Neal Casal was a secret weapon guitarist for numerous acts throughout his career. In recent years, however, it was a project of his own that had been making waves in the live music world: Circles Around The Sun.
Recruited to compose and record set break music for the Grateful Dead‘s 50th anniversary Fare Thee Well shows in 2015, Casal gathered the band now known as Circles Around The Sun for the project. The response to the Grateful-Dead-turned-inside-out psychedelic jams they created was so overwhelmingly positive that the music was released as an album. A tour soon followed. Then another album.
As Neal told Live For Live Music in a 2017 interview,
The reaction was a total surprise because when we made the music, it was not with the intention that it would ever be released. It wasn’t supposed to go any further than those Fare Thee Well shows, so it was not like a band. We weren’t thinking about it in those terms at all—it was just a project. So when all those people reacted to it so beautifully and so strongly and so positively, it was a total shock. Then the music being released and the fact that we have more coming up now is just incredible.
Cut to a few years after Casal, Adam MacDougall, Mark Levy, and Dan Horne came together for Fare Thee Well, and they’re one of the most buzzworthy bands on the live music circuit. With more tour dates on the docket, a collaborative EP with Joe Russo on the way, and another new full-length album in the works, Circles Around The Sun was poised for their biggest year yet. The band’s undeniable upward trajectory made the news of Neal Casal’s death on Monday all the more painful.
As we continue to bask in the afterglow of another wonderful edition of LOCKN’ this past weekend, we’ve been recapping the various memorable performances that took place at the festival. The Circles Around The Sun LOCKN’ late-night set, however, has been difficult to approach. We could talk about the colorful majesty of Garcia’s Forest after dark. We could talk about the excitement of seeing Joe Russo sit in. We could talk about the many stunned faces in the Forest experiencing this outstanding band for the first time. But all we keep thinking about is the heartbreaking fact that we’ll never see this group or its fearless leader play live again.
Neal’s death is a crushing blow to the music community. There’s no way around it. All we can do is hug our loved ones and remember the good times, and Thursday night’s Circles Around The Sun show at LOCKN’—Neal’s last performance with his unlikely juggernaut of a band—surely qualifies.
Below, you can watch a 25-minute clip from Neal Casal’s final CATS show and scroll through a beautiful gallery of photos from the set courtesy of photographer Dave Vann.
Circles Around The Sun – LOCKN’ 2019 – Garcia’s Forest – 8/22/19 (Late-Night)
[Video: Deadheadland Films]
Rest in peace, Neal. We miss you already.