Jerry Garcia would’ve turned 70 on August 1st, and his fellow guitarist in the Grateful Dead, Bob Weir, is throwing a musical bash of sorts. Called "Move Me Brightly," the event brings together an all-star group of musicians from varied backgrounds who, under Weir's stewardship, will perform a couple hours' worth of Garcia material tonight for a free webcast.
The songs will range from Grateful Dead classics to cuts Garcia performed with his solo band. While nobody in the large ensemble of musicians – a rotating cast (including members of Phish, the Hold Steady, Vampire Weekend and more) that will number near 20 by the night's end – will attempt to replicate Garcia's solos or fill his space, Weir says that Garcia's voice will be represented by the music itself.
"You find Jerry in the songs," Weir told Rolling Stone during a break in rehearsals on Thursday. "And he's amply there." Since Garcia was known never to play a song the exact same way twice, Weir says that any new interpretation is just as valid as the original: "The beauty of it is how Jerry manifests himself, how he reveals himself, to the individuals."
For "Move Me Brightly," in addition to Grateful Dead members Weir and Donna Jean Godchaux, those individuals will include Phish's Mike Gordon, Furthur's Joe Russo and Jeff Chimenti, the Hold Steady's Craig Finn and Tad Kubler, Vampire Weekend's Chris Tomson, the Yellowbirds' Sam Cohen and Josh Kaufman, Ryan Adams & the Cardinals' Neal Casal and Jon Graboff and the Black Crowes' Adam MacDougall, as well as singer-songwriters Jim Lauderdale, Jonathan Wilson, Cass McCombs and Harper Simon.
During rehearsals, actor Luke Wilson was on hand interviewing members of Garcia's family for a documentary directed by Justin Kreutzmann, son of Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann. The footage will air during a break in the live performance tonight.
"I've been a fan since I was a kid and I got to see them a couple of times and just loved the music, first and foremost," Wilson told Rolling Stone about the Dead. "And they also just sounded like a cool organization, not just a rock band. I always kind of liked the idea of them."
Vampire Weekend's Chris Tomson was psyched because he got to meet and jam with one of his living heroes, Phish's Mike Gordon. "I was 11 when Jerry died, so I wasn't really able to see them as 'the Grateful Dead,'" Tomson told Rolling Stone. Instead, his love for Phish led him to trace the history backwards and discover the Dead's legacy.
As for Gordon himself – probably the second biggest star in the ensemble, behind Weir – he is acutely aware of the comparisons Phish have gotten to the Grateful Dead throughout their nearly 30-year career. He says the band is finally at a place where they're mostly comfortable with it, although, as he points out, the music itself rarely sounds similar.
"They were so influential to us in so many ways," Gordon said. "Especially in this way of mixing improvisation with other elements that are far from that. We all talk about it. It's more like a 'being a band' model, almost more than the actual fabric of the music." He paused. "For me personally, even that aspect is very inspiring."
As for the impact that Jerry Garcia specifically made on him, Gordon made the analogy of first learning how to drive a car versus running errands in one years later: Before you can drive, you fantasize about it. Then you get your license, and even just cruising around the neighborhood is thrilling. "And the first time you just go, by yourself, with no one else in the car, you feel the huge weight of the car, the girth of the engine going down the road, and it's this massive, powerful feeling," he says. But then the novelty rubs off and, before you know it, you're stuck at a red light, wishing you were at your destination already.
"So, for me, what Jerry and the Grateful Dead brought is that childlike sense of wonder where you first learn to drive, where you appreciate every note and every chord going by with happiness and wonder," says Gordon. "And then to take that and refine it with years of mixing traditions and innovations galore, for decades of refining, into a much more 'adult' sort of package. But always keeping that excitement. . . as you get older. I think that's what they did. And I think that's the most inspiring aspect of it all."
"Move Me Brightly: Celebrating Jerry Garcia's 70th Birthday" will be webcast in high definition from TRI Studios, Weir's webcast studio and general "playpen" in San Rafael, just a few miles down the road from where the Grateful Dead used to rehearse. It will air live tonight, August 3rd, beginning at 9:30 p.m. EST (6:30 p.m. PST) via TRIStudios.com and Yahoo! Music.