Do You Believe in Magic?

Heading into the funky Cedar Cultural Center over in the West Bank neighborhood of Minneapolis this past Thursday night, I found myself entering with the evening’s featured attraction. John Sebastian was the star performing along with mandolin virtuoso David Grisman; they were appearing together in Minneapolis on the first stop of a too-short tour in support of their 2007 disc Satisfied.

I shook hands with Sebastian and asked him if he remembered coming through town in early 1967 to play at the old Minneapolis Auditorium with the Lovin’ Spoonful right after the release of Hums of the Lovin’ Spoonful. (I had attended the concert.) “Not yet,” he said, giving a suitably sixties answer to a sixties question.

I hope he remembers appearing for last Thursday’s show, because it was awfully good. Sebastian and Grisman covered the highlights from their disc as well as Spoonful gems including “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind,” “Darling Be Home Soon,” “Lovin’ You” and “Summer in the City” (the last two from Hums).

Sebastian discussed his career, beginning with his upbringing in Greenwich Village. He recalled going to see Mississippi John Hurt perform in the Village and trying to figure out the fingering he used on guitar. He also invoked Sleepy John Estes, but Hurt seemed to be his musical hero. He said he met up with Grisman as a freshman at NYU in 1962. Sebastian and Grisman first teamed up to join the Even Dozen Jug Band with others including Maria D’Amato (who later married Geoff Muldaur) at the tail end of the folk boom.

Grisman is an interesting artist as well; he has operated at the height of his powers far longer than most musicians whose careers began in the sixties. He was a long-time friend of Jerry Garcia, contributing his instrumental support to the Dead’s great American Beauty album. Grisman and Garcia were at the heart of the memorable bluegrass combo Old and In the Way. Grisman has created his own jazz-inflected sound on mandolin while also founding the Acoustic Disc label to disseminate the music, including several collaborations with Garcia.

Sebastian has lost his singing voice, but he croaks musically. I was struck by the pure tone he elicits from the guitar and the lyrical style he brings to his playing on it. He coaxes a similar sound from the harmonica. Having heard him accompany himself on both guitar and harmonica on Thursday night, I can recognize Sebastian’s harmonica playing on other notable work from the sixties such as Tim Hardin’s first album on Verve. He is one talented musician, as is Grisman.


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