Music: Jerry Garcia
Lyrics: Robert Hunter
Vocals: Trey (lead), Mike, Page (backing)
Original Artist: Grateful Dead
Original Album: Terrapin Station (1977)
Historian: Chris Bertolet
The Grateful Dead's “Terrapin Station” is one of that band’s most beloved compositions, and its genesis is a miracle in its own right. According to Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, he and Jerry Garcia composed the words and music to this song simultaneously (and unbeknownst to each other) while watching an electrical storm crackle over San Francisco. As fate would have it, they just so happened to fit nicely together.
The first section of the celestial epic, “Lady With A Fan,” recounts the story of a Soldier and Sailor, who are both enchanted by a beautiful Lady. She puts a mortal challenge to them both, throwing her fan into a den of lions. While the calculating Soldier shrugs off the chance to win the Lady’s hand, the Sailor sides with passion and dives right in. Though the storyteller eschews a Hollywood ending, the message seems clear: in matters of the heart, set caution aside.
The second section is an ode to inspiration and the muse, sense and color, mystery and truth. It speaks of a place that crickets and cicadas sing of, a place that can be found only by those with adventure and passion in their hearts: Terrapin Station. That is also the name of the third section, a driving, percussive passage that repeats and heightens, opening a door to possibility. The concluding movements to “Terrapin Station” (“Terrapin Transit,” “At a Siding,” “Terrapin Flyer” and “Refrain”) never surfaced in the Dead’s live performances (with one exception, the nearly complete 3/18/77 rendition). In that regard, Phish’s lone rendition was no different.
Phish debuted this song in Virginia Beach on the third anniversary of Garcia’s death, perhaps inspired by a lovely full moon that hung over the amphitheater that night. By all accounts, the crowd’s slack-jawed reaction to the first signature guitar peal gave way quickly to hugs, tears of joy, and spontaneous acrobatics. On quality recordings, all of this crackling energy is palpable.
Though Phish hasn’t revisited it since, Trey and Page played an extended “Terrapin” in their Phil Lesh & Friends engagement in April 1999, and Trey joined Phil again for a lovely Terrapin on 6/30/06 in Camden, NJ.
Grateful Dead "Terrapin Station" 4/27/77 Passaic, NJ