A review of  Grateful Dawg” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for language

Run Time: 1 hour, 21 minutes

 

The little-known collaboration between mandolin virtuoso David Grisman and the Grateful Dead’s banjo-picking (!) Jerry Garcia is the topic of this warm, insightful documentary, directed with palpable affection by Grisman’s eldest daughter Gillian.

Jerry Garcia fans will delight in the personal, behind-the-scenes glimpses of the man and co-founder of one of rock and roll’s legendary psychedelic bands. Garcia and Grisman were born of the same cosmic egg, enthusiastic musicologists in search of an emotional connection that only song could provide.  From the early 70s, as founders and  bandmates of the wildly popular bluegrass group Old & In the Way, to their 1990s conception of a traditional acoustical band titled simply the Garcia/Grisman Band, these two musical geniuses unleashed a powerful dynamic through personal differences.

This is not a for-fans-only film, though Grisman/Garcia devotees will thrill to rare video footage from San Francisco’s Warfield Theatre and Mill Valley’s Sweetwater club. Not to mention the connected rhythms of such unreleased live audio tracks as “Sweet Sunny South”, “Sittin’ Here in Limbo”, and “Grateful Dawg”.  A couple of the numbers drag on a bit, but the 17-minute musical saga “Arabia” is an inspiration – mysterious, exotic and transporting.  A relationship that spanned their first auspicious meeting in 1964 (at a Bill Monroe concert at Sunset Park in Pennsylvania) to Garcia’s untimely death in 1995 – thirty years of professional peaks and valleys. Theirs was a creatively fruitful partnership that developed into a melodious embarrassment of riches.

Director Gillian Grisman says the genesis of her film came from the home movies she shot of casual living-room jam sessions.  Her Dad gave his cinematic blessing, on one condition.  She was to cut the film using the complete versions of the performed songs.  Pere Grisman’s point?  If you’re going to make a movie about musicians, make it about the music.