On The Road with HeadCount and Magic Hat’s Participation Tour

It was 4 a.m. when Jane and I hit the road in NYC for HeadCount and Magic Hat's Participation Tour. Not only had we each gotten less than four hours of sleep that night, we were both still recovering from the chaotic post-Hurricane Sandy week behind us. Still, we weren't tired. Who couldn't be excited to see NOLAfunk's Anders Osborne and Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk for one night,  let alone seeing them in four consecutive nights? Who couldn't be excited to

represent HeadCount, Magic Hat, and CEG Presents at those awesome shows in Baltimore, Philadelphia, D.C., and NYC? Jane Henderson, my HeadCount co-worker and tour buddy, and I might've looked like the two most tired people on the planet that Friday morning, but we certainly didn't feel like it.

Establishing a pattern that would last throughout the whole tour, the Baltimore show was a build-up. First, the soothing acoustic sounds of John Kadlicek of Furthur. Then the more up-tempo, hard rock of Anders Osborne, accompanied by the Horn Section of New Orleans staples Bonerama; the highlight of which was an incredibly funked-up version of  “Franklin’s Tower” with John K. to the delight of all the concert-goers draped in Grateful Dead paraphernalia.

Finally, the show hit a climax when Dumpstaphunk hit the stage to deliver their brand of New Orleans funk, complete with dueling basses and the virtuoso piano-playing of Ivan Neville. Dumpstaphunk didn’t even hit the stage till nearly after midnight, but the crowd didn’t seem to mind. There was only one point in which the crowd seemed disappointed and that was when the music came to a close.

Baltimore set the tone for the rest of the tour. Not only did everyone have a damn good time jamming to the music, they also took short breaks to let their philanthropic sides show through. In that first show, we made over $600 in donations, and received countless thank you’s for our Sandy relief efforts, not to mention for providing some awesome music to open up their weekends.

Philadelphia was just as successful as Baltimore. The venue, the Blockley, was a bit smaller than the Baltimore Soundstage, and thus, people were closer together and sweating up a storm – but that didn’t prevent anybody from getting down. Low Cut Connie opened the show with their piano rock, taking a few short breaks to point people back to our HeadCount/Magic Hat table to collect the abundance of free Magic Hat swag. Of special interest to the pumped-up crowd was the magic hat guitar signed by all of the participating artists. And like Baltimore before it, the City of Brotherly Love didn’t fail to deliver a party atmosphere with a healthy mix of philanthropy for Sandy victims.

John K. returned for the Washington D.C. show, once again delighting his Furthur fans with an acoustic set of his original tunes. Unlike Baltimore, however, John K. wasn’t the only guest. Mid-way through Anders’
blues-rock-heavy set, the New Orleanian guitar master was joined on stage by both John K. and Keller Williams to deliver a stunningly funky cover of the Dead’s “Sugaree.” As someone who has seen an abundance of Furthur shows, I’m not kidding when I say that it was one of the best versions of a Dead song that I’ve ever seen live, and it seemed like all of the artists on stage were enjoying it as much as the fans were. And despite the fact that the show was on a Sunday
evening, the fans once again stayed through one-o’clock to hear Dumpstaphunk. Apparently, once Ivan and the boys (and girl) start playing, it’s nearly impossible to leave, regardless of how physically drained you are.

Like all the shows before it, NYC didn’t disappoint. Unfortunately, Anders couldn’t attend, but the North Mississippi Allstars filled in more than adequately. In fact, they absolutely killed it, especially when Eric Krasno of Soulive and Nikki Glaspie of Dumpstaphunk joined them on-stage. They were followed by a hip-hop-influenced DJ set by ?uestlove, who was then followed by a mellow set by Bela Fleck, during which the crowd quieted down quite a bit, to let the banjo legend soothe them. As always, Dumpstaphunk delivered, and honestly, NYC was probably their best show of the whole tour. Maybe it was because they were joined on stage by all of the participating artists, or maybe it was because they were excited for election day ( with all the speeches in between songs about voting, they clearly were), but they were even more funky than usual (which is REALLY funky). The highlight of the show, and the whole tour for that matter, was their rendition of “Meanwhile.”

I didn’t only take away a newfound respect for NOLA funk from this tour. The lessons I learned after
Katrina were reinforced throughout the four days. Despite the feeling that this country is as politically polarized as its been in decades, and despite the reality that everyone has their own struggles to suffer through in a slowly-recovering economy,  none of that stopped the fans from throwing in a few (or a lot) of dollars in the donation jar, and none of that stopped them from sticking around the HeadCount/Magic Hat table to ask if there’s anything else they could do, to let us know that they care.

And while I’d like to think everyone was having a great time because of their philanthropic efforts, I’m sure the awesome funk music had something to do with it.