(Midnight North. photo: Joshua Huver)
This Friday, August 12, two Bay Area family bands are joining forces to put on a special tribute so one of the most harmonious songwriting collaborations in recent memory: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
Lonesome Locomotive, an Americana roots collective of rock, funk and grass tunes enlisted the aide of Midnight North, the house band of Phil Lesh’s Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael for the idea. Originally brought on board as an opening support act, the collaborative nature of the Bay Area and the songs in question led to a collective jamboree vision instead.
Both bands utilize sincere multi-part vocal harmonies, and just two weeks ago Midnight North wrapped up a CSNY tribute of their own at the Brooklyn Bowl in Brooklyn, New York.
I had an opportunity to speak on the phone with Grahame Lesh, guitar player and singer for Midnight North about the upcoming show, the Bay Area music scene and the lack of surprises in store for fans of Midnight North.
The Bay Bridged: Hey Grahame, how’s it going?
Grahame Lesh: Hey, Josh, how are you doing? I’m doing well.
TBB: I’m doing pretty well myself, I really appreciate you taking the time to make this happen.
GL: No, thank you for doing a write-up and trying to get some people there, it should be fun!
TBB: Absolutely. I’ve got you in between sets right now, right? What have you got going on tonight?
GL: Yeah, we just got a couple Terrapin shows, up at Terrapin Crossroads, you know the weekly stuff, there’s always music there. We’re back in town with Midnight North so I’m back in the rotation. We’re there tonight with Mark Karan, Mookie Siegel, Eric DiBerardino, and Alex Koford.
TBB: So have you been working at Terrapin from the very beginning?
GL: Oh yeah, for sure. I mean, the band that would turn into Midnight North would play there and we were one of the few bands that were actually ‘bands’ that played there, for the most part it was just a group of musicians that would kinda come together and jam whenever they needed music to be played, you know, Ross James and Alex Koford and my brother and I were a lot of the main folks at the beginning, other than Midnight North and some of the other bands but it’s really grown.
TBB: Did you ever have to pay your dues doing the load-in for other bands when you were first starting or did you come in as a band only?
GL: I didn’t, some of the other guys did, but I never actually worked there other than as a musician, having a day job and what not. But the people that are the main crew now all started off as part of the crew then. Most of them are management now, Ross James kind of runs things down there with my mom and my wife, and some of the other managers and stuff. Everyone has really moved up in their own ways.
TBB: That’s really cool when you can see an organization flower and then bloom like that.
GL: It’s been pretty amazing to watch, for sure.
TBB: Speaking of things that are amazing to watch, you guys are doing the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young thing this Friday?
GL: Ha! Yup, oh yeah.
TBB: Is this an encore or completely separate from the one you did in Brooklyn a few weeks ago?
GL: It came together completely separately but the timing was really nice. We had the idea to do this in Brooklyn; they do this kind of stuff at the Brooklyn Bowl all of the time, some of my friends did Brooklyn and the Boss, a month and a half ago and just did a bunch of Springsteen songs. We came up with the idea do that though because we thought we could tackle their songs with Midnight North and do them justice with the way we come together. We already do “Suite Judy Blue Eyes.” We just love to sing and it seemed like the best kind of challenge for us to try and work up as many of them as we could. So we put together the set and we booked the Brooklyn one, and Mike from Lonesome Locomotive called me within a day or two of that one being confirmed with the idea to do it here in San Francisco too.
TBB: Oh right on, that is great timing.
GL: I mean it’s their show, we’re going to do an opening set of our material and then join them for as much as possible of the CSNY stuff. They sound great doing it and we’ve got our practice in with it too, so combined it’ll be crazy fun.
TBB: That’s one thing that was a little unclear to me in researching the event, I kept going back and forth between asking myself “Is it a Lonesome Locomotive show? Is it a Midnight North Show?” But now it really just seems like a conglomerate party.
GL: Ha, yeah, that’s kind of how it ended up, isn’t it? Originally we were just asked to open but because we booked the one in Brooklyn and got to know the Lonesome Locomotive guys and shared set lists, we had moments of “Oh you know that song? Cool, let’s roll with it.”
TBB: Sounds like you guys were all just really open to each other’s groove.
GL: Exactly, and the whole idea behind this, and the Brooklyn one even, is: a ton of guests. So you can see everyone involved on the fliers and stuff, there’s a ton of guests that will be coming in and out I’m sure. For the main set though, we’ll be guests and we’ll be helping out where we can. We each play so many instruments we can fit in, if someone just needs a rhythm guitar player I’m there! We’ll sing too, but they’ve got it locked down. We’re gonna make it a party.
TBB: So how did you guys get involved with Lonesome Locomotive in the first place?
GL: Well, they suggested it to us, it’s their show. I think we’ve got all kinds of mutual friends in this crazy Bay Area music scene, and you know, we’ve run into them playing with other bands. It’s all very loose and open and fun when it comes to music in the Bay Area it seems like. Especially when it comes to the jam-bandy rock and roll scene. It just feels like everybody knows everybody and if we haven’t met someone, we have five or six friends who know him or her and love their music.
TBB: That’s a real neat web of music and support. I understand Mike (from Lonesome Locomotive) was in a real bad accident recently?
GL: Oh, yeah, I don’t know any details about that, he could tell ya.
TBB: But he’s going to be at the show?
GL: Oh yeah, he’ll be there. We did a show with them about a month ago in Auburn called the Ain’t Necessarily Dead Festival and he performed and they rocked. He sits down. I don’t know if you’ve seen Tim Bluhm play recently, he’s dealing with his leg too, it seems like it’s going around. But I think he’ll be fine and he’ll be rocking all out again in no time.
TBB: I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a sans-Mike thing or not, but that’s really cool that he’s still going to be there!
GL: He’s actually spearheading the whole thing, he’ll be kicking ass, don’t worry.
TBB: Awesome! I understand you guys will have a new album coming out soon?
GL: We actually just put one out for free, a live album, Live at Terrapin Crossroads and that’s sort of what we’ve been working on, we’re so busy playing it’s hard to find time to record but we keep writing. We’ve got about 80% of the tracks done for the next studio record but in the meantime we have all of these fully recorded shows from Terrapin, we picked through our favorites and put them out. It’s free on our website, you can download it for nothing! We’ll definitely be working on new music and new recordings, a weekend here a weekend there, but when it’s done we’re going to be very excited to put it out. I love our new stuff, it’s been coming along well.
TBB: Has everything that is planned for the next studio release been road tested or all-new material?
GL: Most of it has been, everything that we’ve currently recorded we’ve played a bunch live for sure. We’ve got a few written but not worked up songs happening, we need to get them ready to road test. We play them a bunch, that’s the best way to get them ready. We can work in the studio, it works out, but we find the songs get better the more we play them. We get better at interpreting them and just working on them, so we make sure to play them.
TBB: And a song will absolutely continue to grow, after it’s written and even after it’s recorded.
GL: They do, and even if the structure stays the same, how we play them and how we interpret them really blossoms after you’ve played them a bunch. We’re not trying to surprise anyone with our shows or record.
TBB: The people know what they’re getting themselves into.
GL: Yea, exactly.
TBB: Do you have any favorite gear or guitars that you use or have any cool or memorable stories about?
GL: Um, well, I do have my one favorite guitar of mine, a 335 sort of beige-blond that I got in early 2014 I think. I’ve probably played five shows without it. That’s my main thing. I’ve got a little pedal board and I can dial sound in and out with that but it’s mostly all based off of the guitar.
TBB: Did it take you a while to pick it out and settle on that one?
GL: Um, I found it used and I’ve got other guitars that I like that are nothing too fancy but this one just fit really nicely and turned out to be a really good version of the 335. Cause you know with any batch of models it can be hit or miss for the individual and everything, it just fit really well with what i was trying to do. Since then it’s been mostly about getting the rest of my gear to live up to that.
TBB: When you’re not listening to live Midnight North sets, what do you tend to go for? What are you listening to lately?
GL: It’s pretty all over the place for me. I’ve obviously been listening to a ton of CSNY the last couple months just to really burn it into my head, but you know there’s so many great musicians in our scene here in the Bay Area that are putting out music. I listen to a lot of that, a lot of The Mother Hips, a lot of bands that come through Terrapin, Go By Ocean, San Geronimo is really good, they just put out a new record in June and I really dig that. I don’t know, I’ll occasionally listen to a ton of Chance the Rapper or something too. It’s all over the place.
TBB: That one was unexpected!
GL: Yeah, I was pretty sad I missed that set at Outside Lands, along with all of the other random genre and obscure stuff I can get into that was at Outside Lands, ha, didn’t get a chance this year.
TBB: Yeah, unfortunately some things just have to be passed on. That’s really cool though that you really enjoy listening to your friends’ music, essentially giving back to the incredible community you’re a part of.
GL: It’s impossible not to, really.
Lonesome Locomotive, Midnight North, and more
Great American Music Hall
August 12, 2016