The Saenger Theatre is one of the nicest, oldest, most ornate venues in the city, but on Tuesday, April 18th, the theater was flooded with long-hairs and hippie folk. Outside, gutter punks lay strewn about the entrance near the box office, playing their instruments in hopes of scoring tickets. Inside, flower-clad girls could be seen in all corners of the floor, hula hooping and dancing with light-up toys. Shaggy, bearded men with tie-dye shirts and paisley bandanas were as far as the eye could see, through the smoke, anyway. For a night, the Saenger became an indoor Woodstock.
Bob Weir, former co-frontman and founding member of the infinitely popular forefathers of jam music, the Grateful Dead, came to New Orleans on tour with the “Campfire Band” to continue promoting his latest solo album Blue Mountain. Weir released over 100 recordings when he was with the Dead, as well as some releases with Kingfish, Ratdog, and Bobby and the Midnites. He only put out two “solo” records, however, in 1972 and 1978, and now Blue Mountain is his third. It’s a departure from his normal style, slowing down a bit and reflecting on things forgotten in his past. He worked with many musicians for the record, but most heavily with singer/songwriter Josh Ritter, and Josh Kaufman of the National. Along with Grateful Dead friend, Steve Kimock, Kaufman and other members of the National also form Bob’s backing band for the tour, the Campfire Band.
Bob Weir started the show with an intimate, solo acoustic set of four songs: a Son House cover of “Walkin’ Blues,” “The Music Never Stopped” by the Grateful Dead, “Standing on Shaky Ground” by the Temptations, and the the title track from Blue Mountain. Then, he was joined by the Campfire Band and the music truly never stopped, save for the intermission. Bob and the band breezed through a few songs from his new album, accompanied by a large screen behind them that projected serene images of country mountain life.
The second set was when the fun really started. After the crowd had properly gotten in the mood during the intermission, Bob played “Me and Bobby McGee,” a song he was famous for covering with the Dead, followed by the Dead song “Friend of the Devil.” Just when the audience thought they had had their minds blown enough, the projections took a psychedelic turn toward the past. Beautifully organic and vintage colored oils began to mix in the old fashion of trippy visuals to accompany the next song, a Grateful Dead favorite, “Truckin’.” Needless to say, the hypnotized fans cheered unanimously at the line “Houston, too close to New Orleans.” After playing the Dead’s “Passenger” for the first time ever by himself, Weir surprised the crowd again with the addition of his friend George Porter, Jr. to the band. Together they played Jerry Garcia’s “Sugaree” and “Bird Song,” and by this point, no one in the theater was sitting anymore. After Porter left, Bob and the band ended their set with an immaculate jam of the famous Grateful Dead song combo “China Cat Sunflower” improvised into “I Know You Rider.” They kept in the traditional style of extending sections of the songs for solos and organically transitioning from one to the other. It was just as good, if not better than the way the Dead played it all those years ago. Given how universal and thunderous the crowd’s insistence for an encore was, it was clear they wished the music had never stopped. Bob and the band came back out for one last tune, a very heartwarming rendition of “Peggy O.”