Photo Credit: Marc Millman

Last night, March 15, Phil Lesh & Friends arrived at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, N.Y., for the first of four nights on stage at the storied music venue. Yesterday’s concert doubled as a birthday celebration for the legacy bassist, who marked his 83rd year by digging into the Grateful Dead’s illustrious songbook and performing tunes that beckoned to his time in the San Francisco jamband. 

The mid-week show heated up with the classic pairing of “Help on the Way” with “Slipknot!” Then, Lesh, alongside Rick Mitarontonda, Grahame Lesh, James Casey, Natalie Cressman, Jennifer Hartswick, John Medeski and John Molo, followed up with a rousing rendition of  “Cumberland Blues” before landing on an ensuing “Dire Wolf.” 

Sister songs “Scarlet Begonias” and “Fire on the Mountain” merged before the group of esteemed players pulled out “Franklin’s Tower,” which included a stunning solo by Cressman, who put down her instrument in favor of vocals during the Blues For Allah fan favorite. 

As a fitting start to the show’s second half, Lesh and his collaborators cut into a cover of The Crickets’ “Not Fade Away” prior to the night’s take on the Robert Hunter and Bobby Weir-written “Playing in the Band.” Then, as the night lingered, “St. Stephen” arrived and was placed alongside “The Other One.” 

A special moment occurred next, as Lesh and company worked on Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Long Time Gone.” The song felt especially weighted given the recent passing of David Crosby, who passed away on Jan. 18, 2023. Finally, for the last pieces of the main set, the group played the Jerry Garcia original, “The Wheel,” before closing the frame on “Let It Grow,” which arrived without its typical “Weather Report Suite” partner. 

Before the start of the night’s single song encore, a projector illuminated a countdown appeared, signally the start of a crowd-led rendition of “Happy Birthday to You.” Lesh was also presented a cake by the venue’s head usher, who donned a squirrel costume–a trademark of the storied venue, which boasts the animalistic iconography inside the theater.

Venue owner Peter Shapiro also made an appearance, and Lesh introduced his band and worked in some words about organ donation, a cause near and dear to the bassist’s heart. Then, the group returned to music and added “I Know You Rider” to the night’s setlist. 

After Lesh’s Wednesday birthday show, he will take tonight off before returning to the storied Port Chester, N.Y. stage tomorrow night, Friday, March 17. The group will continue its run at The Capitol Theatre on March 18 and 19, all shows are sold out.

Phil Lesh & Friends 

The Capitol Theatre – Port Chester, N.Y.

March 15, 2023

Set I: Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Cumberland Blues, Dire Wolf, Scarlet Begonias, Fire on the Mountain, Franklin’s Tower

Set II: Not Fade Away, Playing in the Band, St. Stephen > The Other One > Long Time Gone > The Wheel > Let It Grow 

Enc.: Donor Rap, Happy Birthday to You, I Know You Rider 

Setlist via