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Fare Thee Well: A Celebration of Fifty Years of the Grateful Dead, July 3,4 & 5, 2015

Doug Collette By

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Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Trey Anastasio, Bruce Hornsby, Jeff Chimenti
Fare Thee Well: A Celebration of Fifty Years of the Grateful Dead
Soldier Field
Chicago, IL
July 3, 4, 5, 2015

Fare Thee Well: A Celebration of Fifty Years of the Grateful Dead was one of those rare events that surprises and satisfies in equal measure. The temptation is to over-speak, then, is simply another aspect of the profundity of occasion, rooted in the conception and execution of the concert(s) themselves that created a groundswell of public discussion, most of which escaped the mainstream media til the initial shows in the iconic band's native California the last week of June,

But then, that's a fundamental aspect of the story of the Grateful Dead, a rock and roll band that transcended its role as a musical unit and in so doing helped create a self-sustaining unconventional community, that while it became unwieldy at times during their career, has become anything but a burden in the twenty years since the death of its titular leader, guitarist Jerry Garcia.

The shadow of the late cultural figure cast wide and long over Fare Thee Well, as it has over all Dead-related activities since his passing. But, based on the exemplary and often spectacular performances during the 4th of July weekend in Chicago, the so-called 'core four'-rhythm guitarist/vocalist Bob Weir, bassist/vocalist Phil Lesh and percussionists Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart and their comrades-guitarist/vocalist Trey Anastasio, pianist/vocalist Bruce Hornsby and keyboardist/vocalist Jeff Chimenti-not only played up to the guitarist/vocalist/songwriter's standards, but exceeded many expectations, at least based on the somewhat erratic performances the previous weekend in Santa Clara California at Levi's Stadium.

And they did so often, and in such startling ways-who knew Phish guitarist Anastasio could play raw blues like he did to complement Weir's sparse slide work on "Little Red Rooster"?-that the performances would no doubt elicit a knowing smile from the titular leader of the band even though he was known to abhor the stadium shows. Certainly given the increasingly frequent (and usually shared) smiles lighting up the faces of the players all around the stage as the three concerts progressed at Soldier Field, the musicians would agree.

What the good ol' Grateful Dead did in with Fare Thee Well was show their generation of rockers (and those to come) how to fashion a dignified but no less joyful celebration of their shared history, equal parts knowing, though not nostalgic, recognition of their past, combined with a guarded but nevertheless optimistic eye to the future. As elegant as was the late Bill Graham's presentation for the Band's "Last Waltz," that concert turned too Hollywood with its parade of guests. and by definition, the adieu of Bob Dylan's former backing band really did not signify the end of an era as does Fare Thee Well. And Anastasio's presence, particularly as he was specifically selected by the core four, was symbolic of the passing of the proverbial torch to Phish as direct descendants of the Grateful Dead.

Forget the multiple ticketing snafus and the mercantile campaign that piled up as the dates drew close: such mercenary efforts are inevitable and, judging from the number of attendees at Soldier Field sporting one kind of item or another emblazoned with "Steal Your Face" or some variation thereof, the plethora of merchandise is but a reflection of the depth to which fans want to not just remember, but be reminded of this happening. Whatever might be questionable and/or suspicious about the production and presentation overseen by Peter Shapiro and Madison House, or the Rhino marketing operation to which the Dead have otherwise (rightly) trusted such endeavors, will slip away like the color fades in the t-shirts and baseball caps while the remembrance of the music remains vivid.

And music, after all, is the source of all this devoted concentration. The Chicago concerts lived up to, and quite probably exceeded, the expectations of the audience and perhaps the band itself, particularly after the miscues and various slip-ups occurring at the first pair of shows. Yet that in itself is accurate reflection of Grateful Dead history as they often did not rise to the occasion in question and so it was in their home state the last weekend of June; no doubt some intense wood-shedding took place during the ensuing week to devise setlists and arrangements that would accurately highlight the shared talent of the group the lineup of which quietly acknowledged on July 5th within lighting artiste Candace Brightman's imaginative lights and video displays: individual portraits as well as a group photo on the video monitors was the only introduction as the men gathered stage front (as they had at the outset of the night before the rousing start of "China Cat Sunflower.")

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