sThis is the third of four postings in a brief series looking back at 2015. I love live music and have always admired how 4 people in any given bar on a Saturday night can hold 200 patrons in the palm of their hand. The DC area has a very strong music scene and lots of small venues that attract excellent talent.
My musical tastes begin with the Grateful Dead and jam bands in general and this was a great year to be a fan of that music. The Dead performed a sensational 3-day stand at Soldier Field in Chicago over the 4th of July. Dubbed “Fare Thee Well” after a song lyric, it was loaded with symbolism and meaning. Soldier Field was the last venue Jerry Garcia played before he died in 1995. They opened with “Box of Rain”, the last song they played there, and this year was the 50th anniversary of the band. I was not able to get to Chicago but did enjoy the simulcast with some friends for a couple of the shows at a favorite local venue.
The Grateful Dead played to 200,000 people over a 3-day stand at Soldier Field in Chicago. I would end up watching it in a local bar via simulcast.
The one benefit to watching a live event on TV is that you get great “seats” and in the case of Gypsy Sally’s where we saw the shows, great sound too! For whatever reason, the Dead’s music has always worked for me, and 50 years later I have yet to get sick of it.
The one benefit to having to watch a simulcast instead of being there was great “seats”
I am also a Phish fan, and was very pleased to see Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio in the role of Jerry. I thought he did a respectable–and respectful–job and later in the year would see him in Maryland with his own band, Phish.
I freely admit that Phish is an acquired taste, but I love them. Unlike the Dead’s 50 years, Phish has only been around for 32 years! This year they played at Merriweather Post Pavilion in suburban Maryland and I went with my son.
There’s no question that the Phish crowd–like the Deadheads–can alienate a more conservative group. There is some wild behavior to say the least. Unfortunately, however, that often obscures how good the band and the music are.
People are so quick to assume a Phish concert is nothing but a bunch of wild young people smoking weed. As this photo plainly illustrates, I found no evidence of this whatsoever.
After the Soldier Field shows, the band–with the exception of Phil Lesh–set out for another tour, this time with John Mayer filling Jerry’s role. They call themselves Dead & Company and I saw them at DC’s Verizon Center in early November.
With no disrespect to Trey, I was blown away by John Mayer! He is a great guitarist and played with a LOT of heart; but he went so much further (or should I say, “furthur“) injecting emotion and interpretation that made him appear to be actually channeling Garcia from the great beyond. He brought a lot of younger fans which didn’t hurt either. These shows are beginning to be top-heavy with long gray male ponytails!
Washington, DC’s Verizon Center was packed to the gills and John Mayer brought in a lot of young people.
I had great seats, off to the side of the stage. The band had the sellout crowd in the palm of their hands and worked it into a lather for nearly three hours. I am constantly reminded that this music is not everyone’s cup of tea but for me it was the legend of improvised rock-music living on.
Dead & Company was John Mayer stepping into the role of the late Jerry Garcia with all of the surviving members of the Grateful Dead except bass player Phil Lesh. I think even the most jaded Jerry fan had to give Mayer props for his heart and emotion and impressive talent.
…and other music…
In September the Annual Lock’n Festival took place just outside Charlottesville, VA. This festival is a jam band paradise! In one day, from two stages with no break in the music we saw Hot Tuna, the Tedeschi Truck’s Band with guest Bob Weir, Widespread Panic with guest Jimmy Cliff, Phil Lesh and Friends with guests Carlos Santana and Warren Haynes. It was beautiful weather on a large farm and pretty much the perfect show!
Susan Tedeschi of Tedeschi Trucks Band was joined by Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir at Lock’n
To see the former Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plant was great, but to hear him drive one song into the next with updated versions of the old songs was unbelievable! To see Carlos Santana playing his heart out on all these old Grateful Dead songs was practically an out-of-body experience!
Former Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plant rocked the farm at Lock’n
It was a diverse year musically, however, and not all Grateful Dead. One very exciting example of that was when my own company hired the Kevin Eubanks band (formerly of Jay Leno’s Tonight Show) to play our annual Partner Summit. They would play during breaks between sessions and when speakers would come out on stage Kevin would banter with the speaker for a minute or so before they launched into their presentation.
The Avnet Partner Summit in Chandler, AZ featured Kevin Eubanks and his band playing between sessions and bantering with speakers as they walked onto the stage!
Gypsy Sally’s is a small music venue in Georgetown, a section of Washington, DC and they feature a lot of great live music. Recently I saw Amy Helm, daughter of The Band’s Levon Helm.
Levon Helm’s daughter Amy put on a great show at a local venue, Gypsy Sally’s. Her music was original and her band was great.
In October I attended the Oracle OpenWorld Conference in San Francisco and was treated to an amazing concert! It is always outdoors on Treasure Island, under the Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland.
Each year Oracle puts on an amazing concert for attendees of their Oracle OpenWorld conference. Always great weather, always outdoors, the show is held on Treasure Island in the shadow of the Bay Bridge.
This year the acts included Beck with their Grammy-winning unique sound. That was a great show, but not really the headliner for old guys like myself.
Beck was an amazing show but for a guy my age, was not the headliner…
No, that was Elton John! I started toward the front of the crowd and watched Elton perform his legendary Benny and the Jets from about 40 feet away. The crowd got pretty claustrophobic however and I moved back to my company’s reserved seats.
Sir Elton John
He did every song I could think of. He played for a solid two hours and left almost nothing unplayed (except the Disney stuff…thankfully). To see a hero of my youth perform Rocket Man, Benny, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting, Daniel, Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word, Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me, Crocodile Rock, Harmony, Your Song, Philadelphia Freedom, it just went on and on!!!!
At 68 years old, Elton John’s piano playing is stronger than ever, and he puts on a hell of a show!
There were many other small local bands I was fortunate enough to see. I am always impressed at how any bar in any town can feature really talented musicians. I myself have been trying to learn guitar for years and can’t even get my left hand to cooperate with my right!
2015 was an extraordinary year musically and I am looking forward to more next year.
I wish you all Happy New Year, and will post once more tomorrow to close out this series with a sneak peek at what’s in store for 2016!