Phil Lesh & Phriends Open With 34 Minute ‘Viola Lee Blues’ On This Date In 1999
One of the more magical runs in the history of the jam scene began on this date in 1999, when Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh teamed with Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio and keyboardist Page McConnell as well as drummer John Molo and guitarist Steve Kimock for the first of three shows at The Warfield in San Francisco. The five-piece showed their might by opening with an epic “Viola Lee Blues” that set the bar high for the rest of the run.
Phil & Phriends’ 34 minute “Viola Lee Blues” came after Lesh teamed with sons Brian and Grahame as well as Kimock for Eric Clapton’s “Hello Old Friend.” The bassist had recently undergone liver transplant surgery and the Phil & Phriends performances marked his return to the stage after the scary ordeal. In a 1999 interview with Jambands.com Lesh revealed it was Anastasio’s idea to play “Viola Lee.” After the composed section of “Viola Lee,” Trey led the five-piece into the ether for a series of insane jams that covered plenty of terrain from spacey to rocking to pure bliss.
Lesh talked to Jambands.com about what happened after he heard a few Phish live recordings ahead of putting the run together, “It was absolutely entrancing, it was just gorgeous, and but I couldn’t hear the piano well on the live tapes, so I went back to the CD’s and started listening to Page and what he was doing, and so I said ‘Well…’ and my wife said ‘Come on, Come on, give them a call.’ Somehow I got their phone numbers, and I gave them both a call. We talked about it, and they said we’d love to do it, and so we set a date, and we started calling back and forth, and like I said earlier they brought in a dozen Grateful Dead tunes I never would have thought of doing, but they wanted to them. And we got together at rehearsal and the first thing we did together was ‘Viola Lee Blues,’ and from there on out it was like now let’s do this one, and let’s do this one. It was real rehearsal in the sense that the Grateful Dead rarely was. Grateful Dead rehearsals were kind of comical. We believed in public rehearsals.”
Thankfully for fans video featuring most of the first show as well as a crispy soundboard recording of the entire evening are available for our viewing and listening pleasure: