The degrees of separation between Sundar Shadi, who started El Cerrito’s most beloved Christmas tradition, and the Grateful Dead, the San Francisco band that left a cult of followers as part of its legacy, is shorter than you might imagine. And earlier.
All three of Shadi’s daughters — Zilpha, Ramona and Verna — performed in concert with Phil Lesh, the future bass player of the Dead, 64 years ago this month with the Kensington School orchestra at a holiday pageant. The four were in elementary school and 9-year-old Phil (the Lesh family lived on Edgecroft Road in Kensington at the time) was then playing violin and would not meet Jerry Garcia for another 13 years. (Someone, somewhere must have a snapshot of this performance.)
You won’t find this footnote in the new documentary “Sundar Shadi’s Gifts,” but you will learn more about the man who gave a lasting gift and message to his community. You’ll also learn about the family that indulged Mr. Shadi’s passion for elaborate displays.
“Sundar Shadi’s Gifts” can now be streamed from the city’s website and will soon be available to borrow from the El Cerrito Library, 6510 Stockton Ave., or rent at Silver Screen Video at El Cerrito Plaza. (Full disclosure: The author of this post was interviewed for the documentary.)
You can also get a copy when the display, now staged by a team of volunteers, opens from 5 to 10 p.m. nightly from Dec. 14 to Dec. 26. Or better yet, you can be part of the tradition by volunteering.
Grateful Dead guitarist and vocalist Phil Lesh, here performing during the band’s 2009 concert at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, got his musical start in Kensington. (D. Ross Cameron/Staff)