Last weekend, I saw Phil Lesh and Friends at the Mission Ballroom in Denver. It was a good show overall, although I reserve the right to be a little upset about the timing of the show (show time was listed as 7:30, they started at 8:30 which is not unheard of; but then the band took an hour break between the first and second set which pushed the end time out to nearly midnight).
There was an overwhelming feeling I had which was that the party is almost over. Phil Lesh is 83 years old, and he was by far the ‘weakest’ performer on the stage that night. If you build up a band around you that is phenomenal, that can be the case, though. But yes, in some ways, it felt like the party was coming to an end. The living members of the Grateful Dead will at some point in the future no longer be with us, or at least they will no longer tour. Plenty of younger bands have taken up the mantle of playing The Dead’s catalog of songs (including JRAD which I think do a phenomenal job), but even then, at some point in the future this era of music will come to a close and fade away.
It makes me think of the times, 10+ years ago, when I played jazz in a quintet (and sometimes quartet) – it felt like a novelty. It was something that fewer and fewer people seemed to authentically enjoy, and in many cases, we were hired for a gig to be a set piece, no different than the dim lighting or the cocktail bar in the corner. There will always be people who authentically enjoy jam music, or the Grateful Dead specifically, but I happen to be around at the right time to see the candle go out in some respects.
On the flip side, the bright spots of that concert were overwhelmingly bright. Phil surrounded himself with great, youthful players for half of the band, and those players will go on to play great music for decades. Rick from Goose is in many ways carrying the torch for jam music in the 2020s, even if I don’t like the music Goose makes (it hasn’t clicked for me yet…). I see him and his band mates guesting with a lot of different ‘legacy’ jam bands which speaks volumes.