Bob Weir Discusses Symphonic Kennedy Center Run On NPR’s ‘Weekend Edition’

Hear the Grateful Dead guitarist break down the landmark run.

By Nate Todd Nov 2, 2022 1:31 pm PDT

Bob Weir spoke about Bobby Weir and Wolf Bros‘ recent milestone concerts at Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center with the National Symphony Orchestra on NPR’s Weekend Editon. The profile also saw insights from Bobby’s collaborator on the project, Stanford music professor Giancarlo Aquilanti, as well as Wolf Bros bassist Don Was.

The segment begins with NPR Music’s “resident Deadhead” Felix Contreras noting the interesting juxtaposition of the highly improvisational Grateful Dead material and the color-in-the-lines symphony orchestra. Contreras also gave a little backstory on the project over a decade in the making.

“About a dozen years ago, Weir was approached to do a benefit for his local symphony in the Bay Area’s Marin County. Weir kept that idea and those arrangements in his back pocket, and now he’s bringing them back out again.”

“The songs that we’ve written over the years – they have a depth to them that merits this kind of attention, I think,” Bobby said of adding orchestral arrangements to Dead tunes. During the Kennedy Center run, Weir stated, “What we want to do is, be a part of the orchestra. Not just a band playing with the orchestra, but part of it.”

Paraphrasing Aquilanti, Contreras echoed that sentiment:

“[Aquilanti] says meeting the songs on their own terms meant using every classical composing technique at his disposal – because the gig wasn’t just putting some strings behind some rock ‘n’ roll songs. It was writing for an orchestra with a rock ‘n’ roll band embedded within the strings and oboes. And he says he wanted to create a space for improvisation between the band and the orchestra.”

Another interesting juxtaposition was that of Dead culture and symphonic culture. At first, Aquilanti — who didn’t know much about the Grateful Dead before he began the project — rightly thought that hippies dancing in the aisles at the Kennedy Center was a little weird, but he then had a beautiful reaction to it.

“I had two different reaction. One is say, why don’t they sit down and they listen what we’re doing here? And then at the same time, it would be disrespectful to the audience to pretend that they sit down. That’s how they enjoy the music, and that’s how they should continue to enjoy the music. It was so different, but there was so much energy that translated also into the way we played the music.”

Additionally, Don Was highlighted the extra special feeling of the mystical audience and band connection with the symphony orchestra added to the mix. “There are always two or three moments every night when that happens. They’re always different, and you never know when it’s coming. But when it happens, it’s the greatest feeling in the world. Add 80 more people in an orchestra. When that clicks, it’s a huge rush.”

Weir wrapped up the segment by stating that its the transient spirit of the songs themselves that allow the music to flow through the artists:

“These songs are visitors, that they’re living critters and they’re visitors from another world, another dimension or whatever you want to call it, that come through the artists to visit this world, have a look around, tell their stories. I don’t know exactly how that works, but I do know that it’s real.”

Listen to Bob Weir on Weekend Edition below:

Hat Tip – Live For Live Music

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