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)
"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 beyond the scope of this writing, but be sure to check out excellent Dead performances of the combo: 9/2/78 Giants Stadium, 2/27/81 Chicago, 4/23/83 New Haven, 10/20/89 The Spectrum, 3/22/90 Hamilton, Ontario, and, of course, 5/8/77 Barton Hall.
The "Scarlet" -> "Fire" combo opened the second set of the first Phish show, and is notable for 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... maybe. 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 son'g signature chord progression. While this may seem an esoteric point, voluminous and sometimes heated debate 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 era.
The most relevant performance of the song by members of Phish 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 “The Phriends” featured a thrilling “Scarlet ” -> “Fire” combo. If you've never heard this three-show run, do yourself a favor, get it now. If you just can't get enough of Trey on the tune, also check out Phil and Friends gigs from 6/28/06, 7/7/06 and 7/11/06 with Big Red in the guest guitar slot.
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