Normally a wolf sighting in Atlanta’s Chastain Park Amphitheater would be reason for a safety advisory; this weekend it’ll be cause for celebratory noodle dancing by Deadheads. On Friday, June 24, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) will join forces with a five-piece combo fronted by guitarist Warren Haynes to bring the Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration to life. And Haynes will be playing Wolf, the custom-made guitar well-known to the late Garcia’s legion of fans.
This is the fourth year the Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration has hit the road, but its first time in Georgia, which is surprising given the depth of local roots. Featured performer Haynes made his name as a central figure of the 1980s Allman Brothers reboot, then founded Gov’t Mule and solidified himself as a fixture on the jam band circuit. Drummer Jeff Sipe was an Atlanta scene mainstay in the ’80s as well, joining forces with the legendary Col. Bruce Hampton to form the Aquarium Rescue Unit.
The troupe is making 10 stops this year, including other iconic outdoor venues like Tanglewood and Denver’s Red Rocks. (Watch a clip of their 2013 Red Rocks show.) Like other regional orchestras, the ASO will be playing from sheet music as they have only a day-of-show rehearsal to build rapport with the traveling crew. You’d think this might impede the improvisational free-flow essential to this genre of music, but Haynes assures they’ve built “windows of opportunity” into the structure to allow the quintet (which includes two female vocalists, one of them longtime Garcia sidewoman Jacklyn LaBranch) to do their thing.
The set includes Grateful Dead classics like “Shakedown Street” and “China Cat Sunflower.” In past years they’ve also tackled “Terrapin Station;” I can’t confirm it’s in this year’s plans, but its recorded arrangement seems ready made for the ASO treatment.
Speaking of which, just one night earlier, the ASO’s free program in Piedmont Park will range from Rossini to John Williams to James Brown. And the symphony joins forces (pun intended) with John Williams at the end of the summer to perform “Star Wars and More” at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, including selections from “Hook” and “Harry Potter.”
Glen Sarvady is Georgia’s official Music Explorer. He has lived in Atlanta for more than 20 years, and has written about music both locally and nationally for at least as long. More recently, he has written regularly for the music/arts publication Stomp & Stammer as well as GeorgiaMusic.org.