It’s been 50 years since the Grateful Dead have been making music, and this was going to be their last gig. The Fare Thee Well concert was scheduled for the 4th of July weekend in Chicago, as a long time fan, I sent away for tickets in the usual Dead fashion paying up front, mailing it in a colorful envelope with an added plea to give this old man one more chance to hear the music live; I didn’t get picked.
Ticket demand was so overwhelming that they scheduled 2 more appearances closer to their San Francisco home on the weekend before. I followed the same routine and didn’t get picked again…but lots of tickets became available at the end, and got a plane ticket and hotel room and went up for the night.
I’m wearing a Grateful Dead T-shirt in the lobby of the hotel and a tall, husky, bearded, heavily-accented, younger man comes over to me and asks me if I’m going to the concert, and that I can catch a ride with him. Jussi, is a 42-year-old father, record producer, from Finland who has loved the Dead’s music but never attended a live concert.
We talked on the way down, about music and history, an intimate conversation punctuated by the awareness that he was going to his first concert, and I to my last. When we got to the parking lot I put on my old piano hat, clown nose and a Grateful Dead mask tied onto the back of my head. Together, Jossi, and I wandered the lot which is different nowadays; the food selections are less gourmet inspired and the baked goodies unavailable, but the vibe is the same, that sense of family, and the buzz of anticipation.
At the gate, everyone got a long-stemmed red rose, a postcard with a picture of Jerry on it and an empty play-list on the back that you could fill-in. I didn’t know anyone around me, but it’s a Dead concert, all-inclusive, and everybody dancing. Although Jerry Garcia the former lead guitarist has been dead for 20 years, his place was filled by Trey Anastasio, the lead guitarist of the band Phish, and he was absolutely sensational. The crowd was rocking, the big screen flashed on Bill Walton and the crowd roared.
The sun was setting, and suddenly a brilliant rainbow appeared over the stadium, and slowly everyone looked skyward. I stood in wide-mouthed awe, and felt Jerry looking down saying to us all, Fare Thee Well.
Looking around at this community of shared spirit feeling grateful to this rainbow warrior of peace and creative possibilities, and thinking what a legacy you’ve left behind.