Workingman's Dead at the Winter Garden
"Deadheads doing the hippie dance" and "World Financial Center" maybe aren't the most obvious of pairings, but last Saturday night they went together just fine in the WFC's soaring Winter Garden, as a line-up of bluegrass and folky musicians played their way through the Grateful Dead's 1970 classic, Workingman's Dead. The concert was free, the audience was in the thousands (so packed, in fact, that they had to close the building to latecomers), and Debbie, myself, and gallery expert Eric enjoyed a pleasant, somewhat nostalgic evening amongst the palm trees and tie dyes.
Truth be told, I was never really into the Dead (I was more of a Stones/Clash/Talking Heads kid in high school), though I did see them once in the late 70s, probably at Giant's Stadium. This put me in the distinct minority at Saturday's show, during which a stunning number of people raised their hand to the question: "How many of you have seen the Dead live more than 100 times?" I mean, c'mon... I have family members I haven't seen more than 100 times!
Anyway, the Winter Garden concert was structured like this: eight different bands or ad hoc groupings were assigned a different song from Workingman's Dead, which they were encouraged to interpret any way they liked. Some rendititions were safe and breezy (Ollabelle's Uncle John's Band), some forced and clunky (The Klezmatics's Cumberland Blues), but in my opinion the true star of the night was Catherine Russell (pictured at top, thanks to the New York Times), whose powerful, soulful voice made her three songs by far the best of the night, especially her harmonizing performance with The Holmes Brothers on High Times. Also worth mentioning was the amiable emceeing of NPR's John Schaefer (Eric thought there was too much chatter between songs, that it broke the flow of the music; I didn't mind so much, and felt it fit with the casual vibe of the night), and an everyone-up-onstage encore of Knockin' On Heaven's Door, which got the whole crowd on their feet.
On Sunday a different roster performed the Dead's American Beauty, and last year there was a similiar concert here, in which Bruce Spingsteen's Nebraska was performed. These are fun, free, family-friendly shows, and definitely worth keeping an eye out for in the future.