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FARE THEE WELL - THE GRATEFUL DEAD | David Dethlefs
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THE GREATFUL DEAD – FARE THEE WELL - July 5th, 2015 (reflections on their final performance) I didn’t attend any of the FARE THEE WELL shows in Chicago this past weekend. I wasn’t interested. I saw them once in 1971 and was profoundly disappointed albeit a bit puzzled by their erratic talent and lack of professionalism. Was it a good night or bad night? Who knows… (but it is noted by Deadheads in the know that it was the last time they performed the Temptations' "Second That Emotion"). Flash forward forty-four years and the Dead are performing for the last time. Driving down a country road on Saturday afternoon I happened to catch part of their Friday night show on the Grateful Dead channel on Sirius XM radio. I was stunned… dare I say moved by just how wonderful they sounded. I’ve had something just short of a love/hate relationship with the Dead. During my high school years they were among the bands that I listened to the most. I recall purchasing their seminal albums Live Dead and Workingman’s Dead in the spring of 1970. These wonderful albums, which were released at around the same time, showcased the breadth of a band stretching their music in performance and returning to their (Americana) “roots” in the studio. In the spring of 1971 I finally got to see the Dead live (in concert), and as already mentioned, it was an underwhelming experience – there were a few good moments when they coalesced but overall it was disappointing. I never saw them perform live again. The hype preceeding the Dead’s final three shows celebrating their 50 year history was extraordinary for a band that eschewed most forms of promotion. But that’s not quite accurate; their idea of promotion was to surround themselves with an extended family that was exponential in growth taking on a whole new dimension in the 80s. When my friend and colleague Bob suggested we catch the final night on simulcast at the Lincoln Theatre in Damariscotta, Maine, I had become curious enough and figured sure… why not? The simulcast preshow segment served as a broad retrospective for the faithful, in no particular order, of the good old days. The stadium was awash in color and Dead tradition (although zero on diversity). The technology too seemed cutting edge – stadium shows have come a long way since their early days and the Dead seemed to have been in the vanguard. It was a long show and apparently they only repeated themselves twice in three nights which highlights their deep catalog of originals and a broad range of covers through a range of genres. They were surprisingly tight, especially since they have not performed regularly for twenty years. At times they meandered but that was their gift! It reminded us of their spontaneity and willingness to take chances. How did The Grateful Dead become such a quintessential American band? The statistics surrounding their shows rivaled those of baseball or basketball. In their humble origins they were iconic hippies waving their freak flag high. They spoke out on political issues and gave concerts for causes. It might be inaccurate to say they celebrated drug use, but certainly didn’t hide it. Their organization mushroomed, as did their payroll. Their fan base, Deadheads, were and continue to be strikingly loyal. I knew a Deadhead in New Hampshire who owned hundreds of their shows on cassettes and had followed them to Europe and to their famous show in Egypt by the pyramids. Over the Dead’s fifty year history their journey has been long, but has it really been strange? So I have a new, perhaps rediscovered, respect for the Dead. As one of the signature bands of the 1967 “Summer of Love” in San Francisco, they still managed to impart a remarkable message of good will, and as Mickey Hart, one of the drummers said in his farewell… “be kind.”