"Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration" Review- A tribute at the Ravinia Festival

On Sunday night, June 26, 2016, Warren Haynes, guitarist and singer, formerly of the Allman Brothers Band, Gov’t Mule and The Dead, joined the Chicago Philharmonic under the baton of Rich Daniels, founder and director of the City Lights Orchestra, in presenting “The Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration”, at The Ravinia Festival in Highland Park. 

Ravinia Festival fans

Indeed, Daniels shed his blazer and white pants at one point, and clad entirely in black, played the saxophone, wailing away with alacrity. Coupled with Jeff Snipe on drums, Lincoln Schleifer on bass and backup singers Jasmine Muhammed and Jaclyn La Branch, the show performed 15 great songs, (2 in encore) classically interpreted in a seamless meld of symphonic and rock- a wonderful tribute to Garcia and The Grateful Dead.

A symphonic celebration

Unlike the raucous and raunchy celebrations of old, wherein scruffy-looking and obviously stoned “Deadheads” milled endlessly about the performance, the audience at Ravinia was respectful and suffused with a happy reverence. Warren Haynes, smiling beatifically, while bringing forth the strong lush notes of such greats as “Morning Dew” and “Terrapin Station", proved to be a particularly apt choice to be strumming Garcia’s “Wolf” guitar. His band and the singers rocked the Pavillion and the sound flowed effortlessly out over the lawns.

Warren Haynes playing Jerry Garcia's "Wolf" guitar

The orchestra, positioned behind clear plexiglass panels, flowed right along into the mostly mellow choices while the band interludes following “Uncle John’s Band” and “Here Comes Sunshine”, as well as the drum solo concluding “Touch of Grey” were intensely  reminiscent of Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead.

A concert in tribute

From the opening bars of “Dark Star”, which has been called “the prototypical Grateful Dead song providing the band with a vehicle for countless hours of improvisation”, to the wonderfully familiar notes of “Ripple”, which ended the concert on a note of quiet joy and nostalgia, this was an extremely concentrated and sophisticated performance, but it never attempted to achieve the wild, loose joy of a Grateful Dead concert, even in “West LA Fadeaway”- probably a wise decision. 

Rich Daniels leads The Chicago Philharmonic

The Grateful Dead was known for its unique and eclectic style, which distilled elements of “country, folk, bluegrass, blues, reggae, rock, improvisational jazz, psychedelia, and space rock”. Typical concerts with extended instrumental riffs could last 4-6 hours, as they jammed their psychedelic hearts out. Such a performance could never fit into the refined and elegant time and space requirements of a venue like Ravinia, despite it’s sweeping and generous lawn space. However, the Philharmonic did a brilliant job of maximizing and amplifying the melodic lines.

Statue at The Ravinia Festival


The hippie era and Jerry Garcia are gone for good, but the Garcia/Lesh/Hunter/Weir  melodies and lyrics remain, as does the love for this music in the hearts of the many fans who gathered together in the magnificent Ravinia Park to hear a great orchestra reveal the symphonic aspects of “Comes a Time”, “Attics of my Life”, and “Blues for Allah”. It was a night filled with tie-dyed garments, happiness, clapping and wonder.

Folks gathered for the concert at the Ravinia Festival

For other great concerts at the Ravinia Festival this summer, go to The Ravinia Website

Join the Chicago Philharmonic at the Ravinia Festival this summer or at Night Out In The Parks by visiting the Chicago Philharmonic website

Photos courtesy of Ravinia/Russell Jenkins



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