Despite coming off a successful outing in '98, the Furthur Festival -- the
popular concert tour organized by alumni of the Grateful Dead -- will not return this
summer, according to the Dead's longtime publicist, Dennis McNally.
"They decided to wait and see how [former Dead bassist] Phil [Lesh] was doing, and by
the time they realized he was fine, it was too late to book a major tour," McNally said.
Lesh underwent a successful liver transplant operation in December and has been
recuperating since his surgery, McNally said.
Last year's Furthur Festival featured Lesh, guitarist Bob Weir and drummer Mickey Hart
of the Dead, with latter-day Dead pianist Bruce Hornsby, playing under the name the
Other Ones. During the second year of the tour, the band thrilled its fans by resurrecting
such Dead classics as
(RealAudio excerpt) and
"Sugaree" (RealAudio excerpt).
The '98 version of the festival was the first tour by surviving members of the Dead since
the legendary San Francisco psychedelic-rock group disbanded after the 1995 death of
its iconic singer/guitarist, Jerry Garcia.
That tour was an unqualified success, grossing nearly $500,000 at each stop with
attendance exceeding 18,000 fans per show, according to Pollstar magazine.
"I gather Phil has other issues now," McNally suggested. "He is physically able to play
and has a modest schedule of his own gigs planned, but I think he wants to spend more
time with his family this year."
In April, Lesh will return to the stage with two members of Dead protégés
Phish for a series of shows in San Francisco. The "Phil Lesh and Friends" shows, April
15-17, will feature Lesh playing alongside Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio and
keyboardist Page McConnell at San Francisco's 2,200 capacity Warfield Theater.
Longtime Dead fans who were energized by the Other Ones last summer said they were
disappointed to learn the group would not be returning. "It's too bad, because it was
so much fun last year. It was really a great gift to Deadheads everywhere," said Blair
Jackson, former editor of the Dead fanzine The Golden Road and author of a Jerry
Garcia biography, "Garcia: An American Life," to be published in August.
"I think everyone was caught off guard by how great it was, and I guess it [raised] the
question, 'Is it repeatable?' " Jackson said. "I hoped it might be." However, he said his
optimism began to fade several weeks ago when Lesh posted a comment about his
problems with the festival in a discussion group on the Dead's official website
"I enjoyed playing with each and every musician in the Other Ones last year," Lesh
wrote, "but the tour was extremely stressful due to business and creative differences. I
honored my commitment and made no promises for future shows. After my surgery, I was
approached about doing another tour, but it became clear that the same unresolved
issues were still haunting us."
"I knew it probably wouldn't happen when I read his post," Jackson said.
The loss of the tour, which McNally said may return in 2000, does not mean the former
Dead members are resting on their laurels.
McNally said Weir is working "ferociously" on an album by his band Ratdog, for which
he's already penned 20 new songs. Hart also is working on a new album of percussive
world-music with his Planet Drum ensemble. Although release dates for the albums are
not yet set, both musicians are expected to play some shows this summer.
All three of the former Dead members in the Other Ones (ex-Dead percussionist Bill
Kreutzmann has not been involved in the group) are expected to play a one-off show at
the Luther Burbank Center in Santa Rosa, Calif., in late April, according to McNally.
"They're working on doing a benefit for open space, to buy land and keep it from being
developed in Sonoma [Calif.]," McNally said, adding that the issue was one of Hart's pet
projects. The gig at the 1,200-seat converted church will feature sets by each member's
Hard-core Deadheads also can take solace in the recent release of an album by Mother
McCree's Uptown Jug Champions, touted by McNally as the "Rosetta Stone of Grateful
Dead tape archaeology." The July 1964 performance by the informal jug
band was the first collaboration among future core members of the Dead -- Garcia, Weir and late
keyboardist Ron "Pigpen" McKernan.
The show captured on the album is from a mid-'60s gig at the Tangent
coffee house in Palo Alto, Calif. It includes the songs "Overseas Stomp," "Ain't It Crazy," "Yes She Do, No
She Don't," "Memphis," "Boodle Am Shake" and "Big Fat Woman."