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Published: 2003/12/30
by Stephen Miller

SEVA Benefit, Berkeley Community Theater, Berkeley, CA- 12/13

For 25 years the SEVA Foundation has been giving eyesight to the blind. With
Wavy Gravy as their FUNdraiser, they have saved the vision of over 2,000,000
people! On December 13th many of the supporters and musicians that have
contributed to the cause gathered at the Berkeley Community Theater to celebrate
their past success and continue the mission to save the eyes of the world.

The music started with Hamza el Din, the father of modern Nubian music and
old time friend of the dead. He shuffled on stage carrying his oud in its hard
case, sat down on a chair and then invited Mickey Hart to join him. The duo
played one of Hamza’s beautiful pieces and his chanting set the vibe of what was
to be a magical night. After one song he bowed, put his instrument away and
left the stage. I would have liked to hear a few more but knew we were one step
closer to the main act of the evening.

Marley’s Ghost performed some barber-shop style "tweeners" as the stage crew
did their thing and did it well. Not more than 15 minutes passed between each
act. Buffy Sainte-Marie and her band performed a short but powerful set that
included a moving " bury my heart at wounded knee" and her Grammy winning "up
where we belong". Singer/ songwriter Steve Earle followed with a relaxed set
of his fun and thought-provoking tunes. He sent one song out to " what’s her
name, wherever the hell she is".

The ageless Jackson Browne, backed by the awesome harmonica chops of Norton
Buffalo, played for a half hour before being joined by Bonnie Raitt. The
legends treated the crowd to great versions of "Nick of Time" and "I can’t make
you love me", the latter with Bonnie taking a rare turn on the piano.

The only extended intermission followed and people filed to the outdoor
balconies to get some fresh air. The lobby lights flicked off and on urging us back
to our seats in true theater fashion, and the we filed in to Mike Phelan from
Marley’s Ghost playing the bagpipes under a single spotlight and those
all-seeing SEVA eyes. As he blew the final notes of a surreal Shenandoah and the
Dead took the stage the energy bounded. It felt like a really special night and
our anticipation was high for a great set from the boys.

The band was mostly acoustic as promised on the program. Bob Weir and Jimmy
Herring both held acoustics, Jeff Chimenti and Rob Barraco took turns on a
grand piano, Mickey Hart played a mostly hand drum, conga-based kit, and no Joan
Osborne! I had really enjoyed Joan the last time I had seen the band and was
initially a little disappointed she wasn’t there. But that was forgotten as a
rockin’ Truckin’ opened the show. The sound was excellent all night and Phil
Lesh’s bass chunked through a nice jam that seemed headed into "The Other One",
but took a spacey turn into an excellent "Tomorrow never knows". "Loser",
"Down the road", "Ramble on Rose", and "Jack Straw" were all well played with
some solid jamming. And then there was "Dark Star". The music played the
band and took us all on an amazing ride. A long intense and beautiful jam that
segued into the theme song of the evening "Eyes of the world", at which point
Jimmy picked up his electric guitar and was joined by John Popper on his
harmonica. Popper needed to be louder in the mix, but his sound was a nice addition
to the jam as he and Jimmy traded licks between big smiles. Popper left the
stage as the "eyes" began to turn back towards the deeper realms of the "Dark
Star" from whence it came. Another long, well-developed jam brought us to the
final verse which they sang in a jammy vocal round-style, "nightfall of,
nightfall of diamonds, diamonds, nightfall of diamonds". The crowd heaved a
collective sigh of pleasure and contentment thinking this would surely end the set,
but it was Saturday night and a super-rockin’ "One more Saturday night" was to
make sure we had all boogied as hard as we could this night.

The entire cast of the evening returned to the stage for the encore of "Not
fade away". The playing was a little sloppy, but it was cool seeing Bobby and
Bonnie sharing a mic and trading licks.

The evening ended with everyone on stage, (except the dead) wearing red clown
noses in honor of the beloved Wavy Gravy and singing a song he wrote called
"Basic human needs".

All the musicians and others involved in this production donated their time
and energy and SEVA raised over $300,000 to continue their mission. Thanks to
all of you for this amazing night of music and the work you have done for the
last 25 years to bring sight to the eyes of the world!

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