Grateful Dead

Mickey Hart Performs At Seva Benefit (Wavy Gravy's 71st Birthday)

By Blair Jackson

On May 18, at San Francisco’s intimate Grand Ballroom (upstairs from the old Avalon Ballroom), Mickey Hart was part of very strong lineup celebrating Wavy Gravy’s 71st birthday and raising a heap o’ money for Wavy’s favorite cause, SEVA.

With Wavy acting as emcee and spinning old and new stories between sets, the evening flowed seamlessly. Mickey’s Global Drum Project mate Sikuru was up first, fronting an all-percussion group that banged, bopped and rumbled through an exciting set that leaned heavily on material popularized by the late, great Babatunde Olatunji (a long-time friend of the Dead’s). Next was a 45-minute jaunt through the distinctive world of rising jam band Tea Leaf Green, who definitely got the crowd movin’ and shakin’ their collective groove thang. Then came my favorite set of the night, by Black Crowes (and occasional Phil & Friends) singer Chris Robinson & Wooden Family, a trio with Chris on acoustic guitar, George Reiff on bass and the fantastic Jonathan Wilson on electric guitar. Working through a collection of originals and covers such as “New Speedway Boogie” and Dylan’s/The Byrds’ “Nothing Was Delivered,” they established a warm, mellow vibe reminiscent of parts of Workingman’s Dead, but nicely colored by Robinson’s soulful delivery. Very cool.

After the infamous Baby Gramps stunned the crowd with a between-sets version of a down-and-dirty Delta blues-inspired song I presume was called “Scrotum” (the cat does play a mean dobro!), the latest edition of Zero hit the stage to thunderous cheers. As always, Steve Kimock built his guitar solos slowly, feeling his way through a succession of melodic flights on his way to the stratosphere, while saxman Martin Fierro honked and squonked and screeched in his inimitable way, sometimes locked in with Kimock, but often flying alone. A nice addition to this version of the group was our old JGB pal Melvin Seals on organ; a good fit for sure. Among the group’s meaty jam tunes were “Gregg’s Eggs” and “Catalina,” the latter warbled by Judge Murphy.

Closing the show was a group billed as Mickey Hart & Friends, which turned out to be sort of an extension of the current Rhythm Devils band. However, in Bill Kreutzmann’s place was the ever-monstrous Mr. John Molo, and filling in for regular RD bassist Mike Gordon was the fantastic George Porter Jr., of New Orleans’ incomparable Meters. What a great fit he ebullient Porter turned out to be! Far from being some loose, thrown-together aggregation, however, MH&F sounded seriously rehearsed and hit the ground running. With Jen Durkin belting in front, they grooved their way through a selection of RD originals, including “The Center,” “Your House,” “Fountains of Wood” and “Next Dimension,” then closed with a pair of Dead tunes: “New Speedway Boogie” (v.2!) and “Fire on the Mountain.” The place was still rocking well past the midnight hour.

Toss in an auction of cool memorabilia in an adjacent room and surprise appearances by Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and Pete Sears, and you’ve got a night of fine tunes for a good cause. Wavy’s birthday parties are always a good time. May we share many more with him!

For more on SEVA, go to seva.org.