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Warren Haynes brings Jerry Garcia to life in ‘Symphonic Celebration’

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When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State

Tickets: $38.50-103.50


Updated: June 23, 2014 11:39AM

At the time of his death in 1995, Jerry Garcia had been working on something pretty radical, even to Grateful Dead fans — arranging his extensive catalog of rambling rock songs into vast, but controlled, orchestral masterpieces.

“It was something that Jerry had always talked about and we think he was working on around the time of his death,” says his daughter, Trixie Garcia, who admits the freewheeling lifestyle and improvisation have sometimes masked the true musicianship of her father. “At his heart, he was a composer, and this was another evolution of his career to be able to hear his music in other settings.”

So, last year, his estate decided to move forward posthumously with his vision, orchestrating the aptly named “Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration Featuring Warren Haynes.” The melodic spectacle, now in its second year but first time hitting Chicago, features a specially crafted orchestra in each city. Yet, at its focus, is Haynes, the noted guitarist, vocalist and songwriter from Gov’t Mule and The Allman Brothers Band, who also cut his teeth on the Dead framework after years of touring with Phil Lesh and Friends.

Naturally he was Trixie Garcia’s first choice.

“Before we approached [Haynes], we had an idea that we’d have guest stars come in for each year of the tour, but he’s such a soulful chameleon as a musician that I wouldn’t want to see the show with anyone else at this point,” she says.

To start the project, Haynes again called on friend Lesh to recommend a group of three arrangers that could retool the music while still keeping the spirit of improvisation alive.

“I’m not a big fan of rock and pop music being arranged for the symphony just for the sake of it. Most of the time it falls flat,” Haynes says, “so instead of picking my favorite songs or ones I wanted to sing the most, it was more important to me to pick the ones that would allow people to hear another dimension.” The epic “Terrapin Station,” which already had a symphony on the original recordings and the heartful folk ballad “High Time” from “Workingman’s Dead” were early favorites, although Garcia says, “‘Bird Song’ makes me cry every time; it’s just so beautiful what they did with it.”

On the tour, Haynes also will have another special surprise — playing Jerry Garcia’s famed Wolf Guitar, on loan from Chicago’s famed Pritzker family who acquired it in an auction years ago. “The Wolf is an amazing instrument. Just playing it puts me a little closer to Jerry’s sound and puts more of his influence into my head,” says Haynes.

The guitar, like Jerry Garcia himself, remains a legend that his daughter has been comforted to see popularized in younger generations. “I’m seeing a lot of kids wearing Grateful Dead shirts in the audience now, and I think it really shows how timeless the music is.” It’s one of the reasons she recently chose to relaunch to help bring the music into a new era, right before the Grateful Dead’s 50th anniversary next year.

Plans to rerelease all of the studio albums on vinyl (Garcia’s eponymous solo album was the first reissue on Record Store Day this year) and an official documentary that follows on the heels of Bob Weir’s own film are in the works to celebrate the anniversary.

“There are a lot of opportunities now for people who want to see more from Jerry,” says Trixie Garcia, before laughing, “Just today someone sent me a picture of toast with Jerry’s hands burnt into it.”

No doubt still holding that peace sign.

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