Warren Haynes keeps a busy schedule: He’s one-half of the guitar team in the Allman Brothers Band, he leads his own group Gov’t Mule, he has a solo band, and he occasionally plays solo acoustic shows. And next month, he’ll perform with ensembles larger than he’s ever worked with in the past. Between playing Allman Brothers show and the Govt’ Mule tour this summer, Haynes will lead a series of symphony orchestras on a tour that pays tribute to the late Grateful Dead leader Jerry Garcia.
“The Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration” kicks off June 18 in Pittsburgh, where Haynes will be joined by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. The tour will continue with two bursts of dates throughout the summer, with Haynes being accompanied by local orchestras in each of the eight cities. (Full list of performances here.)
Haynes, of course, has a history with the Grateful Dead. He played in bassist Phil Lesh’s band, Phil Lesh & Friends, for years, and produced Lesh’s 2002 album There And Back Again. He also did some time in The Dead, which featured Grateful Dead members Lesh, guitarist/singer Bob Weir, and drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann.
Haynes organizes some annual musical events — the Mountain Jam festival every summer and the Christmas jam in December — but he says this tour wasn’t his idea.
“We got a call from the people representing the Garcia Estate, saying they wanted to do a series of symphony shows doing Jerry’s music, and that they were going to have a few guest performers, and they wanted to know if I wanted to be the first guest artist,” he told Radio.com. “I was very honored.”
It turns out, Haynes had wanted to go the orchestral route for some time, but never had the right concept, until now.
“I’ve always wanted to do something with a symphony, but I never have, so it’s a really great challenge for me, and I was really psyched. I think it’s gonna be really amazing.”
Of course, a hallmark of both Garcia’s and Haynes’ music is improvisation. But how much can you improvise with an orchestra, particularly when you are performing with a different one every night?
“I felt like it was very important that we take the Grateful Dead spirit and to approach the symphonic production in a way that is different from the norm,” he explained. “I didn’t want it to be just like a symphony playing that music. We’re starting to figure out that there are ways to make it work. There are going to be certain windows that allow for improvisation. Other times, I have to keep my solos more part of the structure.”
He says that he’ll draw from both the Grateful Dead’s songbook, but also from Garcia’s solo career (the tour’s poster resembles Garcia’s 1978 album Cats Under The Stars). But Haynes is selecting the songs methodically.
“I’m picking some songs that I’m less familiar with, and some things that I’ve never sung or played before, mostly because of how wonderful I think they’ll sound with the orchestra,” Haynes said. “I didn’t want it to be just a random selection of cool Jerry Garcia songs. It’s gonna be all music that the orchestra is gonna embellish in a way that’s gonna freak everybody out.”
He’s hoping to have a few special guests join him when he’s in the Dead’s hometown of San Francisco on August 1 and 2.
“Well, I spoke to Phil [Lesh] when the opportunity first arose and kinda got his thoughts about it,” Haynes said. “After I accepted the offer, we started looking at possibilities for arrangers, I sent the list of candidates to Phil to get his thoughts, because he’s so well versed in classical music, and that’s just not my area of expertise. I’m hoping we see Phil or Bob when we play the Bay Area, it would be great to see those guys, if the schedules permit. And who knows, maybe we could make it work out to play together.”
Haynes also notes that he wants to release a live album from the tour. Today (May 23) Haynes will host a chat on Jerry Garcia’s official Facebook page at 4 p.m. ET to discuss the tour.