Dead & Company Welcomes Branford Marsalis At Lockn’ Festival

By Scott Bernstein Aug 27, 2018 7:17 am PDT

The Lockn’ Festival is known for the memorable collaborations the Arrington, Virginia-based event has hosted over the years. On Sunday night, this year’s Lockn’ concluded with yet another “only at Lockn'” affair as saxophonist Branford Marsalis rekindled his musical relationship with members of the Grateful Dead by sitting-in with Dead & Company on the band’s final set of 2018.

Branford’s musical relationship with the Dead dates back to March 29, 1990; when bassist Phil Lesh invited Marsalis to join the band for one song at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. The guest spot in the first set went so well, the saxophonist went on to sit-in on the entire second set. Marsalis made a number of appearances with the Grateful Dead in the years to come and more recently jammed with Furthur featuring Lesh and Bob Weir at Red Rocks in 2013. Last night marked Branford’s first collaboration with Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann’s latest project, Dead & Company.

Weir, Hart, Kreutzmann, John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge and Jeff Chimenti opened their first of two Sunday night sets at Lockn’ with an improv-heavy pairing of “Playing In The Band” > “Uncle John’s Band.” The chemistry between Mayer and Chimenti was on display throughout. Dead & Company took it down a notch with a Weir-sung “Loser” that featured a brief “Playing In The Band” reprise at the end before John Mayer led the Ron “Pigpen” McKernan classic “Mr. Charlie.” Mayer showed off the bluesy side of his playing on “Mr. Charlie” and the more rock-tinged side of his guitar work on the “Tennessee Jed” that followed.

Next up was “Althea,” the song which sent John Mayer down the “wormhole” that led to his joining D&C. The guitarist infused his solo with plenty of emotion, while Chimenti laid down a powerful piano solo just before the conclusion of the song. Dead & Company then ended their penultimate set of 2018 with a euphoric “Sugar Magnolia.”

Marsalis, who was celebrating his birthday, emerged with Dead & Company at the start of the second set. Dead & Company and their guest quickly lit into “Shakedown Street” to begin one of the most highly anticipated collaborations of the festival. Branford alternated between leading the ensemble with jazzy solos and adding countermelodies. The improvisational highlight of the collaboration was a long and exploratory rendition of “Bird Song.” At points, the ensemble deviated far from the normal structure of the song. Branford, John, Oteil and Jeff connected on a bluesy chord structure they built to a potent climax before the group made a turn towards “Eyes Of The World.”

Branford did a nice job of picking his spots throughout “Eyes.” He seemed focused on the bass lines Oteil Burbridge laid down and often used the melodies as a launching point for his solos. The set moved on with an emotional “Terrapin Station” featuring Mayer and Weir on vocals. Eventually, “Terrapin” faded into the evening’s “Drums” segment. Hart, Kreutzmann and Burbridge pounded out tribal beats accompanied by wild samples. The instrumentalists then returned to the stage for open-ended “Space” jamming. When the drummers emerged, Dead & Company along with Branford Marsalis began “Morning Dew.” Bob Weir sang the Bonnie Dobson-penned song, while Branford fit in beautiful melodies underneath Bob’s vocals. Mayer unleashed a strong solo ahead of a transition into “Not Fade Away.” John and Branford engaged in impressive back-and-forth as part of the set closer.

Weir and Chimenti took to the mic at the end of the set to acknowledge Branford’s birthday. The crowd kept the Bo Diddley beat going throughout the encore break and sang “You know our love with not fade away.” Branford played along with the audience’s singing when he came back to the stage. Dead & Company went on to end the festival and their 2018 with a triple encore of “Brokedown Palace,” “U.S. Blues” and “Ripple.”

Dead & Company are scheduled to return to Mexico for Playing In The Sand between January 17 – 20, 2019.

Watch Dead & Company’s Sunday performance at Lockn’ below starting at the 13-minute mark:


Set One: Playing In The Band > Uncle John’s Band > Loser (w/ “Playing In The Band Reprise” jam) > Mr. Charlie, Tennessee Jed, Althea, Sugar Magnolia

Set Two: Shakedown Street > Bird Song > Eyes Of The World > Terrapin Station > Drums > Space > Morning Dew > Not Fade Away

Encore: Brokedown Palace, U.S. Blues, Ripple

[All of second set and encore except for “Drums” with Branford Marsalis on saxophone]

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