Summer Fests 2010--Furthur and Beyond
By request--a place to talk about our plans to hit the road and pitch the tent in the quest for great tunes.
Furthur's playing a lot of fests this year, and so are lots of other bands and artists we know and love. Talk about it all here, as Furthur Fest is just around the corner!
As the Grateful Dead song goes, Bob Weir has been playing in the band - one band or another - his entire adult life. But never a band quite like the one he'll be playing in for one night this fall.
Appropriately enough, the singer-guitarist plans to open his unprecedented Oct. 22 performance with the Marin Symphony with a new orchestral arrangement of the Dead's classic "Playing in the Band."
"It's something I've wanted to do since forever," Weir, who's 62, said from his home in Mill Valley. "I've wanted to do something like this since I was in my teens, or even younger."
Billed as "First Fusion," it will be a history-making concert for the symphony, never having shared its stage with a rock musician before. And it's about time. Not
'It s something I've wanted to do since forever,' says musician Bob Weir, about playing with a symphony. (Provided by Susana Millman)
to jump on the bandwagon, so to speak, but I've been after them to take on a collaboration like this for years. And now, in these lean economic times, they finally have.
"The folks at the Marin Symphony are in pretty desperate financial shape," Weir said. "They need a big show, but they also need to bring in a new audience. That's a constant concern for symphonies. They want to get fresh ears in there because those people will come back. They do great stuff, but nobody knows about it."
The plan is for the evening to be divided into two parts: In one, Weir and the 41-piece orchestra perform symphonic arrangements of Grateful Dead songs. Other than "Playing in the Band," Weir wants the other tunes getting this treatment to be a surprise.
"We wanted to be kind of ambitious," is all he would say. "We took some of the low-hanging fruit, and we went climbing as well."
He's working closely on the arrangements with Italian composer-arranger Giancarlo Aquilanti, director of the Stanford Wind Ensemble.
"We've been doing a lot of work at my home studio with synthesizers and scoring programs with sound libraries attached," Weir explained. "We talk down the arrangements and then mock them up. Along the way, I have to learn Italian because the spoken language of symphonic music is in Italian. Don't have to learn that much, but it's a fair bit."
The other half of the program will showcase Weir and four or five rock musicians from his bands - Furthur and Ratdog - playing improvisational pieces with the Grammy-nominated chamber group Quartet San Francisco as well as symphony musicians picked for their ability to improvise. The Dead pioneered improvisation in rock, but it's not all that common in classical music.
"Classical musicians often times do not improvise," Weir said. "They're technicians. But what I want to do is get some interaction happening. I want the soloists from the orchestra to be able to take off a little bit, if they can. And we're finding soloists who can improvise and do call and response and that kind of stuff. I've got a couple of instrumentalists I can trade licks with. We're hoping to salt that in there because I have not heard that done before."
Rock musicians collaborating with symphony orchestras has been done before, so this isn't groundbreaking in that sense. Sting is touring with a five-piece rock group and the 45-member Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, which he calls "the biggest band I've ever had." What Rolling Stone calls his most exciting album in years, "Symphonicities," is a set of orchestral remakes of songs from his solo and Police repertoires.
And let's not forget Metallica's deafening 1999 collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony, which I described at the time as "like playing a Stradivarius with a chain saw."
"I've seen the Metallica-San Francisco Symphony video and learned things from it," Weir said. "I've learned that I don't think the band can play quite as loud as those guys were playing."
Stylistically, rock songs and symphonic pieces aren't as incongruous as you might suspect. Weir and his late partner in the Dead, Jerry Garcia, began as folk/bluegrass musicians, and many of the Dead's songs, particularly the ones written with lyricist Robert Hunter, are essentially electrified contemporary folk music.
"For hundreds of years, a great deal of classical music was flights of fancy that composers took on folk songs," Weir pointed out. "Bach was famous for that. So was Mozart." I would add Dvorak to that list, Copland, many others.
The symphony offered this gig to Weir and his Dead-Furthur bandmate, bassist Phil Lesh, who wasn't up for a daunting project. Whether Lesh will play on the night of the show is up in the air.
"I'm thinking of using two bass players, both of whom play for Ratdog," Weir said, mentioning stand-up bassist Rob Wasserman and electric bassist Robin Sylvester. "Lesh passed on the project early on, so what I'm trying to do is plump it up so that he can't refuse, but I've got some work to do."
After a successful summer tour with Lesh and Furthur, Weir's focus is on "First Fusion," and what the collaboration will do to open doors for future projects like it.
"If this goes well, I'm sure I'm going to have all kinds of offers from the Wolftraps and the pops orchestras back East," he predicted. "That will be fun, and that in turn could turn into more ambitious projects that would come back locally. But, for now, I'm pursuing it one step at a time."
IF YOU GO
What: "First Fusion," Bob Weir and the Marin Symphony
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 22
Where: Marin Veterans Memorial Auditorium, 10 Avenue of the Flags, San Rafael
Tickets: $50 to $350, on sale Sept. 1
Information: 499-6800; www.marinsymphony.org Liz OO play on- KEEP LISTENING
hey wheres the cali heads?? any one hiting this show??
Anyone making the drive?
I want to do this on the cheap.
does anybody know of some good fall music festivals going on near Illinois? Was not able to make it to the Further shows and am itching to get to a festival this year.
Have a great time, guys! Wish I could go to the all-in-one fest, like Frogtown, East Coast style. Hope you blow a few brain cells for me =) from the music!
& nothing but fun and music!
~ The Music Never Stopped ~