The beginning of August is Jerry season. With the Grateful Dead guitarist’s birthday on August 1st, and the anniversary of his death today, on August 9th, artists across the world—and across genres of music—routinely pay their respects to Garcia’s life, music, and legend. Last night, after a small run of shows that included a Red Rocks show and a couple festival appearances, Warren Haynes brought his Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration to NYC’s Central Park SummerStage for an unforgettable, heartfelt, tribute to Jerry Garcia.
Backed by a full symphony orchestra (conducted by Rich Daniels) as well as background vocalists Jaclyn LeBranch and Jasmine Mohammed, drummer Jeff Sipe , bassist Liegen Schlifer and more throughout the evening, Warren and co. delivered three sets of Garcia’s music so joyous and emotional that it’s almost hard to believe that these songs weren’t always intended for this kind of orchestral setting. The music of the Grateful Dead, as any fan knows, has a way of evoking real, powerful feelings—you get tingles, you feel chills, it encompasses your mind, body and soul. The accompaniment of the symphony brought this magic to life, conjuring in an actual musical sense the indescribable emotion that always accompanies these songs, though usually only in an abstract sense.
And as if the sheer magnitude of a legend like Warren paying tribute to an icon like Jerry with the help of a symphony orchestra wasn’t enough, Haynes led the way using Garcia’s famous “Tiger” guitar, on loan from billionaire and Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay. The instrument seemed to possess otherworldly power throughout the evening, ringing breathtakingly true to the Garcia’s unique, classic sound—it may have been Warren playing the notes, but if you closed your eyes, it was Jerry’s soulful tone that shone through.
After beginning with a brief tease of “Dark Star”, the band went into a beautiful “Bird Song”. Next up was a rousing “Shakedown Street”, whose “well, well, well” bass line was bolstered to powerful effect by the orchestra’s horns section. “China Cat Sunflower” followed, the orchestra strings mimicking the familiar guitar licks for an added sonic punch before slipping into a pretty orchestral outro. The “Scarlet Begonias” that came next picked up an almost regal quality from the orchestra with Tiger’s undeniable tone soaring above it all. An impeccably arranged “Morning Dew” rounded out the first set, moving more than a few people in attendance to tears.
The second set opened with “Uncle John’s Band”, perhaps the only song whose orchestral arrangement didn’t quite click, instead strangely giving it a bubblegum pop kind of feel. After a quick jazz jam with soprano saxophonist Mitch Davis, the band continued a run of favorites including “West LA Fadeaway”, “Touch Of Grey”, and “Doin That Rag”, all impeccably played.
From there, the show erupted with a monster version of “Terrapin Station”, a song that seems to have been designed for an orchestra. Haynes drove the song confidently, before leading the orchestra into the instrumental “Slipknot!” Eventually, the “Terrapin Reprise” would follow, and Haynes’ own tribute to Jerry, “Patchwork Quilt”, ended the set. A single encore with the orchestra came next, as the group broke into “China Doll” for one last orchestrally emotional moment.
Finally, the band got one more chance to jam on more of Jerry’s music, returning for a four song encore. The group also welcomed out two vibrant NYC musicians, Eric Krasno and Marco Benevento, to join in the tribute, as well as saxophonist Erik Lawrence, trumpetist Steve Bernstein, and additional percussionists. The four song run included “(I’m A) Road Runner”, “That’s What Love Will Make You Do”, “Fire On The Mountain” and “Don’t Let Go”. On the final night of the tour–and the eve of the 21st anniversary of his death–the spirit of Jerry Garcia was truly alive and well in New York City.
Check out video highlights from btragal below, including songs played both with and without the orchestra. The full setlist can be seen below as well!
That’s What Love Will Make You Do
Fire On The Mountain