Fire on the Mountain
Music: Mickey Hart
Lyrics: Robert Hunter
Vocals: Trey (lead), Jeff Holdsworth (backing)
Original Artist: Diga Rhythm Band
Original Album: Diga (1976)
Historian: Phillip Zerbo (pzerbo)
Last Update: 2016-02-08
"Fire on the Mountain" is a beloved Grateful Dead tune, the latter half of the inextricably intertwined "Scarlet Begonias" -> "Fire on the Mountain" ("Scarlet" -> "Fire") couplet. The song was introduced as the instrumental "Happiness is Drumming" on Diga Rhythm Band's (Mickey Hart's side project) 1976 release Diga. The inaugural Grateful Dead performance with Robert Hunter's lyrics came at San Francisco's Winterland on 3/18/77. A meaningful review of all outstanding Dead versions is far beyond the scope of this writing, but be sure to check out exceptional Dead performances of the combo including: 5/25/77 Richmond, VA, 2/5/78 Cedar Falls, IA, 11/30/80 Atlanta, 2/27/81 Chicago, 10/14/83 Hartford, 10/20/89 Spectrum, 3/22/90 Hamilton, Ontario, and, of course, 5/8/77 Barton Hall.
Diga Rhythm Band, “Happiness Is Drumming”
The "Scarlet" -> "Fire" combo opened the second set of the very first Phish show, and is notable more for that historical significance rather than musical excellence. Another of the earliest Phish shows, 12/1/84 opens with an a Phish rendition of the classic “Scarlet” -> “Fire” combo... sort of. Establishing early on the now long-standing Phish tradition of humorous twists on expected themes, Phish inserts the Jimi Hendrix version of “Fire” before finally giving way to “Fire on the Mountain.” Hence we have “Scarlet” -> “Fire” -> “Fire.” While “Fire on the Mountain” may well have been played at other early Phish gigs (including the spoof "Fire Up the Ganja" on 3/4/85), 12/2/83 and 12/1/84 are the only documented performances to date.
A more controversial “appearance” of this tune came on 12/31/95... sort of. Some fans swear they hear a “Fire on the Mountain” tease towards the very end of the second set opening “Drowned.” Others insist that any perceived similarity is coincidental, and that this passage is simply Mike and Trey jamming on the song’s signature chord progression. While this may seem an esoteric point, voluminous and sometimes heated debate about this “tease” has persisted in on-line Phish forums ever since the gig. The best advice would be to queue up "Drowned" on your copy of New Year's Eve 1995 and decide for yourself. Regardless of the merits of this “tease” claim, 12/31/95 is by any reasonable measure one of the best Phish performances from this or any other era.
Grateful Dead, ”Scarlet Begonias” -> “Fire on the Mountain” – 12/31/78, San Francisco, CA
Outside of Phish proper, there are many notable performances of the song by all of the members of Phish. The first with members of Grateful Dead took place on 4/16/99 at San Francisco’s Warfield Theatre. This middle performance of the three-night Phil Lesh & Phriends run with Trey and Page (along with Steve Kimock and John Molo) as Phil’s “Phriends” featured a thrilling “Scarlet ” -> “Fire” combo that also included guest Donna Jean Godchaux. During Phish’s breakup, 2006 featured “Fire On the Mountain” on multiple fronts: Trey saw repeat action on the song while sitting in with Phil & Friends during a summer tour that was co-headlined by Trey, Mike & The Duo (aka GRAB) – check out 6/30/06, 7/7/06 or 7/11/06 – while Mike performed the song a full dozen times as a member of The Rhythm Devils with Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart – see 4/19/06, 8/19/06, or 12/1/06, the latter two with Bob Weir. Not to be left out, Fish has performed “Fire on the Mountain” with Dead Set in Burlington on 6/4/13, and with a collection of friends for a benefit concert during an off-night from Phish tour in Petaluma, CA on 10/26/14.
Trey again saw action on the song during a sit-in with the post-Grateful Dead ensemble Furthur, on 9/7/13 at the Lockn’ Festival. But the most high profile performance of “Fire On the Mountain” by a member of Phish took place on 7/3/15, with Trey as a de facto member of the Grateful Dead. Filling the lead guitar slot during a five-show reunion run billed as “Fare Thee Well,” Trey assumed the role of a lifetime, and in doing so delighted even the most jaded and cynical of Deadheads with a set of thrilling, awe-inspiring performances.
Fare Thee Well, ”Scarlet Begonias” -> “Fire on the Mountain” – 7/3/15, Chicago, IL (Video by LazyLightning55a)