A few months ago, on a Friday afternoon, I like many found out about the three “Fare Thee Well” shows that the surviving members of the Grateful Dead would be performing in Chicago over the 4th of July weekend, to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Grateful Dead’s music. We learned that along with Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, the shows would feature Bruce Hornsby, Trey Anastasio and Jeff Cimenti. Bruce Hornsby has been quite successful writing, sing and playing piano and accordion, and was even a member of the Grateful Dead, filling in after Brent Mydland died and helping to get Vince Welnick up to speed. Trey Anastasio plays guitar, sings and writes songs for Phish, as well as for the band that bares his name. Jeff Chimenti has played keys for Ratdog with Bob Weir, Furthur, which included Bob and Phil, and The Dead with all four of the surviving members of the Grateful Dead. These three are all incredible musicians and are heavily versatile, so they can probably play just about anything put in front of them.
This announcement was so exciting, that my wife was on-line trying to find hotel rooms, as soon as I was sure that she wanted to spend the kind of money we were looking at throwing down. We found something for four nights, for $1500, which was still going to be around a mile away from Soldier Field, where the last two Grateful Dead shows were in 1995, exactly a month before Jerry Garcia died. That night, I began to think about the difference between these last three shows that Bob, Phil, Mickey and Bill would play together and the last two that I had seen twenty years ago in Chicago with Jerry. I also had to think about the differences in myself over the twenty years, especially since the parking lot isn’t really my scene anymore. The cost was also a major consideration, since going to “Fare Thee Well” was going to mean forgetting about any other plans for the summer and possibly working more. Within that first 24 hours, it seemed that the news was everywhere, even on some media outlets that I never expected, nor needed, to give the Grateful Dead attention. I considered that Bob Weir wouldn’t have really performed for almost two years, by the time of the shows, and it is unknown how his shoulder will hold-up for three nights in a row. After more thinking, I began to consider how I felt about Trey as the virtual replacement for Jerry, and it didn’t sit well. While Trey may do a phenomenal job in the role, I couldn’t help but consider that there were other guitarists more qualified and who had paid more dues to the Dead’s music, to receive the spot. Don’t get me wrong, I love Phish and have traveled pretty good distances to see them, in the past. They are an amazing quartet and they have a huge following, but their music really is more Talking Heads and Frank Zappa, than Grateful Dead. It is too bad that the Phish’s scene isn’t the same as the Grateful Dead’s, but it tends to be a little younger and has more financial resources. Trey is big in the jam scene, but that really doesn’t translate the same in the Dead scene. There are plenty of Deadheads, who have little interest in Phish, but unfortunately they were forced to take notice when Trey got the nod for this incarnation of The Dead. It felt like shows that should have been catered toward true Deadheads, now had to be shared with Phish-heads, which increased the size of the potential audience by at least 100%. I have to think that giving Trey the spot, had at least a little bit to do with wanting to do something they hadn’t before, to assure that they would sell-out each night, which ultimately underestimated the loyalty Deadheads have for their band and its music. These things, along with increased responsibilities, not to mention the financial strain, were all the reasons why we cancelled our hotel and never even sent in a mail order.
When things got crazy with filling all the ticket requests and the addition of general admission on the field at Soldier Field, I really wasn’t sad I wasn’t going to be in the middle of that mess. I heard stories about many people not getting any tickets, but also knew people who had gotten confirmation for all three days. There was so much that went wrong with the ticketing and it appeared that not only did Deadheads have to split the tickets with Phish-heads, but it looked as though the scalpers were getting their not-so-fair share of them, as well. I am not saying that co-promoters, Peter Shapiro and Madison House were greedy, but at the very least they got in over their heads with how much they promoted the event versus the amount of tickets available. With people selling tickets on-line for $400 and up, it really didn’t feel like anything to do with the Grateful Dead. During this time I read various interviews with the surviving four members and was lead to believe that they may not be the last shows they play together and that Trey Anastasio really is “the guy” for this role. I didn’t believe that it was only because he didn’t sing, that a highly qualified guitarist wasn’t picked for the gig, but rather that it had to do with 15 year old personal issues. Needless to say I was still skeptical about the energy and intention behind the “Fare Thee Well” shows at this point.
I can’t say that I made any effort to get tickets when they added two shows in Santa Clara the weekend prior to the Chicago event, especially when I heard that Trey was going to be there too. I can say, however, that I felt like those shows were really done for the Deadheads and had more to do with Bob, Phil, Mickey and Bill wanting to do right by their fans than any outside entity trying to make money or a name. They even used a different ticketing system than was used for Chicago, just to ensure that Heads and not scalpers were going to get the tickets.
About a month and a half ago, a good friend called and said that he had a pair of tickets for each night in Santa Clara an even had hotel rooms too. That meant my wife and I could go without having to deal with trying to find or order tickets or a room, but of course there was still the question of money. Since I had seen the Grateful Dead’s last two shows, I wasn’t as worried about seeing any of these supposed last shows, as my wife, who had seen them in the spring of ’95. Since she was okay with passing, I was too. We figured we could save a ton of money if we just watched them on the internet. There are bars in Denver and Boulder that will be broadcasting the event, plus movie theatres in the area that will be showing the July 3rd, 4th and 5th shows.
The Santa Clara Shows are tomorrow and Sunday, while the Chicago shows are July 3-5. I like thousands more, will be watching these shows from somewhere other than Levi Stadium and Soldier Field. We will all have to decide for ourselves, if all the hype surrounding these shows was truly warranted or if it had more to do with unrealistic expectations. Having said that I am more hopeful than skeptical and am sure that the shows will be something to behold. No matter where you are going to be experiencing them, as long as you love the music, you should have a good time. Break-out your dancin’ shoes, because everybody’s dancin’ a ring around the sun. That’s What I Know, So That’s What You Know!! Enjoy!!
HAPPY LISTENING!!!! 😉 HAVE A GOOD SHOW!!