Roger McNamee of the psychedelic roots-rock band Moonalice loves playing in town parks. They are places where music has the greatest potential to be a communal celebration, and he never quits enjoying the young kids swirling without inhibition to the free-form, improvisational music, he said.
Band members Barry Sless, Pete Sears, Roger McNamee and John Molo between them have performed with Rod Stewart, the original Jefferson Starship, Bruce Hornsby & The Range, John Fogerty, Hot Tuna, John Lee Hooker, Phil Lesh & Friends, David Nelson Band, Kingfish, Cowboy Jazz, The Engineers, Random Axes and the Flying Other Brothers, among others.
The band got its start while working on a project with famed producer T-Bone Burnett, but the project "got killed by someone with a vested interest in the status quo," McNamee said. Seven years ago, Burnett encouraged band members to make San Francisco psychedelia its own form of American roots music along with bluegrass, country, blues and Appalachian folk.
They spread the music through Facebook and created the first Twitter radio station, McNamee said. Social media has given the band a wide audience. Their single, "It's 4:20 Somewhere," has been downloaded more than 4.6 million times.
Moonalice broadcasts its shows -- nearly 400 -- on Twitter through live video feeds so the music is accessible to people even if they can't make it to the concert. And in true psychedelic tradition, each show has its own free psychedelic poster, which is distributed free to the audience.
Palo Alto's depicts a beautiful woman holding a weather vane who is surrounded by two large crescent moons against a field of stars. A stable of 24 rock-poster artists have a steady gig with the band, including legendary '60s poster artists Stanley Mouse and David Singer, who was one of the early Fillmore artists and designed 75 posters for Bill Graham, McNamee said.
"We're not your standard rock and roll band. We're not trying to extract the last penny out of every situation. Most people our age, if they are lucky, they are in a heritage act or a tribute band," he said. It is hard to be in a band of older musicians that makes its own music and to have the audience appreciate the new stuff -- not just wait for the new songs to be finished to get to the 30-year-old favorites, he said.
But with Moonalice, "each night is a completely different thing," he said.
The band does between 15 and 25 park concerts each year out of its more than 90 performances. Songs such as "American Dream Rag" and "The Flat Earth Boogie" poke fun at politics and reactionary thinking, but others are about home life and hope, he said. Some concerts include a light show or light wall.
"A ton of people become really serious fans," he said. People planned their summer vacations around the band, following Moonalice during its recent tour to the East Coast, he said.
McNamee attributes the band's success to creating an upbeat, inclusive culture. Band Manager Big Steve Parish, a Grateful Dead family member and co-founder of the Jerry Garcia Band, is road scholar, medicine man and storyteller who helps sets the mood, and there's always plenty of dancing and room for free expression, McNamee said.
A Moonalice concert is a family affair, attracting a younger generation that includes toddlers and preschool kids as well as parents and grandparents. Many of the band members have been married for 40 years. And their songs are "written from the perspective of a happy life," he said.
The quartet is made up of serious musicians, but they don't take themselves too seriously, he said. "You'll note," he said, that in rock photos, the musicians almost always don't smile.
"I think it's great that there's a huge market for people pouting, but that's not what we're about," he said.
The Twilight Concert Series still has a few more acts that will follow Moonalice in the coming weeks. On Aug. 16, Mads Tolling Quartet will perform jazz, and on Aug. 23, Teens on the Green will perform popular music.
What: Moonalice, a psychedelic roots music quartet
Where: Mitchell Park, 600 E. Meadow Drive, Palo Alto
When: Saturday, Aug. 9, at 7 p.m.
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