Warren Haynes Symphonic Celebration of Jerry Garcia
Bethel Woods Bethel, NY
August 6 2016

by Ryan O’Malley

For a full gallery of photos of this night by Ryan O’Malley click here.

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A few years ago when Warren Haynes started touring with various symphonies to honor the music of the late Jerry Garcia, many people went to see the shows simply because Haynes was playing Garcia’s famed guitar, Wolf. While the nostalgia of seeing the guitar was enough of a reward for longtime Deadheads, the quality of the music was something that provided a pleasant surprise.

A few years later, Haynes continues the annual outing, including a recent stop at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in Bethel, New York. Starting things off promptly at 8pm, Haynes – dressed as dapper as ever and minus Wolf – led the Hudson Valley Philharmonic through a brief jam that culminated in a tease of the psychedelic opus “Dark Star,” which eventually segued into a lengthy “Bird Song.” From the start, it was clear to see this was not going to be Grateful Dead songs played the way you’re used to hearing them. Did Garcia and Robert Hunter write the songs with the intent of having cellos, violins, and flutes carry the music? Probably not. Does the way Haynes and the symphonies adapt the music work? Definitely.

Even the reggae-tinged “Crazy Fingers” had people grinning from ear to ear. The funky 1977 crowd favorite “Shakedown Street” still had people up and dancing, but it’s certainly entertaining watching Deadheads get down to the sound of a half dozen violins playing the famous riff. Haynes being an established member of the extended Dead family – through numerous stints as a Friend of Phil Lesh, and his role as lead guitarist for tours by The Dead in 2004 and 2009 – shined flawlessly throughout the night, including a brilliant run through the early 70’s chestnut, “Here Comes Sunshine.”

After a tight run through “China Cat Sunflower,” the outfit broke into the 1974 Dead staple, “Scarlet Begonias.” It provided a nice energy boost for the crowd, but was shorter than most Dead versions. If on a good day in 1989, for example, Garcia would solo for six measures, the crowd would be going wild. For Haynes, it’s impossible to allow himself freedom to leave the jam open as the symphony behind him are classical musicians who follow song structure and – a scary word for Deadheads – a blueprint. Such was the case on the set-closing “Morning Dew.” While Garcia could make the ending solo go for four or five minutes, Haynes and the symphony delivered a short but sufficient jam that followed a pre-written structure.

Coming back for the second set, the ensemble broke into the familiar opening of “Uncle John’s Band,” complete with a dynamic string section providing the perfect addition to the famous lead guitar riff. Even on the Dead’s mainstream breakthrough – 1986’s “Touch of Grey” – the symphony breathed new life into the song that even most non-Deadheads recognize. After a  trippy “Drums/Space” that saw some fantastic percussion work from drummer Jeff Sipe, the ensemble delivered a brilliant take on 1975’s “Blues For Allah.”

Enticing a huge roar from the intimate crowd, Haynes played the familiar opening of the legthy “Lady With a Fan/Terrapin Station.” While the version was shorter than normal, the symphony sounded exquisite during the ending jam which woud typically be a time where fans make a break for the bathroom or a beer. Following a brief tease of “Slipknot!,” Haynes and company wrapped up the main set with “Terrapin Refrain.”

For the encore, Haynes chose the soft but enjoyable “Ripple,” which again, sounded magnificent with the Hudson Valley Philharmonic. The night, like every other night of the tour, showcased just how much can be done with Garcia’s music when given the opportunity. For Haynes – someone people have grown to respect in the Dead community – the chance to create an entire different direction with this legendary music, is something that is helping  these songs carry on two decades after Gacia’s death.

To Submit a review or story for consideration hit us at [email protected]

For a full gallery of photos of this night by Ryan O’Malley click here.

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