Jerry Garcia has been dead for over 20 years yet his music lives and the Grateful Dead legacy continues. This summer Dead and Company, which features three original Grateful Dead members and John Mayer playing the role of Garcia (they played Atlanta in November
), is doing a tour which includes multiple shows in stadiums. They were also one of the headliners of the Bonnaroo Music Festival
in early June. Founding GD member Phil Lesh regularly performs
at his club Terrapin Crossroads in California and GD cover bands such as Darkstar Orchestra continue to endlessly tour. The Grateful Dead also have their own SiriusXM channel which plays GD music 24 hours a day, and in 2015 the Grateful Dead’s Fare Thee Well billed as the final shows featuring the “core four” living members were one of the top grossing tours of the year
even though they only played five shows.
Add to the list the Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration which visits Chastain Park Amphitheater tonight (Fri., June 24) and features Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter songs along with Grateful Dead classics performed by more than 40 Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performers playing instruments ranging from oboes and bassoons to french horns and violins. The two-and-a-half hour or so performance will feature Garcia/Hunter classics such as "Terrapin Station," "Birdsong," "Mission and the Rain" and other songs performed by the Grateful Dead and sung by Garcia like "Morning Dew
The symphony will be led by conductor Rich Daniels who will be joined by guitarist Warren Haynes (the Allman Brothers, Government Mule, the Dead), drummer Jeff Sipe and former Jerry Garcia Band vocalist Jacklyn Labranch.
I spoke with the man leading it all, Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration conductor Rich Daniels as he waited for the air conditioner repair person at his mother’s home in Chicago.
Joeff Davis: In Atlanta, you will be performing with the Atlanta Symphony, how does that process work?
The music is sent to Atlanta in advance, but they won’t pass it out and look at it until we show up to the rehearsal Friday afternoon. The rehearsal is [Friday] from 3:30 to 5 p.m. That’s the first time the orchestra sees the music and they’ll sight-read it. It will go down beautifully because they’re great players. That is just standard industry practice, so it’s literally something we put together in one day based on the high level of musicianship we find in venues like Atlanta and with major orchestras like the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
What is the most common reaction from orchestra members who aren’t familiar with the Grateful Dead’s music? Are they like, This is so simple?
The simplicity is never a factor, some of the music is actually complex, the only concern is that sometimes the orchestra members, especially those who play very orchestral instruments, for instance the string players, they’re going to be bothered by the guitar amp, the bass amp, the drum set out in front of the orchestra, but it depends on the attitude of the musicians. Some musicians absolutely adore these programs, some of them look at it as a paycheck. It's hard to say, you know. It’s not Bach, Brahms, or Beethoven, but it is valid music. Jerry Garcia was a wonderful and talented composer, and this is the interpretation of his music with a symphony orchestra, and the outstanding Warren Haynes and his companions out front, so it’s really exciting music. But far and wide, overall, all the orchestras have been nothing but positive and good vibes. It has been a wonderful experience.
What would you say the difference is between Jerry Garcia’s music and, say, Brahms or Beethoven or Mozart?
They all use the same twelve pitches that exist in western music. The music of our culture, which is Western Europe and America, is based on twelve different pitches. That’s all there are, only twelve different notes. Then it’s all about the length of the notes, the duration of the notes, how you attack the notes, play the notes, arrange the notes, stack the notes. There’s only twelve of them, so anybody from Beethoven to Jerry is taking those twelve and finding interesting ways to write compelling music. The thing about Jerry’s music is that, when you break it down and look at it closely, you come to realize that he was a brilliant musician. He probably wasn’t a schooled musician. He probably wasn’t somebody with a great deal of theory classes behind him. I’m guessing he has none of that, but he’s intuitive, much like Paul McCartney. He can’t read music but he’s extraordinarily intuitive. You know with most of the people we were talking about — Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart — some of them were very well-schooled, but again, they were intuitive as well. It’s all ear, it’s all based on your ear development. Jerry had an outstanding ear. He could hear things that others couldn’t, and he could compile his notes in ways that were musical, compelling, and absolutely outstanding. To me, it was a revelation, because I wasn’t familiar with his music until a couple of years ago. When I started delving into it I realized, 'My God, this is amazing!' Obviously that’s why millions of people devoted their attention on the band.
Can you give us an example of that brilliance that you’re talking about?
There are a lot of odd meters in his music, which means 3/4 bars, 7/4 bars, 5/4 bars, measures that have more than four beats in them, which is common, three beats, which is common. And again, the way he composed it, this is what he heard, this is what came out of him, so those meters can be considered complex or they can be a challenge for some musicians. For him, it was natural, just the way the music flowed for him. And a lot of the guys were like that. Bob Weir was like, they were recording and it just came out of them that way. They were just gifted artists, and the things I think that I love about them, you know, I think it was Duke Ellington that wrote: There’s good music; there’s bad music. And it’s beyond category in so many ways. We who listen to the music tend to put categories on it, that it’s rock, that it’s punk rock, classical, baroque. But when people are creating the music, they’re not coming up with categorizations for what it is. It’s just music. It’s either good or it’s either bad, and Jerry’s music was outstanding. His musicianship was clearly at a very high level, and it’s amazing how intuitive he and those guys were. What they were doing was really progressive and really complex on many levels.