Celebrating Fourth of July with the Dead at Rothbury
by Troy Reimink | The Grand Rapids Press
Sunday July 05, 2009
Consider for a moment the jam culture credentials Rothbury has
managed to assemble in its brief existence: Last year, the festival
included sets by Widespread Panic, Grateful Dead members Phil Lesh
and Mickey Hart (performing separately) and a slew of newer
derivatives. Plus, Phish kinda sorta reunited.
This year, the festival hosted the only official 2009 performance by
String Cheese Incident, plus two sets by Umphrey's McGee, who often
are touted as the next big thing in the subculture.
Tonight's feather in the cap had posterity written all over it -- the
only summer performance by the Dead, which includes Lesh, Hart and
other surviving Grateful Dead members. No small deal, that.
The band performed two sets totaling about three hours on the Odeum
stage, demonstrating the same relaxed improvisational interplay
that's so transfixed listeners for decades. The early part of the
show contained Dead classics such as "Friend of the Devil," "Sugar
Magnolia" and "Eyes of the World," plus a cover of Van Morrison's
"Into the Mystic."
As a crowd of anywhere between 20,000 and 30,000 -- which appeared as
large as, if not larger than, any single gathering last year --
relaxed in front of the stage, the band returned and kicked into the
smooth grooves of "One More Saturday Night," followed by "Shakedown
Street," "China Cat Sunflower," jamming on and on into the cool evening.
As a prelude to the festival's Fourth of July fireworks show, one
can't help but look at the jam-rock phenomenon, the enduring model of
which the Dead pioneered, as a uniquely American enterprise, like
blues and jazz before it. Or maybe it was just the right day to think
about things in that light.
Rock, dance, jam at budding Rothbury
Outdoor music fest a choice celebration in 2nd year
BY JEWEL GOPWANI • FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
July 5, 2009
Holding a rock festival has proved to be an efficient way to attract
thousands of people to Michigan.
Halfway through its second year, the Rothbury festival has drawn more
than 30,000 people from across the country for four days of
set-yourself-free music, camping and outdoor partying. Held on the
state's west side about a half-hour north of Muskegon, the event
takes over the grounds of the Double JJ Ranch in the woodsy climes of
the small town of Rothbury.
The fledging festival is continuing to build a reputation. The String
Cheese Incident, a jam band that drew most of the 30,000 attendees to
its 3 1/2 -hour, two-part live set Friday night, chose Rothbury to
hold what it says will be its only concert this year.
And though one of the weekend's other signature acts -- the Dead,
which features surviving members of the Grateful Dead -- also
promised rootsy, improvisational rock Saturday night, it's not just
jangly jam bands that make up the bill. Critically heralded rapper
Nas performed with Bob Marley's son Damian (Junior Gong) Marley on
Friday, as did Irish punk-rockers Flogging Molly. Blues-rockers the
Black Crowes were to play Saturday.
Rothbury pulsed with dance music into the wee hours of the morning
Saturday, thanks to electro-funk dance duo Chromeo, and particularly
STS9, which drew masses of people into Rothbury's forest --
illuminated with violet and red lighting and random lasers and
brightly lit art -- for its jam-meets-electronic blend.
Further overnight beats came from mash-up artist Girl Talk, aka Gregg
Gillis, a master of electronically sampling and layering songs from
what often seem like opposite ends of the musical spectrum,
everything from "Juicy" by Notorious B.I.G. to Elton John's "Tiny
Dancer." Shortly before his show ended about 3:30 a.m., Gillis rode
out onto the crowd on a blow-up raft, which quickly tipped over. He
then crowd-surfed back to the stage.
But music wasn't the only attraction. Rothbury also is a place for
fashion statements. Wear butterfly wings, a bathrobe, a hot orange
punk rock wig, a clown nose -- whatever.
Shannon Sullins, who attended with siblings and friends, designed a
red festival cape, complete with white swirls and stars.
"I've been to many festivals," said 31-year-old Sullins, who lives in
Athens, Ga. "This is definitely one I'll return to."
Contact JEWEL GOPWANI: 313-223-4550 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The Dead hit their groove and run with it
BY MARTIN BANDYKE • FREE PRESS SPECIAL WRITER
July 4, 2009
The whole Odeum grounds were covered in a pungent haze, and the
surviving members of the original Grateful Dead -- Phil Lesh (bass),
Bob Weir (guitar), Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann (both on drums) --
were joined on stage by Warren Haynes (guitar) and Jeff Chimenti
(keyboards). Billed as the Dead, the group was closing out the
Saturday main stage performances at Rothbury. They began the first of
two sets at 8:30 p.m. by playing a jam that morphed into the
beautiful "Sugar Magnolia," a Grateful Dead classic from the
"American Beauty" album sung by the grey-bearded Weir.
Three young girls gleefully hugged each other as the music began,
while a middle-aged woman turned away from the stage for a second to
reverentially face the setting sun in a gesture of thanks. Even a
hardened cynic would have to be impressed by both the devotion that
was given to the members of the Dead and the halcyon atmosphere of
this setting, with tens of thousands of people peacefully gathered to
hear one of the world's ultimate jam bands. As the Dead settled into
their set, the air was filled with beach balls, balloons, flags and
even an inflatable turtle and shark. The groove of the music unlocked
hips en masse, and even the very ungainly looking middle-aged man in
a baseball cap was gracefully twirling in circles.
"Eyes of the World" was next up, with Lesh on lead vocals and some
fine piano fills provided by Chimenti. Then Deadhead favorites
"Estimated Prophet" and "Friend of the Devil" helped round out the
Dead's hour-and-a-half first set.
Besides the music, the show was equally compelling in the audience
stage right, which morphed into an impromptu dance floor and fashion
show. Many women -- and a few guys -- were doing some freeform
dancing while dressed in costumes that could have been dreamed up by
surrealist Salvador Dali.
The group's second set began at 11 p.m. and featured "China Cat
Sunflower," "Shakedown Street" and I Know You Rider." The Dead showed
no signs of stopping at midnight, the scheduled quitting time.