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First Grateful Dead, now Ratdog, Weir still touring
By Jeff Hahne
Staff writer

After more than 40 years in the music business, it's difficult to summarize Bob Weir's place on the musical landscape.

As a founding member of The Grateful Dead, he's been a fixture of the hippy culture, a voice for the environment, the conductor of three-hour concerts and an instrumental god to jam bands across the world.

His current project, Ratdog, which was formed in 1995, will make its first stop in Greensboro on Saturday.

The News & Record spoke with Weir by phone from his home in California where he discussed the magic of creating a setlist, his thoughts on receiving a lifetime Grammy and the future of The Dead.

How much touring are you doing these days?

"You know, our average is about four to five months a year."

Do you know how many shows you've played over the years?

"I heard that we've done just under 1,000. I have no idea. We've done more than 700, I'm quite sure. That being said, I think we've done some 3,500 with The Dead and maybe more."

How do you keep this fun and fresh for you? Is it the variety in setlists and having so much material to pull from?

"Yeah, it takes work, basically, but it pays off. We have a fairly large repertoire. I guess at this point, if I was looking at our song lists and stuff like that, I'd say we probably have worked up and ready to go about 170 tunes and there are constantly more.

"For instance, when I do a setlist for a given evening, I generally will bring up the city ... we're playing in and the last two or three shows that we played there and automatically rule out all of the tunes we played our last few visits to that city.

"And then I bring up the last five to seven shows that we've done -- and those tunes are automatically ruled out.

"And everybody in the band knows that when a tune comes up on a setlist, it's, in all likelihood, our last crack at it for a while. So everybody just sort of leans into it."

Are you writing much new music these days?

"Yeah, we are. We've got a bunch of stuff that's more than half written, but it's not quite ready to bring out yet. As a matter of fact, for a lot of today I'm going to be working on some new tunes that maybe we'll be able to play on this tour."

Recently, The Dead received the Lifetime Grammy -- what did that mean to you?

"Well, it's kinda edifying. I was playing a show that night so I wasn't able to make the presentation. ... I imagine it will look nice when it gets here and I put it on my mantel or something like that."

When you're performing Dead songs with Ratdog, how is it different for you from playing with the Dead?

"The songs all have their own character and the character is the same, pretty much, for any band that I'm playing with. ... So the major difference is the personnel that I'm playing with, but the song is the same."

I read an interview where you talked about the possibility of hitting the road as a quartet or trio at some point. Do you think that's still an option?

"Do you mean The Dead or me?"

You. I don't know if that means The Dead, or if it means as a new quartet or trio.

"I've felt for some time now that the most meaningful way for The Dead to go back out would be as a quartet. Just the four guys that are still alive with no hired guns this time.

"As for me, I enjoy playing trios."

So, at this point, there are no plans for a version of The Dead to hit the road.

"No, not right now."

What comes to mind when you think back on this legacy that you've created?

"Well, it's the only life I've ever known, so I just look at it as a life, you know ... as my life in particular. And, uh, (laughs) I don't spend a lot of time thinking about that 'cause (laughs) I'm a fairly busy guy. My plate is full with other stuff to think about."

So what are your plans for the rest of the year and further down the road?

"More touring this year. As for next year, we'll just see. At some point, I'd like to get into film scoring a little bit. I think that might be fun, but it certainly never would replace playing live on stage."

Contact Jeff Hahne at 883-4422, Ext. 228, or jhahne@guilfordrecord.com