RSS icon Bullet (black)
  • Counting Stars By Candlelight

    The darkness of the hour brings us to the moment of the dawn of Terrapin. On Sunday there is a “ring of fire”, a solar eclipse of a new moon blocking the sun. Phil Lesh & friends gather together at Terrapin Crossroads for a night of free music. On Tuesday, there is a rare blackout in northern San Rafael, that is a Godsend to me and others to attend this night of free music. Patrons listen, artists draw, and workers are in sync, while the musicians, Phil Lesh, John Kadlecik and Jon Graboff are lifting the spirit of everyone in this great atmosphere. The night begins with a wine tasting. Around 9pm Phil & Company are playing in the bar and singing together on tunes we all find familiar. How sweet it is!
    They decide to play another night for free. I am driving through San Rafael listening to “Dark Star” and as soon as I reach the parking lot all the lights go out. It is an area-wide power blackout. I go inside as more candles are being lit. People wait patiently, and the crowd, as usual, is talkative. Someone mentions the crescent moon and bright star and I head out back to see. It’s a brilliant sky and there is a crescent moon in the northwest and a bright planet surrounded by the dim stars of dusk. To my left are glass windows looking into the Terrapin Crossroads dining room where there is a grand assortment of candlelit lights and to my right is the canal below the Yacht Club where the water is rippling. There is the din of the crowd inside but Terrapin Station the song comes to mind and I sing here quietly,
    “Inspiration move me brightly
    Light the song with sense and color
    Hold away despair
    More than this I will not ask
    Faced with mysteries dark and vast
    Statements just seem vain at last
    Some rise some fall some climb to get to Terrapin
    Counting stars by candlelight
    All are dim but one is bright
    The spiral light of Venus
    Rising first and shining best
    From the northwest corner
    Of a brand new crescent moon
    Crickets and cicadas sing
    A rare and differ’nt tune
    Terrapin Station
    In the shadow of the moon
    Terrapin station
    And I know we’ll be there soon
    Terrapin – I can’t figure out
    Terrapin – if it’s an end or the beginning
    Terrapin – but the train’s got its brakes on
    and the whistle is screaming – Terrapin”
    Standing in the reflection of the candlelight’s glow, Jill Lesh passes by me outdoors while I’m still eyeing the moon and listening to the ripple in the water. What a place this is!
    The power outage continues and the electric instruments and microphones are replaced with stools and acoustic guitars and a whole lot of big candles. As Venus sets in the sky the musicians take the stage. They are facing the unique challenge of singing in a garrulous crowd with the hope to be heard. People respond from their hearts and someone exclaims “Just when we thought it couldn’t get better, we get a candlelit acoustic performance.” How blessed we are. As Phil tunes up, the crowd quiets down and he encourages them to keep up their banter. “I haven’t started yet” he shouts.  When they do begin there’s clarity in the darkness.
    Picking their acoustic guitars and using their voices as instruments they give us a very special night. It is a quiet audience loving every minute here, and often joining in the chorus sing-along. The culmination of this seventy minute set is an incredible acoustic version of Bob Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna” a song he wrote the night of the great Northeastern blackout in November of 1965, that I remember. Dylan, at the Chelsea Hotel with his pregnant wife, describes the events of that night he calls “the great freeze-out” in his gifted poetic way. Jill sits on the stairway listening to Phil play, Jon hum and John sing “Visions of Johanna” with conviction in the passion of what’s happening now.
    “Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re tryin’ to be so quiet?
    We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin’ our best to deny it……”
    The crowd reacts when he sings:
    “The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face
    Where these visions of Johanna have now taken my place.”
    John K. is like a genius who sparks, the way he plays his guitar mirroring the candlelight’s reflections, his angelic voice and sure-fire sound. JG plays great Johnny Cash and I love that we love the same songs. Phil is healthy, intuitive, full of the unexpected, without anticipation,  filling the void of spaces and empty nests with a timely prepared spontaneous tune lighting our hearts in the darkness with the sunshine of his love.




    When Mercury goes retrograde like it did the last week of December, I retreat into my shell for three weeks. Communication is futile. I withdraw into other unfinished projects. I did pop out for two nights when the band Furthur played the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. There’s something great about a concert in this place. It’s a comfortable setting, with great acoustics and speed bumps on the hallway floor. There is no running in these halls. Drinks are poured in cups. There is a spirit of cooperation and rhythm of movement. Someone interprets for the deaf who dance to the vibrations while the signing of the language is a dance in itself. The deaf and dead listen in. It’s New Year’s eve,  and I have been listening to some of the Dead’s early tapes recently,  and some of the songs tonight, like “Mama Tried” and “Candyman”,  sound just like those live recordings from early 70’s. Close our eyes and it sounds like we’re listening to  twenty year olds. The guy playing lead guitar, John Kadlecik, sounds just like Jerry, like his spirit is so present,  Bob Weir and Phil Lesh perfectly complement this orchestra  on this unusual night. It’s the very rare blue moon, the second full moon this month on the night of a lunar eclipse. During their second set, a girl walks up to me looks me in the eyes and says “Your eyes look from your mother’s face” and I see my mom in spirit and recall the many midnights I spent with her on the phone or at her home. We are edging to midnight tonight. There are bells, like ringing phones, rhythmic acoustics. They bring the unexpected with a cover of an old Pink Floyd song “Time”, segued into “Uncle John’s Band”, and closing with J.J. Cale’s “After Midnight“, a song Garcia loved, full of mystery and the unexpected. The band takes a break onstage.

    There is a long pause that  continues to the slow moving countdown toward midnight. It is like a genuine selah, a reflection of time, exploration of space, innovation of sound, for good of the human race and the spirit of the times. Conversation of anticipation is all around me and folks are asking what song are they going to open the new year with. I reply, “Well it’s about 45 years in a row of ‘Sugar Magnolia’”. “No, that’s not true” someone interjects. “The year I had money on ‘Sugar Magnolia’, they opened with Aiko Aiko. Anything is possible with this group.  Back when before the Grateful Dead is birthed, when it is just a dream or word in a book, it is the simple passionate spirit of the songs by the Beatles and the folk poetry of Bob Dylan emerging from a womb of rhyme that sparks a creative inspiration of energy that becomes what the Grateful Dead  create, a sound, and it’s that sound this band Furthur performs so perfect and well. Bands like Dark Star Orchestra and Zen Tricksters have replicated this sound. The voice of Jerry Garcia is a heavenly sound heard through this music. New Year’s eve has always been a very special occasion for these musicians. It is the anniversary of the day Jerry and Bob Weir cross paths for the first time. It is the night of “Auld Lang Syne” the song by Robert Burns, the poet and lyricist from the eighteenth century, Scotland’s favourite son, and author of “A Red, Red Rose”,who left us this legacy, “Auld Lang Syne”,  playing every hour in every time zone in the world ushering in a New Year!  Somewhere on the east coast, David Nelson, and the New Riders of the Purple Sage are humming and hard singing this olde tune to mark the new decade, and the descendant of this poet,  also born Robert Burns, later changing his name to Robert Hunter, sent some lyrics to this new band back then called The Grateful Dead and became Jerry Garcia’s lifelong lyricist. The musicians, Jerry , Bob, and Phil, Billy, and Ron “Pigpen” McKernan would gather to play cover songs they mutually loved and had fun doing, and got it together and wrote their first song “The Golden Road (to Unlimited Devotion)” for their first album, and lyrics from this song came pouring out right after countdown midnight. It is a strange new year and my oh my what a long strange trip it’s been! Prelude to the countdown: The hall is lit with anticipation and the magical chords resonating through the speakers to the sounds of “All You Need Is Love”. What a simple message to the heart.  It is the beginning of something new, something better, precious and true. Look up!

    The long night rolls to an end with the sounds of love that won’t fade away. Phil brings us a special message and everyone is standing in anticipation of an encore. Almost in unison around me people are chanting “Sugar Magnolia” and the band launches into this favorite song written by Bob Weir and Robert Hunter. The new year finally is here “Sunshine Daydream …”!


    May 2024
    M T W T F S S