It would be an understatement to say that Thursday night’s Dear Jerry concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion — a 4 ½-hour, star-studded tribute to Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia — was a long, strange trip of an evening. It was also a great trip: More than 20 acts performed in honor of Garcia at a place he loved so much, fans took to calling it Jerryweather Post Pavilion.
Here are five takeaways from the evening:
1. The four living Grateful Dead members did not reunite onstage, but three of them did.
Beyond this summer’s Fare Thee Well concerts in California and Chicago, Dear Jerry had the unique selling point of being the only other show with all four living Grateful Dead members on the bill. Fans were cautioned, however, to not expect a full-on reunion.
Bassist Phil Lesh opened the show with his new band, Communion (featuring his son Grahame Lesh on guitar), and gave the night’s longest performance, a four-song, half-hour set that included “The Wheel” and “Uncle John’s Band.” That would be the only time Lesh would appear onstage all night.
About an hour later, Dead guitarist Bob Weir and drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart appeared onstage with little fanfare to join the show’s house band and singer Jimmy Cliff for a rousing rendition of the reggae-tinged “Fire on the Mountain.” The Dead trio would share the stage twice more: for show-closing takes on the band’s biggest hit, “Touch of Grey,” and a sing-along “Ripple” finale that included most of the evening’s performers (save for Lesh).
2. Bill Kreutzmann was the evening’s MVP.
Kreutzmann’s Billy and the Kids played a scorching, sold-out show at the 9:30 Club on Wednesday (one in which the fans demanded not one, not two but three encores), and the 69-year-old drummer carried that energy into Thursday, appearing throughout the night. The highlight of the evening came around 8:40 p.m., when Billy and the Kids — which features American Babies guitarist Tom Hamilton, Tea Leaf Green bassist Reed Mathis and Disco Biscuits keyboardist Aron Magner — came out to play one of the Dead’s most beloved three-song suites: “Help on the Way > Slipknot > Franklin’s Tower.” After an inspired bit of jamming, Mathis left the stage and Magner’s three Disco Biscuits bandmates joined the group for a grooving “Scarlet Begonias” that bled into a truly euphoric “I Know You Rider.” Who would have thought that a band at the forefront of jamtronica would be part of one of the more faithful and exciting Dead covers of the night?
3. Several solo artists stood out.
Throughout the evening, a house band — led by bassist Don Was, guitarist Buddy Miller and mandolin player Sam Bush — performed admirably backing a number of solo artists. At 67, reggae icon Cliff sounded half his age singing his own “The Harder They Come,” a song the Jerry Garcia Band covered often, as well as the aforementioned “Fire on the Mountain.” D.C. native Jorma Kaukonen, of Hot Tuna and Jefferson Airplane, paid his old pal Garcia tribute with some soulful guitar work on “Sugaree.” Grace Potter was the night’s only featured female performer, playing keys and sharing vocals with Weir on a reworked “Friend of the Devil.” Even country star Eric Church, perhaps the most unexpected booking on the bill, did justice to the countrified “Tennessee Jed.”
4. There were some head-scratching song choices.
There were bits of 29 songs performed at the show, a few of which seemed out of place, including two lesser-known songs the Dead debuted in 1993, two years before Garcia died. To close his set, Lesh played the bland “Liberty;” later, Weir led the house band through a lengthy “Days Between” that brought the energy down a notch.
Folksy acts Trampled by Turtles and Yonder Mountain String Band also appeared a little too late in the evening, flow-wise, with the latter turning one of the Dead’s funkiest songs, “Shakedown Street,” into a banj0- and fiddle-led hoedown. It was a creative idea and worked just fine, but that song begs for a more electrified performance.
5. The evening really moved, but ran long, leaving out some performers.
Given the nature of this kind of concert — the performance was being filmed for release and required staging changes after every segment or song — things ran incredibly smoothly. There was never more than a 10-minute gap between performances and there was time for improvised jamming that felt inspired, not restrained.
However, this meant that the concert, scheduled for four hours, rang long, beginning promptly at 7 p.m. and ending around 11:30 p.m. Even that wasn’t enough time to squeeze in all of the performers. Of the 20-plus acts billed for the event, three didn’t appear: singer-keyboardist Bruce Hornsby and jamgrass bands Railroad Earth and Greensky Bluegrass. The two bands reported on Twitter that their performances were cut for time at the last moment.
Dear Jerry setlist:
Communion with Phil Lesh: “The Wheel” > “Uncle John’s Band”, “Standing On The Moon”, “Liberty”
Allen Toussaint with House Band: “Get Out Of My Life Woman”
David Grisman with House Band: “Shady Grove”
Peter Frampton with House Band and Bill Kreutzmann: “(I’m A) Roadrunner”
Buddy Miller with House Band: “Deal”
Jorma Kaukonen with House Band: “Sugaree”
Jimmy Cliff with House Band: “The Harder They Come”
Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Dave Schools, Bill Kreutzmann and Jimmy Cliff with House Band: “Attics Of My Life” intro > “Fire On The Mountain”
Billy and the Kids: “Help On The Way” > “Slipknot!” > “Franklin’s Tower”
Disco Biscuits with Bill Kreutzmann and Tom Hamilton: “Scarlet Begonias” > “I Know You Rider” > “Scarlet Begonias”
O.A.R.: “St. Stephen”
Los Lobos with Bob Weir: “Not Fade Away” > “Bertha”
Trampled By Turtles: “Brown-Eyed Women”
Yonder Mountain String Band: “Shakedown Street”
Bob Weir with House Band: “Days Between”
Grace Potter, Bob Weir and House Band: “Friend Of The Devil”
Eric Church with House Band: “Tennessee Jed”
Widespread Panic: “Morning Dew”
Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart with House Band: “Touch Of Grey”
Most of the evening’s performers: “Ripple”
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