12-7-97 Maritime Hall San Francisco, CA
PhilHarmonia

Steve McHenry - The Church of the Grateful Dead 
That's what it was Sunday afternoon at Philharmonia. The show was billed as a family type holiday sing-a-long, and that is just what it turned out to be. Those who were expecting a show of only Grateful Dead music may have been disappointed, but I'll bet that nearly everybody there had the time of their lives.

The show started out with "one that you all know," Not Fade Away, Phil said. The audience chant and clapping started the show rolling as the various guests took their place on stage.

On stage were the previously announced singers, Michael Tilson Thomas, from the San Francisco Symphony, Bruce Hornsby, Graham Nash, Edie Brickell, Donna Jean Godchaux MacKay, Jackie LaBranch from the Garcia Band, David Grisman, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, and unannounced special guest Mickey Hart!

The biggest hand, by far -- louder than that given to Bruce or Bobby or Mickey -- was accorded to Donna Jean when she walked out. Later, when Phil went down the line and actually introduced the musicians, Donna was again given the loudest, longest applause. This time, the pure emotion of it all, the joy in the house, brought Donna Jean to tears on stage. As it did to me, also. There may not have been a dry eye in the house at that point.

Continuing with the music, next up was Amazing Grace, He's Got the Whole World In His Hands and the John Lennon tune, Imagine. (This song was a struggle, as Phil wanted to slow down the tempo while everybody else in the hall, everybody, wanted to sing it just like the Lennon version that we all know. So it was kind of hard getting through this one without singing on top of each other's lines.)

As Phil was introducing the next song, Angels We Have Heard on High, he happened to mention that it is a song with a famous "Gloria" refrain. Well, I guess Hornsby couldn't pass up an opening line like that, so he started up, G_L_O_R_I_A, Gloria! and the rest of us were right with him. Phil finally got things back under control and Angels We Have ... was completed. Then, Graham Nash took to the piano to lead us in Teach Your Children, followed by another Lennon tune, Give Peace A Chance, which included new lyrics for the night. (Sorry, I didn't write them down.)

Michael Tilson Thomas then broke the audience into sections and we sang the 12 Days of Christmas. The different sections had to sing about a particular gift (my section sang the "Four Calling Birds part, for example) with one exception: He made Mickey sing the line about the
last gift -- 12 Drummers Drumming.

To end the first set we did Go Tell it on the Mountain, followed by "another one that you all know," Ripple. This was the song that tore me apart. It's a very sensitive tune to begin with, and one that brings back some definite strong memories.  To hear this one sung by Phil, with backing vocals by Donna, Bobby and Bruce, was just magical. On the last verse, Bobby motioned to Phil to back off the microphone and Weir sang the final verse himself. (Oh, all the songs had their lyrics displayed on the walls so we could sing along. During Ripple, Weir had his eyes glued to the wall so he would know the words!)

Iíll tell you, while the Ripple played Sunday may not have been the best musically, it stands far above any version I ever heard for pure heartfelt emotional singing. And not just by the band, but by *everybody* in the house. This alone made the afternoon worthwhile.

Ripple ended the first set. After the break it was time for music lessons courtesy of MT Thomas and Phil, as we did several songs in rounds. First off was Dona Nobis Pacem, with Latin lyrics that didn't go well. That was followed by two easier rounds, If All People Could Live in Harmony and Music for the Stars. Bobby, being Bobby, then decided he wanted to try something different, and have the audience sing Blackbird in a round. Didn't work, and the tune kind dissolved into mirth. And this was part of what made Philharmonia so special and fun.

It wasn't perfect. In many cases, it was obvious that the musicians didn't particularly know what they were playing. There was a lot of friendly banter between the singers on stage and the singers in the audience.  Everybody was winging it and I don't think most people especially cared. It was very much like a bunch of friends getting together to play music and have fun, and who cares if some lyrics are muffed or a song doesn't quite work? And they all didn't work. Some parts of the show were downright awful and sloppy, in fact, but those moments didn't last before something terrific took their places.

Anyway, there was still more music to be sung in the set. After Blackbird was a Hebrew tune, Hava Nashira, then Nash back on piano for Our House ("We don't have the lyrics available for this one, but you know it," he said. We did.)

To end the show, we sang Hallelujah and one of the best versions of Not Fade Away that I have ever heard. It was long and full, with the audience clapping and singing to lead the way. Then, when the band started in, it was with full force. You know our love will not fade away! The song was jammed the way you would want it and done to perfection.

To calm everybody down, the show ended with a beautiful And We Bid You Goodnight.

As wonderful as this 2.5 hours of music was, there was still more, at least for those able to have landed a donor ticket. This party, at the Hilton Hotel, was a night that I'll never forget. I'm sure that nobody will. Let's leave aside the dinner (man, great food!) and get right to the music:

Dinner background music was supplied by a guitar duo whose name I didn't catch. David Gans' band started about 9 p.m. or so and played a fine, well-jammed set. I had never heard them before and would like to see 'em again.

After an hour or so, maybe less, the pianist and bass player left the stage, to be replaced by Weir, Lesh and Hornsby. Gans stayed on stage to play lead guitar.  His drummer played all night. Donna Jean also came out on stage.

(So, what happened to Mickey? He didn't come back at the Maritime Hall after singing 12 Days of Christmas, and he never showed up at the Hilton? Was he scared off by being forced to sing his particular verse? (Other musicians also missing at the Hilton, at least on stage, were Edie, Jackie, Nash, Grisman and Thomas. I sure wish they would have all shown up.) But it didn't really matter, though, because the people on stage played as fine an hour of music as I have heard for a long, long time.

The set started with Bird Song. I had heard that Bobby was doing this tune with Ratdog, but I didn't know what to expect. What we got was a nearly immediate space jam! These guys were *out* there, right away, and it was pretty amazing. I'll admit, however, that Gans seemed to have a hard time following the jam in places, and sometimes the music fell into total discord. (On the other hand, I *swear* I heard him play the first few notes of Dark Star in the jam; maybe trying to take the jam thataway, David? Too bad it didn't work, or maybe I really didn't hear it, anyway.)

But I give him credit for trying to keep up with that crowd of amazing musicians and he actually held his own, for the most part. His lead work overall was solid and nice on every tune. Still, all in all, a very powerful and enjoyable Bird Song.

Next up was Box of Rain. What can I say? Four members of the Dead on stage as Phil sang his "theme" song for 500 people or so. I can't describe it; please don't ask me to. Let's just say it was one of the best *Dead Moments* of my life.

Bobby followed up with a fine version of Cassidy and then they did Big River. Bruce and Bobby then left the stage, with Gans' band returning to join Phil. They did a great, rocking version of New Speedway Boogie and ended the hour-long show with Bertha.

Kind of disappointing that there was not some massive "all-star" jam as an encore, but still, a very satisfying, wonderful day of music. I wouldn't have traded it for anything.

(Oh, speaking of other musicians, early in the evening, maybe while Gans' band was playing at first, I noticed this guy take a seat at the table next to mine. A closer look revealed it to be: Merl Saunders! But he didn't play any music. Didn't even go backstage, as far as I saw. I'd sure like to know why one of the finest keyboardists around didn't grace us with his talent. Was he not invited to play; did Phil and Bobby not know he was in the audience, or what?)

So, to sum up, it was terrific fun singing along with everybody at the Maritime, and the post-show party was more than everything I had hoped for. It was an expensive ticket, but it would have been cheap at twice the price for what we got.

And if Phil ever organizes a similar event in the future, you had better do whatever you can to make it to the after-show party.

Oh. Talked briefly to Donna, saw Phil and Bobby in the crowd but didn't get up to talk to them, Hornsby sat at an adjacent table for dinner and he mingled most comfortably with the audience all night.