By: Dave Wood & Chad Smith
Benevento/Russo Duo & Eric Krasno :: Summer 2009 :: Villa Caletas :: Costa Rica
The adventure began last winter when Chris Gleason proposed to Robin Taxman on Jam Cruise 7. With all of the excitement and boogie going down on the high seas, Chris could easily be forgiven for promising a jam-oriented destination wedding and not delivering. But when he called from NOLA during Jazz Fest a few months later and said that Robert Walter was busy, but could help him with booking, I started to think he was actually serious. His daily updates from the Crescent City were intriguing, to say the least. We heard rumblings of conversations from Lotus, George Porter Jr., Marco Benevento, Galactic, Lettuce, Karl Denson, and the list went on. When he asked if I thought we could all make it down to Costa Rica at the end of July, the gig was on. Chris remained a bit secretive about the artists he was talking to but did reveal that he was trying to score the only Hammond B3 organ for hire in the entire country.
|Benevento/Russo/Krasno :: Costa Wedding|
Two months later, I found myself in the San Jose airport renting a 4-wheel drive vehicle with surfboard rack to take us over the mountains to a resort outside of Playa Jaco. 57 people, including many festival veterans and jam band enthusiasts (not to mention guests aged 4 to 74), were making their way to the Pacific Coast for the event. Villa Caletas (the warm smell of?) sits on a mountaintop overlooking the ocean and a dense tropical rainforest. This was to be our venue for the Gleason-Taxman wedding. After the rehearsal dinner, some of the groomsman helped lug the rented B3 to the dining room, up the side of a mountain and 157 shallow steps, and then the band was announced. Chris had lined up the venerable Duo of Marco Benevento and Joe Russo and somehow hooked Eric Krasno (Soulive, Lettuce) to play for us. Actually, the secret had been revealed a few days before when Marco, his lovely wife Katy and their two-year-old daughter Ruby were splashing in the resort's pool with us. The morning of the rehearsal, Krasno and the inimitable Brandi Mitchell arrived straight from the Gathering of the Vibes Fest in Connecticut, where Lettuce had played the night before. Russo and his girlfriend had also flown in that same morning.
The rehearsal dinner show turned out to be exactly that; a rehearsal for three musicians at the top of their respective games who had not had much opportunity - a single practice session in Brooklyn - to play together prior to this gathering. With clouds streaming over the surrounding tropical jungle and the humidity adding an extra depth to every note, the three began things with a jammed out version of The Beatles' "Taxman." This turned out to be a theme that would be revisited throughout this night and the next. With no setlist, the musicians took turns leading and teaching each other as they explored songs by Stevie Wonder, Santana, and the Allman Brothers, to name just a few. The set was about two and a half hours long when it adjourned and we were left wondering what would be in store for us at tomorrow's main event.
|Benevento & Krasno at Rehearsal Dinner|
The music kicked off in the afternoon heat as the traditional Jewish wedding took place shortly after 4:00 p.m. in an amphitheatre overlooking the Pacific. Her proud father escorted the bride down the steps as Krasno and Benevento played a couple more Beatles tunes ("Something" and "All You Need Is Love"). Later, after we had stuffed ourselves on seafood and wedding cake, The Duo plus Krasno took up positions at the end of the Zephyr Palace under the light towers and smoke machines that Gleason had arranged for and kicked things off with a twist on The Meters' "Cissy Strut." After a few quick toasts, a long, jazzy "Come Together" signaled that we were in store for a jam heavy and deeply improvisational evening.
Chris and Robin were hoisted overhead on chairs as the dancing grew frenetic and Benevento took us on the band's first go at "Hava Nagila." This "Have Nagila" was like no other. The momentum and energy just kept building and it almost felt as if we were at a rave (in a good way). Fortunately, Chris had a good grip on his chair or else he would have been launched into the soundboard.
|Hava Nagila! Hava Nagila!|
Soul was heavily featured next with funky translations of Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle" and Sly & The Family Stone's "If You Want Me to Stay." A nimble turn took us Deadheads into familiar territory with a fine, long suite of "Lovelight" > "Shakedown" > "Iko Iko." The dancing was growing faster and some twirlers were spotted along the sides of the hall. Despite the heat and humidity which had permeated the room - the AC was definitely overmatched by this dance party - most of the revelers were still on their feet, including many of the couple's family and friends, who had only the faintest idea of what was going on or being played. The two hour first set wound down with a concise reading of "Boogie On Reggae Woman" led by Krasno into "Get Back," and finally a melding of the Greyboy Allstars' and STS9's workhorse "Nautilus." The degree to which these three musicians were able to combine styles, communicate on the fly, and explore different themes within each song certainly gave no indication that this was one of their first gigs together. In fact, it seemed as though they had been playing together as a trio for years.
This cohesion was never more apparent than during the second set take on the Allman Brothers' "Jessica." This was a song they had tackled at the previous night's aptly named rehearsal party, and while it was solidly done, there were a few rough transitions and clunky pauses. Not so at the reception get-down. Krasno channeled the lead work with a lyrical sense reminiscent of Warren Haynes' interpretations while Russo anchored the rhythm section and Benevento filled in every other space. Was this truly only three people?
The second set featured some of the best elements of the Duo (with themes off of '04s Best Reason to Buy the Sun) interwoven with Krasno's tight riffs and rapid scales - a true amalgamation of styles. By this time, anything they chose to play was perfect with the wedding partiers, none of whom had left even this late in the game. As the night pushed on we drooped into a spacier zone with deep psychedelic takes on songs by the JBs, Paul Simon, and The Doors. Zeppelin's "The Ocean" pounded us as fists pumped and Russo channeled Bonham's heavy rock theme.
|The Happy Couple's First Swim|
Another two songs (including the Duo's own "Becky") left us exhausted and eyeing the infinity pool just outside the doors. But first, a few last nuggets to send us off into the tropical night, including a mellow "Stir it Up" followed by a bride's jam. Robin had hopped onto the organ bench next to Marco and randomly played the nursery rhyme "Mary Had A Little Lamb." And why not, it was her wedding! On a night when anything was possible and everything game, our three magicians took off with it and morphed the riff into a 15-minute improv that defied description. Hot revelers with sore feet took to the pool in full clothing, just as Benevento had done after the Duo's set on Jam Cruise 3 – a fitting ending to a perfect night of intimacy, music, and celebration. Pura Vida indeed!
Soundboard Audio available here.
Continue reading for more pics of this raging wedding...