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Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart blasts concertgoers into deep space

Mickey Hart uses sound gathered from celestial events like the big bang, black holes, and orbiting planets to form the backbone of an incredible musical experience at the Intersection.
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Mickey Hart on Mysterium Tremendum

"The title Mysterium Tremendum means the sense of awe and wonder we feel about the vastness of the infinite universe. It came to the ancients as they pondered the night sky.”

 

"Space is a great mystery. Where did we come from, how did we get here and why? What is our part in this great timeline? One of the reasons I was interested in the Big Bang was because it was beat one, it was the downbeat. This is where all the rhythm and all the life and everything we know now started. When the blank page of the universe exploded, it created the galaxies, planets, stars, black holes, pulsars. All of these epic events could now be heard, and that was an interesting notion. If these [sounds] could now be heard, that would tell the story, sonically, of the universe."

 

"Then, to be able to have a conversation with it somehow, an intelligent conversation, and play with these sounds was also something that was very appealing to me. Thinking about, wow, dancing with the infinite universe, yeah I can't resist that."

/Ryan Yuenger

/Ryan Yuenger

Walking into the Intersection to see the Mickey Hart Band, I was overwhelmed by the sense of community that follows any living member of the Grateful Dead. From gray-haired Deadheads easily in their 60’s to college aged folks, everybody was smiling at the prospect that they were about to see a legend still bursting with creativity.

Mickey Hart played drums and percussion for the Grateful Dead from 1967 to 1971. After a brief hiatus, he returned to the band in 1974 and continued playing with them until lead guitarist Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995.

The show began with ambient, percussion based “The Jungle,” which lead effortlessly into the literally spaced-out “Time Never Ends,” off the band’s new album “Mysterium Tremendum.”

Since his Grateful Dead days, Hart has always been trying to expand the horizons of music, and with this album he has expanded beyond the horizon into the farthest depths of space. On the album, Hart worked with Nobel Prize winner George Smoot, an astrophysicist who took the light and radio waves from the solar winds, orbiting planets, black holes, stars, galaxies, and the Big Bang and converted them into sound waves, which uses a process called “sonification.” The resulting music defies time and space, giving a new meaning to “celestial” sounding music.

“I’m using sounds that were created billions of years ago,” said Hart. “But I’m also using future technology to be able to render those sounds, and then using an art form, what we call rock-n-roll, dance music, trance music as a delivery system for this.”

The next song played was the Grateful Dead classic Buddy Holly cover “Not Fade Away,” which led into three more time and mind expanding songs from “Mysterium Tremendum,” and the first set closed with another Grateful Dead tune, “Bertha.”

The second set started with a big bang, the band inviting openers Paul Hoffman and Anders Beck of Greensky Bluegrass on stage for versions of the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” and “I Know You Rider.” Hoffman’s mandolin and Beck’s slide guitar work made the two songs sound eerily familiar to the Grateful Dead days and brought a twang that I imagine only Jerry Garcia himself could have previously delivered.  

From there, the band strung together an incredible non-stop jam of five tunes: “Slow Joe Rain,” “Heartbeat of the Sun,” “Wondrous Drone,” “Falling Stars” and “Ticket to Nowhere.” The show concluded with a cover of Cream’s “White Room,” an often Grateful Dead played version of Aaron Neville’s “I Bid You Goodnight” and Grateful Dead favorite “Fire on the Mountain.

Throughout the show, Hart played a wide range of percussive instruments, some of which defied explanation with Hart controlling the pitch and intensity by striking the instrument, then moving his hands closer and farther from it.

“Mickey Hart is the best DJ in the world,” joked Conor Mulhall as he saw all the different musical toys Hart has to go along with his different drums.

Hart assembled an all-star touring band including the likes of Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools, former Broadway singer Crystal Monee Hall, “Mozart of the talking drum” Sikiru Adepoju, two guitarists, a drummer and a keyboard player. It was easy to tell that each musician was having a wonderful time, often smiling and making eye contact with each other and providing as much energy as the joyous crowd was giving to them.

Most of the lyrics from “Mysterium Tremendum” were written by Robert Hunter, who also wrote many of the lyrics to Grateful Dead songs. These lyrics gave this incredible Mickey Hart Band performance a classic Grateful Dead feeling of community and mind expansion.

What makes the Mickey Hart Band a step up from other live Grateful Dead projects like Furthur is the production of new material like “Mysterium Tremendum.”  While they did throw in some Grateful Dead jams, much to the pleasure of the crowd, The Mickey Hart band is more than just a rehashing of the greatest jam band of all time.

“I saw Furthur last week, and this blew that show away,” said Rob Elliot. “In all my life, this show was easily the best show I’ve ever seen at the Intersection.”

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