The Avett Brothers As Jerry’s Kids
Even before the Avett Brothers and Warren Haynes came onstage to pay tribute to Jerry Garcia, the presence of the late guitarist could be immediately felt. I was told Seth Avett had drawn a caricature of the guitarist and looking at it hanging, it felt like the Grateful Dead founder was peering out to the audience.
By the time Avett and his brother Scott and the other five musicians came onstage, it seemed Garcia was there long enough that he was like part of the ensemble. As Avett bopped from side to side during a rousing version of “Tangled Up In Blue,” one of four songs written by the recent Nobel Prize recipient Bob Dylan, the movement around Garcia gave the illusion he too was swaying.
The occasion, “Dear Jerry,” was the thirtieth anniversary of one of Garcia’s revered shows in his native San Francisco. The night before Haynes gathered in Washington, D.C. with Allison Krauss and Jamey Johnson for the first of two tributes.
Without any introduction, the ensemble launched into “Think,” the old Jimmy McCracklin song that immediately swung with the Avetts and Haynes trading verses and guitar parts. Seth Avett took on lead vocal on Van Morrison’s mystical “And It Stoned Me” with bassist Bob Crawford singing Garcia’s “Run For The Roses,” as the band proceeded to replicate Garcia’s set song by song.
Guitarist Warren Haynes stood center stage, reverently placed between The Avetts, Scott to his left and Seth to his right. Haynes was like the band’s power forward for one night with the Brothers Avett running the North Carolina offense.
Haynes was like a medium channeling Garcia’s distinct picking and riffs and spirit. He led the band through a rousing version and history lesson of Chuck Berry’s “Let It Rock.” Bassist Crawford jumped up on Mike Marsh’s drum stand as Haynes hit the high notes, a prelude to “Deal” and the show’s climactic frenzy as the song reached its end.
Seth Avett brought it down with his lead on “Forever Young,” the first of four Dylan covers that seemed as timeless (if not timely) as all the nights Garcia covered them. Singer Tania Elizabeth gave the song some soul as she and Joe Kwon provided string accompaniment on violin and cello respectively. When she came out to sing the last encore, she led the band through an emotional “I Shall Be Released,” anchored by Paul Defiglia’s lush organ that had resonated all night.
The songs were reverently restrains but imbued with the Avett’s confidence and direct lineage to their forebears. Whether conscious or not, the Avetts have a spiritual affinity with Garcia and his depth of musiciality. Haynes went on a riffing excursion during “Tangled Up In Blue,” with Avett’s banjo and Kwon’s cello making the stage feel like jam central. The extended interludes didn’t seem excessive or overly long. Haynes struck just the right tone on “Dear Prudence,” with seductive and subtle psychedelia, the white stage lights ricocheting off of his slide like he possessed transcendent powers.
I saw a few weathered Garcia and Dead t-shirts that survived the years and still listed the shows, many of which precipitated the arrival of the Avetts into the world. Scott Avett seemed as honored to be onstage with Haynes as was to be embraced by the friendliness of the Dead community. And just like that, two hours and a half hours had flew by without anyone realizing it.
As Haynes and the Avetts hugged each other coming offstage, we had heard the sound of a great cover band out on Saturday night. The Avetts covering Jerry Garcia covering Dylan, Chuck, Van and Motown in a homage to the great songbook. If you closed your eyes during “Mission In The Rain” you could visualize Garcia’s spirit still roaming the streets of San Francisco.
Or, to borrow from Bruce Springsteen who, when talking about the late Clarence Clemons, said, if you’re here and we’re here, then he’s here too.