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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Warren Haynes Honors Jerry Garcia, With Garcia’s Guitar

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When Warren Haynes fronts an electric band and a symphony orchestra for the Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration coming to the Riverside Theater on May 21, it’s a toss-up as to what will be the biggest audience draw.

It could be the orchestral reinterpretation of the music made popular by the late, great Grateful Dead leader. It could be the performance by the Gov’t Mule frontman and 43 of his closest symphonic friends. Or it could just be the guitar that Haynes is playing—the 1973 “Wolf” custom-made for Garcia by luthier Doug Irwin.

As the first of Irwin’s three commissioned guitars for Garcia, Wolf had the longest stage life. Made from purpleheart and curly maple with an ebony fingerboard and 24 frets, the guitar has a peacock inlay and a cartoon of a bloodthirsty wolf supplied by Garcia and later inlaid into the guitar’s body by Irwin.

“Jerry played Wolf until 1993—he loved the tone—and it’s an honor for me to play it during this tour,” said Haynes, who also has performed with The Allman Brothers Band, Phil Lesh & Friends and the remaining members of The Dead. “I am also honored to be the first artist chosen for this series.”

Haynes was approached by The Garcia Estate with the project last year, and he already has more than a dozen such gigs under his belt. He personally chose the numbers being performed on the tour and, with Lesh’s help, selected four different orchestral arrangers.

“I don’t want to give away our playlist because Grateful Dead fans like surprises,” said the Asheville, N.C., native, “but I can tell you some of the material we performed during last year’s tour.”

Not every number was suitable for orchestration, says Haynes. Straight-up rock and blues like “U.S. Blues” just don’t work well when broadened for an orchestra. But a surprising number or Garcia compositions lend themselves very well to this treatment, the guitarist says.

“Jerry had a sense of melody, harmony and chord structure that ran very deep,” Haynes says. “He borrowed from George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Hoagy Carmichael as well as folk and world music. Once you start dissecting the song and understand the influences in them you see there is a lot of dimension to explore.”

What’s there will delight Deadheads in the audience, Haynes says. Last year’s playlist included a version of “Terrapin Station” that morphed into the instrumental section of “Slipknot” and then back again. “High Times” from Workingman’s Dead made it to the playlist, as did a 1969 version of “Dark Star.”

Haynes even found a version of “Birdsong (for Janis),” the Janis Joplin tribute composition, featuring Branford Marsalis on saxophone that he had arranged for orchestra. The trick, he says, is capturing the improvisational elements and scoring them for symphony, as well as retaining an opportunity to improvise while performing with an orchestra.

“I wanted to keep the improvisational spirit alive so we put X amount of spots in the concert where the electric band and I can jam while the orchestra sits back, or I can improvise over the orchestra while it plays the music it rehearsed,” said Haynes.

In addition to Haynes on guitar and vocals, the electric band will include former Haynes sidemen Jeff Sipe on drums, Lincoln Schleifer on bass and backup vocalists Alecia Chakour and Jasmine Muhammad, the latter of whom performed with the Pittsburgh Opera.

But the real star, at least for Grateful Dead fans, will be Wolf, which is the next best thing to having Jerry Garcia himself on stage.

“The Deadheads love this show,” Haynes adds.

Warren Haynes’ Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration plays the Riverside Theater on Wednesday, May 21. Doors open at 7 p.m.