On a glorious Sunday afternoon in Marin County, Phil Lesh welcomed Soulive (aka Eric Krasno, Neil Evans, and Alan Evans), Jason Crosby and Jackie Greene to the stage for the grand opening of Terrapin Crossroads’ backyard patio. The sun was shining, three generations of fans came together, and the greatest stories in rock and roll were explored with aplomb. 

More than just a venue, and a sprawling open area with lovely views and a breeze off of the water, The Backyard is an outdoor performance space and kids’ play area that was developed in partnership with the City of San Rafael at Beach Park alongside Terrapin’s back deck. 

Once a disheveled grassy lot, the park has been transformed into an lovely area with a stage shaded by a lattice overhang. People can enjoy several bocce ball courts, picnic tables and there is a toy ship that kids can climb and slide.  An official dedication with San Rafael officials will follow on April 30, but things officially kicked off with some Bay Area flavored alt-country twang.  

Bay Area assembly Cosmic Twang took the stage at 1pm sharp, and delivered a set heavy on Americana, with a nod to the dearly departed Merle Haggard. Jay Lane, Tim Bluhm and Scott Law were in fine form, paying tribute to a fallen folk legend in a unique, psychedelic twang’d style. An emotional reading of “Sing Me Back Home” was received with tear-filled eyes, “Mama Tried” with open hearts.   

Shortly thereafter, Soulive assumed the small, raised platform; the New York jazz-hop veterans delivered a truncated, invigorating set that was throbbing with funk grooves and jazzy flourishes. “One in Seven” really wowed the now-swollen crowd, and bodies began to bop, the people started to boogie. Guitarist Eric Krasno paid homage to some favorite guitarists, by unleashing their version of the classic Stevie Ray Vaughan song “Lenny”, as well as a psychedelic take on Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun”. Soulive closed their impressive set with a blistering “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” from their Rubber Soulive release a few years ago; Krasno’s monster axe tone slicing the air with grit. 

After intermission, Phil Lesh took his rightful spot on stage to a spirited ovation. The bassist led a band consisting of Soulive, pianist Jason Crosby, a three piece horn section, and special guest bandleader Jackie Greene. This troupe threw down through two lengthy sets of good ole’ Grateful Dead, with more gems taboot. Beginning with a “Playin in the Band”, the ensemble moved through “Good Lovin”, a bluesy duo in  “New Minglewood Blues” and “Sugaree” and the Pigpen-era arrangement of “Dancing in the Streets.”

This big band also took on pinnacle songs that span generations, in the case of more Beatles (“Revolution”) as well as early Stones (“Get Off of My Cloud,” “Satisfaction”). Jackie Greene was fronting the group at times, with prominent vocals and some feisty Gibson guitar riffs. Greene seemed to be just poking at Krasno, urging him to take the keys and floor it. The free-wheeling nature of this jam session lent itself to some choice shredding from Krasno and accompaniment from Crosby. Meanwhile, atypically, Neal Evans was in a zone, his whistling organ washes and gospel-tinged melodies mesmerizing the faithful. 

For the second set, a relaxed, grooving “Shakedown Street” kicked up the dance vibe in a big way, moving into the chunky “West LA Fadeaway.” This mid-80s GD treasure showed off the sibling duo of organist Neal Evans and drummer Alan Evans, as they displayed their undeniable groove chops and jazz feels, with more than a hint of R&B swagger. More Stones sing-alongs followed; with “Satisfaction” really heating up the crowd energy in the audience, with hoots and hollers abound. Yet again it was Soulive’s Beatles flavor that had jaws agape, as The Evans brothers and Krasno led a majestic, tasteful excursion through “Eleanor Rigby.”  
Before long Phil dropped that patented rumble train that announces “The Other One”, which Lesh also sung with a fragile authority. “Viola Lee Blues” was the jamming centerpiece of the show, as Crosby’s piano tickled the melodies above Neal Evan gorgeous Hammond B3 licks. The two keyboardists found a few moments to really connect on a profound conversation, like two ships whispering in the night, while “The Other One” thunder clapped around them.  Late in the set, a freewheeling “Franklin’s Tower” had the entire backyard scene bopping along, and again it was the Crosby/Neal Evans combo that commanded the most attention . 

A lengthy encore (in essence a third set!) was cherished by all in attendance, as Phil Lesh thanked the fans and his friends onstage. “Deal” segued into a rollicking “Turn on Your Lovelight”, and then we all held our collective breath as Lesh delivered a poignant take on Dylan’s timeless “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”. To hear Lesh sing this chestnut in his backyard, to his family and several generations of adoring fans come far and wide; this it was a special moment with heavy undertones-no matter who his chosen friends were on this day. “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” saw one last chance for Kraz to stretch out on that luscious Ibanez custom axe, wrapping up a few weeks of heavy dead-ication (and the opportunities of a lifetime) for the in-demand artist. 

Appropriately, “Not Fade Away” sent us all home into the golden-gated sunset, but not before Phil brought the house down with three chords and a gigantic smile. It still is, and forever will be, a dream we dreamed one afternoon on the go. 

Setlist: Phil Lesh & Friends at Terrapin Crossroads Outdoors, San Rafael, CA – 4/17/16

Set One: Playin’ In The Band, Good Lovin’, New Minglewood Blues, Get Off Of My Cloud, Sugaree, Revolution, Dancin’ In The Streets

Set Two: Shakedown Street > West LA Fadeaway, Satisfaction, Viola Lee Blues, Alligator > Jackie Raps > Eleanor Rigby > The Other One > Franklin’s Tower

Encore/Set Three: Deal, Bertha, Turn On Your Lovelight, Just Like Tom Thumb Blues, Goin Down The Road Feelin Bad, Not Fade Away

[Videos by Ted Silverman]