The Mickey Hart Band: Astral Equals Astonishing

By Mariah Fleming

Mickey Hart

To many people, The Grateful Dead epitomizes the music of a generation. 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. Hart still collaborates with other members of the Grateful Dead under the name The Dead, but Hart’s solo career is flourishing. You’ll understand why when he brings The Mickey Hart Band to The Compound Grill this coming Tuesday December 6th.

Hart 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 described his new band 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 palpable. “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.”

It’s clear that Hart searched for the perfect combination of musicians and is rightfully delighted with what he found. “I looked at each culture and looked at the best players in the world. I knew them but they didn’t know each other,” he chuckled. So, he decided to bring them together. Members of The Mickey Hart Band include Sikiri Adepoju, who first worked with Hart’s Grammy Award winning Planet Drum Project. Hart calls Adepoju “the Mozart of the talking drum.” Singer Crystal Monee Hall has a vocal style described as being an intoxicating synthesis of effortless clarity and raw, soul bearing grit that combines the sounds of folk, gospel, jazz and blues.

From Johannesburg, South Africa, Ian “Inkx” Herman was the house-drummer there with the legendary Shifty Records during the Anti-Apartheid uprising of the 1980’s and early 1990’s. He recorded mostly anti-establishment and politically active artists who were silenced by the mainstream media. Ian left South Africa for New York City in 1994 where he worked with Ray Phiri, the South African producer who co-wrote and produced some of Graceland, Paul Simon’s groundbreaking album.

Singer Tim Hockenberry, originally from Michigan, taught himself to play piano and trombone and landed in Northern California nearly two decades ago. His voice, evocative of Ray Charles, Tom Waits, Joe Cocker and Louis Armstrong, is known for mesmerizing audiences. In addition, there’s Gaiwan Matthews who did a series of recent studio collaborations with Transiberian Orchestra lead singer Hockenberry. Matthews has appeared on David Letterman with Australian indie pop singer Ben Lee, and played with and produced more than a hundred artists. And Dave Schools, bassist for the band Widespread Panic, adds his distinctive chops to the band.

As an added perk for Mickey Hart Fan Club Members only, VIP Fan Club tickets are available, offering an opportunity for early entry to the sound check, an autograph session, a signed Polaroid, a tour poster, a t-shirt and other goodies through ($120.) All fan club member ticket proceeds through the site go to support music therapy programs. Limited Fan Club tickets are also available. Regular price tickets ($32.00) are still available at the Compound Grill for the show but ticket sales are brisk, so don’t wait.

Hart’s 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’ and that’s an understatement. 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.”

Mickey Hart Band Winter Tour 2011

We talked to Mickey Hart for an hour, during which time he 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 speaks to us a bit about how it has helped in the neurological recovery of Gabrielle Giffords. We talk about these and other things in part two of this exclusive, in depth interview next week, along with a review of the show and pictures of the event.

Meanwhile be sure to make it to The Compound Grill for the Mickey Hart Band this coming Tuesday. If you don’t make it, odds are you’ll be wondering how you could have let this show slip through your fingers.