This is the time of year when we see many tributes to the late, great Jerry Garcia as early August not only marks his birthday, but also the horrendous day of his death. The Zen Tricksters, who started many moons ago as a Dead cover band, have been performing their own original tunes for years. But on Saturday, July 28, they returned to their roots to honor Jerry at their fifth annual Birthday Tribute appearance at the Pier 17 Stage at South Street Seaport in New York City.

This free outdoor concert attracted nearly a thousand Deadheads, tourists, and people out for a beautiful day by the water. Appropriately, in two sets of music the Tricksters performed mostly Dead songs during the brilliantly sunny afternoon, but also included some of their own well-loved tunes. They opened the first set with a rousing "Scarlet Begonias," always a crowd favorite. This segued into a hauntingly beautiful "Bird Song," a song written by Garcia in tribute to Janis Joplin, and quite fitting on a day that was itself a tribute to Garcia. Trickster original "Light of Life" followed, an instrumental written by bassist Klyph Black and featuring tricky and syncopated timing and the precision drumming of Alan Lerner. "From Above," by keyboardist Pete Levin, was next and showcased his "big" sound, featuring robust and wailing organ. "Not Fade Away" got the crowd frenzied and clapping, and lead guitarist, Jeff Mattson’s "Warm Heart" featured a long, spacey, out-there jam.

The band then performed one of the great Bobby Weir tunes, "Let It Grow," highlighted by the great weir-like vocals of rhythm guitarist Tom Circosta. This jammed into one of the high points of the afternoon, the Garcia/Hunter song, "Comes A Time." This is a slow, gut wrenchingly beautiful piece which featured Mattson’s pleading vocal and melodic and emotional guitar solo. No one does this better than Mattson, and this song that very much embodies the spirit of Garcia, did not leave a dry eye in the house. The band lifted everyone’s mood back up with their upbeat original "Eilat," which completed the set.

The second set began with an instrumental version of "Expressway to Your Heart," again featuring the screaming organ of Levin. Mattson’s "Talk of the Town" followed, a rolling rhythm tune that was followed by a rollicking jam and then another Weir number, "Cassidy," featuring the vocals of Circosta and guest vocalist, Wendy Lanter, singing beautiful harmony. Two Trickster originals, the jazzy, upbeat "Where You Want to Be" and funky bluesy Black song, "Reno" were next. Two classic Dead numbers, "Uncle John’s Band," which was highlighted by gorgeous three-part vocal harmonies and wonderful, interweaving guitar work, and "The Eleven" ended the set. The crowd cheered and screamed to bring the Tricksters out for an encore, "Box of Rain." This song, which is a beautifully ethereal piece with lovely, intricate three part harmonies, was written by Phil Lesh about the death of his father, and was the last song that Jerry Garcia performed with the Grateful Dead. A proper and fitting end to the afternoon rang out with the final words of the song, "Such a long, long time to be gone, and a short time to be there."

The second part of the Zen Tricksters annual Jerry Birthday Celebration will take place on Saturday, August 4 at Wetlands Preserve in New York where they will perform 3 sets of music, 1 acoustic and 2 electric, to honor the memory and life of Garcia. For more information, see www.zentricksters.com and www.wetlands-preserve.org.

By Miranda Novick

[Published on: 8/1/01]

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