The Rex Foundation, otherwise known as the philanthropic wing of the Grateful Dead, paid tribute to its fallen leader Saturday evening at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, California. Although a decade has passed since Jerry Garcia’s death, the sold-out Comes a Time: A Celebration of the Music & Spirit of Jerry Garcia concert is the first major event to honor him, with all proceeds going to the Rex, formed by the Dead in 1983.
The six-hour show kicked off on a beautiful, clear day near the announced 5 p.m. start time, when, paying homage to Garcia’s bluegrass roots, a stripped down, acoustic performance from David Nelson, Sandy Rothman and Zion Godchaux featured classic Jerry fare like “Oh, Babe, It Ain’t No Lie” and “Oh, the Wind and Rain.”
Following was a newly configured String Cheese Incident, also with keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, from Bob Weir’s band, who rode through Garcia chestnuts like “Friend of the Devil,” “Catfish John” and “Ripple.”
Keeping the chronological theme, a tribute was paid to Garcia’s longtime side project, the Jerry Garcia Band. Former cohort, pianist Melvin Seals along with vocalists Jackie and Gloria were joined by Dark Star Orchestra guitarist and vocalist John Kadlecik for a set which included “Cats Under the Stars” and in closing, an explosive “Deal” with Warren Haynes on guitar and Bill Kreutzman on drums. As was the case all night, each song played was one traditionally sung and associated with Garcia.
Next up were Bob Weir and his band, Ratdog. They ripped through a set which included “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo,” “Big Railroad Blues,” and “Bird Song.”
Master percussionist and longtime member of the Dead’s circle, Hamza El Din lead all in the house through an invocation in the spirit of Garcia, before giving up the stage to what was officially billed as the Tribute to Jerry Garcia. Weir’s band acted as the house band for a guest-laden set of cherished compositions, which also featured vocalist Donna Jean Godchaux and Garcia’s dear pal, Merl Saunders. Trey Anastasio joined the group along with Bruce Hornsby for a reading of “Help on the Way,” the classic 1976 tune, while Warren Haynes, Jimmy Herring, and String Cheese’s Michael Kang took turns with the former Phish frontman playing with the house band, before being joined by the Dead’s original drumming section of Kreutzman and Mickey Hart.
Many fans forget that Hornsby spent time in 1990 and 1991 as one half of the bands keyboard chair (along with Vince Welnick). His rendering of “Standing on the Moon” with Anastasio was among the show’s best moments.
Following a trifecta encore of “Brokedown Palace,” the finishing up of the “Dark Star” started earlier in the set and the band’s late phase anthem “Touch of Grey,” Hart addressed the crowd and as he did ten years earlier at Garcia’s memorial, by posing a combination challenge and request. “Take this feeling we all share home,” he said, “and do something with it!”