Terrapin Crossroads’ Legacy: Part 1 – ‘Some Rise’
On the 10th anniversary of Terrapin Crossroads opening, JamBase presents a retrospective series celebrating the community that formed around the venue opened by Phil Lesh.
Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh officially opened Terrapin Crossroads on March 17, 2012. The venue became the epicenter of a community of musicians and fans that lasted through the concert hall/restaurant’s closure in November 2021. Coinciding with the 10-year anniversary of the opening of the space in San Rafael, California, JamBase presents a multi-part retrospective that explores the history and development of the TXR community.
“Inspiration move me brightly” – Phil Lesh attends Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble
In the years after the Grateful Dead’s disbandment following Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995, bassist Phil Lesh pursued a variety of musical projects, including the post-Dead offshoots The Other Ones, Furthur and The Dead. What became Lesh’s focus was Phil Lesh & Friends, which to this day finds the 81-year-old joined by a rotating cast of talented musicians. Among those joining Lesh, who underwent a liver transplant in 1998 and was treated for prostate cancer in 2006, were his sons, Brian Lesh and Grahame Lesh.
On July 31, 2010, Phil (who was on tour with Furthur at the time), Grahame and Brian performed together at Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble in Woodstock, New York before a crowd that included Phish’s Mike Gordon and actors Jane Fonda and Catherine Keener. Phil, Brian and Grahame played a set while joined by Larry Campbell and Justin Guip. Phil went on to sit-in with the Levon Helm Band on “Shakedown Street,” “Attics Of My Life” and “Tennessee Jed,” as well as “Brokedown Palace” and “The Weight” with Brian and Grahame also sitting-in.
The intimate experience was unforgettable and one Lesh sought to replicate with his own space near his home in the Bay Area.
Phil Lesh onstage at Levon’s Midnight Ramble (Rolling Stone August 1, 2010):
This is so cool. Thank you, Levon, for getting this together — absolutely. I have to say, this is the proudest moment of my life.
I guess it must’ve been in 2010. My whole family went, and my brother and my dad, and I played a show at Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock with Levon, with Amy Helm and the whole Midnight Ramble Band. Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams who were sort of helping to lead Levon’s band at the time — had been in Phil & Friends as well.
And we just went up there and played the show and then afterward just walked into the other room that was Levon’s house and Levon’s kitchen. And my parents just sort of figured they wanted something like that, where they wouldn’t have to tour as much and could have the people come to them.
So that was the idea behind Terrapin Crossroads. Sort of a West Coast version. It ended up definitely being a bigger thing. Literally, just a bigger physical space than Levon’s barn is. And that definitely made it so there had to be music filling the entire space all the time.
And so the entire Bay Area music community, definitely the jam and bluegrass and Americana community, descended on it and anyone could be playing a show, in the bar especially, or at least on one of the stages. There were three for most of the time. And [his band] Midnight North had Sunday nights in the bar for a very long time. That helped us grow up as a band. It was a pretty wonderful thing.
We’re taking the first steps to make a long time dream – a permanent musical home – come true. We are purchasing a building in Marin, and plan on remodeling it to feel like an old barn; we’re calling it Terrapin Landing. We will continue with Furthur while making music at Terrapin Landing when we are at home.
The music will be varied, featuring: Phil Lesh & Friends (continuing the tradition of revolving lineups, including old as well as new friends) [and] West Coast Rambles, based on (and blessed by) Levon Helm’s historic Rambles …
Our goal is to create a vibrant community gathering place: beautiful, comfortable, welcoming – for members of the community to commingle and enjoy good music.
I also remember being [at TXR] with Larry Campbell right before Levon [Helm] passed away. And I remember poignantly, Larry telling me that they had just done a little short run with Levon on the road. And he said, one of the nights Levon sang the best he had sung in years. And I remember him telling me that. And then shortly after that, we got the call that he was gone.
I was very close to Levon and, and honored our friendship and all the times that we played together. I think his Ramble in some ways probably inspired Terrapin.
I only did [Levon’s] Ramble two times back then. The first time with Levon and the second time, they called me to see if I would come and not fill in for him. That’s not the right way to describe it, but he had decided that he needed to go down south and he was going to miss the show and they asked me if I would come and do it. In honor of that, so to speak. So the last time I did the Ramble was with him not being there. [It] was not a good sign.
We had the idea for Terrapin Crossroads when my sons and I played Levon’s Ramble up in Woodstock, N.Y., [in 2010]. It was such a magical day and we came away with a strong desire to do something like that at home. At first, we thought we’d do it at an established venue and take it over for one night a month. The Grateful Dead had been trying to do something like this for years – as far back as 1968, we were talking about having a satellite and beaming it to everybody. So the idea evolved into a place where we would have our own location where we would play and people would come to see us. It also evolved because we didn’t just want to have a nightclub. We wanted to have a place with food, music, art, dance, community outreach and nonprofit events – basically a cultural center.
We went to The Independent in San Francisco when Levon played there and I said, “We would really like to do something similar out here and would it be OK if we used the name Ramble?” He loved the idea and we have a portrait of Levon hanging in Terrapin Crossroads’ Family Room. He’s watching over us.
“The train’s put its brakes on” – The Fairfax Location
Phil Lesh’s March 29, 2011 announcement of Terrapin Landing made a vague reference to the initial intended location of the venue in Fairfax, California, the town where Lesh formerly resided for over a decade. The subsequent months saw various efforts by Lesh to work with the City of Fairfax to come to an agreement on building out what was then starting to be called Terrapin Crossroads.
After first considering landing Terrapin Crossroads at the spot of the Good Earth Organic & Natural Foods on 1996 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, on August 1, 2011 (what would have been Jerry Garcia’s birthday) Lesh officially submitted plans to open Terrapin Crossroads at the site of an abandoned mechanic’s shop west of Good Earth at 2000 Sir Francis Drake.
Despite the best efforts of Phil and his wife Jill Lesh – and their development team – pushback from the surrounding community ultimately led to the Leshes scrapping plans for the Fairfax location.
Fairfax Mayor Larry Bragman on March 31, 2011 (Marin Independent Journal):
There would be a Fairfax-style collaboration between [Phil Lesh] and the neighborhood in order to work things out. If that could be done, then this will really be an asset for the community. He’s not a stranger to Fairfax, and I expect he would get a pretty good reception.
Phil Lesh on July 29, 2011 (Marin Independent Journal):
[Terrapin Crossroads is] a place for me to play with my sons and younger musicians, and also with the many musical friends I’ve been playing with for the last 15 years or so. At the same time, we want it to be a place the community can feel free to use. We’re trying to find out if what we want to do will fit in with the town … Fairfax is very Haight-like. It has that feeling.
[The Good Earth location] was not going to work. We take the neighbors’ concerns very seriously. We don’t want to come in and just push people around. We’re just hoping we’ll be able to do everything right so Fairfax will want us.
It’s a music barn we’re building, but more importantly it’s a community gathering place. St. Rita’s School and Fairfax Lumber have already asked if they could use it for events.
“Crossroads” feels like we’re still in motion, whereas “landing” implies we’re at the journey’s end. But it’s not the journey’s end, believe me. This is a new beginning.”
Jill Lesh on July 29, 2011 (Marin Independent Journal):
[The mechanic’s shop location is] solidly on Drake, not on a residential corner. The performance space will be concrete clad in wood, so it will be completely soundproof. You would not be able to hear anything outside. Obviously, we have to deal with parking and traffic and other issues, and that’s what the use permit process is for. We have a lot of work to do to see if we can address all those concerns.
If we don’t get a use permit, we’ll go somewhere else. There are lots of places in Marin where we could do this, but Fairfax feels like such a welcoming family town. They even have a Jerry Garcia memorial. It’s a town where we feel we could be personally involved, where we can make a positive difference. And also bring in some world-class music.
Jill Lesh on August 17, 2011, responding to “No Terrapin, Please,” signs posted along Phil’s walking path close to their home in Ross (Marin Independent Journal):
They must have done it in the middle of the night after watching where he walks. It felt a little weird and creepy … We didn’t want to start off this way. There are lots of other places we could go. We just really like Fairfax. We thought we could really do some things that would benefit the town.
Fairfax Town Manager Michael Rock on August 17, 2011 (Marin Independent Journal):
Nobody put their name on it. It’s a cowardly act. We haven’t had one public meeting yet on this issue and people are already putting up signs.
Fairfax Councilman Lew Tremaine on August 17, 2011 (Marin Independent Journal):
It’s frustrating. You think you’ve raised the level of political discourse in the community and then you get this crap. Let’s not be childish.
Discussion about the Terrapin Crossroads proposal was removed from the Fairfax Town Council meeting agenda on August 17, 2011. Weeks later, project manager Bruce Burman gave a presentation to the city. The meeting on September 1 at the Fairfax Pavilion was attended by hundreds of people.
Victoria Carrothers, a resident of a nearby low income apartment building for senior citizens and others with special needs, at the September 1 meeting (Marin Independent Journal):
We already have congested traffic. I don’t see this making life more pleasant … I love to rock out and get high too.
After careful consideration we have decided not to move forward with Terrapin Crossroads in Fairfax. For all of you that have supported our efforts and helped to define the vision, we are extremely grateful. Phil looks forward to making music and creating a community gathering place sooner rather than later.
I regret we were not given the opportunity of going through the process with them. I think that is a real loss for the community. I really do.
“Terrapin Landing” – Opening the San Rafael location
On January 2, 2012, Phil and Jill Lesh confirmed the location that ultimately became Terrapin Crossroads. The site was the Seafood Peddler restaurant in San Rafael, California. Lesh and Furthur had previously held semi-public tour rehearsals at the space in May and June 2010. The note from Phil Lesh announcing the San Rafael location follows below:
I was recently re-reading Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, and Jill and I started reminiscing about the 1987 rehearsal sessions with Bob that took place at Club Front, the Grateful Dead San Rafael studio/boy’s club from the late seventies until the mid-nineties. We were having lunch in the area one afternoon and decided to take a drive by the old studio. While we were driving around we went by The Seafood Peddler restaurant, where Furthur did some rehearsal shows a couple years ago in their Palm Ballroom. We pulled into the rear parking lot and we saw a large painted Grateful Dead logo with the words Buckle Up Kids above it. We looked at each other and both had the same flash – that the Seafood Peddler had the foundation for us to realize our long-held dream of finding a place in Marin County to make music.
We originally thought of Terrapin Crossroads as a musical home- a way to reactivate the various lineups that I’ve put together over the past ten years. As we got deeper into it, it morphed into something more comprehensive: a community cultural and educational center. We plan to celebrate the arts – music, culinary, poetry, dance, literature, visual arts including photography, theatre, and other creative endeavors – so aside from a performance space and restaurant, Terrapin Crossroads will also host art exhibits, have an art-and-music-themed library and reading room, memorabilia displays, and a beautiful, comfortable place where friends can meet to exchange ideas over a glass of wine or a drink, a terrific meal, and of course hear some great music. We’ll also be a place for teaching and learning: in addition to regular musical performances, we will offer curated conversations with celebrated visionaries, luminaries, characters, and eccentrics, discussing topics ranging from cosmology to history to environmental issues to building team spirit and beyond.
Terrapin Crossroads intends to become a positive force in the Canal District in San Rafael. We plan to develop a close relationship with the City of San Rafael, and work to support the local police and fire departments and other community services along with local nonprofit organizations, as becoming contributing members of the community is very important to us.
This will be our home away from home, and we hope it will become yours as well.
Terrapin Crossroads held a soft launch on February 14, 2012. Phil Lesh & Friends played live in what was dubbed the venue’s “Grate Room,” which would go on to host hundreds of concerts over the next decade. Joining the Grateful Dead bassist that evening was Warren Haynes and John Scofield on guitar, Jackie Greene on guitar and keyboards, Jeff Chimenti on keyboards and Joe Russo on drums.
Phil Lesh at the start of the single-set performance, addressing viewers watching online:
So once again, welcome to Terrapin Crossroads. Even if most of you are virtual visitors, you will not see this place look this way again. So for what it’s worth, it’s all gonna be changed the next time the camera comes in or the next time we invite folks in to hear music. But we’re looking forward to that very excitedly.
Phil Lesh performed at Terrapin Crossroads on March 8, 2012, as part of the restaurant/concert venue’s soft opening. Greene, Chimenti, guitarist Ross James, The Mother Hips guitarist Tim Bluhm, guitarist Grahame Lesh, drummer Jaz Sawyer and vocalist Nicki Bluhm were part of the performance that took place at the bar stage inside the restaurant. Similar Phil & Friends lineups played in the bar three additional times during the soft launch first week, culminating with a March 11 show featuring Lesh joined by Bob Weir, members of Railroad Earth and others.
Terrapin Crossroads officially opened with 12 Phil & Friends concerts spanning March 17 to April 1, 2012. Opening night at TXR saw Phil joined by his sons Brian and Grahame, as well as Jeff Chimenti, Joe Russo, Chris Robinson and Jimmy Herring, with Bob Weir and Jackie Greene also participating. Other “Friends” who performed during the opening run included John Kadlecik, Jeff Pehrson, Sunshine Garcia Becker, Larry Campbell, Teresa Williams, Jaz Sawyer and Warren Haynes.
Warren Haynes on the JamBase Podcast December 2021:
I think we went to dinner or something when he first brought [TXR] up to me. He was very excited about it and it was such a special thing …
[I remember] doing “Jazz For Allah,” what I call the “jazz swing version” of “Blues For Allah” [sings]. I think I’m actually singing “Blue Train,” but that was fantastic, you know? That was when the Quintet got back together after being apart for so long, and what an experience.
I also enjoyed playing on the little small stage in the restaurant, impromptu. There were times when several of us would just go overcrowd that stage and sit-in with whoever was playing at the time. People would look around and go, “oh, look who is on that stage right now! They can barely fit!”
I remember doing a George Harrison song that we covered, “Give Me Love, Give Me Peace” – which I now do a solo sometimes – doing it for the first time. Doing a “Whipping Post” in 11/8 time, not just the introduction, which is in 11/8, but the whole song – the solos and the verses – in 11/8, which had never been done before, or since [laughs]. That was really, really fun.
Phil Lesh on March 27, 2012 pre-encore “donor rap”:
Thank you very much and welcome back to Terrapin Crossroads. You know it’s really kind of cool, ever since we opened this place I’ve been down here playing music every day. That makes me very happy to be able to do that. It reminds me of the days when our original band was developing and we got to do that. We got to play together every day and it was the best thing we could possibly do … It turned out well.
So thanks for coming and being part of the community here at Terrapin Crossroads. This place is going to be for as many different people as we can get in here and we plan to do lots of different things over the next few years. We’re kicking it up right now.
Jill and I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the success of our opening shows- musicians, crew, TC staff, and especially the community, who have responded so enthusiastically. Now that these first shows are under our belts, so to speak, we’d also like to announce some of our plans for the future. As you will see below, we intend to offer many different strata of musical performance, including PLF, Rambles, the Fellowship (Lesh family band), Telstar (electronica/free improv), Terrapin All-Stars (local musicians), and many more (jazz and wine-tasting, brunch with gospel music, chamber music, etc.). We are also planning to present free music in the bar with smaller ensembles (duos, trios) on off nights …
In the future, we will be opening Terrapin Crossroads up for weddings, birthdays and other family celebrations. We look forward to hosting the community, getting to know you, and building stronger bonds between all of us.
Phil Lesh onstage at Terrapin Crossroads on May 10, 2012 (Rolling Stone):
When I played Levon’s Midnight Ramble with my boys Grahame and Brian, along with Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams, a couple years back. I was so taken with the family atmosphere – breaking bread together in his kitchen and then walking through the kitchen door right onto the stage to play; Levon playing and singing with his daughter Amy [Helm], me with my boys.
I knew that I wanted to do something similar here at home. I spoke to Levon about it and sought his blessing, as it were – and he was very enthusiastic. He spoke of trading shows: we would go there, he would come here to play – family and friends making music together. He talked about acoustics and the woodwork, but really it was his big warm open heart that made the Barn so special.
So much of our vision comes from there – an intimate setting, collaboration with different musicians, multi-generationally friendly. It’s safe to say that this place would not exist if not for Levon’s example and encouragement. I’d like to dedicate not just the show, or the next show, or everything we do here, but the whole place, to Levon Helm.
[TXR is] a music venue. It’s a restaurant, a fairly large restaurant with an extensive menu. It’s a community gathering place. It’s a hangout. It’s your alternate living room. And it is all of those things rolled into one. Basically, what we wanted to do was to provide a place for the Terrapin Nation to come and hang out …
It has been amazingly well-received. Every time, every night I’m there, someone will come up and thank me for building it. So that’s been very wonderful. It’s been wonderful. There are so many things that we haven’t done yet that we want to do. We want to bring in salsa, have a salsa dancing evening. We’re going to have chamber music in the evenings. We want to bring in all kinds of different bands, jazz music. The idea is to have music going on there all the time.
Warren Haynes on the JamBase Podcast December 2021:
I hate to see [TXR] go away. So many people enjoyed so much great music in that venue. I was honored to be part of the many times that I performed there. But you know, it’s been a challenging couple of years, on so many levels and the music business got hit as hard or harder than most. I hate to see Terrapin go, but it’s got a very cool legacy that will remain.
JamBase’s Terrapin Crossroads retrospective will continue with part two featuring many of the musicians that made up the Terrapin Crossroads community sharing their reflections and memories.