To say the Ryman stage has seen more than its fair share of legends grace its stage would be like saying the Atlantic Ocean has seen its fair share of fish – its one of the few places anywhere that legendary acts cavorting about atop those old Opry boards are a dime a dozen. That being said, such a fact rarely ever comes into play with regard to the quality of the shows, no matter who is playing on any given night.
Every once in a while, however, there are legendary acts that put on such unequivocally sublime performances that it becomes difficult to maintain the perspective that there are acts that came before them who have put on equally sublime performances. All this to be said, Bob Weir’s recent stint at the Ryman made for one of the most memorable evenings at The Mother Church of this past decade, no doubt about it.
Typically, one might scoff at the thought of Bob Weir coming through Nashville to play at the Ryman of all places – a friend who was unfamiliar with Weir’s bluegrass record, Blue Mountain, quipped, “That’s a damn Halloween amphitheatre show,” as he assumed Weir would be playing nothing but Dead tracks – but in actuality, Weir’s tour in support of Blue Mountain is arguably one of the most perfectly suited for the Mother Church. With that in mind, there was certainly no shortage of attendees enthusiastically sporting their finest of Grateful Dead and festival garb in order to properly experience an evening at the Ryman with Bob.
Taking the former Opry stage by his lonesome with a magnificent fifteen by twenty-some odd LED screen projecting pastoral Wyeth-esque scenes filled with equal parts granduer and ramshackle, Weir effectively “gave the people what they wanted” by opening the first set of the evening (he was in Grateful Dead, after all) with a solo rendition of “Loose Lucy” – which garnered more than a few hollers at the “for a real good time” hook – followed by an excellent acoustic cover of Little Feat’s “Easy Slip” dedicated to Weir’s “Good pal, Lowell” – George of Little Feat and Grateful Dead -before taking a moment to reference running away from home at 15 to become a “cowpoke, only to be quickly disavowed.” Weir went on to recollect his memories of spending evenings in the ranch bunkhouse with the “real” cowpokes, accompanying them every which way on the ranch, serving as their radio, plucking out chords to soothe the cowpokes’ physical toil.
Weir then took a moment to commemorate his only cowboy hat, which he would have gladly worn on that particular evening at them Ryman, but he admitted he had “left it in the rodeo ring as the LED screen shifted to a campfire scene and Weir dove into the into the eponymous track off his much ballyhooed bluegrass record, Blue Mountain. Despite the large number of attendees wearing their finest in festival fashion, the crowd was understandably reverent during Weir’s bluegrass songs, as puffs of thick vapors hung in the air serving as distraction for the increasingly teary eyed audience grew more and more sentimental after each subsequent track.
Touted as an evening with Bob Weir and friends – a group of which included the Devendorfs of The National fame, alongside Steve Kimock, Jon Shaw, and Blue Mountain producer Josh Kaufman – Weir was finally joined by his aforementioned “friends” to break into full band versions of Blue Mountain tracks such as “Only A River,” “Lay My Lily Down” (A personal favorite), and “Gonesville” before taking the first break of the evening. Weir and friends returned after their brief performance hiatus for the evening with a cover of Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” and two more Grateful Dead tracks in “Tennessee Jed” and “West L.A. Fadeaway” before running through additional Blue Mountain tracks.
Weir closed the evening with an encore of “Ki-Yo Bossie” and “Ripple,” thusly capping what was ultimately an ethereal and affecting evening, no doubt satisfying the desires of Dead Heads and Bluegrass purists alike. Despite the rumors of a Trey Anastasio cameo performance proving to be false, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the Mother Church that left unsatisfied by their evening with Bob Weir.