Garcia's music celebrated at Berkeley benefit
BERKELEY -- Extended family, friends and musical comrades on Saturday paid an uplifting music tribute to Jerry Garcia, the patriarch and chief visionary of the Grateful Dead.
"Comes a Time -- A Celebration of the Music and Spirit of Jerry Garcia," took place at the sun-filled, then starlit Greek Theatre, the 8,500-capacity bowl-shaped venue on the UC Berkeley campus.
The event, a benefit for the Rex Foundation, a Bay Area-based philanthropic organization in which Garcia was a board member, marked 10 years since his passing.
The six-hour sold-out show highlighted Garcia's music from several different angles.
David Nelson, of New Riders of the Purple Sage fame, led a trio, who along with Garcia, made up the majority of a short-lived jug band, the Black Mountain Boys.
"In 1963 we did every one of these songs with Jerry," Nelson said during a set that included such numbers as "Oh Babe, It Ain't No Lie" and "Barefoot Nellie."
And thus the theme was set. Each act performed songs that Garcia had sung in his day.
Next up, The String Cheese Incident reeled off a half-hour set that included "Friend of the Devil," "Casey Jones" and "Ripple."
The mood at the Greek Theatre was completely upbeat; after all it had been 10 years since Garcia's passing.
What was referred to as "Jerry Garcia's Band" followed. Garcia often fronted and toured with the Jerry Garcia Band, which featured several different lineups over the years. And this particular melting-pot band performed some of those songs, including "Cats Under The Stars," "Lucky Old Sun" and "Deal."
Garcia Band's original keyboardist, Merl Saunders, despite his frail health, was led to the keyboards where he played -- to a thunderous ovation -- for what may have been the first time since suffering a stroke three years ago.
Ratdog, Grateful Dead's rhythm guitarist/co-lead vocalist Bob Weir's current band, played next. In their four-song set, they too, stuck with the theme, offering versions of Garcia-sung songs, including "Bird Song" and "Big Railroad Blues."
Next, Hamza El Din, part of the extended Dead family since 1978 when the band played in Egypt, led a short percussion and spiritual vocal piece with some 15 people all dressed in white robes lending a hand, including The Dead's percussionist Mickey Hart and longtime band friend and NBA analyst Bill Walton.
After a short break, Weir acted as conductor for what was a well planned out, well rehearsed set.
The final three hours featured The Jerry Garcia Tribute Band, kind of a Dead super-group. The large ensemble featured members of the Grateful Dead (Weir, drummers Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, vocalist Donna Godchaux-McKay) as well as several others, including Bruce Hornsby, Phish front man Trey Anastasio and Allman Brothers/Govt. Mule lead guitarist Warren Haynes. Members of Ratdog and String Cheese's Michael Kang also played in what was at some points a 13-person band.
Anastasio, Haynes, Hornsby, Weir and Hart all shared in lead vocal duties on Garcia/Dead classics such as "Dark Star," "Bertha," "Eyes of the World," "Uncle John's Band," "Scarlet Begonias," "He's Gone" and "Franklin's Tower."
The epic set's encore was the poignant "Brokedown Palace," followed by a final refrain of "Dark Star" and finally, "Touch of Grey," the band's biggest commercial hit, which includes the heartening lyrics, "We will get by; we will survive."
Buzz Editor Alan Sheckter can be reached at 896-7771 or firstname.lastname@example.org.