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  • 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.


    Midnight, Saturday night, the show begins, according to the clock on stage. Our ticket says 9 o’clock. The paper said 8:30 and we arrive at 8 o’clock as the doors open. We just come from dinner and on the way watch barefoot dancers, moving their hands in the air as they dip and rise to the West African hand beat of djembe drums. It’s a fascinating dance, and watching their rhythms in motion makes you want to emulate what they’re doing, and they’re dripping in sweat. We’re in Arcata, California for a show with the Mickey Hart Band at the renovated Arcata Theatre. This former movie theatre has been transformed into an ideal space for dancing and sound, with high ceilings, places to mingle and socialize, and room to dance in this well designed venue.
    Alex shares that he’s seen Mickey Hart at the Giants game in August and he relates a story of a softball game between the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane at a park in Fairfax in the sixties. I ask him if he saw Kelly Slater surf in San Francisco last month and he answers no, just the waves. He was out riding the surf. “November 6th, April 12th, that was the last time I seen waves like this”, Alex says. Certain events, like a concert, or a maverick wave, help us to remember a specific time.  
    The only clock, Mickey is following, is on stage and it is set slightly in the future. The music begins with light and stars and when “Scarlet Begonias” is ignited it gets everyone into their dancing shoes.
    Seasons transpose time, and winter begins early as the tour starts after Thanksgiving, but the increasing erratic weather patterns suggest that winter will be late this year. Winter in the northern hemisphere is summer in the south. The hours and temperatures are different all over the planet. Music has many elements and a simple twist of time is set in transcendental motion, much like the song they ended the first set with, “Time Never Ends”, much like love that’s real, does not fade away.
    “Brokedown Palace” is different from any version I’ve heard, real folksy. Mickey has an incredible band backing him, soulful, intuitive, inspirational, with Crystal Monee Hall on vocals, and acoustic guitar on this song, Tim Hockenberry on a variety of backing instruments and vocals, guitarist, bass, keyboard and two percussionists add to the circular sound. Mickey pounding the tablets, and playing the i-beam, a long piece of aluminum with a dozen piano strings, reaches for a different resonance, and uses the computer to transpose sound, transform minds, and look further into space via sound, and immortality in the music. As the siren of Venus dances nearby, Mickey rises and closes with “Fire On The Mountain”, in the spirit of Jerry Garcia it’s like a little back kick, set to music, with an extra heart beat. In motion, there is unity and harmony, much like the circle of people that formed after the show. Regardless of the day’s events, or one’s mood, there is only a positive vibration here.