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Grateful Dawg

celebration of the lives and music of Jerry Garcia and David Grisman

When Jerry Garcia and David Grisman met at a Bill Monroe concert in 1964, they were both young musicians who had yet to make their respective marks on the music world. Jerry, of course, would go on to become the patriarch of the Grateful Dead Nation. David, dubbed the Dawg by Garcia, became the world's foremost mandolin player. Their styles differed, but both men shared a love of bluegrass roots, and they loved to play. Gillian Grisman's new documentary Grateful Dawg is a celebration of their friendship, a friendship that brought so much great music into the world.

Grateful Dawg is comprised of ten chapters, each one representing a specific musical period in the relationship between Jerry and David. Each chapter takes on the name of a song, and each song is played in its entirety - a stipulation imposed on the film's production by Gillian's father.

The Dawg agreed to give Gillian access to various unreleased musical recordings made over the years on the condition that any and all music included in the film be played in its entirety. Translation: Lots of rare live footage taken from performances at Sweetwater in Mill Valley and San Francisco's famous Warfield Theatre.

Unreleased audio tracks found in Grateful Dawg span the thirty-year friendship between Garcia and Grisman. Tracks include "Dawg's Waltz", "Sitting Here in Limbo", "Off to Sea Once More", and the 16-minute "Arabia."

Aside from the great live concert and recording studio footage, the strength of this film rests in the feeling of family Gillian Grisman has captured. My home movies, and most likely yours as well, feature such figures as your grandparents at Thanksgiving dinner. The Grisman home videos happen to include David and Jerry jamming in the living room while dogs and infants coexist happily on the floor around them.

There's no doubt that this friendship was much deeper than a musical one. Jerry was a member of the Grisman family; that much is evident when seeing members of the Grisman family, in interviews, talking about the way it was in the house when Jerry was around. Their Mill Valley home was a respite from the madness surrounding the Dead, a place where he could just go and play music.

This is a film that truly exposes the friendship between two men who grew up loving the purity of bluegrass music. Each had their own style; Jerry made David play more loosely than he normally would, and David tightened Jerry's rambling guitar work. They even look similar: two portly men with black tee shirts, goofy smiles, and bushy beards. At one point Pam Grisman, David's wife, calls them "beards of a feather."

Grateful Dawg is a music-intensive experience. Again, each song is seen and heard in its entirety, which may prove tedious for those who aren't enthusiasts. For the rest of us, however, it's a godsend. Seeing these two onstage together or taking cues off of one another in the recording studio is nothing short of a treat.


Grateful Dawg
rated PG-13
1 hour 21 minutes

Joe Craven
Jerry Garcia
David Grisman
Jim Kerwin