Having experienced the Grateful Dead and JGB for the past thirty years and attended many shows at Kahilu Theater, I wasn’t sure what to expect… would we be allowed to dance, what would the vibe be like, would they have a hologram of Jerry Garcia… so I went with zero expectations but was thrilled this was happening in my home town. In short…wow!
The theater was packed with tie-dyes, sparkly eyes, and loads of smiles, not the normal crowd, so that alone was a bonus. The band came out of the gate with a beautiful “Cats Under the Stars,” a longtime favorite. Immediately you could tell the band was tight. They wasted no time in getting everyone dancing, the likes of which I had never seen in the 17 years at Kahilu shows.
The vocals were clear and concise, and the band was in a deep groove. They went into a nice jam and noodled around for a while, and yet, brought it all back for a tight finish. And then they melted right into The Beatles’, “I Saw Her Standing There.” This is when I looked around and noticed, balloons floating, people rocking out and a great funky version of this beloved song…where was I? When they started Bob Marley’s “Stop That Train,” the level of enthusiasm jumped a few levels, and Melvin opened up his psychedelic jukebox and let us hear why he is so revered. It was a groovy beat and yet also touched on the gospel side of the band. (I always felt seeing JGB vs. the Grateful Dead was kinda like going to church…)
Sure, the boys were rocking, but the energy that singers Lady Chi & Darlene Coleman brought was brilliant. Maybe one of my favorite songs of the night, for a few reasons, was “Shakedown Street.” John-Paul McLean on bass carried the beat, and the crowd went ballistic, but the line “Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart…just gotta poke around” was so apropos. “Simple Twist of Fate” came in sweet and slow and it was a nice chance to wipe the sweat off. However, near the end of the song John Kadlecik, who played a similar guitar as “the Wolf” (Jerry’s famous guitar) created vocals which were very Jerry-esque. The ability to energetically pound out the lyrics yet with a softness was truly wonderful to hear and experience. Kadlecik’s guitar playing throughout the night was so clear and creative, there were times when I closed my eyes and could imagine Jerry standing there swaying back and forth. The band brought the level back up with The Funky Meters “Hey Pocky A-Way” and continued that power through a gorgeous version of “Midnight Moonlight” for the first set closer.
Wandering around during “halftime” I was so impressed with the people who had come to the show and of course the staff. Everyone was having a REAL good time. Old friends and new friends were all talking about Melvin’s keyboards and were equally impressed with the entire band.
In the second set, Melvin wasted no time in cranking out a menagerie of sounds from his keyboards and the front of the stage got even more crowded with dancers. “After Midnight” flowed into “Eleanor Rigby, “and Lady Chi & Darlene Coleman owned that portion of the song. It began with almost a reggae ska feel and then melted into a salsa beat which opened into where the band noodled beautifully around this magnificent song and brought it all to a strong finish. It was fantastic and epitomized the jazzy free flow of beats this band is known for doing. They slowed it down with the gorgeous “If I Had The World To Give.” Both McLean, on bass and Pete Lavezzoli, on drums, kept this ballad moving with a strong presence of their skills. “Lonesome and a Long Way from Home” had everyone moving again and the band didn’t hold back. The music was tight, but then went out into another dimension and yet at the end, brought it…back home. They closed the show with “My Sisters and Brothers,” which reminded everyone to love one another, and the wonderful Jerry tune, “Deal.” Their version of “Deal” was spot on and left the crowd wanting more and hoping for an encore. Sadly, time was up.
The night was majestic. The music, the people, the staff at Kahilu all came together and left the tumultuous world behind for a few hours. Oh…there was no hologram of Jerry, but that’s ok, they didn’t need it.
Bobby Hoyt has been seeing the Grateful Dead and JGB for the past thirty years. For a few years, he shared a Grateful Dead radio show on Hawi’s radio station KNKR-FM with Dr. Alan Thal and currently has a show where he plays “the greatest music in the world, from Amadeus to Zappa”. He has been teaching yoga for almost 20 years, 17 of those on the Big Island and has regular classes throughout the island.
Photos: Steve Roby