There’s so much one can write about the final Grateful Dead “Fare Thee Well” shows as well as all the months leading up to the final 5 dates. Historic, memorable, epic, life-lasting memories, the greatest weekend ever… These are just a few of the things I’ve heard through so many others. I was fortunate enough to catch 4 out of 5 of the shows and for me personally, the final shows brought a part of my soul back together which was lost for over 2 decades. The feeling of being a fan! The feeling of being part of a community of deadheads! We all have our stories, and I have no doubt we will all have our memories from these shows.
Working full time in the concert industry, I was fortunate to be in San Jose at the SAP Center a day before the Santa Clara shows started, and was able to lock in at a great hotel rate way in advance walking distance to the Stadium. Even though I had to miss the first show based on my work schedule (having a show on the 26th in Denver), I was able to fly back and catch the final California show! One week before the show, my luck was working in my favor and this guy managed to score a pit ticket during the ticketmaster re-release. From the initial on-sale months prior, I had tickets, though when there was a re-release, my decision was set. It blew me away how weeks and months before the shows, so many people were saying Santa Clara would be warm-up dates, when they were far from that! Many bought tickets in hopes for trading them for Chicago, which upset me as it felt many missed the boat on how ANY of the 5 final dates would be special in their own way! All of us have our stories, and for me when Jerry died, in many ways my passion for discovering new music and ‘being a fan’ died… I was very active in the jam band scene before and like many others in my industry I was booking bands also while in college and having other jobs in the biz, though after Jerry passed, I really continued to follow my career path and paid more attention to working in the business, and less time with being a fan and going into my roots on why I first got into the business. It’s been for me 20 years since really going to a show in ‘being a fan’, which I needed this to help restore my soul. This is after working with countless numbers of artists & bands thru the years.
While in Santa Clara for the Sunday show, somehow it slipped my mind that this this show would be an early one (starting at 6pm), though when I walked to the gates at 4:15pm, it was clear to me most people were still out on Shakedown Street! I knew my chances of getting to the rail were good but slim. I basically bolted in excitement to get as close to the stage as I can. I was filled with excitement all along the way and to my surprise, it wasn’t as packed as I was anticipating that early! The rail was starting to fill up and the moment I arrived I started talking to a new friend I met over there, Edward and his sister! We were telling stories and talking about what they played the previous night along with our predictions for the evening (shown in the video). For the first time in a long time, I felt strongly connected with everyone around me as we all understood each other, and all shared the same common bond and feelings for the Grateful Dead. The first night in Santa Clara it seemed as if the band played songs only from 1965 – 1970, which had us all wonder: Would there be any repeats? Would that make this Sunday show all songs from the early/mid 70s? Would they mix it up or follow the pattern from the previous night (which would leave songs from the 80s and 90s for Chicago)? Nobody knew, and the other thing which was noticed early was a 4th microphone… Did this mean there would be a special guest? There was so much speculation and knowing how much Bob and Phil have been performing around town at Terrapin Crossroads and other venues with guests, had us wonder. There was even word of others at soundcheck. Would we see John Mayer? With this being a hometown show would we be surprised by someone like Robert Hunter, or an artist that toured with the band previously? Would we see Branford Marsalis? The possibilities felt endless, though in the end, it didn’t matter as all that was important was that we were there and we would be part of this experience.
As the show started, myself and those around me were taking some swings guessing at what the first song would be by hearing a few chords, and bam… Feel like a Stranger! The energy was incredible and with a little help of Edward and his sister I was secured in a very sweet spot on the rail! I couldn’t believe it! For most of my adult and professional life I was used to always being on the other side of the barricade and for the first time in 20 years I was a true fan amongst many who felt the same as I did! Every moment of that show meant the world to me! There were some great moments, from receiving a nod gesture from Hornsby after shouting his name (there was only a few feet separating us) to Bobby’s daughters waving at myself and those around me while taking photos (and visa versa). Seeing myself on the screens during Alabama Getaway, and of course the music… The second set for me was epic. Highlights include: Eyes of the World, Death Don’t Have No Mercy (by: Rev. Gary Davis), Sugar Magnolia and encoring with Brokedown Palace. The evening and show was magical! Sure I hoped to hear Estimated Prophet as we were in California, though I couldn’t have been more happy being there and part of this historic show!
Video footage from “The Rail” & more at the final Grateful Dead California show in Santa Clara, CA on June 27th 2015
The next day (June 29th), I purposely planned a personal day in the Bay Area with my flight scheduled in the evening. I needed some time to work on restoring my roots and paying respect to those who played a role in my life both directly and indirectly. I first drove by some locations that The Grateful Dead performed at including the former location of The Offstage (now a bakery) which Jerry used to perform at as an aspiring singer/songwriter. I drove by the original location of the first Grateful Dead show, which was the 2nd Acid Test in a house in San Jose. They moved the house from the original location (which is now where City Hall sits) and I was also fortunate enough to visit the house which was only about a 1/2 mile away from the original location. I also tried to find El Camino Park, a park that the band performed in after the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, but found myself lost and in a strip mall.
My next stop was to visit Pigpen! The caretaker at the cemetery turned out to be a big deadhead and we had a very good conversation over the next hour. He told me how he first met Bill Graham, which said much about his character and I felt like he really wanted to share that story as it was one he held for quite some time. While visiting Pigpen I took a swig of SoCo and poured some for him. I may have over-poured for him, though on the flip side as someone mentioned while there, perhaps he was thirsty! After meeting a few other deadheads at the cemetery and sharing laughs and stories from the show the night before I knew it was time to get moving as the day was flying by quick.
Video footage visiting Ron “Pigpen” McKernan after the final California Fare Thee Well show in Santa Clara with The Grateful Dead
For 24 years I’ve been meaning to visit Bill Graham and during the past 7 months I’ve felt like Bill visited me quite a bit with finding “The Lost Tapes”, and I needed to visit him. I mentioned it a few times, how I recall Mickey Hart mentioning shortly after Bill passed that your not dead unless society makes you dead, and your spirit basically lives on thru your good deeds and others celebrating your life and talking about you. In many ways for me, my life would have taken a much different angle if it wouldn’t have been for that first time listening to the Grateful Dead when I was 12 and speaking to Bill when I was 14. Inspiration was something which I was blessed with at a young age from Bill and after he died, I have followed the path I’ve been on for the most part for over 20 years. I arrived originally a bit too late as the cemetery was closed, though I met one of the groundskeepers at the cemetery and had another great conversation. He was kind enough to take me to Bills final resting place. Visiting Bill meant so much to me. It was not only about paying my respects, but saying thank you. I’m forever grateful!
Before catching my flight home, I had to make one other very necessary stop and that was to 710 Ashbury Street! The good ol’ Grateful Dead house! Spending time at the house, making some friends and then roaming down Haight, while grabbing a scoop of Ben & Jerry’s felt right! Before driving to the airport with two rocks in my hand I went to Golden Gate Park, walked to the pond, tossed them in and knew from watching the ripples it was time to head home! Santa Clara and my time in the Bay Area the last weekend of June 2015 will live with me forever!
Video footage visiting Bill and 710 Ashbury Street the day after the final California Grateful Dead show in Santa Clara
The following weekend for 4th of July weekend couldn’t have been better as this was a weekend with friends flying and driving in from all over the country! We called ourselves the “Dire Wolf” Pack and turned the trip into a weekend to remember! The music we heard, the laughter and time with friends, the fun times walking down Shakedown Street and the strong sense of community which generated from everyone there made Chicago simply amazing! Having over 20 friends (and friends of friends) in a suite that originally were ticketless before and celebrating the 4th of July amongst friends and at a dead show truly was a great time! I couldn’t help but find myself roaming around still needing ‘me’ time which all my friends respected. From going into the Pit for Bird Song on the 4th to being on the floor for Terrapin and Not Fade Away on the 5th! It was also real special seeing Chicago’s finest on Shakedown Street partaking in the activities, which only added to the feeling of a strong sense of community to all attending. It was special and moments I really needed!
Video Footage from Chicago’s Final 3 Grateful Dead shows on June 3rd, 4th and 5th, 2015 of Fare Thee Well at Soldier Field
To the current members of The Grateful Dead: Bobby, Billy, Mickey, Phil, joined by Bruce (who I considered a member of the band in the 90s), Trey and Jeff – Thank you from the top and bottom of my heart!
To GDM and the crew of the band: Incredible job and thank you for all you’ve done! Much love to GDTSTOO for all that you do! Even though I didn’t receive tickets thru mail-order, I have a high level of respect for Elvis and the team and your work does not go un-noticed!
To Peter Shapiro and his staff as well as Madison House, great job in bringing together truly historic and memorable shows!
To the team at Levi Stadium, Soldier Field, Santa Clara & Chicago PD – Thank you for creating such a comfortable atmosphere and understanding what these shows meant to so many! It brought great joy to me in watching all those working being part of this most special occasion.
And to all my fellow friends & deadheads – Thank you for being you! There wasn’t a dull moment in any city where we were strangers but close friends. The stories, the laughter, the memories… What we experienced was special and memories from the past 2 weekends will be lifelong!
And finally: To Jerry, Brent, Keith, & Pigpen – You know our love will “Not Fade Away”!
More cowbell Bill, more cowbell…