Celebrating 50 years of the first live jam band in rock and roll history, the Grateful Dead’s ‘Fare Thee Well’ concerts held at Soldier Field Stadium during 4th of July weekend left audiences with an unforgettable and historical memory of some of the best live music ever to be performed by a band known for their extended, improvisational live performance skills.
Filling the streets of the Windy City prior to the concerts each day were Deadheads of all ages, seas of tie-dyed t-shirts painting the pathway towards the entrance gates, and marijuana billowing in the warm summer air. Whether you were an original Deadhead from the ’60s or a new-age fan in your ’20s, no one could have predicted just how monumental the next three days would be.
‘Fare Thee Well’ attendee Jake Green, 23, of Minooka, IL, said the concerts were “an incredible weekend celebrating the magic that is the Grateful Dead,” adding that “the boys proved they can still jam.”
Featuring the surviving members of the Grateful Dead–otherwise known as the “core four”–were Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart. Phish frontman Trey Anastasio accompanied the core four, serving as placement on several songs for the beloved Jerry Garcia. Along with the core four and Anastasio were keyboardists Bruce Hornsby and Jeff Chimenti.
In regards to Anastasio playing with the Dead, attendee Pat Querio, 26, of Channahon, IL, said:
Being a Phish fan, I thought Trey was the perfect choice, and I think it showed. It brought both the Dead fans and Phish fans together, which is something that wasn’t expected.
It wouldn’t have been a true Dead show had it not begun on day-one with a tip-of-the-hat to Jerry when the band opened with “Box of Rain,” a song played during Jerry’s final show at Soldier Field in 1995, Phil Lesh providing lead vocals.
Following “Box of Rain” were fan favorites such as “Bertha,” “The Music Never Stopped” with Bob Weir on lead vocals, and “Ripple” as their day-one encore. The second-day July 4th show on Saturday opened with “Shakedown Street,” following past tradition as an opener for several Dead concerts, specifically during the late ’70s-early ’80s when the similar titled album was released. The band appropriately and expectedly ended their first set with “One More Saturday Night,” followed by their encore “U.S. Blues,” remaining true and patriotic to the 4th of July holiday. During the show was a phenomenal firework spectacular in honor of Independence Day.
Each night, the Grateful Dead incorporated extended, exuberant drum improvisational jams, allowing the audience to truly get a feel for what it was like to see the Dead perform their famous ad hoc skills they are so distinctly known for.
Day-three opened with “China Cat Sunflower,” followed by tunes such as “Mountain of the Moon,” “Truckin’,” “Terrapin Station,” and ended their second set with “Not Fade Away,” where the audience repeatedly chanted this line for what seemed to last a lifetime after the band already walked off stage. The band then played a double encore including “Touch of Grey” and “Attics of My Life.”
The third day provided audiences with an emotional and nostalgic look into the past. On the big screens, audience members could enjoy timeline photos old and new of the band’s long-lasting musical history, focusing on the late Jerry Garcia and every member of the Dead from beginning to end. The stadium was filled with hysterical crying fans, boisterous dancing in the halls due to overcrowding inside the venue, hugging, swaying and an overall sense of the inevitable end to an era that came all too soon.
“The last day, you could tell no one wanted it to end. I actually just sat outside the museum and talked to people and people watched for over an hour, because going back just kind of meant it was over,” Querio said.
Following the three-day farewell, Soldier Field officials announced that each show broke attendance records for the venue. Sunday held the title for nearly 71,000 people, blowing U2 out of the water for their previous held record of 67,936 in 2009. The concerts also generated over $750,000 for charities related to the Grateful Dead.
Although the Grateful Dead have announced upcoming concerts under the new title “Dead & Company,” the Chicago ‘Fare Thee Well’ shows will remain the final performances under the original name of the Grateful Dead. Despite this end to an era, the Grateful Dead and their music will forever remain in our hearts, not fade away.
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