Blue Mountain, only Weir’s third truly solo album and his first since 1978, is an atmospheric Country/Americana album released last year that features what the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer calls “cowboy songs,” reflecting a style he occasionally brought to the Dead’s canon. The new material — which, in an interview with Dan Rather, Weir said was inspired by a summer job he had at a ranch in Wyoming when he was 15 years old — was crafted with acclaimed singer/songwriter Josh Ritter (who performed last year at Cincinnati’s MidPoint Music Festival) and musician/producer Josh Kaufman, who has worked with artists like Craig Finn and The National as both a producer and sideman. Musicians on the critically acclaimed album include Joe Russo (of Jazz/Rock ensemble the Benevento/Russo Duo, among other projects) and Folk legend Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, plus Indie rockers like Walter Martin of The Walkmen and The National’s Aaron Dessner and Scott Devendorf.
Weir’s ties to The National, the internationally renowned Indie Rock band of Cincinnati natives, run even deeper. The musicians revealed that they were longtime Dead fans when three of them first joined Weir for a one-time-only concert/webcast in 2012 that featured largely material from The Grateful Dead; Weir has since joined The National onstage during Bay Area gigs, jamming on the band’s “Terrible Love” and the Dead’s “I Know You Rider.”
Last year saw the release of Day of the Dead, a Grateful Dead tribute compilation put together by Aaron and his brother, bandmate and MusicNOW founder Bryce Dessner, that benefits Red Hot, a nonprofit organization dedicated to using pop culture to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS.
Though the Jam band icons haven’t always been a “cool” group to name drop as an influence, the album features Dead covers by a wide range of respected Indie artists, including Wilco, Courtney Barnett, The Flaming Lips, The War on Drugs, Real Estate, Fucked Up, Jenny Lewis, Jim James, Stephen Malkmus and Angel Olsen.
For Weir’s tour behind Blue Mountain last year, his backing band — dubbed “Campfire Boys” — featured Kaufman, Scott Devendorf and Bryan Devendorf. Aaron Dessner was also supposed to be on the tour, but had to pull out due to a family emergency. But he will be a part of the band when Weir performs Thursday night’s kick-off event for this week’s MusicNOW festival, making the show — the only non-Classical/Neo Classical performance of the fest — a truly unique occasion.
BOB WEIR performs Thursday at the Aronoff Center for the kick-off of 2017’s MusicNOW festival. Tickets/more info: musicnowfestival.org.