Jubilee: A Celebration of Jerry Garcia

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Maybe Hiss Golden Messenger said it best, in a tweet after Friday night’s tribute to Jerry Garcia at downtown Los Angeles’ Theatre at Ace Hotel (at which lead singer MC Taylor was one of the performers):

“Seeing Stephen Malkmus, Benmont Tench and David Hidalgo onstage together creates a hugely enjoyable cognitive dissonance.”

In this particular Dead-related case, “cognitive dissonance” was not even intended as a synonym for tripping, instead just the fun of seeing celebrity music fans from different disciplines and genres focus attention on some of Jerry Garcia’s deep cuts.

An all-star cast of musicians came together for a 3-hour night of music celebrating the work of Grateful Dead legend Jerry Garcia. The show was co-presented as a charitable effort by the Jerry Garcia Family (Annabelle, Trixie and Mountain Girl, Jerry’s ex-wife and mother of his 3 children) the Bluegrass Situation and Hiss Golden Messenger. Bluegrass Situation founder Ed Helms introduced the show by pointing out that he was “totally tripping right now,” but only because he was sleepless from having an infant at home. The actor also pointed out the rightness of their Garcia tribute taking place at L.A.’s former United Artists Theatre, which to him, with its weird stalagmites hanging from the proscenium over a Spanish gothic interior, is “the most psychedelic theater in Los Angeles.”

Throughout the night the likes of Amos Lee, Sam Bush, Margo Price, Josh Ritter Mike Campbell, David Hildago, Stephen Malkmus and many more offered their takes on some Garcia favorites along with a house band consisting of Benmont Tench, Sean Watkins, Tyler Chester and Jay Bellerose.

The guest singers might have been the ones with their names on the souvenir poster, but the highlight of the night, for many, was a semi-reunion of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers (or Mudcrutch, take your pick), with Tench, the house keyboard player and ringmaster of the band, joined on several incendiary occasions by guitarist Mike Campbell. When they first appeared together early in the show, backing Hiss’ Taylor on a seven-minute version of “Loser,” a song from Garcia’s seminal 1972 solo album, the world felt more set aright than it has been for about five months.

Of course, a lot of Garcia fans in the house have had their hearts broken for about 23 years. Dead & Company or a previous reincarnation, Furthur, shows fill a void, but this warm tribute show filled a different one, aimed slightly more at the kind of Jerry fan who would’ve just as easily gone to a Garcia/David Grisman side project gig as a mothership show. It wasn’t entirely clear in advance what the focus of the set would be, but it’d become more or less evident by the time house guitarist Sean Watkins (of Nickel Creek fame) put words to it toward the end. Their intention, he explained, had been to assemble the playlist kind of in thirds, roughly equally divided between Dead staples, material from Garcia’s solo catalog, and traditionals that he’d played along the way. The setlist math didn’t turn out to be quite as exact as Watkins suggested since nine of the 20 selections were Garcia/Robert Hunter compositions originally recorded by the Dead. But even the part of the crowd that delighted most at the revival of deep, deep, deep cuts wasn’t exactly complaining about the imbalance.

If ever there were a show filled largely with Dead material that would appeal to a non-Deadhead, this was it, though, with a substantial focus on Garcia as both a bluegrass nut and a practitioner of the basic singer/songwriter form (with a little help from Robert Hunter). Jamband fanatics couldn’t exactly feel like they were getting short-changed, though, on a night that not only had Campbell filling Garcia’s shoes and hands in some free-form-feeling solos and codas but unlikely sights like a mandolin/guitar duel between bluegrass legend Sam Bush and Los Lobos’ Hidalgo.

The night kicked off with “Dire Wolf” lead by Josh Ritter, Jamie Drake and Sara Watkins, followed by Watkins and mandolin master Sam Bush taking on “Shady Grove” (which Tench and Campbell also recorded, with Mudcrutch). Bush, Watkins and her brother/Nickel Creek bandmate Sean were then joined by Willie Watson for “Jack-A-Roe” before Hiss Golden Messenger’s MC Taylor and Mike Campbell led on “Loser.”

Billy Strings then made his first appearance of the night with a slow and stately but highly crowd-rousing “To Lay Me Down,” then Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus and Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo took over for “Bertha.” Malkmus would return in the first set for “I’ve Been All Around This World” after Banditos’ rendition of “New Speedway Boogie,” that had Mary Beth Richardson, a singer from the Alabama band Banditos, expertly channeling Janis Joplin. The set closed out with a couple of songs featuring Amos Lee, “Black Muddy River” (which, he pointed out, Garcia sang at the very last Dead show) and “Sugaree,” which also included Campbell and Banditos vocalist Mary Beth Richardson.

Set two opened with a “Casey Jones” that featured Margo Price on both vocals and drums, while Ritter returned for “Louis Collins.” MC Taylor also came back for “China Doll,” Campbell and Jason Sinay joined up for “Deal” and the ensuing rendition of “The Legend of the Johnson Boys” turned into a bluegrass jam featuring Bush, Strings, Watkins, Decemberists guitarist Chris Funk, Molly Tuttle and more. Tuttle then led the way with Strings on “Long Lonesome Road.” These 2 deep cuts were two more picks during a bluegrass sub-set in the second half that might have stumped even most of the hardcore Garcia fans in the crowd: “Legend of the Johnson Boys” and “Long Lonesome Road.” Those are both included on a four-CD set that’s coming in May, “Before the Dead,” which contains recordings of Garcia’s jug-band versions of those tunes from ’61-62, when he was a member of the Sleepy Hollow Hog Stompers. After the bluegrass sub set Bush and Hidalgo returned for “Evangeline.” Incidentally, Hildalgo was the only participant who got to sing a song he’d actually written since Los Lobos’ 1984 track “Evangeline” became a staple of Jerry Garcia Band performances before and after it turned up on a 1991 live album.

The duo stuck around for the classic “Friend of the Devil” featuring Price, then the Watkins siblings took the stage for “Brokedown Palace,” with house fiddler Sara Watkins beautifully building “Brokedown Palace” right back up into a gospel-roots hymn. The night rounded out with “Ripple” led by Drake and an encore of “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” with a collection of the night’s performers.

See the full setlist below, along with video from the night courtesy of YouTube user rb1229.

Jubilee: A Celebration of Jerry Garcia

The Theatre at Ace Hotel, Los Angeles, CA

Set I: Dire Wolf, Shady Grove, Jack-A-Roe, Loser, To Lay Me Down, Bertha, New Speedway Boogie, I’ve Been All Around This World, Black Muddy River, Sugaree

Set II: Casey Jones, Louis Collins, China Doll, Deal, The Legend of the Johnson Boys, Long Lonesome Road, Evangeline, Friend of the Devil, Brokedown Palace, Ripple

Enc: Goin Down the Road Feeling Bad

Mike Campbell with Hiss Golden Messenger “Loser” @ Jerry Garcia Jubilee 3/30/18

Amos Lee “Sugaree” @Jerry Garcia Jubilee 3/30/18

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