The inaugural Days Between Festival, celebrating the legacy of late-Grateful Dead patriarch Jerry Garcia and the musical score he left embedded in our soul, was upbeat and a resounding success in northern Mendocino County, California on August 6 and 7, even amidst the rage of north-state wildfires and Covid-19 pandemic 2.0. Proof of vaccination or a negative, very-recent Covid test were required for entry. Dark Star Orchestra, David Nelson Band, Full Moonalice, Stu Allen & Friends, and others put their stamps on the proceedings with superb renditions of Grateful Dead/Jerry Garcia material, as well as other selections from their own portfolios.
The Days Between moniker, which comes from the title of one of the last Garcia-Robert Hunter songwriting collaborations, has become synonymous with the eight-day span between the date of Garcia’s birth, August 1, and the date of his passing 26 years ago, August 9.
Each of the free-jamming bohemian bands came to bear with deep, talented live-music pedigrees, a ton of tie-dyed musical wisdom, and street cred. The common ground here was a deep respect for, and appreciation of, Garcia’s heritage. Each musical group over the weekend, all of which had Garcia and his music seep into the fabric of their lives, carved out their own unique stamp of Garcia reminiscences.
The site, Black Oak Ranch, was a festival star unto itself. Indeed the festival staff did a great job, but the site itself, which has hosted many festivals over the years, has long been synonymous with the Hog Farm, founded by Wavy Gravy and Jahanara Romney, who still oversee Camp Winnarainbow children’s performing arts camp just up the road. Following Full Moonalice’s set, front man Roger McNamee fittingly proclaimed the following: “There are days. There are days between. And this is one of them. Here we are assembled once again at Black Oak Ranch, in the hood of the legendary Hog Farm, sharing the beautiful vibe of this hallowed ground. Let us celebrate Jerry, The Dead, Wavy and Jah, the Dead Heads, the Rex Foundation, Seva, and the future that we will make together after Covid.”
The fest drew about 2,000 people to the Black Oak Ranch, said Festival Producer Tamara Klamner of Shooting Star Events. Klamner also said Wavy Gravy, a staple at such colorful affairs in the Laytonville area, wanted to attend but in consideration of Covid-19 played it safe due to his age and compromised health.
Early Friday afternoon, a brief gong and didgeridoo Sound Immersion performance, followed immediately by a Round Valley Indian Tribe ceremonial song showcase, added healthy healing and respect-to-Earth to the colorful and flavor of the fest. The Round Valley tribe is a local coalition of the Yuki, Wailacki, Concow, Little Lake Pomo, Nomlacki, and Pit River tribes.
Rootsy, folksy trio Tumbleweed Soul took over from there with soothing sounds emanating from the smaller stage at the back end of the main-stage bowl. Their first offering, a bluegrassy version of “Stealin’,” was a fitting start, as the hundred-year-old jug band ditty was one of the first songs covered by the Grateful Dead, and which Garcia later recorded with duo-mate David Grisman. Tumbleweed Soul featured front-and-center on ukulele and vocals Stephanie Salva, who has performed with many Bay Area groups in the past several years, including the Rock Collection (with Melvin Seals, Stu Allen, Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz, and John-Paul McLean). Adam Walsh (guitar/vocals), and Michael Leal Price (upright bass) rounded out the trio. As just-arriving travelers were strolling onto the grounds, the Tumbleweed Soulsters carried on with original tunes including “Trouble Me,” “Freedom Talk,” and “Taking Back.” They returned to the stage several hours later with a tribute set of 10 songs written and/or performed by Garcia, including “Friend of the Devil,” “Mississippi Moon,” “Catfish John,” and “New Speedway Boogie.”
Focus then turned back to the main stage, where The Grateful Bluegrass Boys delivered their jammy bluegrass arrangements of Grateful Dead-esque material as attendees began to get comfortable, dance, and shake their bones. The band’s current lineup included Aaron Redner (mandolin, fiddle, vocals), Sean Lehe (guitar), Scotty Brown (upright bass), and Isaac Cantor (banjo). The well-schooled string band performed such Grateful Dead classics as “Big River” (the opening sequence was actually Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman” into the Johnny Cash-penned “Big River”), “Deal,” “Touch of Grey,” a delightful “Russian Lullaby,” and dynamic “Scarlet Begonias” into “Eyes of the World.” The band also dished out splendid versions of Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs’ “Blue Ridge Cabin Home,” Hank Penny & Herb Remington’s “Remington Ride,” Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” and closed with The Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride.”
Next, Full Moonalice, 10 members strong, gathered onstage for an impressive, captivating set, consisting mostly of material from the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. Since expanding in 2020 – thus the “Full” added to the band name – Moonalice co-founder Roger McNamee has assumed the role of ensemble coordinator in addition to his duties as guitarist/vocalist/songwriter. The group’s core remains McNamee, Pete Sears (bass), Barry Sless (guitar, pedal steel guitar), and John Molo (drum kit), with Jason Crosby or in this case, Mookie Siegel on keyboards. The ensemble, also includes 81-year-old Lester Chambers (vocals, harmonica) and son Dylan Chambers (vocals, tambourine, cowbell), as well as the T Sisters (Erika, Chloe, & Rachel) on soaring vocals. Lester Chambers called the T Sisters, “the angels of the stage.”
The result, especially with Sears and Sless fueling a commanding instrumental nucleus for each piece of music, created a powerful multifaceted palette from which to paint song textures and layers. There were the Grateful Dead tunes, including an epic “Uncle John’s Band,” as well as three others on which the T Sisters delivered impressive harmonies, “Bird Song,” “Attics of My Life,” and “Brokedown Palace.” The band also performed a rocking version of Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle,” which the Grateful Dead played fairly often in their early days. Dark Star Orchestra keyboardist Rob Barraco substituted for Siegel during “Hard to Handle” and “Brokedown Palace.”
Full Moonalice also performed Sless’s catchy instrumental, “Coconut Wireless” and the T Sisters’ “Woo,” as well as a couple of selections from classic-rock radio: Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” and Brewer & Shipley’s topical “One Toke Over the Line.”
But the set’s biggest moments came when Lester and Dylan fronted Chambers Brothers songs, including opening number “Love, Peace & Happiness,” which was a 16-minute track on the Chambers Brothers 1969 debut LP, “Funky,” and Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” which also appeared on the first Chambers Brothers record. A rollicking version of “Time Has Come Today,” a 1967 single that was the bands’ highest charting hit, brought the house down.
Tumbleweed Soul returned to the smaller stage after Full Moonalice, and this time delivered a rootsy tribute set of Garcia solo material (“They Love Each Other,” “Valerie,” Peter Rowan’s “Mississippi Moon,” “Love in the Afternoon,” Bob McDill and Allen Reynolds’ “Catfish John,” and “Russian Lullaby”) as well as plenty of Grateful Dead material (“Friend of the Devil,” “Candyman,” “Ramble on Rose,” and “New Speedway Boogie.”)
After the festival, Tumbleweed Soul’s Salva wrote on social media: “I’m so grateful to The Days Between festival for inviting Tumbleweed Soul to play at Jerry’s celebration last weekend, and getting to belt out some of my favorite Jerry songs that have been forever ingrained into my heart and soul. And extra thanks to Stu Allen for inviting me up for some tunes! Looking out at the crowd I realized just how many friends I’ve made through the years from our amazing community, my very large extended family! It was a beautiful celebration full of wonderful music and lots of dancing with everyone again! My heart overfloweth!”
Then came the headliner, Dark Star Orchestra, which graced the stage with two-set performances on both evenings to “celebrate the Grateful Dead experience.” Famous for recreating powerful performances of specific Grateful Dead concerts, in order, the band on Friday instead mixed it up with a showcase of songs of their choice. Led by lead guitarist and vocalist Jeff Mattson, who refashions Garcia’s persona while rhythm guitarist and vocalist Rob Eaton personifies Bob Weir, DSO presented some impressive performances, including Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue,” which was a Garcia Band staple, an opening sequence of “Cassidy,” into “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad,” back into “Cassidy,” and a first-set closer of “Uncle John’s Band,” into “Black Throated Wind,” into “I Know You Rider.” The second set included an epic version of Traffic’s “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” and a heavenly “Dark Star.”
In addition to Eaton and Mattson, the rest of the band was on-point and in sync: Skip Vangelas (bass), Barraco (keyboards), the double-drum attack of Rob Koritz and Dino English, and Lisa Mackey on vocals. Interestingly, the answer to a trivia question of who in the present incarnation of the band has been there longest, is Mackey, the last original member from when the band formed in 1997.
For those who still had the energy and the gumption around midnight, the Whiskey Family Band, featuring members of renowned Poor Man’s Whiskey who announced a touring hiatus in late 2019, raged on the small stage till 1 a.m. with material that included their latest single, “Emerald Triangle Blues.” And they’d be back on Saturday.
And then there was Day Two. Over in the Maple Grove, before the first guitar riff was cast and away from the concert bowl, about 150 people reclined on blankets, mats, and pads to experience an aurally soothing Sound Immersion Experience, featuring more than one dozen gongs, singing bowls, and humming wind instruments. Healing musicians provided the soothing sounds from outside the area and also lightly stepped through the attendees, with chimes and other hand instruments, further laying down healing vibrations to tune the soul. “The physiological impact of sound on the body, emotions, and cognition is apparent,” Danny Goldberg, who offers the Sound Immersion Experience at Stanford University as well as many northern California yoga, wellness, and spiritual unique centers, explains on his website. “Through the vibrations of these instruments we experience an inner calm and deep relaxation that enables us to journey within and center.”
Saturday’s music-stage proceedings began on the small stage with David Gans, Grateful Dead journalist, author and scholar, darned good songwriter and minstrel of song. The result was a just-right-for-the-moment Garcia-flavored forerunning set to the rest of the day and night’s proceedings. For the latter half of his set, Gans was accompanied by Fragile Thunder bandmate Anela Lauren on a five-foot-tall Celtic harp she calls Guinevere. Strummy acoustic song selections included Gans’ own “Blue Roses” and Gans/Scott Guberman’s “The Town That Still Believes in Magic,” along with the Grateful Dead’s “Box of Rain,” “Looks Like Rain,” “It Must’ve Been the Roses” (incredibly poignant as presented in guitar and harp fashion), “St. Stephen,” “Days Between,” and “Ripple.”
The aforementioned Whiskey Family Band then kicked off the main stage itinerary, which comprised an all-killer, no-filler sequence of songs. As stated online by the band, “This last year, with our new project The Whiskey Family Band we have been experimenting with taking our original folk/bluegrass songs and turning them into more upbeat rock songs, adding a backbeat with some electric guitar and keys.” In addition to Poor Man’s Whiskey mainstays John Brough (on keyboards), Jason Beard (electric guitar), and George Smeltz (drums), the band featured Alison Harris on acoustic guitar and vocals, Skyler Stover on bass, and Nigel Wolovick on saxophone. Together, with a full-band sound in a style evocative of say, The Mother Hips and The Band, they delivered a set of original material, some of which were newly arranged Poor Man’s Whiskey selections, and all completely unique from Friday’s late-night set. New Whiskey Family Band tunes included “Like A River,” “Days of Old,” “Hot Buttered Popcorn,” as well as “And Watch The Sun Go Down.” Over Brough’s left shoulder, Grateful Bluegrass Boys’ Sean Lehe joined the band for a song.
Following a short Round Valley Indian Tribe dance ceremony on front of the main stage, Stu Allen, renowned purveyor of the highest quality of Grateful Dead material, led a foursome a friends (Jordan Feinstein, Ezra Lipp, and Murph Murphy) at the main stage. The band concentrated on Jerry Garcia Band material and for anywhere within a quarter-mile of the main stage, Allen’s Garcia-evocative jamming and passionate vocals floated through the trees like so many Garcia riffs that are forever etched in fans’ minds and psyches.
In addition to reviving covers that Garcia Band covered themselves, including opener “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” “Goodnight Irene,” “The Thrill is Gone,” and “Mystery Train,” Allen and friends carried on with a fine varietal of some other classics, including “50 Ways to Leave your Lover” (Paul Simon) that featured a torrid embedded version of the Garcia-Merl Saunders-era instrumental “Finders Keepers,” “One More Cup of Coffee” (Bob Dylan), as well as a closing sequence of “Dreams” (Allman Brothers Band), into “Kashmir” (Led Zeppelin) that clocked in at more than 20 minutes and featured two drummers with DSO’s English joining Lipp on drums. In addition, with Tumbleweed Soul’s Salva and DSO’s Barraco sitting in, Allen and friends also performed Clifton Chenier’s “I’m A Hog For You Baby,” a tune that the Grateful Dead performed only a handful of times. Band sound engineer and harmonica player Bo Putnam also guested briefly.
Back over on the small stage, Los Angeles-based Jerry Garcia Band tribute band Jerry’s Middle Finger, whose popularity has swelled in the past few years, kept the Garcia-celebration flowing. Led by guitarist/vocalist Garrett Deloian, others making the magic happen included Jon Gold (keyboards), Halina Janisz (vocals), Lisa Malsberger (vocals), Burt Lewis (bass), and Rodney Newman (drum kit). Their short set blazed with Garcia Band revivals of “How Sweet It Is,” Chuck Berry’s (and New Riders of the Purple Sage mainstay) “You Never Can Tell,” Jesse Winchester’s “That’s A Touch I Like,” Lennon and McCartney’s “Dear Prudence,” “I’ll Take a Melody,” and “Deal.”
The David Nelson Band took over the main stage next, bringing rolling, crescendoing jams of raging, stretched out, roadhouse rock supplemented by passages of psychedelia. Of all the weekend’s performers, Nelson certainly has the greatest tenure as Garcia’s contemporary, working and traveling in Garcia’s coterie since the early 1960s. The famed New Riders of the Purple Sage co-founder was in fine form, chatting with and thanking the audience, singing and playing his twangy cowboy-rock style of guitar. And as this band’s rabid fans will attest, Sears, Sless, Siegel, and Molo bring the intensity, and the quality, every night.
This band in particular did not need to adjust their playlist to an all-Garcia format, as Nelson’s presence was tribute enough to his long-time comrade. They did however carry out a couple of Grateful Dead songs, “Friend of the Devil,” which carried into “Peggy O” (a traditional song adapted by The Dead). Scattered throughout were a couple of NRPS covers – “Down the Middle” and “Suite at the Mission,” as well as Bill Monroe’s “Rocky Road Blues” opener, Dylan’s “The Wicked Messenger,” and Traffic’s “Rainmaker,” which was nestled into “Fable of a Chosen One” to end the set.
Nelson regaled the audience with a story about the creation of “Friend of the Devil,” which is credited to Robert Hunter (lyrics) and Garcia and New Riders’ John Dawson (music). Nelson let this audience know that the opening riff for the song was forever etched, during a casual visit that Hunter paid to the house where the New Riders hung out. When Nelson was setting up a reel-to-reel recorder and happened to play a scale-riff in the key of G to which everyone else was tuned, which Hunter said, “Yeh, leave that in there.” Nelson added with a smile as he played that riff to start “Friend of the Devil,” “And that became the intro to the fucking song.”
Except for Nelson, the band (Sears, Sless, Molo, and Siegel) also performs with Moonalice, and they pulled off a logistical challenge as Full Moonalice played Friday night here, then rolled down Hwy 101 to Petaluma for a Saturday afternoon set before getting back on the road to return to Black Oak Ranch for the Nelson Band’s 7 p.m. set.
Dark Star Orchestra appeared again to bring the fest home with a re-creation of a Grateful Dead concert from November 20, 1978 at the tiny Cleveland Music Hall. That gave the band license to yield furious versions of such throwbacks as “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” into “Franklin's Tower,” “Lazy Lightning,” “Playin’ in the Band” into “Shakedown Street” and the rare Garcia ballad, “If I Had the World to Give.” The original show ended with “Around and Around” (no encore), but here at the fest, DSO tagged on encores of “Box of Rain” and the 1978-esque Dead cover of Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London.”
I wrote this in August 1995, shortly after Garcia’s passing. for a special “Garcia Reflections” publication and I second that emotion after attending the Days Between Fest in summer 2021: “From the president of the United States to impromptu vigils that sprang up virtually everywhere, it was obvious even to those who never would ‘get it’ that the teddy-bearish, gray-haired singer/songwriter and lead guitarist for the most celebrated long-lived, enigmatic rock ‘n’ roll entity known as the Grateful Dead meant as much to millions as any human could.” … Everyone, from the tripped-out hippie, to the BMW-driving preppie, to the kid with his baseball cap on backwards scouring the parking lot for a beer and a nitrous balloon, had something in common. Everyone was accepted, and everyone was given the latitude to find their own boundaries, explore their inner self and, well, listen to the music.”
Often, as Garcia wrote and Jerry’s Middle Finger sang at the Day Between Festival, it’s as simple as, “I’ll take a melody and see what I can do about it. I’ll take a simple C and G and feel brand new about it.”
Grateful Bluegrass Boys: I Got a Woman -> Big River, Deal, Blue Ridge Cabin Home, Remmington Ride, Russian Lullaby, American Girl, Touch of Grey, Scarlet Begonias -> Eyes of the World, Ticket to Ride.
Full Moonalice: Love Peace & Happiness, People Get Ready, Woo Woo, Bird Song, Fortunate Son, One Toke Over the line, Attics of My Life, Coconut Wireless -> Drums, Sisters and Brothers, Uncle John’s Band, Funky, Hard to Handle, Brokedown Palace, Time Has Come Today.
Dark Star Orchestra: Set 1 - Cassidy -> Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad -> Cassidy, Unbroken Chain -> Jack Straw -> Tangled Up in Blue, We Can Run, It’s All Over Now, Loose Lucy (fast version), Uncle John’s Band -> Black Throated Wind -> I Know You Rider. Set 2 – Eyes of the World -> Greatest Story Ever Told, Gimme Some Lovin’, Dark Star -> Drums -> Space -> Uncle John’s Band -> Low Spark of High Heeled Boys -> The Other One -> Stella Blue -> Sugar Magnolia. Encore – Black Muddy River.
David Gans (w/Anela Lauren, final four songs): Blue Roses -> Box of Rain, The Town That Still Believes in Magic, Looks Like Rain, It Must Have Been the Roses, St Stephen-> Days Between, Ripple.
Whiskey Family Band: Storm’s Coming In, Snow In Tahoe, Santa Cruz, Dogs, Hot Buttered Popcorn, And Watch The Sun Go Down, Like A River, Hard Times, Days Of Old, Little Whiskey, One More Song For The Road, One Of These Days.
Jerry’s Middle Finger (6 p.m. set): How Sweet It Is, You Never Can Tell, That’s A Touch I Like, Dear Prudence, I’ll Take a Melody, Deal.
Stu Allen & Friends: Let’s Spend the Night Together, Goodnight Irene, The Thrill is Gone, Mystery Train, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover -> Finders Keepers > 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, I’m a Hog For You Baby, One More Cup of Coffee, Dreams -> Kashmir.
David Nelson Band: Rocky Road Blues, Down the Middle, Friend of the Devil -> Peggy O, Long Gone Sam -> Movin’ Right Along, The Wicked Messenger, Suite at the Mission, Fable of a Chosen One -> Rainmaker -> Fable of a Chosen One.
Dark Star Orchestra: Set 1 - Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo -> Franklin’s Tower, Mama Tried -> Mexicali Blues, It Must Have Been the Roses, Looks Like Rain, Stagger Lee, Passenger, Peggy-O, Lazy Lightnin’ -> Supplication. Set 2 – Jam -> Drums -> Jam -> Jack-a-Roe, Playin’ in the Band -> Shakedown Street -> If I had the World to Give -> Playin’ in the Band -> Around and Around. Encores: Box of Rain, Werewolves of London.
Jerry’s Middle Finger (late-night set): Tangled Up In Blue, Cats Under the Stars, Tore Up Over You, After Midnight, Gomorrah, Lonesome And Long Way to Go. Encore: Midnight Moonlight.