By Ryan Yousefi
By Chuck Strouse
By Terrence McCoy
By Terrence McCoy
By Terrence McCoy
By Michael E. Miller
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Michael E. Miller
The current finance-related rift between Lesh and the other surviving members of the Dead -- Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Bob Weir -- isn't the first time the group's anti-materialist image has been threatened. Immediately after Garcia's death, the last of the singer's three wives, Deborah Koons Garcia, cut off monthly payments that were part of a five-million-dollar divorce settlement with ex-wife Carolyn Adams "Mountain Girl" Garcia. Koons claimed Adams had tricked a drug-addled Jerry into signing the settlement papers two years earlier.
Daughter Annabelle Walker Garcia took a more philosophical view of Mountain Girl's subsequent lawsuit to reinstate payments: "The problem is that Mom and Dad had a real hippie relationship, and you cannot explain a Sixties relationship in legal terms."
Lesh certainly seemed to agree. Appearing in court only after being subpoenaed against his will, Lesh was asked by the judge to describe the nature of Garcia's marriages. Citing a novel twist on the Fifth Amendment, Lesh grinned and replied his testimony was unreliable since he'd spent the past 30 years in "one big, smoky haze."
Lesh was back in court again only three days before arriving at Sunrise, this time testifying on behalf of custom guitar-maker Bill Irwin (the craftsman behind Garcia's famed "Wolf" axe), and against his onetime bandmates. Though Garcia's own will clearly states, "I give all my guitars made by Douglas Erwin [sic], to Douglas Erwin" (the only nonfamily member named in the will), the Dead's estate has so far refused to do so. They claim "the Wolf" is communal property, and Irwin's only intention is to sell it for a seven-figure sum to the highest bidder.
Discussing this matter is not on the agenda as Lesh settles onto a couch next to Kulchur in a backstage dressing room at Sunrise. Post-transplant, he explains, "I look at everything differently now. The things that aren't important just seem to slide away." You can disagree with people on a business matter and still care deeply for them, he adds. Music is what he wants to talk about, and Lesh turns absolutely cosmic as he delves into his art.
"Music comes from the gods," he says solemnly. "If we have a group mind that's in the right mode, we can open the right door, open a pipeline to that dimension." His eyes light up, and he begins gathering steam: "The music that this band makes is a living organism! It thinks, it wants to grow, it wants to perceive, it wants to be solid, it wants to manifest. Our task is to make ourselves open enough to receive this manifestation and transmit it."
Digesting this, Kulchur tactfully inquires as to what substances Lesh might have been indulging in of late. "Oh no, the roadies have the bacchanalia," he laughs. Pointing to the bottle of Pellegrino before him, he smiles: "This is big-time for me now -- fizzy water."
Yet within this methodology lies a pointed critique, one that implies his departure from his former bandmates is based on aesthetic differences more than anything else. "I don't want to speak unkindly of Grateful Dead," he says, choosing his words carefully. "But it was a very laissez-faire operation on all levels." In contrast, he continues, "This band is motivated. There's a desire on everyone's part to open themselves up and play things they've never played before, to play outside themselves." His eyes start twinkling again, and he adds, wryly arching his eyebrows: "That's a new experience for me." For the last few years of his performances with the Dead, he says, "The feeling I got from the crowd was, “It's good to be here, but there must be something more.'"
The gathering of the tribes for Saturday's Sunrise show is a mellower affair than the freewheeling party that greeted the Dead at the Miami Arena in 1994, the last time Lesh was in South Florida. Several generations of fans are on display, from teens tumbling out of ramshackle VW buses to a bushy-haired driver piloting a gleaming Porsche whose license plates invoke a Garcia ballad: BRD SONG. The bazaar of homemade pipes, T-shirts, and "veggie Jerry rolls" that filled the parking lots around the arena is considerably toned down here, though there still are plenty of bongo players and a horde of dogs that would look just swell sporting bandannas.
Inside the theater all the familiar types are on display: a woman who silently frugs away in the aisle until the band eases into the Dead chestnut "Wharf Rat" -- at which point she throws her arms skyward and hollers, "Thank you, God!" A beefy fellow who keeps bellowing, "Phiiillll," as if he were cheering on a baseball player. To Kulchur's right a young man meticulously squeezes out three drops of acid from an eyedropper onto his palm and then slobbers his tongue the length of his hand. "It's more precise this way," he explains.
The most interesting reaction is unfolding directly on stage left, where a flock of the band's own children sit on high-backed chairs, taking it all in. For much of the time the kids act as if they're at a school assembly: murmuring to one another, passing notes, staring out bemused at the cheering audience. At one point the band suddenly drops into the opening strummed chords of a beloved Dead number. "If you get confused, listen to the music play," Lesh sings as the houselights flash on, and the crowd roars in response. A band member's daughter leans over and nudges one of Lesh's teenage sons. She shakes her head, laughing, and points over to Papa Lesh -- now beaming from ear to ear, seemingly ready to take off into the air. If you squinted, it almost looked as if she were saying, "Your dad is so weird!"