On the evening of December 7, 2013, The Rex Foundation will host Nightfall of Diamonds at The Fillmore in San Francisco. Emerging as the Grateful Dead’s charitable overseers, The Rex Foundation is a worthy charity that has done a lot of great things for a lot of great people. The benefit concert will feature collaborations from Keller Williams, Michael Kang (String Cheese Incident), Jeff Austin (Yonder Mountain String Band), Keith Moseley (String Cheese Incident), and Tim (The Rhythm Devils) & Nicki Bluhm. While there is no doubt that the audience will be treated to Grateful Dead tunes throughout the evening, the real treat here is the return of Grateful Grass.
Grateful Grass is the brainchild of Williams, an opportunity for deadhead numero uno to do his best Jerry Garcia. With Williams on guitar, he’ll be reunited with Austin (mandolin) and Mosley (bass). Kang is a welcome new addition and cements their status as a supergroup. The only other performance was released as Keller’s thirteenth album, Rex. Recorded during a 2006 benefit at the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver, proceeds from the release also go to support The Rex Foundation.
The band explodes into the opening track, “One More Saturday Night,” and emotions never really let up from there. Keller and Austin compliment one another extremely well, both bringing much more enthusiasm to a performance than should be legal. There is no shortage of exuberant screams on this album. “Eyes of the World” gives the musicians an opportunity to stretch their strings, as both Keller and Austin take some hot leads.
A personal favorite on the album, “Loose Lucy” is really the song that expanded my interest to Jeff Austin. His vocal style resembles the holler familiar to New Grass Revival fans and he works the melodic and percussive elements of the mandolin to perfection. Following Grateful Dead anchors “St. Stephen” and preceding the Mosley-led “Casey Jones,” Keller takes a moment to address the audience.
“Wow. So this is totally surreal for me to be able to play this kind of music, with these kinds of people in front of this kind of an audience… Hell, yeah! My hands are killing me!”
The audience agrees and explodes into an appreciative roar. To have been in the audience on this evening must have been a real treat and you can sense a near ecstasy in their fervor. They can be heard throughout the recording, adding to the energy and never distracting. The mix is great.
Another personal favorite, “Brown Eyed Woman” receives the unique Keller treatment, while “Bird Song” really compliments his voice. By the time the album reaches its conclusion of “Scarlet Begonias” into “Fire on the Mountain,” the lyrical question “you gave all you had, how could you possibly give anymore” is fitting of the performance.
For the deadheads or folks interested in progressive bluegrass, Rex is a no-brainer. Is the performance flawless? No. Is it perfect? Yes. I can’t imagine anywhere I’d rather be on December 7, 2013 than in San Francisco for Grateful Grass part deux.