Surviving members of the Grateful Dead began the first of five Fare Thee Well shows at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California this weekend. Original members Mickey Hart, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann, and Bob Weir will take their final bow at Soldier Field in Chicago July 5 after a three-night run with Bruce Hornsby, Trey Anastasio and Jeff Chimenti joining them for two sets each night.
If you can't make it to one of those five shows, it is available on pay-per-view, in some movie theaters, and via YouTube through Apple TV, Android, Chromecast, IOS, Samsung and Panasonic smart TVs, XBox 360, XBox One, PS3, PS4, and WiiU as well as being broadcast on Sirius/XM's Grateful Dead channel. The cost for the YouTube broadcast for the Chicago dates is $29.95 a night.
Locally fans can warm up for those final nights at Smokey Joe's on Monday where Grateful Dead Tribute band Other People will be joined by members of Charlotte's Moonshine Racers and former Grateful Dead keyboardist Tom Constanten who'll play an opening set at 9:30 p.m. Admission is free.
For me, the Grateful Dead's legend both died and exploded with the death of Jerry Garcia. I was never really a fan - although I lived with a guy with a Steal Your Face skull tattoo on his upper arm for a year and a half. Yet I find many memories are tied to the band. As a child I was put-off by the cover of 1971's "Skull and Roses" which scared me as I thumbed through my dad's record collection. The Grateful Dead were also huge at my high school, embraced by the kids from wealthy families who I suppose wanted to shake their preppy upbringing and clean-cut image. High school social structure determines so much of our young opinions. I secretly had a crush on one such deadhead and I never uttered a word of it to anyone.
The Grateful Dead became more of a presence in my world in March of 1995 when they played three shows at Charlotte Coliseum. One of my boyfriend's friends stayed with us that week. I'm not sure if he bought a ferret in the parking lot, but he came home with one shuffling around in his backpack.
Later that year my father had his first heart attack - possibly the same day as Jerry Garcia. It seems like it was the day before or after. My memory's a little fuzzy I've told the story so many times. Two overweight, bearded, long haired hippies loved by many despite their flaws with music running in their blood (my father's ties to the bluegrass community made his funeral a standing-room-only service). The list of ailments that contributed to both my father and Jerry Garcia's decline were similar - drug addiction, weight problems, sleep apnea, diabetes.
Jerry died that day. My father lived another eight years. I remember being relieved that if it had to be one old hippie, that it wasn't my old hippie.
I never quite embraced the Dead's music, but I've embraced the people. I've had close friends that followed them in those last years. I've interviewed several musicians with ties to the band starting with Dead historian David Gans back when I first started covering music as Bob Weir on his birthday (Me: You're doing an interview on your birthday?).
When I volunteered during Arc Overnight at WNCW in Spindale, I often hit the air right after Uncle Dave's Dead Air show. He left the station in May, but one Christmas night 13 years ago he came to my rescue. After I was nearly carjacked at the Morehead Street exit on my way home from WV to pull an all-nighter at the station, he stepped up and covered my shift even though he'd already been there for hours on a holiday. I was too shaken up to drive. I don't think I drove alone at night until a month and a half later when I resumed my shift.
I didn't even have to ask him to stay. Again and again I'm reminded that Dead people are often good people, so I'm glad they can enjoy this final bow. They're lucky that 20 years later they can still have that. I know my own favorite bands would never require the same big, grand international farewell. Siouxsie who?