Bobby Weir & Wolf Bros with Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Close Out Epic Weekend

Photos and Review by Max Stewart

Bob Weir will forever be part of the cultural fabric of music as a founding member of the iconic jam pioneers, The Grateful Dead. After the untimely passing of Jerry Garcia, Weir has created many musical projects with the band’s extensive catalog as a centerpiece to them all (including Ratdog, Dead & Company, & Furthur).

Back in 2018, he also formed Bobby Weir & Wolf Bros, a trio which includes legendary producer Don Was on double bass, Jay Lane on drums, and Weir on guitar and vocals. Over time, there have been more layers added to their sound, with Jeff Chimenti (Keys) and Greg Leisz (Pedal Steel Guitar) joining the mix in 2020.

The pack has grown even stronger with additional musicians called The Wolfpack sitting in for some shows this year. This musical extension includes an array of superb string and brass players: Alex Kelly (Cello), Brian Switzer (Trumpet), Adam Theis (Tenor Trombone), Mads Tolling (Violin) and Sheldon Brown (Tenor and Alto Saxophone, Clarinet, Flute).

But when Weir had a successful run of shows with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. last fall, the Wolf Bros and The Wolfpack officially achieved apex musicality. It was such a rare and special concert occurrence, with all attendees that had the good fortune to witness the shows raving about the results. So when the three-night run with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at Atlanta Symphony Hall was announced, the tickets were quick to sell out.

Epic‘ is a term that often gets overused and can lose its luster as a descriptor. This musical collaboration, however, defines an epic show experience in every sense of the word. The sound of the full orchestration alone in Atlanta Symphony Hall is enough to give any concertgoer goosebumps. Combine that with Weir and timeless Dead songs amongst the communal positivity of the band’s fanbase… and you’ve got an epic, once in a lifetime musical event.

Just outside the venue on Sunday night, there were dozens of Deadheads with one finger in the air looking for a miracle last minute ticket to the final show of the three-night run. The crowd itself ranged from Boomers to Zoomers, with a mix of fans wearing suits, tie dyes, and even a few making a combo: tuxes with tied-dyed tuxedo shirts. That look just about defined the dichotomy of the buttoned-up musicianship of an orchestra with the open-ended instrumentation of the Dead’s songs, which somehow blended together in perfect harmony.

It was a bit surreal seeing the crowd seated quietly for the “Overture” beginning of the show, with a handful of fans dancing in the aisle to the orchestra. Soon after, orchestra leader Steven Reineke introduced Weir and the Wolfpack to a string of applause and the full crowd rising to greet the band, who were dapperly dressed for the occasion in black tuxes. Without skipping a beat, the musical ensemble launched into the iconic “Shakedown Street,” which packed the aisles of fans dancing in the “heart of town” venue in Atlanta on Peachtree Street.

The set chugged along on “Row Jimmy,” with each orchestral stroke continuing to mesmerize. The first set ended with the Weir solo tune “Cassidy,” a moving rendition that further showcased the flawless musicianship of the award-winning orchestra alongside the Wolf Bros. The original orchestration was provided by Stanford University professor and composer Dr. Giancarlo Aquilanti, who was introduced to bows and applause by Weir. As the Marin Independent Journal noted: “Since the 63-year-old composer is from a small Italian hill town and studied classical composition in Italian conservatories, he didn’t grow up listening to American popular music. So Weir has had to familiarize him with the Grateful Dead’s particular style of Americana folk rock.”

The set break featured a lobby full of fans with jaws on the floor, reveling in what we were all experiencing. The second set started with the Weir / Hunter tune “Jack Straw,” picking up right where they left off and drawing everyone back into the enchanting sonic experience.

“We played this the other night, but we need to practice,” Weir mentioned before the “Terrapin Station” experience, a major highlight of the night. They performed a suite of Terrapin songs including “Lady With A Fan” > “Terrapin Station” > “Terrapin Transit” > “At A Siding” before going into “Terrapin Flyer.” They even reprised “Terrapin Station” at the end of the set during “Uncle John’s Band.” The monstrous ebbs and flows of the songs were so colorful, and I really hope there is a professional recording of the show so we can revisit the dynamic density of the Terrapin-fueled second set.

The end of night featured The Wolf Bros and The Wolfpack sans orchestra for three staples to cap off the joyous weekend: “Estimated Prophet” and “Truckin'” > “Not Fade Away.” This was a highly captivating show, with so many musical elements to process. The intimacy of the Atlanta Symphony Hall combined with the acoustical engineering of the room absolutely elevated the beauty of the event and it all exceeded expectations. I actually attended with another massive music fan that is far from a Deadhead. He agreed, however, it was one of the best shows he has ever seen.

They say that once a song is written and released it really just exists in the ether, open for interpretation and appreciation by all. The Grateful Dead’s catalog is so vast and revered that it will live on for many new listeners to discover. Having one of the founding members of the band continue to find unique ways to present this music to longtime fans and new generations alike is a mighty impressive feat. This orchestral accompaniment may the most ambitious and greatest success during Weir’s illustrious and varied career. A long strange trip indeed.

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