"To be without a home/ Like a rolling stone." That's what folk icon Bob Dylan once wrote about the state of '60s youth.
But to be 14,000 Deadheads without a home. Or more accurately, to be 14,000 Deadheads without a band, without a leader, without a sound to follow from sea to shining sea. That's the dilemma facing the country's largest group of itinerant crusties in the second year A.J.D. (After Jerry's Death).
What's the solution? Well, if you asked the sun, um, -baked crowd at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, Calif. last Saturday, the last stop of this year's second-annual post-Dead Furthur tour, it was to "smile, smile, smile."
"We saw the Dead about a dozen times," said a smiling Mark Thomas, who was enjoying a set by Dead drummer Mickey Hart's Planet Drum while lounging on the lawn with his smiling wife Margret and smiling teenage son, Gregory. "And this is a great tribute to their legacy."
Margret Thomas added, "I think it's great that they bring back the alumni. I think Jerry would have loved this show."
Scanning the tie-dyed, heavily dread-locked audience, many of them engaging in the traditional Deadhead spinning dance, it almost felt like nothing had changed. Sure, newcomers moe., Sherri Jackson and Dead alumnus Bruce Hornsby paled in comparison to the halcyon mobile Church of the Dead that used to relentlessly criss-cross the nation every summer, but in its place was an eclectic bill that captured the same joy and looseness of the Dead experience, if only with a few less guitar solos.
Mostly, though, it was the spirit of cooperation and cross-pollination that set Furthur apart from the rest of the summer festival stock. After a bizarre bit of "Ukulele Lady" from MC Arlo Guthrie, Bruce Hornsby was joined by Dead bassist Phil Lesh for a run through the Dead's "Wharf Rat," and later by Bay Area resident and special guest Bonnie Raitt, and Dead drummer Mickey Hart and guitarist Bob Weir for a version of the Dead classic, "Jack Straw."
The real surprise of the afternoon, however, was frequent Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. The barrel-chested, bearded songsmith, not necessarily known for either his voice or guitar playing, nevertheless performed a mesmerizing half-hour set of originals steeped in the kind of folk roots revered by both the Dead and their followers. Opening with "St. Stephen," which mutated into "Mountains of the Moon," Hunter, accompanied only by his electric guitar and what sounded like a tape loop with extra guitar accompaniment and echo delay, bullied his way through traditional folk-tinged readings of "New Speedway Boogie" and "Box of Rain," which was stripped of some of its hippie-dippy triteness by Hunter's conviction and gravely voice. The set ended with an a cappella "Boys in the Barroom" that literally had a few audience members within eyeshot holding their breath.
Alternating between sets on the full main stage and a smaller stage created by a purple partition lowered from the rafters, the down-time between sets was minimal, but the long-winded jams were in full effect. Hart and his polyphonic Planet Drum crew banged and clattered through an overlong set of drum jams that included an ill-advised rap version of "Fire on the Mountain."
Guthrie popped up again for the long version of his signature tune, "Alice's Restaurant," which, like any hint of a Dead composition, was met with a kind of "remember the good old days?" smiling nod from appreciative fans, despite the fact that many in the crowd looked like they would have had to pinch the album of the same name from their parent's collection.
Former Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen played a short set of crossroads blues, joined a various times by Hart and Dead collaborator Rob Wasserman, while the set by Weir's band, Ratdog, felt like Dead Lite. Running through a number of crowd-pleasers, among them "West L.A. Fadeaway," with Bonnie Raitt on slide guitar, "Cassidy" and "One More Saturday Night," Ratdog acquitted themselves as a tight band in the jamming tradition of the Dead, at the worst weighed-down by one too many saxophone solos from burly horn player Dave Ellis.
Weir and Rob Wasserman later returned for another collaborative mini-set with help from Hornsby, Kaukonen, Guthrie and Rich Robinson from the Black Crowes on "San Francisco Bay Blues" and "Ripple." The eagerly-awaited Crowes then confused the crowd with a gothic, thuggish set highlighted by a few new songs and selections from their little-heard most recent albums. Jamming hard and heavy on the new song "Another Roadside Tragedy" as well as a cover of Ry Cooder's "Boomer's Story" and Neil Young's "Come On Baby Let's Go Downtown," the Crowes ended their set with the crowd-pleasing "Hard To Handle," featuring Weir and Lesh, but again, marred by one too many Ellis sax solos.
The night ended with a 15-minute all-star jam on "The Other One" and "Good Lovin'," which sent the audience home still smiling and tripping on the kind of musical high that helped recapture the spirit of their fallen hippie leader.
Which, in some ways, is what they came to do.