by Paul Liberatore
Marin Democrats rocked the vote for Barack Obama this week, right in
tune with the Grateful Dead.
On the eve of the Super Tuesday primary, which Obama won handily over
Hillary Clinton in Marin County, bassist Phil Lesh gathered his
Grateful Dead brethren for a sold-out "Deadheads for Obama" concert
at the Warfield Theatre.
Under a banner with Obama's campaign logo inside the Dead's iconic
skull-and-lightning-bolt insignia, Bob Weir and Mickey Hart joined
Lesh at a press conference before taking the stage together for the
first time since they went their separate ways in 2004. It would have
been a compete reunion of all four surviving members if drummer Bill
Kreutzmann hadn't been in Hawaii.
"I called these guys up and asked them, 'Are you with me on this?'"
Lesh said at the press briefing. Hart chimed in without missing a
beat: "I was just about to call you up and ask you the same thing."
Before the music started, Obama addressed the crowd in a video he
made on the campaign trail, getting an unintentional laugh when he
told everyone: "Sit down and enjoy the concert."
"Sitting down is not quite the way it works at a Grateful Dead show,"
Dead publicist Dennis McNalley explained.
In his video greeting, Obama thanked Phil, Bobby and Mickey, but he
knew enough to especially thank the one who really made the concert
happen: Lesh's 18-year-old son, Brian, an Obama campaign leader in Marin.
Last summer, Brian, a senior at the Branson School in Ross, went to
"Camp Obama" for a three-day intensive training in campaign
organizing. He's been part of the youth movement behind Obama's
phenomenal rise into contention for the Democratic presidential nomination.
"Brian cut his summer short to join this campaign for change," Obama
said in the video. "It's young people like him all across America who
are rediscovering a sense of idealism and a sense of possibility in
The Lesh family met Obama last fall. For Brian's 18th birthday
present, his rock star dad managed to score tickets to Obama's
appearance with Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" in New York.
"He actually shook our hands on the way out, but that wasn't the big
thing," Phil told me.
The big thing came later that night, when Obama addressed a
fundraising rally in Brooklyn that the family attended.
"I was just blown away by this guy," Phil said. "It was like watching
Robert Kennedy. I got goose bumps. The hair stood up on the back of
my neck. The energy of the people responding to his passion was truly
Lesh said he hasn't seen a youth movement like this since he and his
bandmates were leading the countercultural revolution in the '60s.
"The younger voters are flocking to this man," he said. "And it is a
movement. It's not just a campaign anymore. We haven't seen anything
like this since the Haight-Ashbury. And this is more pragmatic. This
is young people saying, 'Yes, we can change the world.'"
Because of his status as one of the campaign's youth leaders, Brian
was invited backstage after the speech to meet Obama, who then came
out and said hello to Phil and his wife, Jill.
"We talked a little bit and then he asked me, 'What do you do?'" Phil
recalled. "I said, 'I'm a musician. I was the bass player for the
Grateful Dead for 30 years.' He said, 'Oh, I enjoy your music very
much.' I asked him if he'd been to any of our shows? He said, 'No,
but I have a lot of your music on my iPod.'"
At one point, Jill told him, only half-jokingly, "We can get out the
hippie vote for you."
Phil also offered his services, which led to the Obama campaign
asking if he'd be willing to put on a concert on the candidate's
behalf. He quickly agreed on a get-out-the-vote show with his Phil
and Friends band the night before the California primary, but he
wanted the evening to be something special.
Phil insists that this is not the beginning of a permanent Grateful
"Everyone's having such a good time doing their own thing," he said.
"Bobby has Ratdog, I've got my band, Mickey has all his projects, and
everybody's really flourishing.
"But the thing we can do when we want to play together is to play
together for a good cause, for something bigger than we are, instead
of just going out on tour," he elaborated. "I look forward to that.
If there's an opportunity for another reunion for something this
important, I'm sure we'd all be into doing it."
Who knows what that next "important thing" might be. Maybe this is
looking too far ahead, or just wishful thinking on my part, but how
about a Grateful Dead concert at the Barack Obama presidential inauguration?
Paul Liberatore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.