For the second straight summer, guitar chameleon Warren Haynes celebrated the music of Jerry Garcia backed by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra at Red Rocks. Sunday’s show, which also featured drummer Jeff Sipe, bassist Lincoln Schleifer, and backing singers Alecia Chakour and Jasmine Muhammad, had many highlights, and showcased stellar orchestral arrangements.
Once again, Haynes was playing Garcia’s main ’70s guitar, The Wolf, a guitar built by luthier Doug Irwin that Garcia used from 1973-1979. Garcia’s tone during that period was also shaped in part by a Mu-Tron III envelope filter pedal. Some people refer to these pedals as an auto-wah. Regardless, Haynes had something similar in his effects rack on Sunday, and the combination really nailed the classic Garcia ’70s tone.
Opening with a riff on “Dark Star” that didn’t have vocals, the band quickly moved into a dreamy “Bird Song.” During “Shakedown Street,” the CSO horn section really stepped to the fore, adding great weight to the jam out of the final guitar solo, while the string section’s silky, sweeping, singing fills were perfect on “Doin’ that Rag.”
One of the challenges of playing rock music with a symphony is coming up with good arrangements. Let’s face it: for orchestral musicians, the mostly rudimentary melodies and chord progressions of pop music aren’t very challenging to play. Pairing that with an electric rock ensemble can be difficult, but good arrangements, such as the string arrangement on “China Cat Sunflower,” can make the pairing work very well. On a symphonic break at the end, the orchestra seemed to be teasing a melody somewhat similar to “Nights in White Satin.”
On the set-closing “Morning Dew,” the double basses augmented Schleifer’s playing to great effect on the intro, while the strings danced in and around Haynes’ playing on a fierce solo at the end.
After a quick set break, Haynes and the orchestra returned, opening with “Comes a Time.” The “Crazy Fingers” was a revelation, with harpist Courtney Hershey Bress playing a lovely melody under Haynes’ bouncy reggae riffing. Haynes then took a guitar solo out of the second chorus that seemed to take inspiration from a chirping bird, playing short, staccato lines to great effect.
The orchestra also really stood out on the arrangement of “Black Peter.” I never would have thought an orchestra could sound funky, but so they did under the aching playing of Haynes. The flutists, Brook Ferguson, Catherine Peterson, and Julie Duncan Thornton, stood out, playing quickly cascading melodies to great effect, while the horns and strings weighed in with a funky offbeat riff.
Sipe got to step up with a surprisingly melodic drum solo that wound into “West L.A. Fadeaway,” and the combo closed with a take on “Terrapin Station,” with the horns and strings adding great weight to the finale before Haynes led them into a one-movement riff on “Slipknot,” closing with “Terrapin” again, on which Chakour and Muhammad sang brilliantly, hitting stunning highs.
Having already played with bluegrass legend Béla Fleck at Telluride Bluegrass and now Haynes, the CSO will further prove its versatility when it returns to Red Rocks this weekend to play two shows with Pretty Lights.
Set 1: Dark Star-> Bird Song, Uncle John’s Band, Shakedown Street, Doin’ that Rag, Here Comes Sunshine, China Cat Sunflower, Morning Dew
Set 2: Comes a Time, Crazy Fingers, Scarlet Begonias, Black Peter, Drums -> West L.A. Fadeaway, Terrapin Station -> Slipknot -> Terrapin Station, E: Ship of Fools, Stella Blue