Words by Andy Tennille

Bill Graham's 75th Birthday Bash / 40th Anniversary of the Fillmore Acid Tests
01.07 & 01.08 :: The Fillmore :: San Francisco, CA

Jackson Browne, Art Neville, Santana
01.07.06 by Jay Blakesberg
"Nine times out of ten, it's eleven," Neville Brothers and Dumpstaphunk bassist Nic Daniels pontificates from behind his dark sunglasses as we scream down Geary towards the band's hotel on Market Street in a car driven by some chick from The Fillmore. In the front seat, Ivan Neville nods his head in agreement.

I glance out the window at the Tenderloin as we speed by.

Nine times out of ten, it's eleven.

In a weekend that honored legendary concert promoter and music catalyst Bill Graham and the 40th anniversary of the Fillmore Acid Tests, one should always expect the unexpected.

Aaron Neville & Bonnie Raitt :: 01.07.06 by Jay Blakesberg
Bill Graham taught us that. The good old Grateful Dead taught us that. And the late, great Chet Helms and Kesey and his Pranksters taught us that.

Nine times out of ten, it's eleven.

With a bill featuring announced acts The Neville Brothers, Jackson Browne, Bob Weir, and Mickey Hart, Saturday night of the two-night celebration was vintage Fillmore fare with expectations of more than a few special treats. Weir kicked things off with a solid set from Ratdog, followed up by Jackson Browne, who welcomed special surprise guest Bonnie Raitt to the stage for a beautiful version of his "I Am a Patriot." Browne then welcomed Fred Martin & The Levite Camp, an amazingly talented group from Los Angeles, to back him on "World in Motion" and a stellar reading of "The Next Voice You Hear" with the night's second special guest, guitarist Carlos Santana, leading the choir in a call-and-response game of musical tag.

Weir, Browne, Aaron Neville
01.07.06 by Jay Blakesberg
Mickey Hart was up next, bringing more than 75 people onstage for a drum circle jam that led into "Jingo." While both Hart and Weir's sets were fun, neither was truly musically noteworthy. It was hard to not stare at the stage and consider the possibilities of a more fully-realized group of old friends playing music once again; yet it seems neither hell, high water, their 40th anniversary last year, the death of Chet Helms, nor the birthday celebration for one of the their greatest supporters in Graham can result in a temporary putting aside of differences and reprieve from the bickering and groveling of the band formerly known as the Grateful Dead - a sad state indeed.

The Fillmore :: 01.07.06 by Jay Blakesberg
Santana and keysman Chester Thompson were featured next, the highlight being an instrumental duet that opened the set with Thompson's Hammond organ swells supporting Santana's beautiful, meandering guitar riffs floating over the top. The Neville Brothers' set that followed emptied the backstage as appearances by Santana, Weir, Raitt, Hart, Browne and The Levite Camp led into the evening's grand finale set with takes on "Brother John," "Iko Iko," "Fire on the Bayou," "Amazing Grace," "One Love/People Get Ready," and a Santana-led improvisational jam with The Levite crew called "Right on, Be Free."

The Fillmore 01.08.06 by Andy Tennille
While Saturday night's concert was fairly predictable considering many of the night's entertainers' close association with Graham, the second night of music featuring the new generation of the San Francisco sound was an unexpected surprise that roundly overwhelmed the previous night's star-studded affair.

Billed as the 40th anniversary of the Fillmore Acid Tests, Sunday night's show was replete with allusions to the famed event thrown in January 1966 by Kesey & the Pranksters. Stretched across the wall on stage left was a white screen that spanned the entire length of the main room, depicting some of the early Acid Test posters and artwork. The screen directly behind the stage showed movie clips and scenes from the original Acid Tests in San Francisco and Los Angeles and various mind-fucking psychedelic imagery. The audience appeared to be in fine form and dressed to the nines, donning masks, capes, feathers, and glitter aplenty. Some leery kid was even sniffing the contents of the unusually full apple bin at the front door of The Fillmore, apparently a bit cautious of the legendary tales of The Bear's White Lightning. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your psychedelic predilections), the infamous baby bathtub of Kool Aid was nowhere to be found, Kesey long gone and nary a Prankster in sight.

Garrod & Feinstein :: 01.08 by Andy Tennille
The music got under way with a short set by Hot Buttered Rum, a traditional bluegrass outfit whose acoustic prowess was on display with three quick originals – "Guns or Butter," "Idaho Pines," and "Busted in Utah." The band closed their set joined by Jordan Feinstein of The Ritual on Hammond organ and Trevor Garrod and Scott Rager of Tea Leaf Green on keys and drums respectively for a nice cover of the Dead's "New Speedway Boogie."

Samantha Stollenwerck :: 01.08 by Andy Tennille
Having missed out on the Mother Hips show in December at the Great American Music Hall, I was excited to see guitarist Tim Bluhm and drummer John Hofer take the stage for a few songs accompanied by bassist Steve Adams and guitarist Dan Lebowitz of Animal Liberation Orchestra. Samantha Stollenwerck was up next and was backed by Feinstein and The Ritual for a few originals, including Stollenwerck's hit "Frank Sinatra," before ceding the stage to more guests. A great sing-along cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Looking Out My Back Door" and Bob Dylan's "You Ain't Going Nowhere" highlighted the guest-laden super jam featuring members of Hot Buttered Rum, Tea Leaf Green, The Ritual, ALO, and others, the peak of which was a cover of Traffic's "Dear Mr. Fantasy" with some scorching guitar work from Sean Leahy.

McFadden & Clark :: 01.08 by Andy Tennille
Eric McFadden may have been the most well-known of all the participants in Sunday's show, having gigged regularly around the Bay Area for years with both his Trio and Experience, as well as being a member of George Clinton's P-Funk AllStars and Stockholm Syndrome, the brainchild of Jerry Joseph and Widespread Panic bass player Dave Schools. As always, McFadden did not disappoint, both in his own short set as well as during the various sit-in appearances he made throughout the rest of the night. Part raging rock star, part flamenco gypsy, McFadden is one of the most talented musicians in San Francisco today, bar none. Whenever he steps into the spotlight, McFadden turns up the energy level a few notches, and the unexpected becomes the norm.

Tim Bluhm :: 01.08 by Andy Tennille
The headliners and hosts of the evening were Tea Leaf Green, the quartet who has built an enormously loyal and fervent following in the Bay Area and is quickly developing an audience east of the Mississippi. The band threw out a couple of staple tunes ("Garden 3," "Ride Together," "Earth and Sky") to start out, but it was the back half of their set, featuring "Slip Away" with Dan Lebowitz on lap steel, "Incandescent Devil" with McFadden on guitar, "Baseball Jam" with Hot Buttered Rum's Aaron Redner on fiddle, and "Georgie P" with Leahy trading licks with guitarist Josh Clark, in which the band really flexed its muscle.

The festivities ended with an all-star jam of sorts with covers of two Neil Young classics, "Helpless" and "Down By the River," as vocal duties rotated between Garrod, Bluhm (who sounds hauntingly like Young and absolutely ripped a note-perfect rendition of the guitar solo on the latter song), and Leahy. The collective ended the night with a very trippy cover of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" with Stollenwerck on vocals, which was enjoyable despite the fact that half the verses appeared to be forgotten.

But as it was the 40th anniversary to the date of the historic Fillmore Acid Tests of 1966, Stollenwerck should be granted some leniency.

Perhaps The Pranksters had shown up after all.

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