Slightly rotund‚ pointy grey beard‚ and overwhelmingly jolly… I'm pretty sure that when it's not December 25th‚ Kris Kringle moonlights as the guitarist in Hot Tuna. If being in the same room as Jorma Kaukonen doesn't bring you a sense of coziness only akin to sitting by a fire on Christmas Eve with a bed of newly fallen snow outside‚ then you're probably the kind of person who also likes to kick puppies in the face. With old pal Jack Casady to his right‚ and mandolin tinkler Barry Mitterhoff to his left‚ Kaukonen and company played two sets of soul-stilling music that turned the Aladdin Theatre into one massive living room.
The sold-out crowd in Portland was mainly composed of folks who have most likely been seeing Jorma play in one manner or another since long before this writer was even born. The faded tie-dyes that were omnipresent throughout the room seemed to hold a metaphorical essence within them. Much like the ashen garb‚ the music represented the settling echoes of raucous times gone past. Like an acid trip of perfection‚ the psychedelic eruptions of Jefferson Airplane have peaked and settled into the soothing moments of delicate synergy that Kauokenen and Casady emit from the stage. Each song was prefaced by some fabled tale of enlightenment or moment of self-mockery‚ and it seemed clear that these guys have long existed on the true artistic mantra of taking your music seriously‚ but not taking yourself seriously at all.
And the songs just kept coming. Every time a tune would start‚ I would be momentarily disappointed that it wasn't my favorite one‚ only to be subsequently and immediately seduced by the intrinsic magic that each song held. From the lighthearted novelty of "Barbeque King" and Mere Haggard's "More Than My Old Guitar‚" to the downright divine rings of cuts like "Good Shepherd" and "I'll Be All Right Some Day‚" each song embodied the essence of timeless. These are songs that would have felt just at home 100 years ago as they will 100 years into the future. So sure‚ I would have appreciated it if Kaukonen hadn't so humbly passed off nearly every solo to Mitterhoff‚ but the sonic cohesion of the trio made you care less about who was playing what. And besides‚ hearing one of the true living legends of finger-picking and country-blues be right at home in front of a massive crowd is an experience that won't be around forever‚ and everyone owes it to themselves to take a break in Jorma's world once in a while. When they encored with the Airplane's "Embryonic Journey‚" you could hear the collective alleviation of the audience as they basked in a tune that's been bringing them peace for 45 years. Well‚ for me more like 25‚ or however long it's been since I figured out how to use my Mom's old record player.