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Gary Melts Hearts and Minds at the '99 Meltdown Festival

Gary blew into London at the end of June for his first live appearance there in 8 years, as Nick Cave's featured guest at the 2 week long 1999 Meltdown Festival held each summer at the Southbank Centre on the banks of the Thames, this year curated by Gary's old collaborator and buddy Nick Cave. Here Gary gave his first UK performance of The Golem before a large crowd in the Purcell Room of Queen Elizabeth Hall, a crowd that included old British fans and new ones like the legendary Van Dyke Parks, Robin Holcomb, and Eric Mingus, son of the late Charles Mingus. Also in attendance was Chris Bohn, editor of English new music magazine The Wire, who later wrote that the show was one of Meltdown's highlights, as did Jonathan Romney, film critic of The Guardian, who contrasted Gary's Golem favorably with the failure of most attempts at integrating live music with film in a long article in The Guardian.

Two days later Gary appeared onstage at the Royal Festival Hall 11 separate times as part of legendary producer Hal Willner's Harry Smith Project, a 4 hour extravaganza with a cast of music luminaries old and new providing an audio and visual celebration of the life of Harry Smith, the mastermind behind the classic Folkways Anthology of American Folk Music compilation, as well as producer of the Fugs' first album, Thelonious Monk's "Mysterioso" album, and a noted underground filmmaker in his own right. Musical guests paying homage included the above-mentioned Van Dyke Parks (with whom Gary struck up a warm collegial relationship with, Van Dyke's music having helped warp his sensibilities since the late 60's).

Before a near sold-out house of 3000 British fans Gary accompanied Nick Cave on a stark and haunting version of Blind Willie Johnson's "John the Revelator" and another gospel number; the lovely Kate and Anna McGarrigle on a crazed and joyous version of "O Sunflower", a song from the first Fugs album with lyrics by English mystic William Blake; Geoff Muldaur, a great voice in American music from the Jim Kweskin Jug Band on "Poor Boy" (which featured the great trombone tailgating of another Lucas hero, free jazzbo Roswell Rudd) and "K.C. Moan" (which Gary had jammed on with Bob Weir at the Bell Atlantic Jazz Fest in NYC in June) featuring a group singalong with the McGarrigle Sisters, radiant new English music singer and fiddler extraordinaire Eliza Carthy, sensitive American avant-roots singer Robin Holcomb, and Gary's old buddy and collaborator Bobby Neuwirth on faux-jug; cool cat Eric Mingus on the storming gospel number "Judgement" and another spooky hymn "Death Where Is Thy Sting" in which Gary created a tripped out electronic landscape as a pallette for Mingus' exulted preaching; and the legendary Bryan Ferry, one of Gary's heroes since Gary's Yale dj-ing days when he would regularly spin the first Roxy Music album as an import. Gary backed Bryan on a very ethereal "Butcher Boy" and "John Hardy", with keyboards on the latter courtesy of Van Dyke Parks.

Gary himself was featured on two solo numbers, an intense fingerpicked psychedelic acoustic "Indian War Whoop" which brought the first sustained ovation of the evening from the crowd that night. (The song was originally recorded by the prosaically titled Floyd Ming and his Pep Steppers, and was the title cut of the second Holy Modal Rounders album, Gary of course being in cahoots for some years with head Rounder Peter Stampfel, a Harry Smith disciple of course—it all adds up). Gary's second solo number was a hellbent for leather rocking version of Doc Bogg's celebrated "Sugar Baby" (with backing from Eric Mingus and ace percussionist and former Gods and Monsters drummer Michael Blair).

The reviews were stellar from audience and critics alike, and Hal Willner has vowed to repeat the triumph in NYC on Nov. 11th and 12th this year at St. Ann's Church in Brooklyn, with west coast dates tentatively scheduled for next year and a possible album and film in the works.

It was certainly one of the highlights of an incredibly jam-packed year for Gary!