Move over David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon and Jay Leno. The Grateful Dead's Bob Weir has a new talk show.
The singer-guitarist is settling in as the Wednesday night host of "Weir Here," a brand new talk-variety webcast from his TRI Studios in San Rafael.
It begins at 5:30 p.m. (8:30 EST), give or take a half hour or so, online at www.tristudios.com and goes on for an hour and a half or two hours or however long it goes on. "Weir Here," the title inspired by the star's voicemail message, boasts guests that those other guys would have on their programs in a New York minute.
One recent evening, Weir jammed with his Mill Valley neighbor, Sammy Hagar, former Talking Head Jerry Harrison and Willie's kid, Lukas Nelson.
Then they put down their instruments and participated in a panel discussion on patronage versus sponsorship, with representatives from Red Bull, Dolby, Microsoft, Pandora and BMI.
Last Wednesday's show featured Weir with the up-and coming-singer-songwriter Jonathan Wilson and the Juilliard-trained violinist Jason Crosby, a sensational newcomer on the Marin music scene. It was a promo for an upcoming tour by Weir and Wilson.
The show, which began as an online attempt to lift the spirits of East Coast Deadheads slammed by Hurricane Sandy, is streamed live on the Internet, where it is watched by an average weekly audience of about 40,000, according to TRI's CEO Chris McCutcheon, who produces the show.
"It's free Wednesday night entertainment," he says. "Bob has always wanted to have his own show, and now he has it. Just for fun, Phil (Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh) turned on his live stream at Terrapin Crossroads for a half hour during rehearsal last week. Now we're streaming out of Sweetwater. It's all free. It's a good time to be a Deadhead."
"Weir Here" follows a loose format of music and conversation. Between musical sets in the TRI's uber-high-tech Constellation system studio, Weir and Jerry Garcia's legendary roadie, Steve Parish, plop down on a funky leather coach and take questions from viewers that they read off a large video monitor of Twitter and Facebook feeds.
Each week features a different topic. A recent week was "cities," cities where band members were arrested, where fans broke down the fences, other notable events. Last week viewers were asked to send in questions about the Grateful Dead's 1978 trip to Egypt and the three "Rocking the Cradle" concerts they played in the shadow of the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid, the last during a full lunar eclipse.
"This is a deep, deep subject," Parish said. "We have a lot of questions about camels."
The first question was whether the Dead took their own sound system to Egypt.
"We couldn't take our system, but we still brought over 70 tons of our own equipment," Parish answered.
"Seventy tons?" Weir said, incredulous.
"When we watched the Egyptians unloading our gear, they flopped our equipment up and down the ramp end over end," Parish continued. "We had to show them there were wheels on our cases. It reminded us of how they built the pyramids."
Weir went on to tell a story about how he and Garcia, walking home in the dark from a dinner of barely cooked goat with local dignitaries, warded off a pack of hungry jackals by throwing rocks at them.
"I have a pretty good arm," Weir allowed. "Always have."
The Grateful Dead were never a band that incorporated a lot of showbiz glitz into their concerts, a tradition that Weir continues with his webcast. For last week's show, he wore a gray T-shirt and khaki pants, neutral colors that make him look like a ghost on camera.
"You're not wearing that on TV, are you?" McCutcheon asked.
Weir answered by kicking off his Birkenstock sandals and doing the show barefoot.
A fine example of shabby hippie chic, the "Weir Here" set includes a coffee table covered with an Indian bedspread, Oriental carpets, a silver Grateful Dead road case and a stuffed cat with a ball and chain around its paw.
Just as he was about to go on, Weir excused himself and trundled off to the restroom.
"This is going to be a long show," he said as he disappeared down the hall.
"This is what turns a producer's hair gray," McCutcheon muttered under his breath, smiling at the wonderful absurdity of it all.
When Weir is on the road, the show will bring in guest hosts, just like the network stars do. His songwriting partner, John Perry Barlow, does an occasional segment called "What's Buggin' Barlow," a kind of Lewis Black rant.
Already, name musicians are calling to see it they can get on for guest appearances, McCutcheon noted.
"We have some comedian friends, and eventually we'll get into doing comedy sketches," he said.
They aren't keen on getting sponsors who might insist on more traditional professionalism, which would be antithetical to everything the Grateful Dead have always stood for.
"We want to keep it as loose as possible," McCutcheon said. "There's no holds barred in telling every 'remember when' story that there ever was. We've got a lot of things planned. This show is here to stay."