As the four-day musical celebration that is the Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival brings to a close the Jerusalem Season of Culture, concert-goers were eagerly awaiting Thursday night’s performance of drummer Mickey Hart, best known for playing nearly thirty years with the iconic Grateful Dead rock band.
There’s always the hope that a rock-and-roll legend like Hart — one half of the “Dead” percussion duo known as the Rhythm Devils, with his partner, the equally talented Bill Kreutzmann — will simply spend the entire evening performing the hypnotic, rhythmic drumming solos that were the highlight of the old band’s shows.
The Grateful Dead disbanded after the 1995 death of frontman Jerry Garcia, but its members have come together in various combinations since then.
Hart’s Thursday performance at the Hebrew University amphitheatre is part of his SUPERORGANISM concert tour, promoting the launch in mid-August of an album by the same name. It’s all part of Hart’s Rhythm and Brain project, combining music with science and the human body, and looking to examine the “hidden worlds of rhythm” within.
Hart wears a cap with electrodes that can read the throbs and signals of the brain, and his brain wave signals are re-imagined in sound. On Thursday he was set to perform at least one piece featuring the “sounds” of his own brain, allowing the audience to visualize his brain activity in real time.
The Times of Israel corresponded with Hart by email ahead of the concert, looking for some insight into his musical journey. For the SUPERORGANISM tour, Hart has paired up again with longtime collaborator and Grateful Dead lyricist, Robert Hunter. The Mickey Hart Band consists of his longtime band mate Sikiru Adepoju, Crystal Monee Hall, singer and multi-instrumentalist Joe Bagale, drummer Greg Schutte, guitarist Gawain Matthews, bassist Reed Mathis and keyboardist/sound designer Jonah Sharp.
Times of Israel: The Rhythm and Brain project has the sound and feel of one of your drum solos. Is this something you’ve been thinking about for the last 40 years on the road, is it drawn from that experience?
Mickey Hart: Not really. My life is a work in progress. I certainly wasn’t thinking of sampling my DNA and brain activity in 1967. There weren’t instruments to detect that back then. This is new technology that allows me to explore soundscapes that have been hidden from everyone.
How much of your Dead experience is taken with you in this new musical phase?
A lot. The idea is to be able to be free enough and confident enough to explore these musical realms without falling into the commercial pitfalls of doing a show. The idea is more ritual than concertizing. So, being in the Grateful Dead spawned my hunger for improvisation. The freedom of playing in the Grateful Dead.
Is it difficult performing without the people you performed with for so many years? Or freeing, in a certain sense?
No, no. It’s not difficult to perform with other musicians. I am fortunate to perform with world-class musicians who make it easy. Granted, it is a different conversation. But it’s totally delightful. The Grateful Dead were telepathic.. this band is becoming telepathic because we have been playing so much lately.
Do you think your own brain waves look or sound different from those of someone who hasn’t been drumming for the last 46 years?
I really can’t say. We are just starting to learn the rhythms of the brain. This is just the beginning of the voyage… but I hope to be able to answer this question a year from now.
Have you found that your brain waves shift and differ based on where you’re playing, the audience, and your own reaction to the place?
Yes.. they are always active, always changing.
You’re about to turn 70. How do you physically prepare for 2.5 hour shows?
I work out.. I stretch, I do yoga. I prepare my body and my mind. A big part of it is mental… it’s about focus.
Any expectations for performing in Israel?
I hope to have a glorious and magical musical night. That’s what I am looking forward to. Extreme bliss and music magic. Like I said.. we have come to rock the cradle.