The party must end eventually, even though it seems to have ended once or twice before.
For the last time, the surviving touring members of the Grateful Dead rang the Liberty Bell for fans of all generations in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Formed in 1965 in Palo Alto, California, the Grateful Dead gathered a following of fans after their first performance at The Electric Factory on April 26, 1968. Between April 26, 1968, and March 19, 1995, the band played in Philadelphia 67 times, selling out 53 shows at The Spectrum, the home of the Broad Street Bullies.
Growing up, I remember a lot of musicians dying, thanks to MTV News host Kurt Loder. The news of Kurt Cobain’s death seemed to be on a loop. The deaths of Cobain, Selena, Tupac Shakur, and Notorious B.I.G. made sense to me as a child because they were young and actively creating music. But the Grateful Dead? I thought Garcia had already died and the band long disbanded thanks to the “Touch of Grey” music video.
Fortunately, an employee at the local hardware store explained the significance of the band and its leader to me, a 10-year-old, and gifted me a copy of “Paul’s Boutique.”
I started noticing the Dead again when two original members, bassist Phil Lesh and guitarist Bob Weir, continued the legacy as Furthur in 2009. However, it wasn’t until Dead and Company, led by guitarist John Mayer, started touring that I really took notice.
The group, which includes Weir and drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, was joined by bassist Oteil Burbridge and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti to keep the music alive.
Last year, they brought the same lineup to Citizens Bank Park, with Jay Lane standing in for Kreutzmann on drums. As famous as the many iterations of The Dead is its moving marketplace known as “Shakedown Street” and the accompanying parking lot culture.
This sea of vendors, selling everything from burritos and grilled cheese to T-shirts and handmade artwork, mirrors the vast rows I saw a decade ago at Bader Field in Atlantic City during Phish and the Dave Matthews Band concerts.
Before the concert, the party in the parking lot could only be compared to those vast rows. As you surf through the crowd, you’ll find vendors selling everything from food to memorabilia, hoping to earn enough for fuel and tickets to the next show.
You’ll also hear plenty of music from local bands spread throughout the festival-like atmosphere. This scene, featuring at least three separate performance areas during my visit, is a paradise for concertgoers looking for that miracle ticket into the show.
Inside Citizens Bank Park, the venue was filled to the rafters with fans reveling in the celebratory atmosphere of the Farewell Tour. Hart opened the set strong, getting the crowd on their feet for “Man Smart, Woman Smarter” at 7:15 p.m., just like a baseball game. The band then got into a groove for “Shakedown Street” in a nod to the large gathering outside the gates.
From there, it seemed like they would play all the hits, with Mayer leading into the chorus for “Cold Rain and Snow.” Weir seemed ready to jump off the stage when he came out of the jam on “Jack Straw” to deliver the chorus. Mayer sounded itching to hit the opening licks to “Brown-Eyed Women” from the soundcheck, the way he savored the opening lick for the song.
With “Dark Star” and then Weir busting out the acoustic guitar for “El Paso,” the crowd was crawling up the walls in a frenzy and were cheering so loudly in ecstasy they barely heard the closing number of the first set – “Don’t Ease Me In.”
The band brought the funk led by Burbridge on “Fire On The Mountain” to start the second set and didn’t stop the heavy vibes through the entire run of tracks until the rousing closer “Not Fade Away.”
Hart channeled his soul through his hands on “Drums” putting everything he could into what may be the last time they hear the incredible percussionist perform, delivering an inspiring and touching “Space.”
After the Deadheads proclaimed that their “Love would not fade away” right back to the band, a fitting encore of “Ripple” would close the final Dead and Company concert in Philadelphia.
“There is a road, no simple highway
Between the dawn and the dark of night
And if you go, no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone”
After Philadelphia, the band traveled to Saratoga Springs, New York. The Final Tour will continue June 21 and 22 at Citi Field in New York, June 24 and 25 at Fenway Park in Boston, June 27 at the Ruoff Music Center in Noblesville, Indiana, July 1-3 at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colorado, July 7 and 8 at The Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Washington, and July 14-16 in the Bay Area where the band started at Oracle Park in San Francisco, California. See deadandcompany.com for information and stream all the shows at LiveDead.co.
Man Smart, Woman Smarter
Cold Rain and Snow
Don’t Ease Me In
Fire on the Mountain
New Speedway Boogie
Eyes of the World
Standing on the Moon
Not Fade Away