“Fur Peace looks a little different … but we made it work,” Vanessa Kaukonen said as she prepared to welcome her husband, Jorma, and Jack Casady – Acoustic Hot Tuna – to a makeshift stage outside the ranch’s library.
Elsewhere on the porch and in the surrounding grass were 20 safely scattered fans from as far away as New York sitting amid signs that mandated social distancing and masking. Hot tuna sandwiches were served, free Jorma’s Choice hand sanitizer was distributed and two ranch cats made the rounds as the duo played accompanied by birdsong.
It was 90 degrees when Kaukonen and Casady began their July 3 set shortly before noon but the former didn’t care. His friend and partner had just arrived from California and early in the show, Kaukonen declared, “I was having so much fun I was drooling.”
What transpired was an 11-song, 85-minute set that served as a warm-up for Hot Tuna’s free July 4 and 11 webcasts from the Ranch and the continuation of a musical conversation that’s lasted more than 50 years since Jefferson Airplane first took off and begat Tuna.
Freewheeling and relaxed, the show was sustenance for live-music-starved concertgoers and a chance for Kaukonen and Casady to revisit numbers such as “Oh Lord, Search My Heart” and “Roads and Roads And” – songs rare enough that Kaukonen, who elicited laughter by uncharacteristically scat singing at the end of “San Francisco Bay Blues,” needed a lyric sheet.
Surrounded by potted ferns and bushes in the ground, Kaukonen razzed Casady, mock-complaining about the bass being too loud and fake-remembering when the laid-back musician would slide across the stage on his knees.
“Lay a pad for me, big fella,” Kaukonen said at one point. And the bassist complied, giving his fingerpicking partner all the room he needed to do his Mississippi-Delta-by-way-of-Southeast-Ohio thing.
Hot Tuna’s “New Song (For the Morning),” a jaw-dropping rendition of Rev. Gary Davis’ “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning,” on which the musicians spoke to each other in their own wordless language, and the Airplane’s “Embryonic Journey” all made appearances.
Like live music itself, Jorma and Jack and Fur Peace are like old friends to music-loving Ohioans. And, with a pandemic ranging, old friends have been like strangers of late.
It was beyond good to see – and hear – them again.