Michigan’s Greensky Bluegrass wrapped up their California run at Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael last Tuesday, playing with venue founder and Grateful Dead bassist and founding member, Phil Lesh. Tickets went on sale a few weeks earlier on the Terrapin Crossroad website, and as a testament to the to the rarity the show and the excitement around it, Terrapin’s server crashed the second they went on sale.
The 350 capacity “Grate Room” sees perhaps the headiest “house band” in Phil Lesh and Friends, which also has a steady tour schedule of their own. Reservations at the restaurant are encouraged, but travel with some good looking chicks and they’ll find a way to squeeze you in the main dining area where the nicest June Carter will serve some real good free range-whatever, just the way Jerry would have wanted it. Peep the calendar for some awesome songwriters and staples in the jam scene (Leftover Salmon, Sturgill Simpson, Nershi & Law and more).
Greensky Bluegrass is a five-piece bluegrass band well known in Northern California for music festival sets and two-night runs at the Fillmore. Incorporating the traditional instruments one might find in a “Rocky Top” rendition at a Tennessee moonshine party, Dave Bruzza (guitar), Michael Bont (banjo), Anders Beck (Dobro), Mike Devol (upright bass), and Paul Hoffman (mandolin) put on a show that is anything but traditional. Greensky has a knack for dusting off the old school strings and vocals while simultaneously polishing new rock-and-jam-inspired tangents.
Set one warmed up the crowd with a few Lesh-less tunes exclusively off their most recent album, If Sorrows Swim. But not without a dirty “China Cat Sunflower,” to remind everyone the Dead is from Northern California and Terrapin is Lesh’s house, before diving into a cover of the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider” just before set break. The heat was coming.
After two songs to rally the smokers back from the outside patio, the drinkers from the beer line, and everyone else from the bathroom, Phil Lesh took the stage. It was easy to zone out to Lesh working the fretboard up close from the first pluck of “Mr. Charlie” into a Greensky classic, “All Four.” In keeping with bluegrass tradition, Greensky gives every instrument its say and opportunity to shine – and Mr. Lesh looked equally excited to play both lead and complementary roles. A personal favorite was an “Eyes of the World” sandwich between two slices of Greensky’s “Don’t Lie.” I would encourage you to download the entire set here.
Lost in the gentrification narrative – that has tech-entrenched blog subscribers weeping over artists moving to Oakland and spikeball being the weirdest thing at Dolores Park – are the tunes. People often forget that a fundamental element of the formation of the San Francisco that they know today is Jerry Garcia and his Grateful Dead, once at the forefront of the cultural movement as identifiably American as it was rooted in San Francisco. Almost 20 years since Jerry’s death, the closest you’ll get to feeling like a Deadhead in the 7×7 these days is standing at the corner of Haight-Ashbury while getting trolled by Bill Walton on Twitter on added Fare Thee Well tour dates.
Jerry Garcia’s aura hung over the stage as Anders Beck brought the crowd nearly to tears with a tease of “We Bid You Goodnight” on the Dobro to close the show, a momentary time travel to a San Francisco of old. I’m sure the ingredients of a Mission burrito haven’t changed that much, and I guess I can still see a feral Haight-street kid. It’s nice to know that a lost San Francisco generation is only a “throwing stones” away.