING for me to arrive. Read on!
Here's the back story.  Just before I interviewed Jesse McReynolds for Dark Star Palace last month, I was tipped off by a DSP reader who sent an email about this Rex Foundation fundraiser event that was going to go down at the Fillmore on 12/4.  I immediately was on the case and was able to check in with Dennis McNally, the Dead's old publicist and official historian, about the event. Good thing I did too, as Jesse and I talked a bit about the upcoming show and POW!!!...Dennis delivers and hooks up a press pass for DSP to photograph and cover the event...just as he promised. What an honor! No coal is going into McNally's stocking this year! Yes sir, Magic was stirring in those mandolin strings of Jesse's...
DSP's Unterfunken and author Dennis McNally
Jesse McReynolds
So, after making a bargain with the wife to have her take Saturday night dual-kid coverage, I was in the Honda and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge listening to a wonderful Sugaree from 10/77 that had just surfaced a few weeks before. Hey now, Saturday night! After parking on Geary just up from John Lee Hooker's juke joint (DSP has just now given you the Fillmore parking tip of the century) I strolled on over to the Fillmore's front entrance where I saw Blair Jackson and other Dead and Rex'ish folks holding court.  Now, the doors haven't opened yet and everyone with tickets and passes are standing in line down by the Post Office waiting to go in (as the Fillmore always dictates), but here I am like a lost tourist from Abilene (which I will arm one day!), when down the Fillmore-stairs comes Dennis McNally.  He looks at me....and though he thinks we have never met in person (even though we did meet backstage at a Grateful Dead show at Shoreline in the '90's when I asked Dennis if the Grateful Dead take on interns...to which his eyes went as wide as flying saucers, and completely flabbergasted, said: "the Grateful Dead DO NOT DO INTERNSHIPS!!"...best quote ever, right?).....anyway, I didn't bring this up to Dennis then, but the point is he thinks we had never met. So he takes one look at me, a random freak on Fillmore with a small leather satchel and says "UNTERFUNKEN! Here you go...." and he hands me my Press pass, pats me on the back, and I'm the first one in the door for the evening.  Whoa...this guy might have secret powers! And the show is ON!
Adam had one, shouldn't you?

Ok, so now I realize things are getting weirder 'cause I start to reflect on the fact that the Grateful Dead's Historian and author had just ushered me in as the first audience member for the night. Kinda weird. I climb those Fillmore stairs and get the traditional welcome from a BGP-employee and YES, there's the magic Bill Graham apples over by the Christmas tree.  Yes, just a bite or two so I don't be a total A-hole and eat all the expensive hors d'oeuvres that are out for the $500-a-seat benefactor's dinner.  But, low and behold! There's Jerry residing over by the chocolate truffles and cheesecake doing a full-on NAMASTE! Ok, I'll just take one or two....
Namaste from Garcia
Onwards to casing out the joint...which is done up very Dark Star Palace'ish with fancy tables covering the entire Fillmore floor, candles are lit, velvet drapes a-glimmering, and the Beatles playing over the PA ("Revolver" baby...what a great choice!). Which now leads to a short diversion: Dark Star Palace gave a copy of Revolver on cassette to His Holiness the 17th Karmapa in Tibet in 1998 when he was 12 years old, as well as his first Grateful Dead mix tape...a mix tape with some wonderous '75 and '69 sprinkles... because Revolver was the first bit of pop music released that had bits of Tibetan Buddhist texts (albeit via Lennon's recollection of Tim Leary's interpretation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead on Tomorrow Never Knows...so it's a bit flimsy) in it, and because my thinking at the time was along the lines that His Holiness will be getting a lot of western students in the years to come and many of them will likely come to the Dharma through rock music...especially the Beatles and the Grateful Dead.  Weird gets weirder because H.H. Karmapa is the head of the Karma Kagyu lineage and Jerry Garcia was married to Mountain Girl by a Kagyu lama, Bob Weir had his kids named by a Kagyu lama and supports the local Kagyu center near Haight Ashbury, Wavy Gravy is a follower of H.H. Karmapa and likes to wear hats that have Karmapa's "dream flag" on it, Mickey Hart puts out records of Buddhist chants...including the track "Mahakala" which is the protector of H.H. Karmapa, and wait, isn't Peter Rowan tied into the Kagyu Buddhists too and blah de blah blah...there is a lot going on here in the Grateful Dead / Kagyu universe (Editor: full disclosure here, DSP financially supports Kagyu yogis living in Himalayan caves).  Maybe a post is needed on this in the future?  Ok, enough!  Back to the Fillmore...hey there...wait, on walking into the Fillmore's bathroom, who is staring at me but Milarepa, the Kagyu lineage's most famous Yogi.  Something is definitely up here!
Milarepa at the Fillmore
Unterfunken and Mountain Girl
So, I'm listening to Revolver and drooling over cheesecake when in walks Mountain Girl!  Hey Mountain Girl! Thus ensues a WONDERFUL chat with MG on all sorts of topics...my favorite being on how MG moved from her and Jerry's Stinson Beach pad due to hippies living on their property and breaking into the house and how that related to my family's recent transplant from South of Market to Marin. Anyway, what a pleasure to talk with her. I've got my eye on MG for a future DSP interview...We've got some questions waiting MG, so don't be shy! And PS, I think I gave you the wrong email address.  Oh well.
Garcia on way up the Fillmore stairs
After MG left for her stage-right table, I headed upstairs (and waved to the best framed bit of Jerry I have seen to date) to check out the Rex Foundation's silent auction...only to find David Gans holding court and just wrapping up his quick sound check.  I chatted with David for a few minutes on DSP's Front Street Studio's blog post, as he mentioned that he had some additional photos for me to use for the post.  Turns out David was there in the early '80's working for BAM or something and had some great shots of the studio.  So check that post out soon for some new updates.  Anyway, David ripped into a great set of tunes and I was quite impressed with his mastery of playing with himself.  Wait, that sounds wrong.  But, it's true!  He could riff on himself like I've never seen...well, I did see Robert Hunter do a similar trick up in Seattle in '96 at the Paramount, but it wasn't as fancy as this.  On Terrapin Station, David would get to the bridge or good solo spot and record/loop his rhythm guitar playing. Then, he would add line after line, harmony after harmony, solo after solo...building and building....pow, back to the chorus!  Excellent!  Check him out if you haven't seen him live.  He's a real treat.
David Gans, host of the Grateful Dead Hour
As David's set progressed, I ventured over to the auction area where there were some wonderful artifacts... and you know how Dark Star Palace LOVES artifacts!  We had a great acoustic signed by the evening's artists, signed photos, artist proofs, a night on the town with Mountain Girl...or maybe that was a day on the town sightseeing with MG... Anyway, a great set of goodies all for a worthy cause. If that isn't enough, you can never get enough of all the original Fillmore posters up on the walls.  Check out that June '66 Dead poster. Fressshhhh......
Bob Minkin plays Odin down in the Pit
As the light's dimmed for the main event, I hustled on downstairs with my camera gear so I could get towards the "Pit" and prep for some great shots.  On my way up front, who comes over to introduce himself to me but Robert "the Bob" Minkin!  Yes, the ace photographer / Dick's Picks designer!  We hit it off right away, and thus begins the time travel portion of the night where I enter the domain known as "the Grateful Dead Photographer's Valhalla". Why?  Because if you are a Deadhead photographer and you die at a Grateful Dead show, these are the Odin, Thor, and Freya's you would see: You've got Bob Minkin, Susana Millman, Jay Blakesberg and Susan Weiand all there in the Pit with me.  And how cool all of them were to little old DSP! As the show began, I got my first lessons in Grateful-Dead-Photographer-jungle-photo-warfare.  As Peter Rowan's bluegrass bands starts to hit their stride, there goes Susana flying down on her knees as she does a slow focus expose! Up jumps Blakesberg as his pony-tail goes right to left as he switches lens's mid-leap! Here comes Weiand as she dives for the nearest chair in the most important concert photography lesson I got that night: find a chair in the front row and make camp!  What a hoot.  A great set of artists who were so much fun to hang out with before, during and after the show.  I look forward to more epic concert photo battles in the days to come.
Susana Millman, ace photographer
Peter Rowan, bluegrass machine
Jesse in full-on cross-pickin' mode
John Molo
Ok, so I see that Blair Jackson already has a damn good review / show breakdown posted up on dead.net, so I'm not gonna re-hash how amazing the music was here.  But, I must say that GARCIA WAS IN THE HOUSE!  I mean, how could he not be? Half of the night I found myself drooling as I watched Jerry's old musical pals play their butts off to his oldest and favorite tunes (did you know Peggio was the first tune David Nelson heard "the big Gar" play? Me either!).  You've got one of Jerry's bluegrass idols RIPPIN' up the mandolin, cross-pickin' this way to Nashville (Jesse McReynolds, epic!), you have Dead alumni David Nelson boogie up the house to the point of a nile-high fever (another set of weird facts....he played on Aoxomoxoa, American Beauty and Workingsman Dead, AND he has a B-string extender/bender on his Telecaster that I've only seen used by Jimmy Paige prior to this evening), and Peter Rowan pulled out both new classics from his latest Grammy-nominated disc and old classics from Old and In the Way, etc.  And these guys were just the headliners!  The bands with these legends were stellar, with Dead family alumni and friends speckled throughout: Barry Sless, Robin Sylvester, John Molo, Mookie Siegel, Jody Stecher, Keith Little, Paul Knight, Garrett McReynolds, and Steve Thomas. And these were just the Jerry-friends on stage! 
Barry Sless casts the RAY
Jody Stetcher, one of Jerry's old folk pals
As I looked around in the audience during the show and between sets, you've got the who's who of Jerry's family, Grateful Dead office personnel and old-school Garcia friends.  As mentioned earlier, you have Jerry's ex-wife and prime Prankster MG (Mountain Girl), Dead publicist/historian/author Dennis McNally, Grateful Dead managers Jon McIntire and Cameron Sears, Jerry Garcia manager/ace roadie/fancy-pants AUTHOR (!) Steve Parish, the Dead's old monitor mixer Harry Popick (who I now hereby give the "best dressed of the night" award to), old Jerry buddy and Ice Nine Publicist Alan Trist.... and this was just the folks trying to get into the men's washroom! (just kidding Mountain Girl!).  Like I said, if you were to travel back in time to a Grateful Dead family reunion....
Now, I just gotta make a call-out to Robert Hunter. Hunter!  Either you pulled a great Bob Dylan and not many folks spotted your sneaky arrival, or you were just not feeling social.  Either way, DSP does not accept your bid for public retirement.  Dark Star Palace wants to check in and see what you are reading, who you are translating, and why you stopped publishing your online journals! Where are the short stories about the Menlo Park MKULTRA years?  Ok, I'll shut up, but notice has been given....!
Ok, so what a night, right?  I'm still exhausted! We hope you enjoy the photos that I was able to snag between hob-knobbing with all the Dead folk.  We encourage you to take a minute to check out the Rex Foundation and all their good works, if you haven't already.  Don't be a Scrooge... if you're in the Christmas mood, throw them a buck or two.  You never know, Santa Jerry might pull you onto his magic sleigh or carpet and bring you back in time to another Grateful Dead chapter that has yet to be written...

Until next time at Dark Star Palace..........

(Special thanks to Dennis, MG, Bob, Susana, Jay, Susan, David G. and the big Jerry G. for helping make this such a great night for Dark Star Palace!) 

and the youngest Deadhead of the evening award goes to....

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