Suit-and-Tie Venue Welcomes Tie-Dye Diehards at Heinz Hall

PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra issued a notice to ticket holders prior to Tuesday’s Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration, offering a friendly reminder of basic symphony etiquette for those who may be new to classical music performances or other events in the city’s cultural district.

That polar disparity between suit-and-tie swank and tie-dye hedonism made for a long, strange trip to Heinz Hall Tuesday night as an eclectic mix of music lovers gathered for the first symphony concert celebrating the music of the late, great Grateful Dead frontman. The show’s eagerly anticipated debut in Pittsburgh was the first in a series of nine Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebrations being performed across the nation this summer with various orchestras.

Uncertainty about how things would unfold – and particularly how the capacity crowd of diehard Deadheads would react to this unusual environment – in many ways set the stage for the night. The man who led the show, rock guitarist and vocalist Warren Haynes, also was taking on a challenge of venturing into new and uncharted musical waters.

Haynes was asked by representatives of the Jerry Garcia estate to front the symphonic venture. Himself an accomplished jam band veteran fronting Gov’t Mule and playing with the Allman Brothers Band for decades, Haynes is no stranger to the music of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead. He has played extensively alongside Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh and with all the remaining members of the legendary band when they toured as The Dead, playing in Garcia’s role on lead guitar.

Although Haynes said he has always wanted to perform with an orchestra, he had never done so until Tuesday night, when he walked onto the stage at Heinz Hall, strapped on Jerry Garcia’s iconic Wolf guitar (that he is using for the entire tour) and nodded to conductor Fawzi Haimor a count-off that led the PSO into the opening strains of “Dark Star.”

Members of the symphony seemed taken back by the euphoric roar of an enthusiastic crowd after each song, and Haynes seemed satisfied that the collaborations worked well on each song, from a fantastic “Bird Song” to a grooving “West L.A. Fadeaway.”

“We’ve chosen a very diverse list of songs from the extensive Jerry Garcia-related catalogue, and in true spirit of the original music, will be leaving room for improvisation and approaching the symphonic arrangements from a non-traditional direction,” Haynes stated in the program. “We are also going to vary the set lists to some extent for fans that want to attend multiple shows.

“I’m very excited about doing these shows. This is a beautiful challenge for me, and I’m honored to have been chosen as the first guest artist in what will hopefully become a continuing series.”