Photo credit: Jay Blakesberg
The Spirit Of The Grateful Dead Lives On At Terrapin Crossroads
Back in the day, Marin County was the place to be if you were hip. The sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll culture that characterized and defined the mid-'60s flocked to this gloriously beautiful part of the Bay Area and settled. Among them were members of the Grateful Dead, the Bay Area band that embodied the spirit of peace, love and community. So when Phil Lesh, the Dead's bass player, opened Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael in 2012, it quickly became a unique and popular gathering place, and a mecca for local musicians.
Inspired by a visit to Levon Helm's barn in Woodstock, New York, where intimate concerts and rambling jams took place, the Lesh family decided that they wanted to create a similar experience in Marin. "It started as just a place for my dad to play locally," said singer/songwriter and guitar player Grahame Lesh, one of Phil and Jill Lesh's two sons. "He didn't really want to be touring anymore. He can come down on a Tuesday and just play for free with no notice. It's really a cool thing for him to do whenever he wants."
Terrapin soon started attracting notable players like Jackie Greene, Tim and Nicki Bluhm, members of the Mother Hips, Dan "Lebo" Lebowitz, Stu Allen, Danny Click, and many, many more who perform regularly in the lively bar that offers free music every night. The cool, casual vibe attracts an enthusiastic crowd who enjoy the eclectic mix of musicians—you never know who you will find jamming there, including Phil himself, and other members of the Terrapin Family Band.
Grahame credits Terrapin with helping to launch the careers of many local musicians, as well as his own. "It has been incredibly helpful for my band, Midnight North, and all the musicians that weren't part of the community before, or were starting to build their careers seven or eight years ago," said Grahame. He explained that anyone who wants to be part of the family of musicians just needs to reach out. "If you make yourself known, eventually you'll get a response. You might be thrown into the fire, but we'll make some fun music happen."
Formerly a restaurant called the Seafood Peddler, Terrapin is located right on the water, on the San Rafael Canal, giving it a resort-like ambience. There is an outside bar area with comfortable couches where you can lounge, get a drink and a snack, a full-service restaurant where you can dine inside or out, an inside bar area where you can enjoy live music, and the Grate Room, where bigger acts are booked.
Phil Lesh performs at Terrapin Crossroads
Photo credit: Jay Blakesberg
One of the most unique features at Terrapin is the large outdoor beach park, which they got permission to use from the city of San Rafael. In addition to a stage that frequently hosts concerts, a huge part of this area is designed for kids to run around and play, and events are planned regularly just for them. A Jack-O-Lantern Jubilee was held there recently for Halloween, with a costume party, candy, and spooky stories read to the kids by Phil Lesh. "The Lesh family really wanted to create a place that was open to every generation," said Tara Patton, Terrapin's executive director. "One of the things I am told all the time is that we really do make children feel welcome, which is so special."
Other events include the annual Oysterfest, Ramble on Rosé, trivia night and electric, jazz or blues brunches. "We try to do something every weekend and in the nice weather, we have really big events once a month" said Patton. "We have events that are not only fun, but also educational," she added. "We love being able to do all those things for the community."
Patton expressed that both she and the Lesh family are pleased with the way things have been unfolding at Terrapin. "I love that both the deadhead community and our local community, who may not know about the [Grateful Dead] music as much, meld together into one organic group of people who are all enjoying the same thing. Our mission is about making sure there is something to accommodate everyone. So if you are a young family or a music lover or a couple looking for a romantic night—we offer all of those things in one place."
And it's working. Seven years in, Terrapin has become a bustling Marin establishment, welcoming entire generations of families, and visitors from all over the world who want to experience the Grateful Dead vibe. "It's crazy, and it's a really unique thing, said Grahame about the eternal draw of the now-defunct band. "This weird band that never really had any hits is still such a huge cultural force in 2019. People just want to come and experience something like it, even now."
Ultimately, the heartbeat of Terrapin Crossroads is found in the music, and the strong community it has created. "I don't think what has happened at Terrapin happens all that often," said Grahame. "Music is a magical thing and it's a great glue. I think we got lucky with meeting the people we did, and all of these folks wanting to be a part of it."