If you haven’t already heard, a reasonable facsimile of the Grateful Dead are reuniting “one last time” for three shows in Chicago’s Soldier Field over the Fourth of July weekend, to celebrate their 50th anniversary. It’s a dream come true for thousands and thousands of Deadheads. Tickets sold out in a heartbeat when they went on sale in February. When I perused StubHub today, you could still at least get in the door each day, if you wanted an obstructed view seat for a mere $500 starting point, with a general admission floor ticket selling for $13,385. The big enchilada that was listed a week ago, and is now gone: a three-day pass, for $114,000. Not a typo.
One last time? Ha. Just this past week, the band added two more dates in California. In rock and roll lingo, words like “final,” “last,” “farewell,” and “goodbye” are mere approximations of reality. They tend to bop ’til they drop. And, while the number of dearly departed band members far exceeds those that are still alive – with the addition of “Dead for a Day” Trey Anastasio and “Almost Dead” Bruce Hornsby to fill in the missing pieces – it’s likely to be an excellent celebration of music and culture. Despite aging like the rest of us baby boomers, surviving members Phil Lesh (age 74), Bob Weir (67), Mickey Hart (71), and Bill Kreutzmann (68) are far from geriatric and will definitely kick ass (albeit a saggy one).
I first saw the Dead on April 10, 1971, at East Hall, on the campus of Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. I remember a few things from that night – I drank a lot of apple cider, which was passed around at the foot of the stage in gallon jugs. I also remember seeing Jerry Garcia play pedal steel guitar for the New Riders of the Purple Sage, who opened that concert, and Pigpen on organ, harp, and vocals before he left us less than two years later. It was a magical night. I screamed, hollered, and danced for hours. It launched my ten-year fixation on the band.
That fixation ended one night at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, as I watched the sun do a slow-mo fade into the San Francisco Bay. I decided to bail out while they were at the peak; the scene had eclipsed the music.
Through both the miracle of technology and a large group of fans and fanatics committed to saving every single note that the Dead has ever played, with the touch of a mouse I can not only scan the set list and read the recollections from my fellow concert attendees, but I can also stream the show in the comfort of my home. It’s up on the Internet Archive website, along with thousands of other shows they’ve played over the years. That site is hardly exclusive to the Dead, although they are probably one of the bands most extensively represented.
We used to just call that bootlegging. Today, it’s an opportunity to catalog and digitally preserve another piece of fading American history.
Since most of us won’t be refinancing our homes to buy a ticket and travel to Chicago or California, there will likely be opportunities to stream, download, and/or view those concerts, too. And it looks like there will be a documentary of the event released in 2016.
The ‘Core Four’ members of the band sent out this press release:
Millions of stories have been told about the Grateful Dead over the years. With our 50th Anniversary coming up, we thought it might just be time to tell one ourselves and Amir Bar-Lev is the perfect guy to help us do it. Needless to say, we are humbled to be collaborating with Martin Scorsese. From The Last Waltz to George Harrison: Living In The Material World, from Bob Dylan to the Rolling Stones, he has made some of the greatest music documentaries ever with some of our favorite artists and we are honored to have him involved. The 50th will be another monumental milestone to celebrate with our fans and we cannot wait to share this film with them.
If you’re filled with excitement and can’t wait, I found a treat for y’all on the ‘Tube. And, should you be one of the lucky ones this summer to catch a show, don’t forget the sunscreen, watch what you drink, and beware of the orange Metamucil. Fare thee well.
This was originally published by No Depression, as an Easy Ed’s Broadside column.