DC at Night

DC at Night

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Symphonic Dead

Haynes performing symphonic Garcia show in Pittsburgh.

Even in his most surreal acid trip or heaviest heroin nod, I doubt Grateful Dead guitarist and counterculture idol Jerry Garcia ever imagined the National Symphony Orchestra performing 2 full sets of his music at their summer Wolf Trap amphitheater home.

Garcia's guitar "Wolf"
However, that was the case last night as Allman Brothers and Govt. Mule guitarist Warren Haynes, whose own following is a mini-version of Garcia's devoted fan base, joined with the NSO to present the Garcia/Dead symphonic show. In an even more fitting tribute to Garcia, who died in 1995 just 8 days after his 53rd birthday, Haynes, who has toured in Garcia's lead guitar spot for the Dead, used Wolf, one of the Garcia's favorite personal guitars for the event.

The Haynes/NSO collaboration was filled out with rockers Jeff Sipe on drums, Lincoln Schlrifer on bass, and Alecia Chakour and Jasmine Muhammad on background vocals.

The crowd was an interesting mix of NSO aficionados, Haynes followers, and, judging by the abundant amount of tie-dye in the crowd, mostly Grateful Dead fans. NSO conductor Emil de Cou even got in the Dead spirit by wearing a tie-dye T-shirt for the 2nd set.

The night began with an abbreviated version of "Dark Star," a Dead jam instrumental classic which the band would sometimes play for half-an-hour. The 1st set highlight was a funky (now there is an adjective you don't usually associate with a symphony concert) version of "Shakedown Street." Judging by crowd reactions, the set 2 highlights were "Terrapin Station" and "Uncle John's Band".

Even with his reputation as a guitar star and his time with the Dead, much of the crowd voiced pleasant astonishment at Haynes' spot on channeling of Garcia's signature guitar sound. If you closed your eyes, it was easy to believe it was Garcia, not Haynes, providing the lead.

Haynes solos away.

The show was the 1st performance at the Wolf Trap this summer for the NSO. And I'm fairly certain it set many symphony records including:
  • the most tie-dye ever at a National Symphony concert
  • the most, and the most sustained, noodle dancing
  • the longest drum solo and
  • the most pungent wafts of marijuana smoke
The DC concert was one of about a dozen symphonic Garcia shows Haynes is performing around America. The guitarist was asked to come up with the shows by Jerry Garcia's estate. Although he said he was honored and agreed to do it, Haynes told The Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this month he is no expert on orchestral music, but knows what he likes (the avant-garde of Stravinsky and Stockhausen, "the heavier, weirder stuff that influenced [Frank] Zappa"). He said he was anxious to sink his teeth into the power, dynamics, and range a full orchestra offers: "Great symphonies go from a whisper to a scream and everywhere in-between."

Knowing he'd have 90-piece symphony orchestras as his backing, Haynes, with the help of Dead bassist Phil Lesh, sought arrangers, found songs of the Dead and Garcia that lent themselves to the sort of angular orchestration he favored.

"We even went back and orchestrated some of Jerry's improvisations, so the effect is this layered wall of sound," Haynes told The Inquirer.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Here is the complete song list for the concert.
Set 1
  • Dark Star
  • Bird Song
  • Crazy Fingers
  • Scarlet Begonias
  • Ship of Fools
  • Shakedown Street
  • China Cat Sunflower
  • Morning Dew
Set 2
  • Mission in the Rain
  • High Time
  • Russian Lullaby
  • Uncle John's Band
  • West LA Fadeaway
  • Terrapin Station
  • Slipknot
  • Terrapin Flyer
  • Patchwork Quilt
  • Stella Blue

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