On The Trail with Bob Weir & Wolf Brothers Winter Tour 2023

Article Contributed by David Atchley | Published on Wednesday, March 15, 2023

There’s no other way to describe the Bob Weir & Wolf Brothers winter tour other than stating the obvious—sheer musical brilliance. And that's flat out what's going on here. Trekking across country with near nightly performances, choosing the most intimate, impressive theaters along the way, the Wolf Bros have unleashed such genius, cutting-edge play that this old Deadhead could only shake his head in awe. They were coming at me from so many different levels, and with such zest and creativity, I was dumbstruck in marveling. Should I be surprised? Has any musician ever performed more than Bob Weir? Did I expect anything less? But man, this was another plane! And while I could have never expected what I found, it was precisely my expectations that Weir Wolf was messing with the most, stutter-stepping me at every turn. We’ve all heard these songs so many times before that down in the note-for-note ride we can get ahead of our own listening, jumping into what we think is coming before the happening of its arrival. And right here is where Bobby says, “No.” Turning left when I go right, pausing when I jump ahead, he checks me at every turn. In this way, Bob Weir states unequivocally, "This isn’t the same song.” And with exceptional masterfulness, entices me to listen anew. The words are the same, yet they’re delivered not through the voice of the youthful discovery in which they were conceived, but rather from the age of wisdom and a life lived. And that makes all the difference. The weight of this realization is strikingly inherent within the music being played as well as the depth in which Bobby delivers each line. This Bob Weir reincarnation is by no means a regurgitation of old songs. This is by no means a stagnant reproduction of what once was. The Wolf Brothers are a dynamic manifestation of all that came before and all that’s happening now. And so, while they may be bringing along the old reliable camping gear, we’re definitely climbing a different mountain. After last year’s shows, I couldn’t have imagined a better performance than the one I had seen, yet here before me, growth and energy were all prevalent. Bobby’s never been hotter.

Bob Weir | Ryman Auditorium

Yet Bobby’s hotness cannot be stated properly without acknowledging the parts that form the whole. And when it comes to Wolf Brothers and the Wolf Pack, Bobby’s put together a glorious space ship of talent and deep understanding that ever so seductively calls to the cosmic wanderer in all of us. Gone are the days . . . We just ride. Barry Sless, from the multi-talented band, Moonalice, slips along his pedal steel with magical ease. And while he brings about flashback moments of Jerry’s slide guitar play, he gently pulls you into each song in his own delightful manner, saying, “I am me. Listen. Aren’t I beautiful.” Don Was stands back there with his standup bass so damn cool I think the song just coalesces around him. Still—within the eye of the storm—he shouts, “I am”. Jay Lane bounces around on his drums like famed muppet, Animal, adding childlike exuberance to the beat, throwing his explosions of stuff out there right when it’s needed, always there at every meeting. And of course, Jeff Chimenti has a great talent for erupting from within, his fingers dancing throughout the song like glitter, ever so pleasantly taking us into beautiful showers of melody, occasionally driving the song to new heights. And while Bob stands there at the center, he has no need to be the loudest, or at the forefront, but rather like a great composer he moves the song, is moved by the song, and moves along with the song. A catalyst from the heavens rains down like crazy fingers.

Don Was | Ryman Auditorium

Then, Bam! The Wolf Pack explode onto the scene with horns blazing, strings humming, all of which scream extreme quality of play, know-how, and roads traveled. Grabbing a song for a spin, these guys expertly take you to places you’ve never been—Sometimes it’s with a song, rocking it out to new levels, other times, it’s gently dropping you into some of the finest jazz you’ve ever heard. Mads Tolling’s fiddle play strolls us through a Morning Dew that no one will be forgetting any time soon. Sheldon Brown so easily becomes the bird in Birdsong, we all hope he just keeps on flying. Trumpet in a Dead song? Damn right. Cellist out-rockin’ rock-n-rollers? Hell yeah. They not only have some serious jazz play going down, but also enlighten and expand the song with their symphonic abilities, and all this coming from boys who know how to just rock. Bob Weir and Wolf Brothers featuring the Wolf Pack are bringing about a style of play that’s never been done before. Time to stick your head out the window, hang your tongue in the wind, and go for the ride.

Wolf Brothers featuring the Wolf Pack | Nashville, TN

Cruising into Chattanooga’s Soldiers & Sailors Auditorium, I was pleasantly surprised to witness a band in a very goofy mood. Sounding a bit fuzzy and all over the place to begin with, I was quick to realize this was by design as the show tightened up. (Or maybe that was just me?) Bobby goes on to constantly switch guitars throughout the night, playing acoustically on several different occasions. Part way through the first set, Bobby thinks to chat with the audience, adding after a pause, “But I don’t have dick to say.” We laugh. Jay reminds him of a time. Bob butchers the funniest of stories with a delightful air. We’re connecting, chatting like old friends. What’s not to love?

Jay Lane | Nashville, TN

This connection with the audience, and the band’s playful mood, permeates their sound in such a way we’re all left to wonder, “Are we getting a special show? Have the stars aligned in our favor?” And like the silence a wonderful meal brings about, we take it in, quiet, as our minds fill with the deliciousness of the moment. A phenomenal flute solo by Brown flies by at one point, Chimenti swirls us into flourish. Weir slips in little solos as he lets the talent around him go off. I go to sing a line that’s to come, but Bob stops, bends down to the floor as if he had dropped something, then comes up and sings the line. Just left us out there, paused us in our stride, just a smile left on his face. Is he being silly? Messing with us? We love it! I feel as if he is playing with me all night, knocking my expectations off kilter at every turn, offering me something I had never heard before. Just mind-blowing music, all over the place, right there. Phenomenal interplay, gorgeous sounds springing forth everywhere. The band and I meet in so many places, and always, they have something to say. And I was listening. I like this Bob. And his friends too. We can just keep on talking, share some space in this lifestream. Newness arises in the strangest of places. And it’s all here to see, to hear, to feel, oh so dizzy with eternity. I too, am all of you.

Bob Weir & Wolf Brothers featuring the Wolf Pack | Ryman Auditorium

In Nashville, the Ryman sits like an old acoustic above a guitar strap of establishments, each brightly claiming to celebrate booze, cowboy boots, music, and food. Aged ever so nicely with the spirit of the many greats that have played upon it’s strings, the Grand Ole Opry truly sings above the fray. Yet with the streets opened up to pedestrian traffic, each place fully bustling and alive, the show encompasses it all, and I am reminded of a wondrous, medieval carnival-like air that opens me to past Dead shows. Character is alive and on display. How many fans and musicians have filled these holes? Walked this path? We become the forming cells of a body that lives through all who dare walk her streets. As particles flowing upon a time stream of excitement, we enter, pouring into pew, thrilled to share the same life span as the Grateful Dead.

Ryman Auditorium | "Mother Church of Country Music"

With one of the best sound systems of the bunch, I feel the pews of the Ryman vibrate from underneath, placing me ever so sweetly inside the music. This crowd really wants Bobby to know how much we love him, how excited we are to see him, and we loudly sing away with him in reckless abandon. Stomping our feet madly, our hearts fill with the intimacy of the auditorium. “What songs do you think we’ll get tonight?” Someone asks? People shout out their wishes. And like children, we anxiously await each song like a coming present. We wonder, will the next one be it? What appears never disappoints.

Wolf Bros 3/11/23 | Ryman

With their winter tour, Bob Weir & Wolf Bros responded like Jolly Saint Nick, spreading stocking stuffers all up and down the Midwest and south, playing with symphonies, pulling songs from all over the place. Taken through a wonderfully fun Viola Lee, I’m thrilled as Wharf Rat rumbles forth with such beauty of sound. No way, a Weather Report and Terrapin. The Other One, Dark Star. Stella Blue. Perhaps Marvin Gaye or the Beatles, some RatDog. Delight ripples throughout as Black Bird flutters around the theater. The Wolf Pack blow up a song fantastically. Eyes comes forth as if Bob said, “Or, we could play it like this.” Awesome! And oh, what a Morning Dew. So epic. But be warned, when Bobby drapes the old acoustic over his shoulder for an encore, and sings Knockin’ with such depth and feeling, a tear will be shed. A heaviness hits. So beautiful.

Bob Weir & Jay Lane | Wolf Brothers

And while it would be so easy to continue into great soliloquy about all the amazing things that happened in the course of this tour, what went down with each meeting of note and sound, or how each song carried you away into awesomeness, I will not detract from the musical experience by offering you mere words of description, may as well count the angels dancing on a pin. I only offer these puny thoughts so that you may choose to partake in the happening that is Bob Weir & Wolf Brothers for yourself. And as a special gift, Bob Weir and Nugs TV have gone the extra generous mile on this one. Returning to the ‘music is free’ theme, Weir Wolf and Nugs TV have released the live audio tracks from the tour through YouTube. So go listen to this library of incredible, mind-bending music. And yes, we all know there is nothing like the live event experienced in person, so you might want to do that, yet I will say, there is a lot to be said for a solid home sound system unleashing this madness in just the way you like. I drift into Wharf Rat from the Chattanooga show as I write this. Oh so sublime.

Recently seeing that Bobby had granted an interview with CBS a few months back I note that he comments on the challenge in bringing new insight from something that’s been said a million times before. Well first off, “Success!” I say. Yet I don’t want to disregard his thoughts on this that simply, so I will go on to add that for the youth of today, it hasn’t been said a million times before, not to them anyway. Yes, there was a first time for all of us, a first realization had that changed our lives, and there are many more waiting to be born. When a dandelion sends its seeds out upon the wind, it doesn’t say, “I’ve done this a million times before, what’s the point?” It plays its part in upholding the constant regeneration of existence, illuminating the process of newness that keeps life flowing for each arising set of eyes. And while Bob accredits his inner character for the music that flows from within him, rather than he himself, I believe we can thank him for assembling the parts of his current musical ensemble in this timeless blossoming flower. Think on all the enlightened moments, burgeoning musicians, music festivals and art, friendships and connections that have come together to form the Grateful Dead Rose—So many seeds spread. So many flowers blooming. So happy to be a part. Keep spreading seeds Bobby, keep spreading seeds.

Ryman Auditorium

This musical growth upon the soundscape of mind, this happening of the Dead, both transcends and incorporates the moments of its arising. So I would be remiss if I did not include what we always say. “It’s not just about the music, but the family, the people.” We are the notes that form the song. We are here for the camaraderie that is born from, and that is constantly giving birth to, the Grateful Dead movement. We are here to see ourselves popping out of the mass that is everyone. Each of us arising from our own time and space, each of us a living embodiment of what this movement means to us. It’s a place where we all channel our inner character, let all the pieces of the moment speak for itself, emerging from both afar and from within the happenings right in the moment of togetherness. And what a beautiful song we make.

Alex Kelly | Wolf Pack Cellist | Nashville, TN

I encounter this generational connection during the Ryman set break with a jolly, gray-haired gentlemen and his wife. (I got no dime, but I got some time to hear his story.) He tells me of going to Dead shows in ’71, how it changed his life, how fortunate he felt to have been there. His wife dotes with a twinge of envy as she shares her meaning-filled stories of ’77. Now here they are, together, seeing Bobby from tens of feet away, so excited. Literally, Bobby’s right there! I stroll on to run into a youthful man in his early twenties. He’s selling a picture he made, showing all the not-so-subliminal Terrapin etchings, each portraying a different line. He shares his story of discovery. I see myself from all those years ago looking back at me. He excitedly tells me of running into Bobby’s daughter, Chloe, at different shows, who’s been touring with her dad. In the midst of taking pictures, filming, soaking it all in, who’s to say what all she’s doing and gathering, but she left this young man with a happy heart and a joyous telling of story. We have no idea the effects we have, the way we change others’ lives, we can only move out into the world with good intent and a wonder-filled heart. For my wife and I, we too have our Dead story. And its wondrous. Appreciation and love run hand-in-hand. So Bob, you just let that character in you keep right on singing and playing, because in life, as with Weir Wolf, newness abounds, discovery lives on, and awakening is there to be had.

Bob Weir, The Man

“Water bright as the sky from which it came.”