Furthur and Friends Celebrate Phil Lesh’s 70th Birthday in San Francisco, March 12, 2010

With Jerry gone fifteen years now, and Phil celebrating his 70th birthday March 12, 2010 in San Francisco, the saga has not faded.
By Cassandra Chalkley

American Folk Legends, The Grateful Dead stretched their wings in the highly inspired period of the early 1970's. It was clear then that Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh were musical brothers, weaving notes and improvisations that have imprinted the band into the consciousness of American culture.

Furthur, the newest incarnation of this legacy is an ensemble that formed at the end of Spring 2009's Dead tour, a significant reunion of the talents of Bob Weir, (who's been touring with Rat Dog since Jerry's death) and Phil Lesh (of Phil and Friends) with drummers Micky Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, with New York promoter Warren Haynes filling Jerry's place with vocals and lead guitar.

The East coast and West coast tour in May also brought together the tribe of fans who follow the music nationwide. As The Dead's tour was closing in homeland California, rumors of a new project: both Bob Weir and Phil Lesh playing together in a band called Furthur, named after the Merry Pranksters' infamous school bus tour of the 1960's (the first time a group traveled by bus from the west coast to the east). Soon after these rumors began surfacing in the Bay area, Furthur began playing shows in Berkeley and Marin county, early October, with John Kadelick of Dark Star Orchestra replacing Warren Haynes, and joined by Jeff Chimenti, Jay Lane, and Joe Russo. This combination brings the band Furthur into a new era, a new generation of American Family History.

Kicking off a new decade and a winter tour, Furthur played New Years Eve, two nights at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. They played Miami February 5th, with dates up the East coast, in Chicago, Colorado and finishing the tour in Portland, accompanied by promoter Zane Keasey, and the Furthur bus.

"We're writing an ethnography of American History here," I said, as Furthur arrived early at the Rose Garden in Portland. Showcasing the psychedelic art movement, also celebrating forty years and a national tour of Blotter Art with the intense color and detail of the 1960's movement, hundreds of pieces displayed and bartered at the show.

After the Portland finale was the real celebration, Furthur returning to San Francisco to celebrate Phil Lesh's 70th birthday at the Bill Graham Auditorium March 12th. Lesh's birthday was celebrated by a special show honoring his achievement and contribution as a bassist. An inspiration to the world of electric Bass guitar, he built and conceived the modern active pick-up years ago; to create the sound he was hearing in his head. He wrote "Box of Rain," a song rich in memories and emotions, which became an enduring classic of country folk rock.

 The Furthur and Friends show kicked off with touchingly organic anthems from the very best of the Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia collection, Ripple, Brokedown Palace, Attics of my Life, Mountains of the Moon,  Phil not forcing the vocals, but bringing a new arrangement to the ancient roots and contemporary delivery of an acoustic set. The second set, this time electric, began with Scarlet Begonias, Joe Russo in on drums, Jackie Greene singing the Jam, John Kadlecik able to truly search for and exhibit his own voice on lead guitar with this Furthur tour for the first time in his career as a musician with the band. Worth noting were the microtonal bends reminiscent of India's classical music and his style refreshingly different from Jerry's psychedelic rock.

Bob Weir extracted the blues turnaround, with The New Minglewood Blues, Viola Lee Blues, a Furthur jam signaturing the tour so far, in three pieces, with Chris Robinson from The Black Crowes bringing Hard to Handle, Like a Rolling Stone, and Sugaree to an intimate San Francisco audience of devoted friends and family of the Grateful Dead. After Midnight, reassembling onstage, they played Not Fade Away, as three floats of a Mardi Gras parade cascaded through the crowd tossing wristbands to the audience and the crowd sang Happy Birthday.  Hundreds of Balloons dropped into the auditorium and the band resumed with a jam, but had to take a small break,

In the third set, demonstrating the love this band brings together onstage, Bob Weir, Jackie Greene and John Kadlecik brought their guitars together in Playing in the Band, St. Stephen, Comes a Time (sung by Chris Robinson) and Kadlecik had everyone crying with a passionate solo. They rumbled forward through Cream Puff War into Franklin's Tower. Not to disappoint us, they returned to play an encore, Chuck Berry's Johnny B Goode, ending the night with inspired closure of a cross country tour, playing the anthems that bring about cultural consciousness, to a country that's been through eight years of struggle, fifteen years of grieving, forty years of gathering together, and two hundred fifty years unifying in the plight of Liberty and sovereignty across the land.

They will be touring this summer, as well, kicking off from the Furthur Festival in Angel's Camp, California, with Galactic, and then a northeast tour that begins June 25 in Rochester, NY. Check out Furthur.net for more info.