GRATEFUL DAWG (director: Gillian Grisman; cinematographers: Jessie Block /Rand Crook; editor: Josh Baron; cast: Joe Craven, Jerry Garcia, David Grisman, Jim Kerwin; Runtime: 81; Sony Pictures Classics; 2000)
“It’s a laid-back musical documentary featuring the lead guitarist and singer for the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia, and his friend, mandolin virtuoso, David Grisman.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Grateful Dawg is directed by Gillian Grisman, she is the daughter of the musician David Grisman. It’s a laid-back musical documentary featuring the lead guitarist and singer for the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia, and his friend, mandolin virtuoso, David Grisman. David acts as a disciplinarian to the free spirit Jerry, as each generously brings out the best in the other. The bluegrass music enthusiastically played by Garcia, might surprise even the Deadheads who thought they knew everything about their leader’s taste in music. These two bearded, overweight lookalikes, and musical soul mates, met at a Bill Munroe bluegrass festival in Pennsylvania’s Sunset Park in 1964 and in 1973 started a progressive acoustic bluegrass band with Peter Rowan and Vassar Clements called ‘Old and in the Way.’ By the time their record came out in 1975, they had a falling out over the recording contract and the innovative band disbanded. After not talking to each other since then, they casually met in 1991 and resumed their friendship as if nothing had happened and remained friends and produced five record albums until Garcia’s untimely death in 1995 at age 53.
This film is a record of their music and good vibes and warmth and friendship and creative spirit they shared when they played together during those five years they were reunited. It includes footage from their initial reunion in the Sweetwater concert at Mill Valley, California, where they played along with bass player Jim Kerwin and percussionist Joe Craven.
Garcia appears to be a creative person without pretensions. His love for many of the American musical idioms and in particular bluegrass music, shows that he was a more serious student of music than many might have thought.
The film is broken up into as many as 10 titled historical/musical chapters, as it traces their friendship and musical kinship through their folk music roots by using photos, live recordings, home videos, concert footage, interviews with them about their personal recollections, and it also conducts interviews with their family and friends and associates.
The heart of the film is of Jerry and David performing together with other band members. Some of the songs heard in their entirety are: Pig In A Pen, Freight Train, Grateful Dawg, Off To Sea Once More, Friend Of The Devil, Sitting Here In Limbo, The Thrill Is Gone, Arabia, Jenny Jenkins, Sweet Sunny South, Dawg’s Waltz, and some whaling shanties.
The genial one-time banjo player Garcia nicknames David, as Dawg. It’s an affectionate name that is fitting for this talented musician. The film seems miles away from the limelight of the musical world, as most of it is shot in the studio/living room of Dave’s friendly house where the music happily bounces off the walls and the artists seem so relaxed and creative and inspired.
REVIEWED ON 2/16/2002 GRADE: A-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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