Jerry Garcia - guitar, vocals; John Kahn - bass; Melvin Seals - keyboards; David Kemper - drums; Jaclyn LaBranch - backing vocals; Gloria Jones - backing vocals
1987 was a remarkably challenging year for Jerry Garcia. Many Deadheads had reasons to be thankful, as Garcia's health problems had put his future in jeopardy the previous year, when he lapsed into a diabetic coma. Following his miraculous recovery, the Dead returned with a new focus, a new album, and would soldier on into their third decade together. Much to everyone's surprise, the group would actually score a hit that year with "Touch Of Grey," a song written years earlier by the Dead's primary lyricist, Robert Hunter, and revamped with an arrangement by Garcia. A song of survival that resonated with radio programmers and MTV as well as Deadheads, this would catapult the band into financial success and media exposure like they had never experienced before. However, it was a double-edged sword. Along with all the new accolades came an onslaught of new fans and the Dead's cultural scene would begin collapsing under the pressure. Police and local officials would react negatively to the legions of Deadheads converging on their cities, many without tickets, and arrests and violence were becoming more frequent occurrences outside the venues. Several venues even barred the Dead from returning. Still, it was a monumental year in the band's history. They would embark on a tour with Bob Dylan that summer, release their "So Far" home video, and their new album, In The Dark would become a bona fide hit.
To escape the ever-increasing pressures surrounding the Dead and to pursue his own boundless musical interests, Garcia maintained side projects that allowed him to explore outside the context of the Grateful Dead. One of the most rewarding was the Jerry Garcia Band, which often toured during times the Dead were off the road. In 1987, Garcia also put together the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band, featuring old friends from his pre-Dead bluegrass days. The debut of the acoustic band and one of the most memorable 1987 performances by the Garcia Band proper occurred when Bill Graham, in collaboration with the Hog Farm, presented this memorable concert at French's Camp, a beautiful outdoor location situated on the Eel River, well known for its annual reggae festival. This concert featured the debut performance of Garcia's acoustic band (also featured here at Wolfgang's) and two fully charged sets by the electric incarnation of the Jerry Garcia Band. Few JGB recordings from this era circulate from soundboard direct sources and even fewer still were recorded with such clarity and balance between the instruments, making this recording a very engaging listen.
Following the break after the acoustic set, the Jerry Garcia Band takes the stage and raises the excitement and intensity level considerably. A delightful romp through "How Sweet It Is" kicks things off and the increased energy level is palpable, with engaging vocals from Garcia and tasty solos right off the bat. The set continues with a sensitively played rendition of Bob Dylan's "Forever Young" before the band begins rocking out on the bluesy "Get Out My Life Woman" and Garcia's own "Run For The Roses."
Two of the highlights of this first electric set of the day are a remarkable cover of Van Morrison's "And It Stoned Me," followed by the gospel inflected "My Sisters And Brothers." Both are tight standout versions. Some of these songs could often plod along in a very slow manner, but on this show, they are all taken at good clip, sparking spontaneous interplay between the musicians that rarely falters. Garcia's vocals are remarkably strong for this era and his guitar playing fully engaged in the material. Venturing back to his first solo album, Garcia delivers a rip-roaring "Deal" to conclude the second set, leaving the audience anticipating what would come during the third and final set of this marathon performance.