Bob Weir, Bearsville Theater, Woodstock, NY – 9/3
Photo by Prof. Ed McCarthy
Despite the devastation to the Catskills brought on by Hurricane Irene, this somehow was the place to be. With electricity restored and downed trees cleared, the town was gearing up to help the neighboring communities wiped out by the storm. The Woodstock spirit, for some, was uplifted by the news that Grateful Dead icon Bob Weir was in town, playing Friday night with Levon Helm at the Midnight Ramble and Saturday night solo acoustic at Bearsville.
With Furthur in full tilt until the end of October and the recent launch of his innovative TRI Studios, Weir made room to embark on his first ever solo tour. As a master collaborator, it’s a very bold and brave move to undertake for the first time at age 64. No back-up, simply a man and his guitar, he went full circle to where he first began, and he carried the night with a radiant and very touching performance.
On the edge of a receding creek, the small venue generated an electricity of its own. The audience skewed more on the mature side as friends and followers, spanning several decades, came by to show their love. When Weir took the stage and kicked off his sandals, the mood in the room was both raucous and reverent. Standing alone, with just the song hanging between the performer and the audience, Weir communicated in a fresh new way, and showed a different side of himself. He was mindful of the song selection, keeping the dynamic powerful yet personal. The lyrics took on a deeper meaning with every song and had more of an emotional pull when played acoustically. With an acute focus, it made you feel he was speaking directly to you.
Weir conveyed “this is the only time I wrote a song over the telephone” and began the evening with “The Music Never Stopped”, the audience clapped and sang along, next was “Minglewood Blues” and Dylan’s “She Belongs To Me”. His soothing, deep-toned voice hasn’t diminished one bit over the years and he has never sounded better. He joked about the start of his musical career “50 years ago I was in a jug band and on New Years Eve I met Jerry, we had so much fun playing together, I said we outta make a living doing this”.
The next song “KC Moan” was from the primitive blues and jug band era. Heartfelt and tender moments were felt with “Looks Like Rain”, “Peggy-O”, “Liberty”, the set ended with “Corrina” to roars of applause.
Overheard conversations during the break included “gave me goosebumps”, “this evening is so special”, “extraordinary”, “this will stay with me forever”, and ‘it made me teary-eyed”. Speaking with Woodstock musician, Mike Mulvey, he offered “my bass playing and approach to life has been shaped, in part, by the Grateful Dead’s music and community. It was fun to watch and listen to Bobby stretch out on some pretty heavy rhythmic vehicles. He plays a lot like a jazz pianist, so I was wondering how the songs would sound in an ultra stripped down arrangement. He’d lay out the grooves and then weave in that slippery, cagey stuff that he’s known for; defining the grooves in relief. He’s clever and he was having fun. “Corrina” stood up exceptionally well to this treatment. His singing was really the kick though, he really shined.”
Weir returned to the open embrace of the audience with a midtempo “Mississippi Half Step- Uptown Toodleloo.” The second set had more extended instrumentals, especially on “The Other One”. “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” and “Ashes and Glass” were sung with deep conviction with some of Weir’s best vocal work ever, but “Days Between” was the highlight- so powerful. It took a lot of physical endurance to maintain the energy, but Weir is a pro at this and gave us his finest work.
The fans sang along on the last two songs “Throwing Stones” and “Not Fade Away” and you could tell they really meant it when they sang “our love is real, not fade away”. The encore was the beautiful, spiritual, and healing “Ripple” sung along with what felt like a dear old friend. With spirits running high and feeling no pain, we left the building and were greeted to a flourish of local Woodstock color- the sight of a gorgeously tie-dye painted Jaguar parked out front.