At 77, Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh is mostly done touring, but that doesn’t mean he’s done playing music. Besides some semi-regular gigs in and around New York City, Lesh can mostly be found these days on stage at Terrapin Crossroads, the Dead-themed club he opened in 2012 near his home in Marin County, California. Fortunately, for Deadheads in Virginia and surrounding states, Lesh never misses the Lockn’ Festival. In fact, in the last four years he’s been a part of some of the event’s most interesting collaborations. Last year he went acoustic and played Dead songs with bluegrass aces The Infamous Stringdusters and members of Phish, and in 2015 he put together a special lineup of his Phil Lesh and Friends that included Carlos Santana.
Lesh returns to Lockn’ this weekend, where he’ll play two sets on Friday with his Terrapin Family Band. The second will reunite the bassist with his former bandmate Bob Weir, who joins the group to play the Dead’s 1977 album, Terrapin Station, in its entirety. Lesh will also join upstate New York jam band moe. for a collaborative set on Sunday. Ahead of the festival, Lesh took a quick call from C-VILLE Weekly.
C-VILLE: You’re mostly off the road, but you never miss a Lockn’. What keeps you coming back?
Phil Lesh: Essentially, it’s the combinations of artists that [Lockn’ promoter] Pete [Shapiro] puts together for the festival. He has a knack for that sort of thing, and it’s always stimulating to play with different people. The set with moe. was Pete’s idea. [moe. guitarist] Al [Schnier] has sat in with my bands, so this will flip the coin and give me a chance to play with them. For me, that’s a welcome opportunity.
You’re performing Terrapin Station with Bob Weir to honor the album’s 40th anniversary. What do you remember about recording the album?
The studio is always a blur; same old, same old, day in, day out. There’s nothing that really stands out.
The Terrapin Family Band has become your main outlet. How has that band developed in the past few years?
It’s basically made up of the stable of young musicians that we have at Terrapin Crossroads. That’s where I’ve been focusing my energy for the last five years, and this band grew out of that. I chose the most compatible musicians from that community to form this band, including my son Grahame and one of our cousins, Alex Kofford. We play really well together, and as we’ve been able to play more often, we’ve created some really great chemistry.
You mentioned Terrapin Crossroads. How do you feel the space is moving the Grateful Dead’s music forward?
It’s developed beyond my wildest dreams. My favorite part is playing for free in the park on a summer afternoon. Right up there, too, is reading stories and singing songs for kids on Sundays.
As an innovator on the bass, is there another bassist that you particularly admire?
I love Jack Casady’s playing. Jack Bruce was a gas. Then, of course, there’s [Charles] Mingus. There are many that definitely inspire me.
We’re speaking on the 22nd anniversary of Jerry Garcia’s death. Did you have a specific thought about him today?
Just the same thought I have everyday: “Damn, I miss this guy.”