The Bus Came By...

Ratdog - Mickey Hart - Los Lobos

New World Music Theatre - Tinley Park

June 30, 1996

First Appeared in The Music Box, July/August 1996, Volume 3, #5

Written by John Metzger

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The Grateful Dead has evolved, and from its ashes the Furthur Festival was born as a jam-packed show that featured over 7 hours of continuous entertainment. Fans were quickly herded into the arena, where a huge array of goods could be purchased. Wandering booth to booth brought back memories of the parking lot scene, and memorials to Jerry Garcia were erected everywhere. This was it. If any doubts or denials remained, they were to be confronted here and now. Perhaps, the biggest disappointment among the many vending sites was the lack of food-related items, meaning vegetarian options were limited and greasy pizza would have to suffice.

Hot Tuna took the stage promptly, launching into a blistering 45-minute set. Jorma Kaukonen was magnificent, blasting out searing bursts of energy that made melted the mind. Jack Casady provided a solid, thumping bass line to which he always manages to keep time with his bushy eyebrows. Let's Get Together kicked things off, and Candyman and Walkin' Blues quickly followed.

John Wesley Harding filled the between-set gap with an alll-too-short 25-minute, 6-song diversion that was first-rate. When the Beatles Hit America gave him a chance to demonstrate his tongue-in-cheek wit to those who cared to listen. Harding's voice was strong, soaring wonderfully over his hard-edged acoustic guitar playing. He broke a string on the set-ending Devil in Me, but without skipping a beat he swapped guitars and ended the song.

Los Lobos came next, and the group's 45-minute set was positively stellar. Pete Sears from Hot Tuna joined the band on several songs, providing some flighty keyboard work. The band gave Evangeline quite a workout, and plowed through Mas Y Mas, the single from its latest release Colossal Head. La Bamba proved to be a surprising choice, considering that this was hardly a hit-seeking crowd, but the group gave it a slower touch than normal, lending the song a fresh vibrancy. The set closed with a rip-roaring version of Bertha that had the entire arena dancing freely.

Alvin Youngblood Hart's brief diversion into delta blues provided a stark contrast to the intensely electric music of Hot Tuna and Los Lobos as well as the folk refrains of John Wesley Harding. A cover of Gallow's Pole was clearly a crowd favorite.

Bruce Hornsby seamlessly took the stage for 60 minutes of jazzy piano jams as Alvin Youngblood Hart remained for a nifty collaborative groove. Hornsby then launched into a perfect medley of What a Time, Jacob's Ladder, and Rainbow's Cadillac. Giving credit to Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, Hornsby tore into Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad, which got the audience moving. Evidently, the night before, Hornsby had covered quite a few of the Grateful Dead's songs, and on this night, this was the closest he was would come. As a result, the audience grew restless, though Hornsby kept trying to win over the crowd, eventually laying down an expansive reading of Tango King.

The Flying Karamazov Brothers made the first of two appearances of the night after Hornsby left the stage. This 20-minute excursion included all kinds of acrobatic juggling tricks and light-hearted comedy.

Mickey Hart's Mystery Box, an array of percussionists from around the globe combined with the gospel and R&B vocals of the Mint Juleps, provided a very different and tremendously enjoyable set. Full Steam Ahead and The Sandman were particular highlights. Of course there were several drum solos to go around, and the set closed with a song called Down the Road, which was written in collaboration with Robert Hunter. This is Hart's tribute to Garcia, and it's one of the catchiest songs on Mystery Box's new album. Hart, wearing a headset microphone, walked around to the front of the stage to deliver the lyrics. Hornsby also made an appearance on accordion, helping to lead the ensemble into a rap-infused version of Fire on the Mountain.

The Flying Karamazov Brothers returned as a quick set-change took place to prepare the stage for Ratdog. This time, the Brothers read from Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test in order to provide a biographical insight into the roots of the Furthur Festival. Sadly, the audience opted to boo the readings and scream for Ratdog, and the open-mindedness that surrounded the Grateful Dead slipped further from view.

When Bob Weir did take the stage, the roar of the crowd was deafening. He launched into the second Walkin' Blues of the day and then hit his stride with a powerful Take Me to the River. Weir's voice was strong, and the full band added a different twist to this song than his duo performances with Rob Wasserman can provide.

Colors of deep blue surrounded Weir and his band throughout the set, and from the baptismal waters of re-birth in Take Me to the River to the solemn, lonely excursion of Eternity, it was impossible not to believe that Garcia was smiling down upon the proceedings as Ratdog delivered a combination of mourning and celebration for our departed friend.

KC Moan blared from the speakers like never before. The headlight on that northbound train has dimmed, but the train moves onwards. Hornsby took the stage to once again add his accordion to Masterpiece, an annual Weir tradition in Chicago. Victim or the Crime led into Rob Wasserman's bass solo, which began with Hand Jive, melted into Not Fade Away, and gave birth to a fitting St. Stephen. Can you answer? Yes I can, but what would be the answer to the answer man? Weir responded with Easy Answers.

The collaborations came during the encores of Truckin', How Long Blues, and Turn on Your Lovelight. Each was solidly played and intensely inspired. These days, it's hard to find so much good music for so little money, but the Furthur Festival managed to do it, with virtually no breaks between acts for a nearly 8-hour diversion from the real world. Thanks, and see ya next year!

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Copyright 1996 The Music Box