Slainte mhaith

Fare Thee Well Sayeth The Grateful Dead

logo, fare thee well

Happy July Everyone! As we prepare for Independence Day celebrations this weekend, a host of music fans have only three words in mind: Fare Thee Well. This week we are in the middle of the two weekends that comprise the Fare Thee Well tour, billed as the final shows from the Grateful Dead, celebrating the 50th anniversary of their formation in 1965 (then as The Warlocks). The band includes the four surviving members, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart, with Jeff Chimenti and Bruce Hornsby sitting in at the Keys positions, which changed throughout the Dead’s career, and Phish’s Trey Anastasio, perhaps the only possible correct choice, taking on the role of Jerry Garcia.

The tour is comprised of two shows in Santa Clara, CA, performed on Saturday and Sunday of last weekend (June 27-28) and the three main shows performed at Soldier Field in Chicago July 3rd, 4th, and 5th. The venue is an notable one for the Dead and their fans as it is where they performed their final concert with Jerry twenty years ago (7/9/95) before he died the following month. The Grateful Dead officially disbanded after his death but would reform for secondary iterations like The Other Ones and The Dead. The former members would find greater success with their various independent projects: Phil Lesh & Friends, Bob Weir & Ratdog, The Rhythm Devils, and Furthur.

While songs from the original band find their way all throughout those bands’ setlists the idea of an actual run of Grateful Dead shows carries a unique joy and excitement. The one obvious pitfall is that the band is missing its heart, and though there are many fantastic guitar dynamos alive and playing right now, none of them could be Jerry.

Except for Trey. Trey can be Jerry without being Jerry.

Riding a wave of seemingly renewed artistic freedom in Phish’s 3.0 era, the opportunity to take on such a central role for Dead50 was one that Trey couldn’t refuse:

“I got a really heart-warming letter from Phil saying that he and the other three guys had talked about it and hoped I would do it,” Anastasio tells Billboard. “I didn’t hesitate for a second to say yes. It’s an absolute honor to be part of this final chapter.”

Though he’s recently said he’s never studied Jerry as a guitar player until now, a fact I find astonishing, Trey has long credited Garcia and the Dead as a primary influence on his vision for how Phish should perform as a band and operate as a business.

Though I consider myself an ardent fan today, I knew nothing of the Grateful Dead when Jerry passed in 1995. I was 13 years old and I remember the gut-wrenching, solemn sadness of kids half a generation older than me. I always imagine that it must have felt similar to when Lennon was shot, as if a hero had truly been lost. I caught a song or two in the following years but it wasn’t until I was amid my college years in the Early Aughts that the band’s full power and beauty was imparted upon me. Two former roommates are to credit for my fandom (whom we’ll call Max and Mark to protect their identities) and I can point to my first viewing of The Grateful Dead Movie as particularly formative, seeing the band, its fans, and the entire atmosphere created around them in sprawling, beautiful, slightly chaotic glory. There’s no way to transport myself back to 1978 (Hiro Nakamura, where are you?), so like Deadheads everywhere I will clamor with excitement this weekend to hear some of my favorite songs from my favorite band one more time as only they can play them.

I have some good friends headed to Chicago this weekend (shout out to N2D2!) and for that I hold them in great envy. I will and have been enjoying the shows care of the excellent live stream presented on Youtube, elated and fascinated at the confluence between old school and new, the age of technology allowing me to bring this one-of-a-kind classic rock experience into my living room. Some readers will remember my vicarious journey to Bonnaroo the past few years and beyond the inside view given by social media, the live stream has brought some awesome performances to thousands more people.  It’s an intriguing dynamic in a music industry constantly struggling to re-invent itself that these bands are able to essentially give away their music online (or sell for cheap) because the they keep in mind the irreplaceable nature of a great live performance upon which their business model is built.  Phish has long been at the head of this move for live music online, with all their live shows available for stream or purchase and, truthfully, it is a mindset that began with the Dead and their encouragement of fans bootlegging the concerts.

The atmosphere, bred by the Grateful Dead, furthered by Phish, Perry Farrell and others, and finding an explosion in the modern American summer rock festivals (especially Roo!), can now be brought to venues, homes and backyards across the world. That’s pretty awesome stuff. Jerry would be proud.

(yes, it’s true, they’re backwards)

So with one weekend down, how has Dead50 gone so far?

It would be hard to dispute that Saturday’s Night 1 got off to a slow start. They had rehearsed, prepared, and discussed setlists but especially when it comes to music of the Grateful Dead there is a certain element that can only be acquired by hitting the stage and letting it rip. In my opinion by the second set of Night 2 they had really found their stride, linking songs with jams, and appearing to have their most fun yet.  I really enjoyed Watching Kreutzmann and Hart work together on the “Drums” percussion jam and the jam that led into “Wharf Rat” was the best yet of the tour.  I couldn’t contain myself during “Eyes of the World” and “He’s Gone”, two of my absolute favorites and I think Trey shared in the enjoyment:

As the band and thousands of fans prepare for this weekend in Chicago, #Dead50 seems to be every bit the joyous, thrilling, and entertaining occasion Deadheads had hoped for, characteristics not generally ascribed to their ’95 Soldier Field show.  Trey has won over leagues of initially reluctant GD fans, while the “other ones” appear to be having more fun with each other than they have in decades.  Whether you’re joining the #couchtour this weekend or headed to Chicago, Dead50 is the perfect soundtrack to any Independence Day weekend celebration (“US Blues” on July 4th? Yes please!).  Tweet and IG us your pics and videos @JPLime and @DrProfEsq and join us in celebrating the greatest American rock band as they say goodbye one more time.

“Fare Ye Well, Fare Ye Well
I love you more than words can tell
Listen to the river play sweet songs
To rock my soul.”

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