Hot Tuna

by Adam Williams

10 December 2003


If you don’t know Jorma, you don’t know Jack…

Hot Tuna

26 Nov 2003: Beacon Theater — New York

It doesn’t matter what the weather conditions are outside; anytime Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen pick up their instruments and play together it’s a warm sunny day. So as shoppers crowded the chilly New York streets with their last minute holiday grocery lists, a few lucky folks spent their Thanksgiving Eve enjoying an extra large portion of Hot fuckin’ Tuna. And what a meal it was…

Before the main course was served, those in attendance were treated to a wonderful appetizer consisting of 75 minutes of Bruce Cockburn. Backed by drums, keyboards and electric/stand-up bass, Cockburn showed off his gifts as a talented singer-songwriter. Falling somewhere between the musical sensibilities of Bob Dylan and Ritchie Havens, the Canadian offered up a dozen songs, thoroughly engaging the crowd with his unique blend of folk infused jazz and blues.

As enjoyable as Cockburn’s set was however, Beacon denizens were clamoring for Hot Tuna, and at 9:30pm dinner was served. Casady on bass, Kaukonen on acoustic and guest Barry Mitterhoff on mandolin and tenor guitar, all seated center stage. It doesn’t get any more basic, and it doesn’t get any better.

From the first glint of Kaukonen’s golden smile, the celebration was underway; balloons drifted lazily down from the balcony, a haze of reefer smoke settled on the orchestra seating, while the joyous sounds of hand clapping and toe tapping echoed throughout the Beacon. Did I mention the revelers dancing in the aisles?

And the music. The beautiful fluidity of Kaukonen’s finger picking and Casady’s solid rhythm complemented by Mitterhoff’s fine efforts. Nearly two hours of breezy country-bluegrass, the perfect diversion on a November night. It didn’t matter that tech problems plagued the set, no one noticed or cared. The audience was too busy losing themselves in the moment, and having a grand old time in the process.

What is it that we love so much about Hot Tuna? Is it Kaukonen’s raggedly smooth voice? Casady’s exquisite bass work? The consistently rousing renditions of “Good Shepherd”? Or is it their continued ability to create magnificent art in the simplest of terms? Perhaps it is all of the above, combined with one more thing: We love Jack and Jorma because they aren’t merely performers to us. Over the years they have become part of our collective extended family. They could play the Beacon as easily as they could play our front porch, and to see them onstage enjoying themselves, doing what they’ve been doing for nearly forty years, will brighten up the darkest day.

Forget about holiday turkey. All you need for this season is some Hot Tuna.

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