He’s still got a little work to do on the economy, but already President Barack Obama has accomplished at least one task that had appeared all but impossible just a year ago: He’s put The Dead back on the road.
As the core surviving members of the Grateful Dead, once the world’s biggest concert draw, barrel across the country for the first time in five years, bass player Phil Lesh says they have Obama, and also Lesh’s youngest son, Brian, to thank.
After Lesh, who had never publicly supported a presidential candidate, threw his lot in with Obama, he was anxious to do a benefit concert for him. But he was all but done with The Dead, so it was going to feature his other band, Phil and Friends.
“My son Brian said, ‘No Daddy, you’ve got to get The Dead together because it will be so much more meaningful and important,”’ the musician chuckled during a recent phone interview.
One benefit performance led to another and then an inaugural ball concert. Next thing they knew, Lesh, guitarist Bob Weir and drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann were back together.
“It came off so well that we thought we owe it to ourselves to play again,” Lesh said. “It brings out something in all of us, in our gestalt and our totality, that we can’t deliver, we can’t find anywhere else.”
For the tour, which got under way Sunday in Greensboro, N.C., and runs through the middle of next month, the band is breaking out what Lesh calls the Grateful Dead classics. The musicians will cherry-pick from 160 songs honed during weeks of rehearsals.
“We actually played 13 days in a row at one point. Not bad for a bunch of old beasts,” laughed Hart.
But, all four say, there is still plenty of original music to be found in the jamming at the band’s four-hour shows and in a rhythm section rearranged by the drummers.
“We didn’t want to go out and just do the same thing,” said Kreutzmann, who with Hart wrote new percussion parts for the tour.
The only thing missing is the group’s iconic lead guitarist Jerry Garcia, whose death from a heart attack in 1995 prompted the band to drop Grateful from it’s name and to all but abandon what had been 30 years of nearly nonstop touring. Warren Haynes replaces him for this tour.
“We all miss him every day,” said Lesh. “At the same time, we’re still here on Earth and we’re still making music. And by God we’ll continue to make music until we drop.”