On Friday night, Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann kicked off his three-night Grateful Mahalo run of livestream shows in Hawaii with Billy & The Kids and some very special guests. 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 guitar) and saxophonist James Casey (Trey Anastasio Band).
The performance marked the first in five years by Billy & The Kids. While the band had plotted a comeback in 2020, the pandemic had other plans. Now, as things open up, the Kids—old and new—finally gathered to celebrate their comeback and 75 years of Bill the Drummer.
With a lineup as stacked as this one, it was easy to guess that these three shows would be something special. Night one of three quickly proved that hypothesis as the new-look band dove into a remarkably tight first set featuring a mix of Grateful Dead/Jerry Garcia favorites, effortlessly passing solos and lead vocals around the horn.
Hamilton took first licks at the mic with “Mississippi Half Step Uptown Toodeloo”, followed by a roaring “Deal” featuring hair-raising solos from Casey and Strings. The younger Billy took his turn on lead vocals next with “Jack-a-Roe” before passing the ball back to Tommy for an extended “Crazy Fingers” jam highlighted by more Casey fireworks and a standout Magner synth solo.
Out of the ashes of “Crazy Fingers”, Billy strings led the outfit into the first big surprise of the night, a slow and sexy cover of Phish staple “Back On The Train”. From there, Magner took over lead vocals on a set-closing, rhythm-shifting “Let It Grow” complete with a Jimi Hendrix “3rd Stone From The Sun” jam and plenty of guitar fireworks from both Hamilton and Strings.
Set two kicked off with Hamilton at the helm on a slow and steady “Help On The Way” that built to a dreamy musical brew for “Slipknot!” before settling into a Billy Strings-led “Deep Elem Blues” and eventually drifting back through “Slipknot!” for a quick reprise to close out the set-opening segment. From there, the band shifted down a gear for a dreamy “Wharf Rat” sung by Strings, Hamilton’s slide guitar and Casey’s Branford Marsalis-like brass flourishes lending the classic Dead tune a fresh layer of creativity. After peaking with a fiery Hamilton solo, the band hit the gas on a sprawling “Truckin'” that saw Mathis step up to tackle the song’s Bob Weir lead vocals (with harmony from Magner and Hamilton). Finally, with time for one more, Billy Strings stepped to the mic once more to lead the stacked outfit through a show-closing cover of Traffic‘s “Dear Mr. Fantasy”.
There are plenty more surprises in store as Grateful Mahalo continues on Saturday and Sunday night (we all saw those photos with Carlos Santana, but you can’t burn all your tricks on night one). Either way, this first installment was enough to raise excitement for the rest of the weekend to apex levels. This is not your average superjam; this is a legitimately fantastic band—and this was their first-ever show together. The sky is the limit for this weekend, and we can’t wait to enjoy the ride.
Grateful Mahalo continues tonight, Saturday, May 8th, exclusively via FANS. To order your Saturday and Sunday night webcasts, head here. Check out some videos from the Friday performance below.
Grateful Mahalo: Billy Kreutzmann’s 75th Birthday Pa’ina – Set 1 Teaser [Pro-Shot] – 5/7/21
Grateful Mahalo: Billy Kreutzmann’s 75th Birthday Pa’ina – Set 2 Teaser [Pro-Shot] – 5/7/21
Setlist: Billy & The Kids w/ Billy Strings, James Casey | Grateful Mahalo | Kauai, HI | 5/7/21
Set: Half-Step Mississippi Uptown Toodeloo, Deal, Jack-a-Roe, Crazy Fingers > Back On The Train (Phish), Let It Grow
Set Two: Help On The Way > Slipknot! > Deep Elem Blues > Slipknot! Reprise > Wharf Rat, Truckin’, Dear Mr. Fantasy (Traffic)