By Ed Gifford
“Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.” \— Scarlet Begonias by Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia
Coming from the Eastern End of Long Island, I thought I knew something about paradise and paradise lost. That being said, I found that New Year’s Eve on the North Shore of Kauai in Hawaii offered a glimpse of a paradise that was previously unimaginable.
The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir and Bill Kreutzmann, along with their band The Big Swell, performed a News Year’s Eve event called “Rising Up to Paradise” in a place not too far from a land called Hanalei. All proceeds from this show went to benefit the environmental law organization Earth Justice and the locally backed Hanalei initiative.
This description of the festivities was emailed to all attendees: “Rising Up to Paradise is not a festival and it’s not a concert. It is an experiment in trance-formational time-space continuums.” Not knowing how to dress for an “experiment in trance-formational time- space continuums,” I wore shorts and flip flops. I thought I was going to a rock ’n’ roll show, who knew?
The Princeville Golf Club, morphed into “The Crazy Rooster Ranch” for this fantastical welcome to the new year. “The Crazy Rooster Crowing Midnight” is a lyric from a Grateful Dead song and it couldn’t have been more appropriate because there are roosters everywhere on Kauai and they serve as both pets and as Sunday dinner. On the lush 18th fairway, below the mist-capped peak of Mount Waialeale and above Hanalei Bay, the night transpired. This spot was heaven on earth.
“Rising Up to Paradise,” another Dead lyric, further invoked the muses for the celebration. The show got underway after an opening prayer. There was then a visit from Archangel Ariel who serenely floated among the revelers. I took a good many shots and got accurate caption info so I can accurately report that all the A-list gods and goddesses made an appearance. Isis, Osiris, Lono, Shakti and Pele, Hawaiian goddess of fire, with flaming red hair and skirts of lava — yup, they were all there.
Part-time Kauai resident Taj Mahal opened solo for The Big Swell. Taj has been performing at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett for over 30 years. When I first heard him at age 12 he sounded old. Then, when I saw him at the Talkhouse at the age of 30, he still sounded old and he looked old, too. He is 76 now and doesn’t sound or seem that old. He plays sitting in a chair, a blues tradition for elders. As revelers frolicked in front of the stage and Taj played his blues.
The Big Swell came on stage and played heroically for almost four hours. The leader of the band Bob Weir, at age 71, sang and played guitar beautifully. The crowd cheered the lyric, “Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”
I couldn’t locate the North Star, which hung in the northern sky but I knew it was there. My bare feet scrunched into the golf course’s thick, bent grass. My glasses became covered with raindrops and the stage became a multi-colored blur. The constellations westerly rotation across the night sky, intermittently blocked by the passing of clouds, marked time’s passage. I’d been in far worse situations.
New Year’s Eve brought back images of my father, Big Ed. On a sunny, brisk, mid-May day in 1968, my Dad brought me and my sisters to our first Grateful Dead concert at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park. He was a great photographer. I was seven years old.
As the main act began at “Rising Up,” I made my way to the stage to take a photo of The Big Swell. Exotic hippie girls danced by like Moroccan whirling dervishes. Unseen hands urged me forward. I preset focus for 30 feet, held my camera overhead and pointed it toward the stage. I took five photos and then it was 2019. Hau’oli Makahiki Hou!!! which is Hawaiian for “Happy New Year!!!”
Did I rise up to paradise on New Year’s Eve? Can innocence lost ever be fully restored? I don’t think so. None-the-less, I did have a lovely evening with dear friends and for the meantime, this will have to suffice.
For those interested in figuring out, what in heck an “experiment in trance-formational time-space continuums” sounds like or for those who are just interested in checking out a smokin’ hot rock ’n’ roll show, visit jam.buzz/bob-weir-rising-up-to-paradise-band-hawaii-12-31-2018/