Chris Rowan - guitar, piano, vocals; Lorin Rowan - guitar, mandolin, vocals; Jerry Garcia - pedal steel guitar; David Grisman - mandolin, piano; Bill Wolf - bass; Bill Kruetzman - drums
At the time of this performance, The Rowan Brothers had yet to release an album. Signed to Columbia under the instruction of Clive Davis after a bidding war with Asylum Records' David Geffen in which Columbia doubled Geffen's offer, they would soon become the focus of an overhyped campaign that they could never live up to. They recorded their first LP with their older brother Peter's bandmate, David Grisman, producing. A few members of the Grateful Dead also lend a hand to the sessions. When the album was released, the brother's faces were prominently displayed on a Sunset Boulevard billboard and they were profiled in Rolling Stone. An offhand comment made by Jerry Garcia in a Rolling Stone interview that said "They could be like The Beatles, they're that good," was taken out of context and subsequently plastered on all the promotion for the album. In the wake of this promotional blitz, the group's management advised them not to tour and to simply wait for the album to explode. The album failed to take off and the Garcia quote, combined with Columbia's firing of Clive Davis, proved the kiss of death for the group. The Rowan Brothers were dropped from the label before they could complete a second album.
This third night of the Fillmore West closing week festivities opened with The Rowan Brothers giving their one and only appearance at the Fillmore and one of only a handful promoting their first album. Mandolin virtuoso David Grisman, in addition to Jerry Garcia and Bill Kruetzman, help provide backing throughout the set. This was a marathon night for Garcia, who played on every song by all three groups.
The Rowan Brother's breezy harmonies and pastoral, feel-good songs go over well with the Fillmore audience. Surprisingly, they only perform three songs from their debut LP - "Hickory Day," "Mama Don't You Cry," and "Move On Down" - but the rest of the material is similar in feel. Though these songs can sound somewhat naïve and dated they do offer a true reflection of that short idyllic time period when many of the San Francisco bands had relocated to Marin County and were living free and easy. The brothers themselves had recently relocated from Boston to Stinson Beach, and this radical change in surroundings, coupled with a certain popularity among leading San Francisco music figures, infused their songwriting. Guardian angels, mountain climbing and running free are common lyrical themes here, some with uplifting spiritual overtones.
One notable exception is "Better Off Dead," one of the more enjoyable lost songs. It's a shame that it was not recorded for their first album, as it would have given it some humorous balance as a potential sing-a-long anthem. Garcia's pedal steel is particularly fitting on this take. The legendary artist's presence, along with the nature of the event itself, allows the song to resonate on a number of levels.
© 2019 CV.org. All rights reserved.