The band might be called The Grateful Dead, but its music still has plenty of life. Its latest reincarnation comes in the form of the Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration, a tribute – complete with a live 43-piece symphony orchestra – to the beloved frontman and the music he left behind with the band.
The celebration is making a stop in Milwaukee Wednesday night at The Riverside featuring renowned soul and jam band guitarist/vocalist Warren Haynes – who performed and toured with The Grateful Dead several times after Garcia’s tragic passing in 1995. OnMilwaukee got a chance to chat with Haynes about the upcoming show, why The Dead’s music still resonates and why, after 25 years, he’s stepping away from The Allman Brothers Band.
OnMilwaukee.com: Where did the idea come from for this Jerry Garcia celebration?
Warren Haynes: Well, I got a call in 2012 from the people who represent Jerry Garcia’s estate, saying that they had an idea about doing his music with a symphony or several different symphonies, and some special guest artists. So they wanted to know if I would be interested in being the first guest artist, and I said yeah, I’d love to do that. So we just took it from there.
OMC: Did you ever get a chance to meet Jerry Garcia?
WH: I never did. I never met him. I had several opportunities to meet him and always was kind of shy about it and thought, "Well, I’ll just meet him next time." And then it turned out there was no next time.
OMC: How was your time performing with The Grateful Dead? Any particular fond memories you can remember off the top of your head?
WH: Wonderful. I had an amazing time. I enjoyed both of the tours that I did, 2003 and 2009. They were both really fun and great experiences for me. I have nothing but fond memories of it.
OMC: What do you think it is about Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead’s music that still resonates so much still today?
WH: Well, the songs themselves are timeless. So even if you remove the band’s unique take on improvisation from the equation, the songs are going to hold up historically.
OMC: Now, what is it going to be like playing with such a massive orchestra, a 43-piece orchestra, for this celebration? I imagine that takes a lot of creativity to arrange the songs and figure out everyone’s parts and how they’re going to blend together.
WH: Well, this started back in 2012, and we did a handful of shows last year. All of the arrangements are set in stone as far as what the orchestra is going to be playing. Then we added five new songs this year, which is nice to have some new songs and new arrangements. But only the electric band is improvising; the symphony doesn’t improvise, so we’re kind of blending the two worlds together. It works out great.
OMC: That seems like an interesting combination, the very finessed orchestra with the more jam band, loose approach you bring to it.
WH: So far, it’s been fabulous. The orchestra does an amazing job, and it’s a very unique experience. We are able to incorporate the spirit of improvisation into the show, which is very unique for a symphony show.
OMC: You said you will be playing five new songs for this time around. Any hints at what those five will be?
WH: Well, since we’ve already played four of them, I guess it’s okay. We don’t like to disclose stuff in advance. In the last few of days, though, we’ve played "Here Comes Sunshine," "Doin' That Rag," an orchestral interlude of "Attics of My Life" and "Comes a Time," and that’s all in addition to all of the songs that we played over the course of last year. We try to change the setlist from city to city as much as possible. We can’t change as much as The Grateful Dead would, but it does vary by sometimes five or six songs on a nightly basis.
OMC: Do you have a particular Grateful Dead song that is your favorite?
WH: Well there’s so many that I love. I mean, "Terrapin Station" is one that stands out in my mind as just a unique piece of music that is very indicative of The Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia.
OMC: Earlier this year, you announced that this would be your last year with The Allman Brothers Band. What kind of spurred that decision for you?
WH: Well, truthfully, it wasn’t a decision that myself and Derek Trucks made. It was a decision that the entire band made together that we were all in agreement that this would be the last year for the band to tour. It was something that we all thought that we were all on the same page about.
And then in recent months, a couple of members have gotten cold feet and started second guessing themselves. My prediction is that everyone will still wind up agreeing that this will be the last year, but it’s kind of unclear the way it’s been portrayed in the press because the band hasn’t been very clear about what’s going on.
OMC: So it seems like you all agreed that this would be the last year, but now are trying to get the band back together.
WH: Yeah, it’s something we’ve been talking about for three years. There’s no animosity, and there’s no political or personal motivations behind it. It’s just what the majority of us feel like is the right thing to do – and at one point, I think everybody felt that way and maybe still does. I think it’s just hard to let go.
OMC: If those other members do end up joining back together, will you join back with as well or will this still be your last year?
WH: As of now, I think it’s going to be the last year for everyone.
OMC: What’s the hardest part of ending that chapter for you?
WH: It’s always hard to discontinue something that is so fulfilling. We all love playing music together and the music that we’ve created. I always tell people that as proud as I am of being a part of an institution like The Allman Brothers for 25 years, I’m even more proud of the music that we’ve made.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.