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Wednesday, July 25

Review:Phil & Friends? Not everything is always ALL GOOD!

Before I celebrate all that was good from this prominent festival, I feel compelled to address the deplorable act that was billed as Phil and Friends.  Mr. Lesh has performed extensively since the late nineties under this banner achieving unparalleled success.  The band is renowned for Phil surrounding himself with incredible musicians and delivering the extensive Grateful Dead catalog with refreshing and complex arrangements, where improvisation is always front and center.  It consistently produced music that I enjoyed more than the latter years of The Grateful Dead.  The members in his bands over the years read like a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction.  So when the only member announced was the beloved Jackie Greene, the rumor mill obviously exploded.  By the time the night revealed itself it was my heart that suffered a similar fate.    
Smiles were abundant throughout the valley that was once Buckeye Lake when Phil appeared on stage.  Bob Weir, Bruce Hornsby and Branford Marsalis just finished a set of mystical proportions and the vibe could not have been more electric.  Joe Russo took his place behind his drum kit, Larry Campbell grasped his guitar and Jackie Greene took his place behind the keys.  Then like a couple of awkward kids on their first day at a new school, Phil’s sons Grahame and Brian set up next to dad.  Grahame on the guitar with his younger brother picking up the mandolin.  It was obvious from the opening jam we were in for a rough night. Instead of seducing the music into the opening number, it covered no ground until it awkwardly fizzled to a complete stop.  The band quickly launched into a course “Truckin” and even Jackie’s inspired vocals could not stop the energy from being sucked out of the once festive domain. Grahame took lead vocals subsequently on “Deal” and the music quickly went from substandard to absurd. His voice lacked confidence as he struggled to keep his guitar in tune.  Brian’s mandolin could not be heard and at times it seemed his instrument was not even plugged into the mix. Once the tune came to a painful conclusion, the crowd was eerily quit. Teresa Williams emerged on stage and sang The Band’s staple “Chest Fever”, unfortunately her soulful voice was akin to a good chef on a sinking ship. 
It would be cruel for me to review the show as a whole for it would be completely redundant.  The Lesh boys were not ready for prime time and they knew it more than the silenced crowd.  Instead of the improvising bliss we’d grown accustomed to with Phil and Friends, the band tip-toed around the sons all night in a failed attempt to mask their minimal aptitude. It was beyond painful for the fans as the band was handcuffed all night. Joe and Phil could not drive the music into uncharted territory in fear of losing the obviously rattled Lesh boys completely.  
The few highlights only made the night more frustrating, Jackie Greene picked up his guitar for a rousing “New Speedway Boogie” and with two capable pickers the music briefly came alive, with the band seemingly ignoring the amateurs. But it did not last as the guitar prodigy returned to his keyboards to try and salvage the show. Sadly he was the only musician that did not castrate his talents, proving all night he is a beast on the keys. The rest of the band seemed befuddled, including Phil who sadly looked his age for the first time. The night ended with an uninvited encore of “Going down the Road Feeling Bad” into a reprobate “We Bid You Goodnight”. 
I want to make clear that this stain on Phil’s legacy did not transpire at his restaurant and the disheartened fans certainly did not receive a free grilled cheese once the adulteration had concluded.  This was the headlining act at a festival and venue that all deadheads hold sacred. If one bad apple spoils the whole bunch, I guess two robbed thousands of the thrill of a Grateful time. 
Words: Kevin Long 
 Photos: Jordan August

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