The Grateful Dead faithful traded in their tie dyes for bow ties on Wednesday as Bob Weir & Wolf Bros performed at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The first of four performances at the revered Washington, D.C. concert hall with the National Symphony Orchestra witnessed expansive orchestral reimaginings from throughout the Dead’s catalog.

The National Symphony Orchestra started the evening with a customary Overture, though this was no ordinary Prelude. The orchestral piece contained the unmistakable riotous rhythm of “The Other One”, which elicited more cheering and hollering than the world-class musicians are probably accustomed to. After that, Weir and his Wolf Bros Don Was (bass), Jay Lane (drums), and Jeff Chimenti (piano) took the stage in their Sunday best.

Taking his place next to conductor Steven Reinecke, Weir led the ensemble through the first Dead song of the evening, “Row Jimmy”. The song’s mid-section consisted of an orchestral interlude, which would be a recurring theme throughout the evening. The inherently malleable nature of the Grateful Dead’s music has allowed it to endure for over half a century, and it also allows for the insertion of fully formed orchestral arrangements right into the middle of the songs like jams. Though the musicians had meticulously notated sheet music in front of them, the spontaneous element of improvisation is inseparable from the Dead’s music and manifested itself with the proceeding “China Cat Sunflower” into “I Know You Rider”.

Set break came a little earlier than expected and with a rare “China” > “Rider” set closer. Then after what the classical musicians refer to as an “intermission”—it’s still the same bathroom and beverage break—set two was engaged with the deceptively spacey “Uncle John’s Band”.

While many people hold grudges against “Touch of Grey” for catapulting the Grateful Dead into mainstream consciousness in the late 1980s, those naysayers cannot deny their interest in what the song would sound like with a full orchestra. To those same naysayers, Bob Weir & Wolf Bros and the National Symphony Orchestra then delivered the Disco Dead classic, “Shakedown Street”.

An emotional peak of the evening then came with a stirring rendition of “Days Between” featuring just Bobby and the Orchestra. The performance of one of the last great Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter ballads, one that became prophetic with its placement at the Dead’s final concert in 1995, begged the question of what the late guitarist would think of this grand examination of his music. In an appearance Tuesday on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen, Weir reflected on his late friend and bandmate but affirmed that Jerry is with him onstage every night in the music he continues to play.

Then something funny happened. After the Wolf Bros returned, Bobby introduced the men who arranged the orchestrations, he informed the crowd they had much more time left than expected. Following a performance of “Cassidy”, Weir conferred briefly with Reinecke before saying “We have a plan.” That plan was the Grateful Dead’s improvisational centerpiece, “Dark Star”. Whether the planned setlist really did end an hour early or the onstage befuddlement was merely just part of the play-from-the-hip Grateful Dead approach, none of that seemed to matter as Weir—the onetime bright-eyed, long-haired youngster who dropped out of high school to join a band of musical Merry Pranksters—conducted the National Symphony Orchestra through the quintessential Grateful Dead jam.

That doe-eyed California teen reared his head once again through the body of the soon-to-be 75-year-old with a set-closing “Sugar Magnolia”. The final emotional peak of the night then arrived with a sublime “Brokedown Palace”, but Weir and the Wolf Bros weren’t quite ready to leave on their hands and their knees. After bidding goodbye to the National Symphony Orchestra, Weir and the Bros got back to business as usual with an exploratory “Bird Song” that led into a “Loose Lucy” finale. The Kennedy Center crowd, still not ready to call it a night, clapped the beat of “Not Fade Away”—a Dead tradition dating back to the early 1980s, though typically done when the band actually closes with the Crickets cover—until Weir and the Wolf Bros returned one final time to reprise “Loose Lucy” and send everyone home for good.

Bob Weir & Wolf Bros return to the Kennedy Center tonight, October 6th, for another performance with the National Symphony Orchestra. The Kennedy Center website promises a “completely unique set” for each of the four performances, set to continue on the 8th and 9th.

National Symphony Orchestra – Overture – 10/5/22

[Video: marty7433]

Bob Weir & Wolf Bros, National Symphony Orchestra – “Row Jimmy” – 10/5/22

[Video: Travis Bildahl]

Bob Weir & Wolf Bros, National Symphony Orchestra – “Shakedown Street” – 10/5/22

[Video: jester2makeulaugh]

Bob Weir & Wolf Bros, National Symphony Orchestra – John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts – Washington, D.C. – 10/5/22 – Full Audio

Setlist: Bob Weir & Wolf Bros | John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts | Washington, D.C. | 10/5/22

Set One: Overture [1], Row Jimmy, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider

Set Two: Uncle John’s Band, Touch of Grey, Shakedown Street > Days Between [2], Cassidy, Dark Star -> Sugar Magnolia

Encore: Brokedown Palace, Bird Song > Loose Lucy

Second Encore: Loose Lucy (reprise)

Note: The National Symphony Orchestra played from beginning through “Brokedown Palace”

[1] NSO only

[2] Just Bobby with NSO