Phil Lesh’s Mountain Friends (2007)
I’ll tell you about one of the best shows i’ve ever seen, one of the best times of my life:
In my early 20’s life enabled me to pretty much do whatever i wanted to do. What I wanted to do was attend hippy camping festivals and see Phil Lesh and friends. If you aren’t familiar with Phil, he spent 30 years playing bass in The Grateful Dead. Now, I was 9 when Jerry Garcia died and it would be a decade before I became obsessed with the Dead, but in the early 2000s I was a full on long haired deadhead. today i am a full on deadhead, as much as ever, maybe more so.
Phil’s “friends” was a rotating cast of musicians from all kinds of bands and backgrounds. Some of the “friends” were: Warren Haynes, Steve Molitz, Jackie green, Ryan Adams etc…
There is one night with one rare friend that stands out as one part of one of my fondest memories: John Scofield. Scofield is a jazz guitarist that played with Miles Davis and Medeski Martin and Wood. I met him once when I was a shitfaced 17 year old at a show where he played with Medeski, Martin and Wood. I used to have a signed ticket stub. When I heard that Scofield would be joining Phil Lesh and Warren Haynes to close the Mountain Jam festival in june of 2007, I knew I had to be there.
The grateful dead style of music is rooted in part in improvisational jazz tradition. To see a bonafide jazz legend jam on my favorite songs was an amazing proposition. Sun Ra said that the hardest thing for a musician to do was to sound like themselves, John Scofield achieved that. It’s an unmistakable tone, and phrasing. You know its him in 3 notes.
3 of us went and got a sunday pass instead of camping all weekend. My then girlfriend, and one of my dearest friends hopped in the car and drove about 5 hours from Boston to upstate, NY. The festival was literally being held on a mountain at a ski resort. 3 of us went there, but there were so many festival friends I had at the time that had been camping for 3 nights. We met up with them and got nice and drunk on the mountain.
About an hour before Phil and friends took the stage, I was shit faced standing on the main strip of the campgrounds. We call it “shakedown street” after the late 70’s disco Dead song. I stood there screaming at the top of my lungs “I’m not tripping!!”.
A stranger came by and told me to hold out my hand. He squirted a very sizable puddle of LSD into my right palm from a visine bottle, and I slurped it up. It was time to go to the stage, and I was lucky to end up in the front row. Psychedelic music, psychedelic drugs man.
The band opened with a 13 minute take on “shakedown street”, everyone in the audience looked at each other, dumbfounded by how good everything sounded. That was the whole feeling : “holy shit this band fucking smokes”. There were all these Moog lines from Particle keyboardist Steve Molitz that fit perfectly in the disco Dead sound of “shakedown street”
The acid had kicked in by the 2nd song, and I remember moving and rearranging my reality like Lego blocks, right in front of the band as they landed down on an amazing take on “Althea” . Literally taking apart the blocks of my existence and building towers out of it, 10 feet away from the bassist of the Grateful fuckin Dead.
There are 2 sets to any jam show, everyone knows that. The first set is usually song oriented and not the improvisational jazz odyssey of what’s in the 2nd set. What blew away all the psychedelicly inclined people in the audience, is that the jams were coming right out of the gate, and that the first set clocked in at the length of any l”Lord of The Rings’ ‘movie, over 2 and a half hours. There was an 18 minute long psychedelic jazz excursion inside of Traffic’s “Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys”
There was a theme to the whole show: the mountain, at Mountain Jam. The sets were packed with songs that mention mountains: “fire on the mountain”, and “mountains of the moon”. “New speedway boogie” has the line “spent a little time on the mountain, spent a little time on the hill”.
The whole day there was a light sprinkle of rain, causing some mud around the campgrounds and by the stage. After the first set i had to back up and put the Lego bricks of my consciousness back together with the mud people.
I ended up living my long time Woodstock 94 mud dream and sliding down a mudslide on an air mattress while the band was fading from “Dark Star” into a cover of “Lucy in The Sky With Diamonds”. 21 years old, 3 sheets to the wind on acid and Newcastle Brown Ale, sliding down a mudslide to the best music I’d ever heard. I just feel lucky that I have a memory like that, wherever I go, and its on tape, available on archive.org.
On the way home, still tripping, I read the Bhagavad Gita aloud to my poor travel companions. The Hare Krishna folks were at every festival, and they gave me a copy of the book. I don’t remember what it said but I’m pretty sure I read the whole thing.
When I want to feel good, I can access these memories, and listen to the show like I am right now.
I feel i have to say one more more thing: I fuckin like Phi’s voice, man. I don’t care what anyone says, let Phil sing!!
Phil Lesh and Friends Live at Hunter Mountain - Mountain Jam on 2007-06-03 : Free Download, Borrow…
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