By: Derek Jung
The National guitarist Bryce Dessner once again put together a diverse and eclectic lineup for the 11th installment of his MusicNOW Festival, which takes place every year in various locations around downtown Cincinnati. This year, the festival kicked off with a performance by legendary rhythm guitarist and founding Grateful Dead member Bob Weir. Dessner and the rest of The National are fresh off the release of their massive 10 LP collaborative box set of Grateful Dead covers (which, if you haven't listened to it yet, it is stunning), so it wasn't surprising that Dessner tapped Weir to perform. Weir himself released Blue Mountains last fall, which was his first album of all original material in nearly 30 years.
Weir came out alone on stage to begin the first of two sets, diving straight into the aforementioned Blue Mountains accompanying himself with only an acoustic guitar. Weir's voice, strained with age, echoed wonderfully off the enormous Aronoff Center facade. Before long, Weir was joined by "The Campfire Band", or Aaron Dessner, Bryan Devendorf, and Scott Devendorf of The National as well as Jon Shaw from Shakey Graves and Josh Kaufman, who co-produced Blue Mountains. Vocalist Lisa Hannigan also contributed her beautiful voice to a few songs, including "Lay My Lily Down" during the first set and "Peggy-O" during the second. The setlist was pretty diverse, with a healthy mix of solo material from Blue Mountains and classic Grateful Dead songs. The jams were adventurous, but for the most part did not stray away from a defined structure, with Weir physically signaling to the group when he wanted to transition. Some of those transitions were a bit clunky, but I'll attribute this more to not having years and years of experience with each other.
The crowd was a pleasant mix of older Dead Head stoners, and young people. It was amusing watching the terrified looks slowly grow on the Aronoff Center ushers' faces as the unmistakable aroma of marijuana grew heavier as the show went on. I think it's safe to say that more weed was smoked that night than has even been smoked in the theater before. But it was mood spoiler during the second set when ushers got strict with any suspected puff of smoke or cell phone light. You'd think the Aronoff Center would have anticipated the crowd would be lighting up.
All in all, another great act put on by MusicNOW. The show was well attended for a Thursday night, and I was happy to see a crowd so engaged and enthusiastic. We owe Dessner quite a bit for bringing such great collaborative music to Cincinnati, and we need to be sure that it continues well into the future.
Who are we?
Derek Jung and Joseph Kathmann -- Just two ordinary (debatable) guys that love talking about music. You can read more about us here: