Terrapin Crossroads - San Rafael, CA (August 4, 2012)

written by Nicole Routh

This story begins with why I love Phil and why I love Yonder Mountain String Band.  My husband and I met shortly after Jerry’s death.  We’re part of a generation who got just enough of the Dead to fall in love with the music and the scene. For both of us, his passing reminded us that each time could always be the last and inspired us to follow the music wherever it went as often as we could. After a few years following Phish, a little Further here and there, and assorted other jam bands, we were lucky enough to catch the first Phil & Friends shows at the Red Rocks Summer Sessions in 1999. For nearly everybody there, it was like going home. We spent the next several years seeing Phil as much as opportunity allowed while settling into parenthood and grown-up life. Phil Lesh has a special place in my heart because of the way that he carried on the music and let it take on a new life of its own.  His rotating cast of friends reminds us of where this music started and why we have the great music we have today. Because of my love for the Dead, I’m also a huge fan and collector of old roots music. Most early Dead songs have some connection to an old blues or folk standard, and it’s amazing how their music closed the gap between times past and days to come.  I love Yonder Mountain String Band for a similar reason. During my first few Yonder shows, I was blown away by what they were also doing with “old time numbers” and the way people are still getting down to “Naughty Sweetie” and “Old Plank Road.”  The songs that Yonder plays are downright gorgeous, and the scene is such a special, eclectic group of genuine and endearing people.

Seeing Yonder and Phil Lesh together is something I daydreamed about often, and the Terrapin Crossroads shows were an amazing coincidence for me and my family. We don’t take big vacations very often, but this year, we were taking our daughter Maya on a 9-day trip to California to visit my siblings in the Bay area and explore the coast. A big must-see was Phil’s Terrapin Crossroads. Just days before the big announcement, we were perusing the Terrapin Crossroads website and considering which ramble would fit into our itinerary. We would be happy enough just to eat there and were excited that there could be some music to boot. We decided to think about it for a few days and pick a date after returning from our little Midwest summer Yonder run.  While driving to Omaha, I sat in the passenger seat messing around online, and there it was: Yonder Mountain String Band with special guest Phil Lesh at Terrapin Crossroads on August 4—the last day of California Family Vacation.

By another stroke of amazing luck, we scored tickets for the three of us on August 4 and three more for my sister, brother, and brother-in-law. And then, just like that, another show was announced, and we were three more of the lucky ones again. I was so excited for Maya to see Phil on stage and to share the whole Yonder experience with my extended family. 
After a week of sight-seeing, driving down Highway 1, hanging out at the beach, and chilling in Oakland, the weekend was finally here.

On August 3, we rolled up to the venue at around 5:45, and I immediately saw a new friend, Shari Band, waiting in line. While trying to make the usual small talk, I kept stopping mid-sentence, looking around and saying “I’m sorry. I just can’t even believe I’m here. I can’t even believe this is real.” We all felt it, and as the excitement finally settled, I watched several other people get out of their cars, walk up to the line and do the same thing.  Everyone was smiling uncontrollably, and I’ve never been more excited for a show as I was that night. Later on, we met up with Neil, and I finally got to meet Dorothy’s mom. The rest of the night was, of course, amazing, but that is Linda’s story to tell.

Flash forward to Night 2 in the Sandbox!

We arrived early again on Saturday night to grab dinner and to show my siblings the lay of the land.  The vibe in Phil’s restaurant is so “grown up hippie.” It’s exactly the sort of food you want when you’re traveling (a bit of greasy, comfort food and a good salad) and exactly the sort of vibe and atmosphere I always wish for when we spring for a good meal on tour.  Maya was a huge fan of the fresh lemonade and margarita pizza. I found Shari, Brian, Neil, Chelsi, Greg, and all of the other great people I met on Night 1.  Maya was especially excited to meet Neil’s daughter, Liza, and the two of them became fast friends.  After dinner, we wandered into the Grate Room, and Maya joined Liza on the rail with Neil.  Cy and I staked out a good spot a bit further back with my family, where we had a perfect close-up view of Adam and Jeff.

Photo courtesy of Neil Cohen

The band took the stage, and Jeff welcomed everybody back “to the coolest sandbox in the world.”  “We’re really glad to be playing here again. So what do you say let’s have ourselves a good ass time at Terrapin on a Saturday night!”

The band opened with “Ramblin in the Rambler.” The crowd started to bounce a bit to Dave’s banjo, and the band paused for Jager shots. Jeff raised his cup:  “Here’s to Phil Lesh and his great place.” And then, from Ben, “The rich gal she ride in an automobile..”  After Jeff and Adam took turns warming up their fingers, “My Gal” took off, and the crowd started moving again. “My Gal” transitioned into a heavy, funky jam that immediately threw everybody into the moment.  We couldn’t tell if it was a cover or improv, but the banjo was especially hot, and Jeff was all over his pedals with some crazy lyrics about “losing my mind.” About five minutes later, we reemerged into “Ramblin’ Reprise.”

Adam sang us a smooth and sweet “Rain Still Falls,” and then Jeff turned our attention to Mr. David Johnston on the banjo. I always enjoy “Winds of Wyoming,” and Dave’s voice was perfect. And then it was Ben’s turn again. “Hey Everybody! I’d like to sing you a Willie Nelson number.” I was super excited to hear “Bloody Mary Morning.” Then, Jeff sang us a sweet little murder ballad—“Eli Renfro.” I love Dave’s picking on this one. The crowd was loving the easy, country vibe of the first set so far. The song selection was perfect for the room, which seemed to be about half filled with lucky Yonder fans and half with locals checking out Phil on a Jerry-week Saturday night. It was a perfect first Yonder show for my sister and her fianc√©, who were dancing the whole time. 


 After “Eli,” Jeff thanked everybody for coming again. “Thanks for coming again tonight folks. We do appreciate it. We were talking last night and man, we may have found a new home here.. Two nights doesn’t sound like enough. We may just do a week residency.” Jeff introduced Adam’s “All the Time”, which happens to be one of my favorite Yonder songs. 
Ben took a brief moment to gush at the venue staff before starting the next song. “The vibe is so thickly cool in this place…The name of this next song is ‘Sometimes I’ve Won, Sometimes I’ve Lost,’ and this is one of those times where we win.”  

 “Lay It on the Line” was a perfect way to ramp things up for the last part of the set. Then, the band played “one more tiny little lengthy jam” starting with “On the Run”! Oh dang was I stoked to hear this. I turned around and there was my good ol’ family gettin’ down. The tiny little lengthy jam went from hot to sweet, and I gawked at Adam’s hands while they transitioned into “Strophe.” I LOVE this song, and it’s perfect for an "OTR" sandwich. I love the way it mellows the crowd and gets everybody moving with each other.

“Steep Grades, Sharp Curves” was my favorite part of Set 1.  I was hoping to hear this song in the worst possible way—especially after following the curvy lines of that California coast for nearly half a day.  I had actually been telling my family all week that they were going to play this, and I about lost it when they actually did. My sister and I had fun hamming it up on the dance floor, and then “On the Run” closed the set.

During set break, we chatted up a few of our dancing neighbors until Maya and Liza made a beeline for the door.  I chased them out to the parking lot where Liza was determined to get her hoop. The two of them played around, and Liza wowed the people outside.  Once we made it back in, there on the stage was a pedal steel guitar and Phil’s gorgeous bass. No sooner did Maya get back to the rail when she ran back and begged us for Cy’s phone. You know you’ve raised ‘em right when your daughter says “I need your phone so I can take a picture of Phil’s bass.”

The band finally took the stage, and Jeff introduced John Graboff on pedal steel and “Brother Phil Lesh.” The crowd was standing on the verge of getting it on, and a few thumps on Phil’s bass gave me a hint of what was coming. Jeff gushed a bit more before the music started: “If I told my 18 year old self just exactly what has happened these last two days, he’s be like ‘Old Man, you are crazy,’ so thanks, man.”  As I heard the first few notes of “Touch of Grey,” a huge rush of thrill and nostalgia come over me. It’s a song that reminds me of my early teens but feels so perfect now.  The crowd went nuts, and the band was having a blast. Dancing to this song with my family and my sweet, grey-haired hubby could not have been more perfect. One of my favorite moments was watching Ben and Adam dancing behind their instruments.

Jeff told us Adam Aijala was “gonna sing another number,” and there was the sickest, funkiest “Pockets” I’ve ever heard. After Adam’s first little jam, Jeff and Adam turned toward Graboff, who blew everybody away with a pedal steel solo. Dave, who was standing closest to him, chuckled in disbelief, and Jeff busted into a dance groove. They continued to jam out the song for a total of 8 minutes, with some intense solos by Adam, Jeff, and Dave. After Phil had taken his turn, everyone on stage stared in Graboff’s direction, coaxing him back into another stratospheric solo.

The next number was “Althea,” and the sweet notes from the pedal steel lingered in the dark spaces of this twisty lullaby. “Pride of Cucamonga” brought a huge smile to my face, and then Dave sang us “Fingerprints.” Phil’s bass pounded us through an instrumental jam that went straight into a really sweet and uplifting “Years with Rose.”  It’s amazing to watch what happens to the music when Phil is on the stage. He takes each song so far and deep and almost orchestrates the whole thing.

The highlight of the entire weekend was when “Rose” fell straight into a funky, twangy “Shakedown Street” with Ben on vocals. The boys were on fire, particularly Phil and Adam, and the vocal jam was off the hook. We had a blast shaking our asses with Greg and Chelsi, and Maya and Liza were so cute boogying on the rail. I love looking around to see what my people got when things get funky, and boy do they got it.

Graboff and Phil exited the stage, and we were all aglow and ready for more music. Jeff said a few more words as the band re-tuned. “I gotta level with you. When I was 13 years old, that band changed my entire life. And if you can’t tell where I always sat.. Phil zone forever.”
Watching the band play after Phil left the stage was another highlight of both nights.  The playing was so joyful and inspired. The set finished off with a “Peace of Mind”> ”Riverside” sandwich.  Parts of that “Peace of Mind” really grabbed a hold of me. The “Riverside” was more dancy than scary, and I enjoyed watching little Liza twirl around with Neil. After closing the sandwich, the band left the stage and came back for an encore.


Jeff thanked the Terrapin staff and the band crew, and we got a sweet “2 Hits.” The encore ended with John Hartford’s “Down the River Road” as we savored our last few moments on the Terrapin dance floor.

The whole weekend at Terrapin Crossroads was pretty mind-blowing, and it’s still hard to believe we made it there. I’ve never seen the band so playful and inspired, nor have I been to a show where the band and the fans are equally excited to be there.  I’ve seen plenty of shows in the usual “magical places” over the years, and this place, with all its simplicity and nostalgia, easily tops the list. I hope this really will be the beginning of a new tradition, and I can’t wait to see where the music goes next.

Written by Nicole Routh

Yonder Mountain String Band
8/4/12 Terrapin Crossroads, San Rafael, CA

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