The Golden Road to GD50

Furthur Lockn’ 2013 and 1999 Warfield Phil & Phriends with Trey


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By John Mikeska

Lockn’ Festival 2013 

The scene around Lockn’ on this particular evening was nothing short of ethereal. The festival community experienced something so rare, so unique, it was magical. It’s worth stating that the lineup went: Trey Anastasio Band > Widespread Panic > Furthur. Boom, like that.

Shifting gaze from stages to the right, to the left, and back the right for Furthur, I remember feeling like a kid in a candy store. Smiling from ear to ear and checking over my shoulder to catch the wandering gaze of my convivial comrades. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Trey coming on stage with Furthur was the less-than-spectacular audience reaction. Somewhere in between shock, awe and bewilderment. Out of all the dream scenario’s and super jam formulations that came to mind, Trey Anastasio in the one-spot, peakin’ Dead tunes was always near the top of the list. This was incredibly exciting to many in attendance for many reasons, varied and vast.

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Going back and watching or listening to the Trey & Furthur recordings; his playing (Trey’s) is artfully crafted and tastefully textured within the improvisational framework. In the early minutes of “Casey Jones” John K motioned Trey to take a solo. It’s tough to say for sure, but it appears as if Trey acknowledges the gesture, then proceeds to settle in to the pocket i.e. not soloing. Not necessarily to any detriment to the music as the number meanders along swimmingly. Gathering volume along the way and culminating in a double-time run through of the verse that increases in velocity until they lay it down to rest on “And you know that notion, just crossed my miiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiind”.

Bobby tells Trey to “start the next one” as they roll in to “Bertha”. Trey takes the first verse and works his way into some interesting solo work before stripping away all measure of rhythm and time and from the rubble giving life to a raucous “Truckin’”. From here on out I was Locked-N.

When “THE OTHER ONE” motif drop, a wave of “is-this-really-happening” washed over the crowd. I caught a few “dead-serious” looks from some brave friends who were on this adventure with me. After the show, I remember running into an old acquaintance that I hadn’t seen in years. After exchanging pleasantries I managed to ask him about the evenings events, all he could manage in response when asked about the music we just saw was a snap to reality look, directly in my eyes and saying without hesitation and with complete command of expression “The Other One”, he gulped. If I remember correctly, his demeanor and timing were so cosmically perfect that I guffawed with heavy breathe before acknowledging and managing to say something like “Ya damn right, that DID happen my friend”.

Alas, we can only assume the manner and for what reasons Trey played the way he did during his short stint with Furthur.

The fact remains that his contributions were earnest and musically relevant. More impressive than Trey’s soloing on these songs, the textural layerings of melodic notes and inverted chord work provide the medium to conceive thrilling possibilities for the GD50 shows. If the slow building, steam-engine a’coming to your town style improv tickles your fancy, I submit “The Other One” that Trey and Furthur descended into at Lockn’. By walking the line between soloing and providing rhythmic accompaniment, they pull off a beastly groove that requires immense focus and concentration to simply “not-do” too much musically and keep the jam on course. This sort of playing requires exceptional patience and usually only happens after several years of a band playing together.

Phil & Phriends – Warfield Theatre (San Fran.) 1999

For a convincing display of why one might get excited to see Trey in the Jerry position; look no further than Trey & Page w/Phil & Friends (feat Steve Kimock) at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco, 1999. Affectionately known as the “Phil & Phriends” run to devotees, these shows took place during the last year before the new millennium so they aren’t necessarily “current” but for the sake of this article and a reference of Trey’s prospective soloing abilities I submit:

“Shakedown Street”

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Trey begins the guitar/melody section at (2:52). Notice the command with which he demonstrates a melodic awareness and intuitive grasp of the chord changes as the improvisation navigates across the composed sections. If you listen carefully, you can hear subtle interval variations that state the melody as Jerry played it, but with individualized accentuations that give his lead lines a palpable excitement. When Trey drops in at (3:53) it is an absolute sonic explosion! An impromptu zenith, that can’t be planned for or “summoned at will”, so to speak.

Purveyors of improv know that you can’t force it. It only happens when the circumstances allow for it to happen. In order to pull off the intensity and “turn-on-a-dime” precision with which the Dead could improvise, it requires an individual who not only possesses the ability to recognize these moments, but the talent, experience– and daggum cajones– to pull it off when it matters most!

Personally, I can hardly think of a more capable and exciting choice for this position. Admittedly, most of the other Jerry-contenders provide a hypothetical experience that I can wrap my brain around. For better and worse, I can imagine a high quality of musical expression in voice and guitar playing for all tastes. Potentially.

I’m not going to indulge hypotheticals in this article and will do my best to stay focused on pertinent information, and not stray towards private opinion.

That being said, I believe we have ever-so-fortunately arrived at a scenario that provides the greatest opportunity for some “otha kinda’ shit” to go down. That appeals to what I believe to be the spirit of The Grateful Dead more than any other kind of candle-light vigil where everybody gets in free and holds hands while we sing through the songs one last time.

The ideal scenario is one where the process facilitates an assembly of musicians that actively engage the music and each other to reach new and unexpected heights.

Either way, we have on record, multiple instances where The Red Jedi takes on the GD songbook and pulls it off with stylistic variations. Trey is the captain of arguably the riskiest band (musically speaking) in the past three decades. Let’s be honest, Phish by no means has a perfect record. There have been some bumps in the road to say the least. They’ve taken huge risks and fallen flat on their faces. In the words of Jon Fishman “music is a great place to do that [take risks] because no one get’s hurt.”

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Granted, at Lockn’ Trey played like a guest. He didn’t step on any toes or play out of turn. But we all know what he’s capable of. Even in his most reserved and respectful state, we know that Prague ’98 is lurking in there somewhere. And when the actual GD50 shows roll around, I’m looking for that kind of intensity. I’m looking for the version of Trey that’s willing to step up to the plate and take a jam to new heights.

I believe I speak for an impassioned group of people who support the idea of someone who’s willing to grab the jam by the reins and careen down the rabbit hole for these shows. My aim is to shift the focus to the wondrous possibilities that lay before us if we stop to consider “what could be” as opposed to “what isn’t.” I think a lot more people will be “co-ming a-round” once they warm up to the idea of Troubador Trey leadin’ the way on a bus to never-ever land.

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