Midnight North at the Great American Music Hall, by Joshua Huver
Midnight North (photo: Joshua Huver)

A Bay Area bonanza took place during a special Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young tribute concert Friday night at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. The evening was a collaborative venture between SF’s own Lonesome Locomotive and Midnight North from the North Bay.

Michael Rosen, guitarist and resident singer-songwriter of the Lonesome Locomotive car spearheaded the event, recruiting old friends and new from several different Bay Area groups to aide in celebrating the harmonious catalog of CSNY proper.

Lonesome Locomotive and Friends at the Great American Music Hall, by Joshua Huver

Rosen approached Midnight North through founding member Grahame Lesh. As the house band of one of, if not the, biggest jam meccas of all time, Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael, Lesh and fellow band mates Elliott Peck, Alex Jordan, Connor Croon and resident TXR drummer Ezra Lipp were more than able to step up to the task.

Billed half-heartedly as an “encore” presentation of Midnight North’s CSNY tribute show in Brooklyn two weeks before, the event was independently conceived and organically blossomed into a family-style jamboree true to the happening spirit of SF.

“The whole idea behind this is a ton of guests,” said Lesh in an interview with The Bay Bridged. “It’s all very loose and open and fun when it comes to music in the Bay Area, and Mike (from Lonesome Locomotive) contacted me maybe a day or two after the booking in Brooklyn was finalized. The timing was really nice.”

Originally sought for support, it was not long before the ingredients melted into a true San Francisco stew. Midnight North still opened the evening as originally designed, with a set of original tunes before packing as many musicians into one space as the Great American could hold.

Midnight North at the Great American Music Hall, by Joshua Huver

Opening their 10-song, hour-long set with “Roamin,’” Midnight North showcased their knack for multi-part harmonies between Lesh, Peck, and Jordan. With nearly every song, a rotation of sorts took place. Moving into “Miss M” from the band’s 2013 debut album End Of The Night, Peck took over lead vocals, set down her guitar, and slid into the keyboards while Jordan moved from the organ onto guitar.

“Find A Way,” the B-side track lush with Lesh found on the Stayin’ Single, Drinkin’ Doubles EP, made an appearance, followed by the newer track “Greene County” which has yet to see an official release.

“Phoenix Motel” saw Jordan move back to the keys, setting up a wall of swampy Louisiana sound underneath a driving picking lead from Lesh. The pair resonated off of each other, utilizing the low swinging groove of Croon and Lipp to catapult a back and forth flurry between guitar and keys solos.

Following the Scarlet Skies album lead, Jordan returned to guitar and Peck to the keys for an upbeat and infectiously catchy tune from Lesh titled “Everyday.” Lesh maintained the lead into “Lucky One,” working his way through a melodic guitar run in and out of focus around the ballad’s lyrics before stretching into Peck’s “Highway Song.”

Midnight North at the Great American Music Hall, by Joshua Huver

For the home stretch of the set they welcomed pedal steel legend Pete Grant to the stage as they took on a pair of CSNY classics: “Long Time Gone,” spearheaded by Lesh, and “Suite Judy Blue Eyes,” which features all of the subtle nuances of coordinated rhythm and focus that it takes to pull of such a complicated harmony with apparent ease and flawlessness.

Following a 30-minute intermission, the CSNY celebration continued as Lonesome Locomotive and a slew of guests took the stage. In addition to Rosen, Erin Cassidy rounded out the rhythms and John Paul McLean handled bass and box. Each of the five members of Midnight North took a few turns on stage, together and individually. Additionally, Josh Brough of Poor Man’s Whiskey, Jeff Miller of The New Monsoon, Adam Bowers of Old Agoura appeared, as well as fellow Bay Area musicians Ryan Lukas, Eric DiBeradino, Kate Gaffney, and the ineffable pairing of key master Jordan Feinstein and the legendary Pete Grant on pedal steel guitar.

At times, there were no less than 11 people on the stage at once, and that is still probably forgetting a few. Between songs, not only were individuals coming and going on and off the stage, but they also switched instruments, jumped in on vocal harmonies, and generally added several sparks of madness ensuring the party raged on.

Lonesome Locomotive and Friends at the Great American Music Hall, by Joshua Huver

Opening the set with the infamous “Woodstock” was appropriate if only because it echoed the sentiment of the build-up and release into the CSNY celebration. Elliot Peck took over the lead vocal melody in the CSN (no Young) tune “Helplessly Hoping.”

At this point in the evening, Rosen took the opportunity to thank the musicians, the crowd, and the venue. After all, the third time’s the charm: It was Rosen and LL’s third appearance on the Great American stage, and the first standing performance. From the show alone it was impossible to tell that he had been confined to rocking out on a stool up until recently.

Lesh took over the lead vocals on the next two tracks, each CSN collaborations: “You Don’t Have To Cry” and “Dark Star.” Peck shined like a beacon on “Wooden Ships” and “Carry On” saw the on-stage congregation blossom into true comfort with an emotionally charged jam in the latter. The majority of Midnight North remained on stage for a Stephen Stills solo track “Love The One You’re With” before Lonesome Locomotive thanked the band and began welcoming more musicians to join the stage.

The second half of the set opened with “Southern Cross” before transitioning into the socially-conscious “Ohio,” then surprising Gaffney with an early invitation onstage for vocal assistance on “Teach Your Children” and ending the set with Gaffney on an acoustic guitar for a sublime take on “Helpless.”

The encore started nearly as quickly as the second set ended, with Brough and Rosen sharing the stage and vocal duties on a riveting duet of “Find The Cost Of Freedom.” Nearly everyone that had been on the stage at one point or another was welcomed back for the final tune of the evening, “Wasted On The Way.” Rosen prefaced the tune by re-introducing Pete Grant on pedal steel, championing Grant’s contribution to the Bay Area with an interesting factoid: Grant taught the one and only Jerry Garcia how to play the banjo.

Although the music never stopped, the show had to end somehow, and Grant made sure there was a good note left ringing.

Lonesome Locomotive and Friends at the Great American Music Hall, by Joshua Huver