Another era I was checking out was 1979. Since I had recently seen mention of a fire version of 'Jack Straw' at Brent's first show (4/22/79 Spartan Stadium, San Jose) in David Dodd's always interesting Greatest Stories Ever Told blog on Dead.net (the story of Jack Straw), I wanted to check out this historic show and some others after it in 1979. I wanted to get a feel for Brent's early days with the band. What his first instincts were and how the band would react to this new energy and voice in the music. The Jack Straw WAS fire. There was a nice Stagger Lee in the first set as well. There was a great raw and primal energy of new connections being formed. The Scarlet>fire was very solid in all its hay day glory and the Set 2b segment twisted and turned nicely. The kid could jam. All wrapped up with an exploratory Shakedown encore. Pretty good start buddy!
|An iconic shot of Brent Mydland in 1979 taken by Jay Blakesburg|
We had an awesome hike soaking in the local color. My studies continued driving to work in Lexington, NY the next week. Still hot to soak in more of that Hammond B3 sound that had made 12/10/79 so amazing, I chose the next closest date loaded up which was MSG 3/9/81 I mentioned at the beginning. Well an interesting thing happened. Brent certainly played the Hammond but lots of electric piano as well as several of the other keyboards and voices in his arsenal. Stranger of course has that classic 80's analog synth sound that makes this song so accessible for Disco Biscuits and Phish fans. Althea was welcome as usual and CC Rider was accepted begrudgingly. I used to skip rider and little red rooster until I fell a bit deeper down the Brent hole. Now I take it as an opportunity to hear him rip up that B3 again. Bobby is forgiven for all his Bobby-ness on the tracks.China Cat Sunflower was especially interesting with a unique electro intro. I've never heard it played this way before. So in chasing down one particular sound or era, I stumbled onto a different one. More gold.
On the scenic drive along Greene County Routes 20, 10 and 21 I was inspired to check out some hiking near to where I've been working in Lexington. a quick cruise through Catskillhiker.net and Catskillmountaineer.com showed me I was 15 minutes from a trail head which could take me up West Kill Mountain. I took stock of what I had in the car and found my set up less than ideal but do-able. I had light hiking sneakers and enough food and water but I was wearing cotton work clothes, didn't have a map or headlamp. I figured with a good charge on my phone I could take screen shots of the maps and use the flashlight feature in case darkness crept in. I was apprehensive about heading out so unprepared but knew that countless folks go into these woods with that level of equipment and way less experience every single day and don't die. If I protected myself with extra caution, I could mitigate some of the risk. You just spend so much time building up your equipment and learning from unprepared days in the woods, it's hard to go out like a noob. Relying on a smart phone rather than a map and compass was an especially hard move for me to make. I felt a bit naked.
The drive out of Lexington to the Spruceton road trail heads was as lovely as the stretches of road I've been using to approach Prattsville and Lexington from Albany. Before long I was crossing and re-crossing the West Kill on smaller and smaller bridges. I got out of the car and did a quick time check, calculating 3 and a half hours until the iPhone weather app said sunset would be. I knew the first stretch of trail was on a former road so if I could get back to that point before dark, I'd be in the clear. The old road was quite lovely, decked out in warm yellow autumn foliage with the scenic West Kill babbling to the right. I decided I'd push my pace as hard as I could for the way up in order to hit my mark for turn around.
I made good time up the road and was still able to enjoy my surroundings. It felt odd wearing light hikers as I'm much more used to a rigid, sturdy boot. It was nice to be lighter but I still prefer a more supportive situation. Diamond Notch falls was very pretty and worth visiting all on it's own. I didn't stay too long, planning to spend more time on the return. Once you cross the stream and start up the peak, the pitch greets you pretty early. The trail though was so so so nice. After my last big hike in the heavily eroded and seriously wet Santanoni Range, this dry, lightly traveled trail felt like a gift. I chugged away as the pitch got more serious, keeping my breath catch breaks under a minute and infrequent.
About half the leaves were down so I got nice partial views to fuel the climb as I got closer to the ridge. The scrambles to gain the ridge were fun and I was soon sniffing the heady aroma of summit pine. Some fun up and overs later I found myself panting at the overlook. The view was surprisingly complex, thanks in part to the light and weather. The afternoon/ evening glow lit up the autumn trees while the cloud cover brought the light conditions to dusk-like and foreboding. I stopped and marveled but saved the extended visit for after visiting the true summit. I saw on sign on the Catskill hiking websites but didn't find one on the high point. After some poking around, I did find an old gnarled tree with about 78 nails sticking out of it I assume once held the sign. I headed back to the overlooks making sure to check out the north view as well. I sat for a long time on the south facing ledge looking out into the deep valley and snacking contentedly.
I was able to hit my daylight turn around time so enjoyed the pleasure of not rushing out of the woods. I was really impressed with the quality and beauty of the trail both coming and going. At a light, knee-saving trot I made my way down until I heard the brook babbling. I still had over an hour until it got dark so I decided to spend some time at Diamond Notch Falls. It was a very peaceful and scenic place to zone out to the babble of the West Kill's upper reaches. It was a very pretty stream to follow, first by car and then by foot. I've been working on two separate projects on the banks of the Schoharie Creek so it was nice to spend some time with one of it's tributaries. The walk out along the old road may well have been the most beautiful part of the hike for me. The late fall colors of the leaves, along with the sunset slowly creeping my way made for a very warm visual, almost nostalgic feel. As if I had wandered this road in a past life or something.
Far too quickly I saw the glint of metal of my car in the parking lot. I drove into the darkness finishing out the second set of 3/9/81 with an absolutely gorgeous the Other One>Stella Blue>Good lovin'. The Stella blue was especially stunning. Stella blue peaks with a big major chord bridge toward the end with some of my favorite Garcia/ Hunter lyircs belted out with gusto by Jerry:
I've stayed in every blue-light cheap hotel,
Can't win for tryin'.
Dust off those rusty strings just one more time,
Gonna Make 'em shine.
To me, the song is about a long hard life lived that wears you down, yet the music, the beauty of life brings you back. This is one of these haunting images you can tell is so much about the soul of Jerry Garcia. A really biographical/ auto-biographical line. Despite the pain of addiction and weight of celebrity, on any given night the light would shine through his voice and his guitar and set the band, crowd and room on fire. It's easy to fit this metaphor over a hike or a pursuit of hiking. You're tired but if you dig deep, you can find that fire too.