The Mickey Hart Band: Astral Equals Astonishing Redux

By Mariah Fleming

Mickey Hart

To many people, The Grateful Dead epitomizes the music of a generation. For generations to come, his music will be known as the music of the universe. “Mickey Hart is nothing short of a musical genius and it shines through in everything he does,” says That’s not idle praise. His Dec 2011 show at The Compound Grill was a breathtaking journey through the universe that inhabits his mind. Hart’s stunningly interesting music enthralled the audience. Complete with musical sounds pulled from the infinite reaches of our sun and mixed with a phantasmagoric light show, it was unforgettable.

Mickey Hart was one of two Grateful Dead drummers, Hart and Bill Kreutzmann. Hart played with the Grateful Dead from 1967 until its dissolution in 1995, minus a three-year sabbatical in the early 1970’s. When he has time, Hart said he still collaborates with other members of the Grateful Dead under the name The Dead. But Hart is busy with his flourishing solo career. You’ll understand why when he brings his show to the Musical Instrument Museum. The MIM is a superb environment in which to experience Hart’s cosmic musical journey.
He’ll do two performances on Saturday, May 19th at 7:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. Tickets are $35–$40.

In a phone interview with me in December 2011, Hart talked extensively about his work as a musical activist, his books, his philanthropic endeavors through The Rex Foundation, which was started by the Grateful Dead in the early 1980’s, and his support of world music preservation. Hart is a strong advocate of music therapy and also talked about how it has helped in the neurological recovery of Gabrielle Giffords. His concern for people, and for the state of the world, is amplified through the world music he is diligently preserving. He knows first hand that the humanity and commonality in all people is found in the indigenous music of the world.

Hart’s search for music has no earthly boundaries. He weaves his own musical tapestry, creating an exquisite auditory extravaganza. He literally brings the sounds of the cosmos to life in his music. One of his many projects is working with NASA to capture these astrophysical sounds. He does this by transferring light waves into sound waves via radio telescopes. It sounded like pure magic to me. “Well it is.” he told me. “It’s like having a conversation with time and space.”

Hart told me his fascination and love of music began with the influence of his mother, who played the old Folkways records to him when he was a kid. Hart calls himself a ‘musical activist.’ He’s a dedicated musicologist and advocate of preserving world music. A member of the Board of Trustees of the Smithsonian Folkways Center, Hart travels around the globe recording indigenous world music for National Geographic.

Deeply involved in the Library of Congress endangered music project, Hart is seriously concerned about the cuts to funding in music and the arts, and the systemic indifference to the importance of finding human commonality through world music. “Music truly is the international language,” he said. “The Library of Congress is doing major research into all kinds of music projects relating to endangered music. The world is losing its musical roots. The medium is decomposing, the songs are not practiced; they need to be sung and handed down.”

When I asked him about his new band, Hart described it like this: “It was created to play this music!” he emphasized. “It’s new and completely different. It’s trance music.” Hart’s excitement about his new band is infectious. “We have a whole new batch of music, new musical treatments and a strong rhythmic section. There’s a very high level of professionalism in the band. They are the best in the world at what they do.” We can vouch for that.

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