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Live Review & Photo Gallery: Fare Thee Well – The Grateful Dead @ Soldier Field

| July 8, 2015
©Jay Blakesberg

©Jay Blakesberg

“There is nothing like a Grateful Dead concert.” It’s a saying that has appeared on countless bumperstickers, t-shirts, posters and anything else that could be peddled in a parking lot before a show. It’s funny that something so succinct could encompass something as all consuming as the phenomenon that has been the Dead’s 50 year history.

And in Chicago this past weekend, it all came to an end. But before you can begin to discuss the music, you have to address all of the added periphery that comes with Deadhead subculture. Like a cold, clay, crypt, the city of Chicago chose to fully embrace the arrival of the Dead. Around the city, events related to the band’s three sold-out shows seemingly popped up everywhere.

There were listening and real time viewing parties at movie theaters, music venues, neighborhood bars and countless living rooms. People ran The Terrapin Trot 5K the day before Friday’s first show. The Field Museum even got in on the act, offering a mini Grateful Dead exhibit in its Great Hall, bearing the brilliant catch phrase, “Everything is Dead in here!.” Sue the T-Rex was even giving her own rose strewn head piece. Tie-died t-shirts bearing the aforementioned slogan and three dancing skeleton Sues’ disappeared in an eye blink.

“Shakedown Street,” the impromptu market place that was arguably the predecessor to the food truck craze, was held in Soldier Field’s south parking lot. Those who wandered through the hastily assembled bazaar could easily score a cold beer, handmade t-shirts, jewelry, drug paraphernalia, drugs themselves, and maybe even the elusive “miracle,” which is code for someone’s extra ticket. Those who need “one,” are easily identified by the fact that they are holding a single finger up above their heads, pointed to the heavens, in the hope that the rock karma gods will shower gifts down upon them.

And man were miracles hard to come by! When the final shows were announced earlier this year, demand reached a fevered pitch. The day that tickets were made available via public on sale, ticketing giant Ticketmaster claimed that in upwards of 700,000 attempts were made in hopes of securing the 210,000 tickets that were available for purchase. Fallout occurred immediately when huge amounts of those tickets arrived on the secondary market, with asking prices reaching as high as $15,000 for a stub with a face value of $250. Hell hath no fury like a hippie scorned by “the man.”

So, having prattled on as such, the question yet to be asked is “Is it even the Grateful Dead?” Lead guitarist and iconic front man Jerry Garcia, arguably the center of the band’s immediately identifiable sound, has been gone for twenty years, a casualty of years of heroin addiction and diabetes. Enter Trey Anastasio, resident string slinger for Phish, who modeled their career after that of the Dead. Long jams, similar parking lot scene and things of that ilk. As it were, his hot hand proved to be a defining element in the success of the reunion concerts. At the onset (which included two shows a week prior in the band’s hometown of San Francisco), Anastasio seemed content to defer to the “core four,” guitarist Bob Weir, Phil Lesh (bassist) and percussionist/drummer Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, respectively.

But the entire vibe changed when Trey began putting himself front and center of the band. As he became more comfortable in his role, deference soon gave way to assertion. He became the impetus that drove the music. Like nearly every Dead show, there were sour notes hit, missed lyrics and musical explorations that went nowhere. But, of course, there were also searching moments that reached the back to what the people always came for, when the fourth wall between performer and audience broke down. Waves of music would reverberate out into the arena, met with applause that were sent back toward the the band, that would build itself into a tsunami of sound, adrenaline, and something otherworldly.

It’s those exchanges that kept the dedicated coming back year after year. And then just like that, it was over. Bittersweet for sure, a phenomenon never to be seen again, sending itself out into the universe one last time. The performers took their final bows, knowing full well it may never be again. Yet, somehow something so colossal could be summed up so simply as when percussionist Mikey Hart urged those in attendance to simply “Be Kind.”

And with that, a phenomenon and a band that will never be repeated – bid the masses a final goodnight.

Words and photos by Curt Baran.
Additional aerial photos and Soldier Field concourse photos courtesy of Andy Argyrakis. Featured photo (top) by Jay Blakesberg.

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Category: Featured, Live Reviews, Stage Buzz

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  1. Jimmy Bong Water says:

    Outstanding coverage! I love IE and Grateful you are still alive.