The holiday weekend’s most prominent musical happening, at least from an historical pop perspective, will be the much ballyhooed finale concerts of the Grateful Dead at Soldier’s Field in Chicago.
The distinction of such an event isn’t so much the career coda itself, but how it is being marketed. In lieu of the standardized farewell tour, the surviving members – guitarist Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh and drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann – are playing a mere five concerts in two cities. The first were held last weekend at Santa Clara, Ca., near where the iconic psychedelic band got its start 50 years ago. The Chicago shows take place tonight through Sunday, almost two decades to the day (and at the same location) where the band played its last concerts with Jerry Garcia.
The figurehead guitarist died that August. For all intentions, the band dissolved with him. The four core members have toured as an ensemble a few times since then under the moniker of The Dead and, without Kreutzmann, as The Other Ones. These finale shows mark the first time they have performed as the Grateful Dead since 1995. While the members have stated these will be their final shows together, all will maintain separate careers.
Here is where the marketing savvy kicks in. This weekend’s performances – which generated over 350,000 ticket requests through advance sales – are being made available to fans worldwide through almost every media outlet available. There will be pay-for-view webcasts, on-demand viewing on satellite and cable television and even live simulcasts in over 1,110 movie theaters. For a full rundown of options, go to dead50.net.
Locally, the Dead’s performances will be shown at the Cinemark Fayette Mall tonight, Saturday and Sunday.
For those intrigued by this final chorus from the Dead, but feel less compelled to take part in all the revelry, recordings of the shows will be released on CD, DVD and Blue-Ray by Rhino Records as Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years of Grateful Dead. They are scheduled for release on Nov. 20.
This may well be the first time an official, formal concert recording (not a quickly produced, indie-manufactured “bootleg”) has earned a confirmed release date before the performances making up those recordings even took place.
Appraisals of last weekend’s Santa Clara performances – with Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio, pianist and longtime Dead co-hort Bruce Hornsby and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti augmenting the Dead quartet – were largely favorable. An Associated Press review by Lisa Leff of the opening concert on June 27 gave specific praise to a 20 minute version of Viola Lee Blues (cut originally for the band’s 1967 self-titled debut album) and the way it made Anastasio a key player in this brief Dead revival.
If you’re headed to Cinemark, be prepared for a long night. The June 27 concert lasted 3 ½ hours. The Fandango site said this weekend’s revelry could last as much as five hours each evening.
“I’m not sure we’re going to last five hours,” Weir told The New Yorker earlier in June. “Even back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, we didn’t play for five hours on many nights, despite being famous for doing that. You do it one time and you get famous for it.”
‘Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years of Grateful Dead’ will be simulcast at 8 p.m. July 3-5 at Cinemark Fayette Mall, 3800 Mall Rd. Tickets are $12-$14. Call (859) 971-0718 or go to fandango.com.