On Saturday and Sunday, Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann wrapped up his three-night Grateful Mahalo run of livestream shows in Hawaii with Billy & The Kids and some very special guests.
For Saturday’s show, much like the run’s stellar opening night, the Dead-adjacent supergroup—which features Kreutzmann alongside guitarist Tom Hamilton (JRAD, Ghost Light), keyboardist Aron Magner (The Disco Biscuits), and bassist Reed Mathis (Tea Leaf Green, Electric Beethoven, Golden Gate Wingmen)—also welcomed bluegrass phenom Billy Strings (on electric and acoustic guitar) and saxophonist James Casey (Trey Anastasio Band).
Though Billy & The Kids is primarily a Grateful Dead-centric project (how else would you celebrate Billy K’s 75th trip around the sun?), the spirit and sensibilities of each of the individual players shined through on the second night of Grateful Mahalo. The highlight of that melting pot of influences didn’t take long to appear, as the show opened with a powerful “China Cat Sunflower” that segued not into the customary “I Know You Rider”, but rather the debut of new song with an old soul: “Thunder”.
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As Kreutzmann explained in a post on the Billy & The Kids Instagram, “Thunder” is an old original by lyricist Robert Hunter never performed by the Grateful Dead. Billy Strings wrote new music for the lyrics, and his update was subsequently arranged by Billy & The Kids. While adorned with fresh and exciting elements—electronic washes from the Disco Biscuits keyboardist, classic bluegrass vocal gusto from the young picker, brass textures from the TAB saxophonist, hair-raising solos from the Ghost Light guitarist—the song’s prevailing aura remained that of the good ol’ Grateful Dead. The symbolic grit and evocative beauty of the Hunter lyrics gave the piece a touch of the timeless, while the familiar freight train drums of Bill Kreutzmann bridged the gap between “then” and “now”, “Rider” and “Thunder”. This opening segment felt like a Grateful Mahalo mission statement: The music never stopped—it just kept growing. Watch Billy & The Kids, Billy Strings, and James Casey debut “Thunder” below.
Grateful Mahalo: Billy Kreutzmann’s 75th Birthday Pa’ina – “China Cat Sunflower” > “Thunder” [Pro-Shot] – 5/8/21
The harmonious blend of influences continued to overlap as the set went on. Strings led a rendition of Jimmy Cliff‘s “Sitting In Limbo”, and busted out his acoustic guitar to lend some flatpicking authenticity to songs like “I’ve Been All Around This World”, the traditional tune often covered by Jerry Garcia in various projects. The acoustic stayed out for “Loser”, another wonderful stylistic crossover, and “U.S. Blues” brought the set to a close in classic Dead fashion.
The setlist for Saturday’s second frame played out like a Deadhead’s dream, packed with improvisation, segues, and fan-favorite songs. Bob Dylan classic/Jerry Garcia Band staple “Tangled Up In Blue” got things started before Magner and Hamilton teamed up on vocals for a spacey, extended “Cassidy”. Watch “Tangled Up In Blue” and “Cassidy” below.
Grateful Mahalo: Billy Kreutzmann’s 75th Birthday Pa’ina – “Tangled Up In Blue”, “Cassidy” [Pro-Shot] – 5/8/21
From there, the band moved into perhaps the most impressive chunk of the show. After flowing from “Bird Song” into “Dark Star”, the outfit segued into the “Franklin’s Tower” that had gone missing from the “Help > Slip” on night one, then retracing their steps back through “Dark Star” and “Bird Song”. With time winding down, Strings once again grabbed his acoustic for another nod to Jerry’s bluegrass roots followed with Old & In The Way‘s “Midnight Moonlight” before closing out the show with a beautiful “Brokedown Palace”.
Check out the full Saturday, 5/8/21 Grateful Mahalo setlist below.
Setlist: Billy & The Kids w/ Billy Strings, James Casey | Grateful Mahalo | Kauai, HI | 5/8/21
Set One: China Cat Sunflower > Thunder*, Eyes Of The World, Sitting In Limbo (Jimmy Cliff), Been All Around This World (Traditional), Loser, U.S. Blues
Set Two: Tangled Up In Blue (Bob Dylan), Cassidy > Bird Song > Dark Star > Franklin’s Tower > Dark Star > Bird Song, Midnight Moonlight (Old & In The Way) > Brokedown Palace
With one Grateful Mahalo show left to air on Sunday, excitement was at peak levels. Fans had all seen the photos of Carlos Santana and Bill Nershi (The String Cheese Incident) hanging with the gang in Kauai, and it was only a matter of time before they popped up during the streams.
The Carlos Santana appearance came straight away, as the expanded Grateful Mahalo Billy & The Kids lineup appeared with the legendary guitarist in tow to kick off the single-set show with “Scarlet Begionas” > “Iko Iko”. Watch Santana’s entrance into the Grateful Mahalo fold below.
Grateful Mahalo: Billy Kreutzmann’s 75th Birthday Pa’ina ft. Carlos Santana – “Scarlet Begonias > Iko Iko” [Pro-Shot] – 5/9/21
After toying with a jam on “A Few Of My Favorite Things”, the Santana-augmented Grateful Mahalo outfit dove into a weighty “The Other One” that wound in and out of “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” before landing in “Fire On The Mountain”. Santana took the reins next, putting his psychedelic improvisation abilities to work while leading the band through a winding jam that eventually found its way into an instrumental cover of The Doors‘ “Riders On The Storm”.
Strings took over vocals for a well-placed “China Doll” before James Casey stepped up to put his soulful voice to work on The Beatles‘ “Dear Prudence”. “It Hurts Me Too” served as the set’s final number before the band returned for a encore twofer of “Cold Rain and Snow” and “Alabama Getaway”.
Where’s Nershi, you may ask? In place of a second set on Sunday, the stream shifted from there to a bonus acoustic jam that saw Nershi join Billy Strings, Tom Hamilton, Reed Mathis (on acoustic bass), Billy K (on djembe), and Aron Magner (on a 37-key mini keyboard) run through a number of favorites including “Ripple”, “To Lay Me Down”, “Peggy-O”, and “The Train That Carried My Girl From Town”. Watch a clip of the Grateful Mahalo acoustic jam below.
Grateful Mahalo: Billy Kreutzmann’s 75th Birthday Pa’ina ft. Bill Nershi– Acoustic Jam Sneak Peak ft. Bill Nershi [Pro-Shot] – 5/9/21
From the powerful performance with Santana to the intimate acoustic jam session, the Sunday performance solidified the notion that made this weekend of performances so special for everyone from the legends to the new Kids to the many thousands tuning in from home. At its core, this was a celebration—of a giant’s 75th birthday, of a legendary band’s catalog and the the wide-ranging influence it has had on several generations of musicians, of the slow but steady return of gathering with loved ones for momentous occasions.
With the world beginning to open back up, who knows if we’ll ever see this phenomenal crew perform together again. They’ll all soon be back on the road with their various bands, doing what they do best… but we’ll always have Kauai, and we’ll always have the Dead.
A very Grateful Mahalo to Billy, the Kids, FANS, and everyone involved in putting together this musical summit for the ages.
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Setlist: Billy & The Kids w/ Billy Strings, James Casey | Grateful Mahalo | Kauai, HI | 5/9/21
Set One: Scarlet Begonias > Iko Iko > The Other One* > Good Morning Little Schoolgirl > The Other One > Fire On The Mountain, Jam > Riders On The Storm (The Doors)^, China Doll, Dear Prudence (The Beatles), It Hurts Me Too
Encore: Cold Rain and Snow, Alabama Getaway
Acoustic Jam ft. Bill Nershi (setlist unconfirmed): Ripple, To Lay Me Down, Peggy-O, The Train That Carried My Girl From Town (Doc Watson)
*A Few Of My Favorite Things intro