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Jerry: Celebrating the Music Of Jerry Garcia (2016)

Jerry: Celebrating the Music Of Jerry Garcia (2016)

It was fun waiting for this deal to come around!

Cast: Phil Lesh & Communion; Allen Toussaint; David Grisman, Peter Frampton; Buddy Miller; Jorma Kaukonen; Buddy Miles; Jimmy Cliff; Bob Weir; Mickey Hart; Bill Kreutzman with Billy & The Kids; The Disco Biscuits; Moe; O.A.R.; Los Lobos; Trampled By Turtles; Yonder Mountain String Band; Grace Potter; Eric Church; Widespread Panic – Special appearances by Matt Burr; Benny Yurco; and The All Star Band: Don Wass – bass; Audley Freed – guitar; Sam Bush – mandolin, violin; Raymond Webber – drums; Matthew Rollings – B-3, keyboards, accordion; Russell Paul – pedal steel guitar; Regina, Freda & Ann McCrary – backing vocals
Studio: Rounder/Bluebird
Director: Conor McAnnaly
Musical Director: Don Was
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0
Video: 16:9, color
Length: 180 minutes
Rating: Audio: ***1/2     Video: ****       Overall: ****
TrackList: The Wheel/Uncle John; Get Out Of My Life Woman; (I’m a) Road Runner; Deal; Sugaree; The Harder They Come; Fire On The Mountain; Help On The Way/Slipknot/Franklin’s Tower; Scarlet Begonias/I Know You Rider; Loser; St. Stephen; Bertha; Brown-Eyed Woman; Shakedown Street; Friend Of The Devil; Tennessee Jed; Morning Dew; Touch Of Gray; Ripple

It is difficult to imagine Jerry Garcia as a rock and roll icon. His band, The Grateful Dead, established cult status, beginning in the mid-sixties as The Warlocks (Ken Kesey’s Acid Test house band) until the death of Garcia in 1995. By that time, the Dead had evolved into legends, especially with their signature four-hour performances. With healthy doses of country, rock, blues and even jazz, the GD continued to expand the audience. Bootleg tapes became an industry into itself, and album sales were good. But the Dead were a relentless touring act, and raked in a fortune. Additionally, they were renowned for perhaps the finest, most advanced sound equipment in the world. They never receded as a touring machine. Jerry Garcia would do projects outside the group (David Grisman, Merl Saunders and others), but inevitably returned to his “family”.

Since Jerry’s death, the band has soldiered on with guest guitarists replacing the beloved leader. Also, there have been a number of documentaries and tributes along the way. The latest is a film, Dear Jerry: Celebrating The Music Of Jerry Garcia. A wide variety of music stars, including Dead members and group offshoots provide a bona fide homage to Garcia’s legacy. Without a great deal of oratory (the opening has one line by Bob Weir), the festivities are underway with Phil Lesh and Communion. After a signature Grateful Dead space intro, the group slides into “The Wheel”. They get that mid-tempo rhythm down and transition seamlessly into “Uncle John’s Band”. Even the weary harmonies are on point. New Orleans icon Allen Touissant is up next and is accompanied by the talented “house” band. The gospel-charged jam elevates the energy. Garcia crony David Grisman shines on the mandolin during ”Get Out Of My Life Woman”. The highlights keep coming. Peter Frampton (more like his Humble Pie days) rocks out on “(I’m A Road Runner)”. Buddy Miller brings tough blues chops to “Deal”, and fellow Bay Area musician Jorma Kaukonen does the same for “Sugaree”. Reggae star Jimmy Cliff reprises “The Harder They Come” and “Fire On The Mouintain”. Bill Kretzman’s Billy And The Kids perform a five song set with great segues.

Other highlights include (but are not limited to) Los Lobos and Bob Weir on “Bertha”. Weir is also featured with Grace Potter on “Friend Of The Devil”. Perhaps to underscore the legacy of The Grateful Dead, Weir, Kreutzman and Mickey Hart jam on “Touch Of Grey”. The long concert (How could a Dead concert be anything but lengthy?) comes to a festive close with the full ensemble on “Ripple”. All of the musical acts clearly brought their “A” game.

The overall mix is balanced, but the Dolby 5.1 lacks punch. The movie focuses on the musical performances which is at the core of Dear Jerry. Most of the footage is straight-ahead concert performances. Of course, there are perfunctory Deadhead dancing snippets, and it has not improved in 50 years.  Jerry Garcia lives!

—Robbie Gerson

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