Phil Lesh Jams at Levon Helm's Midnight Ramble - Rolling Stone
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Phil Lesh Jams at Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble

Dead legend and his sons join Donald Fagen for surprise set

Fresh off a performance with Furthur at Connecticut’s Gathering of the Vibes festival, Phil Lesh rocked Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble Saturday night. The former Grateful Dead bassist unveiled a new band at the surprise performance that featured his two sons and jammed with Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, as well as the evening’s host.

The capacity crowd at Levon Helm Studios — which included actresses Jane Fonda and Catherine Keener and Phish bassist Mike Gordon — erupted when Lesh was introduced. “This is so cool,” Lesh said after arriving onstage. “Thank you, Levon, for getting this together — absolutely.”

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Lesh then got to work performing more than an hour of Grateful Dead standards. Lesh handled vocals and bass, while his two sons, Brian and Grahame, sang and played guitar. Larry Campbell contributed vocals, fiddle, guitar and pedal steel and Teresa Williams joined in on vocals. Lesh’s signature, seismic bass notes could be felt through the floor as the impromptu band tore through “Deal,’ “Dire Wolf,” “Friend of the Devil,” “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad” and “I Know You Rider.”

Lesh beamed and offered musical guidance to his sons, who showed off refined guitar chops, although the three-part harmonies they shared with their father on many of the songs stole the show. “I have to say,” Lesh said after introducing his sons, “this is the proudest moment of my life.”

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Lesh watched the Levon Helm Band’s set and sang along from his seat behind Helm’s drum kit on “Deep Elem Blues,” which the Grateful Dead performed years ago. Lesh also played bass on several Dead songs that are part of the Levon Helm Band repertoire, including “Tennessee Jed” and “Shakedown Street.” Fagen, who often plays with the Levon Helm Band, took over lead vocals and piano for “Shakedown Street.”

Lesh also joined Campbell, Williams and Helm’s daughter, Amy, on the Dead tune “Attics of My Life” and the Lesh family sat in for the set closer, “The Weight,” with Grahame and Brian each taking a verse.

Set list:
“Dire Wolf”
“I Know You Rider”
“Cumberland Blues”
“Friend of the Devil”
“Angel Band”
“Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad”
“We Bid You Goodnight”

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