Trixie Garcia has no idea what to wear to Tanglewood on Saturday.
“Do I wear a dress or a tie-dye?” she asks from her Oakland home when discussing her visits to the symphonies performing the work of her father, Jerry Garcia.
The Boston Pops is one of the eight orchestras around the country presenting Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration. The concerts pair symphonies with guitarist and singer Warren Haynes and a band he handpicked for these shows spotlighting Garcia’s work.
Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration
It’s a long, strange trip from Haight-Ashbury to Lenox. As guitarist and guru for the Grateful Dead, Garcia made music for the modern bacchanalia, not necessarily for places where the music of Bach is the norm. And though he could summon a hippie army by plucking the first two notes of “St. Stephen,” Garcia was also a serious musician who collaborated with jazz great Ornette Coleman, bluegrass legend Vassar Clements, and country-rock pioneers New Riders of the Purple Sage. Had he lived longer, maybe Garcia himself would have eventually traded the trademark black T-shirt he wore on stage for a tux and performed with a symphony.
Keith Lockhart will be conducting the Boston Pops when Haynes and crew truck into Tanglewood.
“This will not be a normal tribute show,” Lockhart says. First, he notes the entire Grateful Dead cultural phenomenon, a time warp of psychedelic imagery and near-obsessive devotion to the music by fans who self-identify as Deadheads. The Tanglewood concert will be one of two Garcia symphonic performances to incorporate the work of the Joshua Light Show, the same crew that made all those pulsing abstract images at the Fillmore East when the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Frank Zappa, and the like played the storied New York City venue during its original run from 1968 to ’71.
The Pops will also have to tackle the improvisation issue.
“Garcia made up a lot as he went along. An orchestra doesn’t make it up as it goes along. There are just too many people for improvisations,” Lockhart says.
But seeing arranger Chris Walden’s involvement in the project sold Lockhart on the Garcia program.
“Chris Walden is a favorite arranger of ours,” Lockhart says. “He did a concerto for cellos for us this season.”
Sean O’Loughlin and Steven Bernstein were the other two arrangers involved in the project.
Cellist Owen Young is as curious as anyone about what will transpire Saturday, as the Pops had not seen the music, nor will the orchestra meet with Haynes and his band until the day of the concert. But he did think that the program challenges preconceived notions about where Garcia’s music belongs, and what a symphony can do.
“We have a tendency to pigeonhole everything,” Young says. “I believe you take away from music if you put it into categories. I have a lot of respect for Jerry Garcia as a musician. I am not a follower of the Grateful Dead, but I respect his abilities.”
Haynes likewise was drawn to the project’s attempt to see Garcia’s work from a fresh angle.
“The power that a symphony offers will bring these songs to places they have never been before,” says Haynes. “And these songs have been to a lot of places.”
After being contacted by the Garcia estate to participate in the symphonic celebration, Haynes drew up a long wish list of songs that Garcia played or covered with the Grateful Dead and his side projects. While Haynes may be best known for his work with the Allman Brothers Band and Gov’t Mule, he is no stranger to the Garcia songbook.
After Garcia died in 1995, the surviving members of the Grateful Dead embarked on various solo paths as well as reunions. Haynes frequently teamed with Dead bassist Phil Lesh and was the lead guitar player for the last tour that involved all of the surviving members of the Grateful Dead. Garcia’s work figured prominently in both endeavors.
“It’s not going to be a night of Grateful Dead hits,” Haynes notes, saying that he was drawn to obscure nuggets in the Garcia repertoire as well as the Grateful Dead’s “Terrapin Station” suite, which was recorded with strings and horns, though only a small bit of it was performed in concert while Garcia was alive.
Haynes will look for openings to solo and conferred with the show’s three arrangers on ways to segue in and out of two or three tunes, much like the Grateful Dead did in concert. Bassist Lincoln Schleifer, drummer Jeff Sipe, and singers Alecia Chakour and Jasmine Muhammad will be joining Haynes as the band works with orchestras in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, and California, including two nights in San Francisco starting Aug. 1, which would have been Garcia’s 71st birthday.
This endeavor is not the first time Garcia’s music has been yanked from its happy hippie home and proven suitable for dressing up a bit. In 1995, jazz composer Joe Gallant created a big-band arrangement of the Dead’s “Blues for Allah” record. The 2007 album “Dead Symphony No. 6” features conductor Lee Johnson’s arrangements of several Garcia songs performed by the Russian National Orchestra.
But in this case, the project originated in the Garcia camp.
Now 38, Trixie Garcia spends a lot of time fielding ideas about things to do with her father’s music and artwork (“He was a prolific painter,” she says).
Garcia says she deferred to music executive and self-professed Grateful Dead fan Coran Capshaw, who served as producer for recently released Jerry Garcia archival concert recordings, and Haynes for making the business and artistic decisions, respectively, on the symphonic shows once she felt they advanced her father’s legacy.
“There may be music lovers who never thought rock ’n’ roll was their thing but will appreciate the music in this setting. Or maybe there are kids who have not been able to experience a symphony or who didn’t see Jerry and will find this a unique experience,” she says.
Garcia’s daughter is attending all of the symphonic concerts, calling herself more of an ambassador than an expert.
“I didn’t grow up a Deadhead,” she says, noting that it took years for her to fully understand her father’s musical and cultural reach. “What kid thinks what their parents do is cool?”