Before launching into a full-album cover of the Band's 1969 second LP The Band at Terrapin Crossroads on Thursday, Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh read a speech in honor of that group's drummer, Levon Helm, who passed away on April 19th. "I'd like to dedicate not just this show, or the next show, or everything we do here, but the whole place, to Levon Helm," he said.
When Lesh opened Terrapin Crossroads – a multi-use facility featuring an intimate venue, gourmet restaurant and upscale bar – in San Rafael, California earlier this season, one of his primary motivations was owning a place where he could throw West Coast "Rambles." Directly modeled after Helm's Midnight Rambles in Woodstock, New York, Lesh intends to welcome a rotating cast of musicians for ongoing jam sessions in the building's 250-person capacity Grate Room.
For the series' opening night on Thursday, Lesh led a lineup that also featured the Black Crowes' Chris Robinson and Adam MacDougall, Jon Graboff of Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, Tim Bluhm of the Mother Hips and his wife, Nicki Bluhm, John Skehan of Railroad Earth, jazz drummer Jaz Sawyer and Lesh's son, Grahame, on guitar.
The inaugural Ramble was billed as "Special Album Night," and after performing The Band in its entirety, the ensemble then covered the Grateful Dead's Workingman's Dead for their second set. Considered an all-time classic, Workingman's Dead was released in 1970, just one year after The Band hit shelves. Performed back-to-back, the influence that the Band had on the Grateful Dead during that era became obvious.
Here is Lesh's complete dedication to Helm:
I've been planning to do the album you're about to hear before Levon passed, as the inspiration for these Rambles and for this whole place comes directly from him.
When I played Levon's Midnight Ramble with my boys Grahame and Brian, along with Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams, a couple years back, I was so taken with the family atmosphere – breaking bread together in his kitchen and then walking through the kitchen door right onto the stage to play; Levon playing and singing with his daughter Amy, me with my boys.
I knew that I wanted to do something similar here at home. I spoke to Levon about it and sought his blessing, as it were – and he was very enthusiastic. He spoke of trading shows: we would go there, he would come here to play – family and friends making music together. He talked about acoustics and the woodwork, but really it was his big warm open heart that made the Barn so special.
So much of our vision comes from there – an intimate setting, collaboration with different musicians, multi-generationally friendly. It's safe to say that this place would not exist if not for Levon's example and encouragement. I'd like to dedicate not just the show, or the next show, or everything we do here, but the whole place, to Levon Helm.