Grateful Dawg

This 2000 documentary explores the musical partnership between David Grisman and Jerry Garcia, the world’s greatest mandolinist and guitarist respectively. Sorry if that’s controversial. People get very opinionated about mandolin players.

Directed by Grisman’s daughter Gillian, the film has a charming home movie quality that invites you into the living room with two friends who were so musically compatible they even looked the same. Their wonderful performances are included in full, padded out to 80 minutes (one-fifth of which is taken up by a single song, Arabia) by a level of adulation that feels odd given how niche the acoustic pair were, but then again when someone has a Ben & Jerry’s flavour named after them no amount of praise seems excessive.

We get the same sense of contradiction conveyed in the (very) Long Strange Trip doc, of a countercultural hero obsessed with traditional music. This was a man who loved playing so much that he went on tour even in the brief windows when the Grateful Dead weren’t, and in later life Grisman’s home became a safe haven from the burden of Garcia’s celebrity. Also featured is Justin Kreutzmann’s (son of Grateful Dead drummer Bill) video for the duo’s jazzy version of B.B. King’s The Thrill Is Gone, perhaps the only time Garcia wore a tie in his entire life (despite designing¬†a signature line of them).

In the end what Grateful Dawg lacks in structure it makes up for in music and intimacy. It’s ragged but right, as Jerry would say.

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