Symphonies do not typically lend themselves to improvisation, a trademark of Jerry Garcia and his performances with the Grateful Dead. So it was going to be interesting to see how Warren Haynes, one of the hardest working men in rock and roll was going to handle the Garcia catalog within the constraints of the Boston Pops Orchestra. The answer was very well, considering there was no rehearsal with the full orchestra other then what transpired the day of the show and at soundcheck, for which I happened to be picnicking on the lawn.
I attended the show with my tour buddy of many years, Kim, along with her family. Kim is a classically trained music teacher so I was going to rely on her opinion on how well the musicians did! Or so I thought. Kim’s biggest critique: She wanted more Warren as he was a little low in the mix. I argued that this wasn’t the Warren Haynes show but his interpretation of Jerry’s vast catalog within the settings of an orchestra. Nor were we listening to a rock band like The Allman Brothers, or Haynes’ own Gov’t Mule where he can let it rip. Shall I say I was looking for a refined performance? I argued that his guitar and his voice were just two instruments within the orchestra. Kim made note that one item not typically found in an orchestra was a trap set and I felt likewise about the four string electric bass. We also had vocals from Warren and two back up singers, Alecia Chekour and Jasmine Muhammad, ala the Jerry Garcia Band. The Joshua Light Show was another atypical appearance with the symphony.
Keith Lockhart, Conductor of the Pops, took to the stage with wearing a tye-dye shirt while Warren was a little more formal. No tux for him, but he was wearing a suit coat on a very muggy night. He also was playing Wolf, one of Jerry’s own personal guitars designed by former Alembic employee Doug Irwin. Wolf was of the guitars that Garcia allegedly bequeathed to Irwin that wound up being involved in a dispute with the Grateful Dead organization on who actually had the ownership of the guitars. When the lawyers were paid, Irwin got to keep Tiger and Wolf; when both guitars were sold in 2002, Wolf garnered $700,000! Not a bad chunk of change, considering Garcia paid $1,500 for it. How the guitar wound up back within the control of Garcia’s estate I was not able to track down, but Trixie (Theresa) Garcia authorized the use of Wolf and approved of the symphonic celebrations. Down in the pit, my friend PFossilman Phil noted there was a big burly guy probably there to protect the guitar!!
We spent the first Set in our seats in the shed where we had a jumbo screen right in front of us so I was able to see the setlist which the cameras captured many times, much to the chagrin of the dude sitting behind me who kept shrieking, “Why did they have to show it!” and “Please don’t show it again!” As I mentioned, the sound was a little subdued in the shed so we stayed on the lawn for Set 2. I was able to lay on our blanket on the lawn under the giant Super Moon, which Warren made reference to during “Standing on the Moon”, close my eyes and take in all the notes and movements. It was magical to hear songs I’ve heard so many times, including the distinctive sound ‘wah wah’ of Wolf echo across the Tanglewood lawn. Some old time deadheads thought it a sacrilege that anyone other then Garcia should be playing Wolf.
All the songs were from the Grateful Dead repertoire except for “Russian Lullaby”, a song that was originally written by composer Irving Berlin, which Jerry performed with his Jerry Garcia Band. The “Terrapin Station/Slipnot/Terrapin Reprise” segment lent itself best to the full symphony with its big notes and crescendos. Kim mentioned that the full orchestra was light in the middle of most songs and seemed to be more in the mix on the openers, closers and the band interludes. It would be interesting to know how long it took the Pops to score the music for the various instruments as there are definitely pieces that can be improved upon as far as making bolder use of the horns, percussion, strings etc…
I encourage you to give a listen and experience the show for yourself as everyone will have their own opinion. Warren and the Boston Pops received many standing ovations throughout the show. I enjoyed a family outing listening to some of my favorite tunes. Although I wouldn’t chase the performances from stop to stop, I would go attend another show to see how another symphony handles the Garcia catalog.
While a recording of the Tanglewood show has yet to surface, here is Warren’s performance with the National Symphony Orchestra at The Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia on June 26th. We will update this post as recordings surface.
Set I: Tuning, Dark Star, Bird Song, Crazy Fingers, Russian Lullaby/Band/Interlude, Scarlet Begonias/Band/ Interlude, Shakedown Street, Morning Dew
Set II: Mission in the Rain*, High Time^, Uncle Johns Band/Band/Interlude, West LA FadeAway, Standing on the Moon, Drums, Lady with a Fan/Terrapin Station/SlipKnot/Terrapin Reprise
Encore: Ship of Fools
* only one verse
^ not on official set list