(By Angela Zimmerman)

Grateful Dead fan or not, it's impossible to deny the impact of Jerry Garcia, especially living here in the Bay Area. Had he survived the health and addiction issues that plagued much of his adult life, Garcia would have turned 71-years-old yesterday. And despite his passing 18 years ago, celebrations continue to rage around his birthday every year by Deadheads across the nation. Why should the SF Symphony be any different? The Jerry Garcia birthday tribute at Davies Symphony Hall with Warren Haynes, the San Francisco Symphony, and a few special guests.

Symphonic tribute shows can be painfully bad, but classic arrangements of beloved songs and exceptional restraint from the main band and hundred or so orchestral members made for a tasteful, touching, and joyful celebration of Garcia's life and work. Mastermind Warren Haynes, of the Allman Brothers and Government Mule, channeled the spirit of the Dead with the arrangements and song selections, his own vocals and guitar work paying homage to Garcia's in style and tone. A meandering "Dark Star" opened the show and spilled into the "Bird Song," which was originally written as a eulogy to Janis Joplin. It was a reminder of others we've lost along the way -- made especially poignant at a posthumous tribute show.

I'll spare you a song-by-song recap; early highlights included "Scarlett Begonias" and then a beautiful rendition of "Terrapin Station" to close the first set. It was really cool, from my seat high up in the nose bleed seats, to lock eyes with an instrument on stage -- be it the standup harp or grand piano -- and then hear that instrument's sound surface in my ear, revealing itself and its contribution to the whole. I also loved the two chanteuses singing harmony and swaying side-by-side in fancy black dresses, and drummer Jeff Sipe received a lot of accolades among the crowd at set break. His drum solo hushed every person in the soaring auditorium, and the quiet twinkling of his hi-hat drum made me forget I was watching the show from so far away.

In the second set, songs like "Russian Lullaby" and "Uncle John's Band" roused people to their feet to dance in the aisles. And so when the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir came on stage with Jeff Chimenti, the surprise guest appearances found us already on our feet to receive them and take in a string of fan favorites: "Shakedown Street," "China Cat Sunflower," and "Morning Dew."

When the orchestra members left the stage at the end of the second set and the wide arc of seating turned dark in the absence of spotlight, it seemed to signal the end of the show. But the main band remained, and Haynes explained that the venue was letting them perform later than usual in honor of Garcia's birthday. The swaying "Sugaraee" that unfolded felt like a warm embrace of the collective love and appreciation from everyone in the room.

After "I Know You Rider," we knew we'd get at least one more song, even as Weir and Chimentii waved goodbye, kissed the pretty lady singers, and walked off stage together. And then Haynes came back and played "Stella Blue," a deeply stirring slow rendition of a classic Garcia song. It was lulling and hypnotic and almost put me to sleep, but I also welcomed the opportunity to sit back sit and reflect on the night and the musical legend of Garcia himself. I felt lucky to be celebrating him on his birthday in the city he loved, finding inspiration in his spirit and still listening to his songs.

Also in a continuation of Jerry Garcia's birthday, AT&T Park hosted the annual Grateful Dead night on Monday. The plumes of smoke rising from McCovey Cove that night were, presumably, as bountiful as the seagulls.