At 84, Phil Lesh reflects on Terrapin, aging and playing at his sons’ Daydream festivals

Former Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh will be headlining Sunday Daydream festivals in July and August with his Phil and Friends band. The outdoor shows at McNears Beach Park in San Rafael, produced by his sons, Grahame, 37, and Brian, 34, are aimed at reviving the community spirit of Terrapin Crossroads, the restaurant, bar and music venue that Lesh opened on the San Rafael Canal in 2012. After about a decade as a popular gathering place for musicians and music fans, Terrapin closed in 2021.

RELATED: The spirit of Phil Lesh’s Terrapin Crossroads lives on at his sons’ Sunday Daydream festivals

Before the upcoming Daydream shows, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame musician took the time to answer some questions via email.

Q First off, how are you? I see you celebrated your 84th birthday with five shows at the Capitol Theatre in New York in March, so you’re still making music and delighting your fans. How important have music and performing been for you as you’ve faced the challenges of aging?

A I would have to say that music and performing are as essential as food and drink to me, but even more so as I get older. While it can sometimes be more of a challenge physically than it was when I was a young whippersnapper, I’ve found that age brings wisdom, and with that comes musical experience and knowledge that I didn’t have when I was younger.

Q When Terrapin closed in 2021, you said you’d like to see its spirit of music and community return perhaps in another location or form. Did you have in mind the concept of pop-up Terrapin roadshows like the upcoming Sunday Daydream 3 and 4 festivals? And is it more practical and cost effective than a brick-and-mortar gathering place like Terrapin?

A As magical as Terrapin Crossroads was, there were definite challenges that came with running a brick-and-mortar location of that size. We had an amazing run for a decade, but now we’re so excited to expand the magic of Terrapin to other iterations. The Sunday Daydream concerts were inspired by the outdoor shows at Terrapin, but we’ve also got so many other projects in the works that are going to capture that same sense of community: I’ve launched a YouTube channel called the Terrapin Clubhouse, where we’re exploring the music of the Grateful Dead with “Darkstarathons,” “Clubhouse Sessions” and more. I’m going to be starting a podcast where I can chat with Deadheads, exploring all things Grateful Dead (past, present and future), and on top of that, we’ll be launching a series of video vignettes that explores the music and mythology of the Grateful Dead relative to more contemporary music. The spirit of Terrapin has always been about music and community, and this way we can reach people all around the universe.

Q You write in your memoir, “Searching for the Sound,” that after your first son, Grahame, was born, you were determined to be a hands-on, full-time dad. How have you and your wife, Jill, been able to do that given the demands and challenges of being a working and touring musician?

A To start, it was always paramount that the whole family came with me on the road so that we could be together despite my crazy schedule. On top of that, we would book tours around school schedules, vacation weeks and baseball games. And when we were out on the road, we made sure to take the kids out to see the sights and sounds of the country — museums in New York, or the great natural monuments out West — so that they weren’t just stuck in hotel rooms.

Jill and I also always felt that there was so much to learn by traveling the country, and we wanted our boys to have that same experience. We live in such a varied, diverse and wonderful melting pot of a country, and we felt that bringing them on the road allowed them to experience that firsthand.

Q Both your sons are musicians carrying on the Grateful Dead’s sense of community and its psychic connection with its audience. That must be gratifying. What is it about that Grateful Dead “experience” that appeals so strongly to their generation and to young people in general?

A I always felt that following the Grateful Dead around was like running away to join the circus. It was a declaration of freedom. The sense of “anything is possible at a Grateful Dead concert” is a feeling that people take with them into the real world, so in that way it makes a ton of sense that younger generations are drawn to that same idea.

Q Since Jerry Garcia’s death, you’ve carried the torch of keeping the Grateful Dead’s music alive. With your Friends bands, you’ve played with some extraordinary musicians. Is the spirit of improvisation the same as with the Grateful Dead? Do you still feel Garcia’s spirit?

A The spirit of improvisation is universal, and I wouldn’t say it’s tied to any genre or art form. Every ensemble I’ve played with is different, and that’s one of the things I look for and enjoy — every musician brings their own perspective to the music, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In that way, I feel the spirit of Jerry every time I play — but I feel it tenfold at our Sunday Daydream festivals. Not only do I get the chance to bring world-class musicians like Stanley Jordan or Taylor Goldsmith in to explore this music, but the sense of community and family at these festivals reminds me so much of the best parts of the Grateful Dead. Seeing all the young families and kids running around at our Sunday Daydream festivals even reminds me of Wavy Gravy and my own kids hanging out backstage.

Q One of my favorite parts of your book is your account of recording the “In the Dark” album and its hit “Touch of Grey” at the Marin Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium. What is it about Marin that has fostered your creativity and kept you and your family here?

A Marin is a wonderful place for families, and we’ve loved living here, but I would say that creativity is not tied to any place and time — it comes when it comes and I’m just grateful when it does.

Q Your book ended with Garcia’s death and the end of the Grateful Dead. Any thoughts on writing a sequel, another memoir on your life since then?

A Nope!

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