Two years ago, Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart showed up for a sail on the America's Cup boat Oracle wearing flippers, a dive mask and snorkel. "They let me out of rehab especially for this," he joked. He wanted to see what it was like to sail with the "best of the best," and to translate the rhythm and sounds of high-level, professional sailing into music.
He must have made an impression, because the America's Cup organizers want him back to head the entertainment committee for the international sailing competition, held this year in San Francisco.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Hart said his new gig is twofold: to ensure the America's Cup arts and entertainment programs during the races reflect the spirit and sound of San Francisco, and to translate the sound of America's Cup sailing into music.
Hart's musical vision is to translate (or, as he puts it, "sonify") the rhythm and sounds of America's Cup sailing – the boats, wind, currents and crew – into music. "When I sailed across the bay it was like a harp – a wind harp," he said.
"This whole thing is a musical composition. When you put sensors on the boat and record, you take the soundwaves and make music. It makes us part of the race. And makes us part of the experience. It's a rhythm experience.
"These [sailors] are rhythm masters," he added. "That's how I see it. They are a group. It's like a band . . . I saw them at the edge. To move at those speeds and with that power – you are dancing with death. You're dancing with life."
Hart is no stranger to America's Cup sailing. He approached race organizers almost two years ago with creative concepts to transform the rhythm of the racing boats into music. Long before that, he scored the soundtrack for Walter Cronkite’s 1987 documentary on the America’s Cup, tapping Jerry Garcia and Carlos Santana to help out.
"I was always fascinated with the wind and the boat and the rhythm, and when the America's Cup was coming into our bay it was like round two," Hart said. "I could do things now that I couldn't do back in 1987."
Hart said he'll help select San Francisco Bay Area talent to perform during the America's Cup. So far, the organization has confirmed Sting, the Steve Miller Band, the Doobie Brothers, Train, Gavin DeGraw and Jason Mraz. Oakland native MC Hammer will also serve on the committee.
"To represent San Francisco is basically what I'm doing, besides making music for them," he said. "I wanted San Francisco represented because this is a place of arts. This is a powerhouse city."
Hart is currently working on an album with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter and preparing for a 14-date East Coast tour with the Mickey Hart Band in May. He was mum on teaming with remaining Grateful Dead band members Bob Weir, Bill Kruetzmann or Phil Lesh, adding that the committee is still in the early planning stages.
"You know how I am," he said. "I'm up for anything."