MusicNow Festival bringing Grateful Dead co-founder

Bob Weir, co-founder of the Grateful Dead, will open the MusicNow Festival with his Campfire Band, comprised of Cincinnati-originated rock band The National. CONTRIBUTED

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Bob Weir, co-founder of the Grateful Dead, will open the MusicNow Festival with his Campfire Band, comprised of Cincinnati-originated rock band The National. CONTRIBUTED

Classical-tinged event directed by a member of The National.

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The MusicNow Festival, now in its 11th year, has often landed national-level, critically acclaimed talent. True to form, the opening night of the festival will feature Bob Weir, co-founder of the Grateful Dead, and his Campfire Band, comprised of members of the Cincinnati-originated, indie rock band, The National.

“We’d become close to Bob over the last few years, and recently we helped him record his most recent album, ‘Blue Mountain,’ ” said Bryce Dessner, artistic director of the MusicNow Festival and guitarist for The National. “The timing ended up working perfectly to bring this project to MusicNow this year, especially because it features the type of collaborative work we’ve long championed at the festival.”

Although there is arguably no “typical” lineup for MusicNow, it can be said that it’s a consistent, celebratory hybrid of classical music, contemporary classical music, and indie and folk rock. Past performers have included Sufjan Stevens and St. Vincent, both big names in independent rock circles. It’s a broad musical field where the only common ingredients are freshness and originality.

Besides Weir, the artist/composer lineup includes 37-year-old Pulitzer Prize runner-up, Andrew Norman, 31-year-old Timo Andres, whose influences include Brian Eno and Radiohead along with Mozart and Brahms, Irish singer/songwriter and former Damien Rice collaborator, Lisa Hannigan, and Dessner himself, who will perform his own piece, “Wires,” a chamber concerto for 26 musicians that will include Dessner himself on electric guitar.

“The piece is somewhat inspired by the evolving ways we communicate with each other, as well as the conversational aspect of music, and a sense of dialogue,” he said. “It has a traditional classical form of four contrasting movements.”

For Dessner, there’s nothing odd or incompatible in rock and classical music appreciation.

“I think that at some point in the 20th century, classical music got a bad reputation for being elitist or academic or perhaps the realm of a privileged and aging audience,” he said. “Classical music is a poetic form where artists are given license to express themselves and to undertake important creative journeys. Maybe these are paths that don’t fit easily into marketing materials or easily commercialized packaging, and perhaps that is why so much of this music remains underground.”

At any rate, part of the point of MusicNow will be, as ever, to expose new, risk-taking work to a wider audience.

“For the past four years we’ve been involved in a collaborative relationship with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra,” he said. “The 2017 festival is our most ambitious program for the orchestra yet, featuring only new works for orchestra, with the exception of one masterpiece by (Gyorgy) Ligeti, written in 1990. While it may seem commonplace for MusicNow, this type of ambitious orchestra programming is really quite rare in America.”

How to go

What: MusicNow Festival

When: Jan. 12-14; 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Where: Jan. 12 at the Aronoff Center for the Arts, 650 Walnut St., Cincinnati; Jan. 13-14 at the Taft Theatre, 317 E. Fifth St., Cincinnati

Cost: $58.50-$78.50 (Thursday), $12-$70 (Friday and Saturday), $50-$70 (Friday-Saturday pass)

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