Nearly 30 years after the Grateful Dead officially dissolved following Jerry Garcia‘s death in 1995, the band’s legacy remains a living organism. From offshoots featuring the band’s remaining members like Dead & Company or Phil Lesh & Friends to the many tribute acts and even an upcoming biopic directed by Martin Scorcese, the Grateful Dead continue to influence modern American culture.

Last month, that influence infiltrated the ornate walls of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts where Bob Weir & Wolf Bros staged a four-night residency with the National Symphony Orchestra, unveiling orchestral arrangements of the band’s classic songs. The singer/guitarist recently spoke with NPR resident Deadhead Felix Contreras about the experience.

The road to the Kennedy Center stretches back to 2011 when Weir staged a one-off benefit concert with the Marin Symphony Orchestra in his Bay Area hometown. Bobby kept those arrangements for over a decade and, in the midst of a whirlwind month that included a 75th birthday party at The Warfield, brought them back out in even grander fashion.

“When we tackle a tune, it has to be stripped to just its barest bones and then reassembled,” Weir told NPR. “Each one of them is different. You know, you go to the rhythm section for this song. You go to the vocal for this song. You go to just the story for this song.”

To pull off the concerts, Weir worked with Stanford music professor Giancarlo Aquilanti, the same arranger from the 2011 Marin concerts. Aquilanti’s experience lay more with Joseph Haydn than Jerry Garcia, forcing the arranger to examine the music on its most fundamental level.

“I had to go into the technical aspect of the music,” Aquilanti said. “Why these improvisations? They go on for so long, and they’re still working. Why these chord progressions? Either they’re a simple one or complicated ones. Why they’re still working? Why that they are so different from what I’m used to? How can I translate all their colors into the color of the orchestra?”

Related: Bob Weir Talks Jerry’s Death, Pigpen & Janis Joplin, More With Andy Cohen [Watch]

Weir’s Wolf Bros already had experience with lineup changes, as what was once a trio of Weir, bassist Don Was, and drummer Jay Lane ballooned to include keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, pedal steel guitarist Barry Sless, and The Wolfpack, a five-person string and wind quartet. Still, this paled in comparison to the addition of the 80-piece National Symphony Orchestra. According to Was, however, they were still able to tap into the intangible quality of improvisation that made the Grateful Dead a cultural force.

“There are always two or three moments every night when that happens,” Was said. “They’re always different, and you never know when it’s coming. But when it happens, it’s the greatest feeling in the world. Add 80 more people in an orchestra. When that clicks, it’s a huge rush.”

The shows were certainly unique experiences for Aquilanti as well.

“I had two different reaction. One is say, why don’t they sit down and they listen what we’re doing here?” Aquilanti said. “And then at the same time, it would be disrespectful to the audience to pretend that they sit down. That’s how they enjoy the music, and that’s how they should continue to enjoy the music. It was so different, but there was so much energy that translated also into the way we played the music.”

As the Grateful Dead inch further toward their 60th anniversary, Weir plans on continuing to unravel the mysteries their songs hold.

“These songs are visitors, that they’re living critters and they’re visitors from another world, another dimension or whatever you want to call it, that come through the artists to visit this world, have a look around, tell their stories,” Weir said. “I don’t know exactly how that works, but I do know that it’s real.”

Listen to the full NPR story with Bob Weir below and read the transcript here. Revisit Live For Live Music‘s coverage of the Kennedy Center residency: Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday/Sunday.