“Love Will See You Through: Terrapin Nation for Butte County – A Musical Benefit for Victims of the Camp Fire” brought together Phil Lesh and a whole lot of friends for a stunning performance at a very sold-out Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael, Calif., on December 19. The catastrophic Camp Fire in November tore through Butte County in northern California, particularly the town of Paradise, burning to the ground thousands of homes and businesses and killing 85 residents, prompting many to call it the most destructive fire in California history.
In addition to the bass-playing presence of the venue’s proprietor, Lesh, the musical gathering included the evening’s music director, Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz (acoustic guitar, vocals - ALO, The Rock Collection, more); Melvin Seals (organ, vocals - JGB, The Rock Collection, more); Greg Loiacono (guitar, vocals – Mother Hips, Green Leaf Rustlers, more); Barry Sless (pedal steel – Moonalice, David Nelson Band, Green Leaf Rustlers, more); Grahame Lesh (guitar, vocals – Midnight North, Terrapin Family Band, more); Elliott Peck (vocals, tambourine – Midnight North, Terrapin Family Band, more); Ross James (guitar – Terrapin Family Band, Cosmic Twang, more); Stu Allen (guitar, vocals – Mars Hotel, The Rock Collection, more), Alex Koford (Terrapin Family Band, Colonel & the Mermaids, more); and John Molo (drums, Moonalice, David Nelson Band, Green Leaf Rustlers, more).
The show was streamed live on the internet free of charge, thanks to nugs.tv, which throughout the event put up a message, “Please consider donating United Way of Northern California, North Valley Animal Disaster Group. (Both organizations are still accepting donations via www.norcalunitedway.org and www.nvadg.org.) The love-and-support-themed message was a common thread throughout the show, after which Lebo, who has been called upon several times to orchestrate content for big, special occasion concerts, talked about his motivation.
“Terrapin Crossroads wanted to help raise money for the fire victims, and what better way than through a show,” Lebo said. “They asked if I'd like to be in the band for that night, and built out the lineup. Then they reached out to see if I would be interested in being the musical director. Besides the fact that I wanted to help the cause, I always enjoy the musical director role when there are great musicians present, so of course I said yes!” He added, "Since it was a Phil-based show, I thought it would be best to let the music speak, as all of the songs were about love and resilience.”
The evening’s song selections included many songs performed by The Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia Band over the years, as well as classic covers by several blues and rock luminaries. Those playing in the band, many of whom do not often appear together on the same stage, were all musically related to some degree, and their familiarity with each other and the material created a loose, friendly stage atmosphere and a band greater than the sum of its parts. Molo was as steady and reliable as it comes on drums, Sless’s mastery of the pedal steel, Grahame Lesh’s, Peck’s, and Koford’s past work together for Midnight North and Terrapin Family Band, and the amazing guitar skills of Lebo, Loiacono, Allen, and James, with Seals unique organ work, made for a heck of an all-star band. And Phil Lesh was visibly pleased and in his comfort zone, delivering stalwart bass work throughout.
“They Love Each Other” opened the proceedings. With lead vocals from Grahame Lesh, the Jerry Garcia Band/Grateful Dead staple began at an easygoing, comfortable pace, before several grand jams came from Sless, Seals, and Lebo, turning the tune into a richly composed 13-minute epic. They followed up with “If I Needed You,” a sweet Townes Van Zandt ballad with which Emmylou Harris & Don Williams had a country hit. The number was led here with Loiacono on lead vocals, backed by Peck and Grahame Lesh, with heavy helpings of pedal steel.
“Come Together” was a crowd pleaser with Koford on lead vocals, a big bass line from Phil Lesh, with fine, fortified Beatles-esque jams by Loiacono and Lebo. Phil Lesh took the reins on another Jerry Garcia/Grateful Dead staple, “Bird Song,” its enchanting beauty washing over the crowd for 14 minutes.
Next was a dynamic version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Axis: Bold As Love,” with Lebo on vocals and shredding jams, and a fine Molo drum solo in the middle. Then, the band delivered a twangy, honkey-tonk version of The Everly Brothers’ “All We Really Want to Do,“ on which Loiacono, Peck, and Grahame Lesh shared vocals while jamming rocked out in several directions.
James the appeared and took the helm on vocals, joining the band for the scorching first set finale, “Turn on Your Love Light,” the Bobby “Blue” Bland power rock ‘n’ blues number that was first adopted by The Grateful Dead in the late 1960s. The powerful version included robust James and Loiacono twin-lead passages, which led to an activation of call-and-response jamming with Seals.
Stu Allen finally appeared, for the start of the second set, which began with a superb version of Little Milton’s “That’s What Love Will Make You Do,” which was a Jerry Garcia Band fan favorite throughout that band’s tenure and which carries on with Seals’ JGB. Seals delivered lead vocals on the rocking blues number, which included a couple of three-way guitar jams served up by Allen, Lebo, and James. Phil Lesh then bestowed on the audience his trademark Grateful Dead classic, “Box of Rain,” again with three guitarists, which somehow segued into Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” which eventually led back into the final verses of “Box of Rain.”
The lead mic then went to Allen for “Everybody Needs Somebody,” a Solomon Burke pop song made famous by Wilson Pickett, which worked its way into “Good Lovin’,” with Peck taking lead vocals on The Young Rascals hit, also adopted by The Grateful Dead. Lebo then led a sweet rendering of the tender ALO song, “I Wanna to Feel It,” followed by a set-closing “Not Fade Away” with six vocalists, plenty of vigorous jamming, and in the end, Phil Lesh coming to the mic to softly sing “Love is Real, Not Fade Away,” several times before fading out the song.
A sublime double encore of The Dead’s delicate “Attics of My Life,” performed by a trio of Grahame Lesh on guitar and vocals, along with Phil Lesh and Koford on vocals, followed by a commanding performance of the Beatles timeless, Allen-voiced “With a Little Help From My Friends,” done Joe Cocker style, expressed a fine closing message for fire victims and their families/friends.
Love Will See You Through
Set 1: They Love Each Other, If I Needed You, Come Together, Bird Song, Axis: Bold As Love, All We Really Want to DO, Turn on Your Love Light
Set 2: That’s What Love Will Make You Do, Box of Rain > Won’t Back Down > Box of Rain, Everybody Needs Somebody. Good Lovin’, I Wanna Feel It,” Not Fade Away. E: Attics of My Life, With a Little Help From My Friends.