Music: Jerry Garcia
Lyrics: Robert Hunter
Original Artist: Grateful Dead
Original Album: From the Mars Hotel (1974)
Historian: Mockingbird Staff
The Grateful Dead played “Scarlet Begonias” 315 times, debuting it with the “Wall of Sound” on 3/24/73, two days before entering the studio for From the Mars Hotel. The original lyrics – littered with British place names and allusions to nursery rhymes, folks songs, and fables – accompany music at once delicate and rhythmic. For outstanding Dead versions, check out 5/25/74 Santa Barbara; 9/25/76 Capital Centre; 10/2/77 Portland, OR; 12/31/78 Winterland; 2/3/79 Indianapolis; 6/18/83 SPAC; or 12/10/93 with Branford Marsalis. Not every band sees a heart of gold in the lyrics: a 1992 version by Sublime appended new lyrics, focusing on drugs and faux fandom.
Phish performed the tune three times: at the famous first gig on 12/2/83; opening their first bar gig (12/1/84 at Nectar’s) followed by Hendrix’s “Fire” and “Fire on the Mountain”; and opening the third set of the first show with Page (5/3/85, although he did not perform officially as part of the band until that fall) followed by “Eyes of the World.”
Phish's performances of "Scarlet" reflect a band well before it found its own footing and as such are notable as historical footnotes rather than musical prowess. However, members of Phish have performed the song with members of the Dead in more current settings and with significantly more pleasing results. Fans of the song will want to seek out Phil Lesh & Phriends on 4/16/99 at the Warfield with Page & Trey; the Comes a Time Tribute on 9/24/05 with Trey; Phil & Friends on 7/7/06 and 7/12/06 (also Trey); or Mickey Hart's Rhythm Devils on 10/17/06 and 1/12/08 with Mike.