By Mary Ought Six
Photos & video by Mike Hughes
On Thursday, July 19, the David Grisman Sextet took the stage at NYC’s City Winery. It was the first time Grisman played the venue with his Sextet, and they nailed it. The group of extraordinarily talented musicians fit perfectly on the intimate stage and filled the room with jazzy – almost bossa nova-sounding – tunes to start things off.
Grisman is a whirl of fingers and hair as he strums and looks from one to another of his fellow players, issuing cues. In fact, one of the most enjoyable aspects of seeing him live is the onstage give and take. The Sextet was fine form, moving and grooving collectively to the signature Dawg sound with big builds and soft, twangy interludes that would build right back up before winding down into finales that were clear and lovely.
David Grisman’s City Winery shows carry an intimate, family vibe. In fact, when he last appeared at the venue in March of this year it was with his Folk Jazz Trio, which features his son Sam on upright bass. This time around Grisman was playing with Mike Barnett, who also plays fiddle in the Deadly Gentlemen with Sam. As the group’s newest member, Grisman humorously credited Barnett with helping the band graduate from quintet to sextet.
Flutist Matt Eakle brought both the flute and bass flute to the stage. And while the standard flute he played for the majority of the show was in accord with the evening’s tunes, the deep, haunting sound of the bass flute was a rare treat. Each note rolled off the last and recalled one of those scenes from a Bond film where the room transforms from spy lab to love palace. Yup. It was that hot and smart.
Classic Grisman/Garcia pieces like “Grateful Dawg” and “Shady Grove” brought on nostalgic heart tugging, as did a beautiful homage to Doc Watson, “The Watson Blues.” Fifty years ago, when Grisman was only 17, Watson was the first professional musician to invite David up on stage to play. It was a monumental moment that Grisman still speaks of fondly.
As is often the case, dedications ran rampant and songs went out to Grisman’s wife Tracy, her son George, a visiting cousin, and others. With two long sets, there’s plenty of time for love, and speaking of which, being graced with the banjo love of legendary Tony Trischka for two fabulous tunes cannot go unmentioned. It was an edge of your seat, mandolin/banjo playoff, but in the end Trischka dominated while Grisman accompanied with slow, appreciative nods.
Though both sets have been mentioned, like most things Grisman, a little circular repetition never hurts, especially when improvising. The second set sounded like musical storytelling to start off, maybe a love lost or found, but without the urgency of dramatics. And then guest star John Sebastian joined the stage from Grisman’s early group, the “Even Dozen Jug Band” with harmonica sounds that, intentionally or not, mimicked Satchmo’s trumpet on the bluegrass tunes with the impeccable rhythms of percussionist George Marsh keeping time.
It warrants mentioning that, just as much as he loves to get down, Grisman loves the green. During one of our previous interviews, if fact, he joked that in the days that he and Jerry Garcia were jamming, it seemed that it was always Grisman who was holding, and Garcia more than happy to put a dent in the stash. On this evening, the entire crowd was high on blue grass. And we’d like to offer a big thanks to David Grisman and family, who we are always more than pleased to see.
Check out a few minutes of the Garcia/Grisman classic “Grateful Dawg:"
Listen to the Free Weed interview with David Grisman (beginning at the 10:45 mark):