North Bay gets role in Grateful Dead film
If you happened to visit Olompali State Historic Park near Novato last November, you might have come upon an arresting sight: a camera crew encircling Grateful Dead rhythm guitarist Bob Weir under an old oak tree.
The seven-person crew was part of a team making an authorized documentary, helmed by executive producer Martin Scorsese, about the Grateful Dead over the course of the band’s 50-year career.
Olompali, where the Dead lived in 1966, is just one of the North Bay locales featured in the film, said co-producer Justin Kreutzmann. The documentary isn’t quite finished and may not be released this year.
“It will come out when it’s ready,” said Kreutzmann, 45, the son of Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann. “It would be nice to hit the 50th anniversary, but making a better film is more important than trying to capitalize on the hype around that. We’re still editing. There’s so much great material, as you can imagine, to go through.”
Five concerts will be performed in Chicago and Santa Clara this summer to commemorate the band’s formation in 1965.
Co-producer Eric Eisner, CEO of Double E Pictures, said, “Our film is not a celebration of the band’s 50th anniversary. It’s a celebration of the band as a whole. We hope our movie exists for many years as a legacy piece, so we have no problem waiting until all the festivities of the 50th have passed somewhat.”
The film will come out first in theaters, Eisner said, and long-term, may play at midnight on weekends “in the ‘Rocky Horror’ slot. We want … future generations to know what the band was all about.”
The film remains untitled, Kreutzmann said. “Do you just call it ‘Grateful Dead’? Do you call it ‘Long Strange Trip’?”
Grateful Dead archivist David Lemieux is music supervisor for the film, which will be directed by Amir Bar-Lev (“The Pat Tillman Story”). Both declined interview requests, saying they would prefer to talk when the film is complete.
It’s unclear what will make the final cut, but Kreutzmann said the North Bay is an essential part of the band’s story.
“The band’s studio was in San Rafael. ‘Touch of Gray’ was recorded in San Rafael, and everybody (the Dead and their extended family) lived in Marin at that time (1980s),” Kreutzmann said. “The crew all lived in Petaluma.”
Bassist Phil Lesh was filmed at Terrapin Crossroads, his restaurant and music space in San Rafael, and drummer Mickey Hart was interviewed at his home near Sebastopol.
Scorsese has a long history of making rock music documentaries, starting as an assistant director on “Woodstock” (1970) and including 1978’s “The Last Waltz” about The Band’s farewell show, 2005’s “No Direction Home” a look into the life of Bob Dylan, and 2011’s “George Harrison: Living in the Material World.”
“Millions of stories have been told about the Grateful Dead over the years,” said the Dead’s surviving members - Weir, Lesh, Hart and Kreutzmann - in a statement last fall. “With our 50th anniversary coming up, we thought it might just be time to tell one ourselves, and Amir is the perfect guy to help us do it.”
Beyond the band members, interviewees include lyricist Robert Hunter, Trixie Garcia (Jerry’s daughter), band manager Dennis McNally and Sen. Al Franken, a longtime fan.
The Dead considered making a film while recording the album “Workingman’s Dead” (1970), so some rare archival footage exists from that period, Kreutzmann said. “When I saw this footage I thought, Wow, you can do a whole film just on this.”
The Dead and the film’s co-producers are thrilled to have Scorsese on board, he said. Director Bar-Lev will present a rough cut to Scorsese, and he’ll respond with notes and suggestions, bringing “fresh perspective” to the film.
“You know, he’s Martin Scorsese,” Kreutzmann said. “So we will listen.”
During Weir’s day at Olompali last fall, state archaeologist Breck Parkman showed the 67-year-old guitarist around his old stomping grounds.
Weir, Parkman and the film crew spent about four hours at the park with Bar-Lev, finding the old oak tree under which they were photographed for an album cover, checking out the ruins of the Burdell Mansion where the band lived and examining the cement platform that was once the foundation for a commercial bread-baking oven. It became the stage on which the Dead and their cohorts had impromptu jams.
As cameras rolled, Weir’s tour concluded at Olompali’s visitor center, which houses remnants from the Dead’s time there such as old record albums that melted in a fire.
Said Parkman: “Bob seemed to enjoy the thought of being archaeological.”