It was hard to get back to real life after a surreal weekend. I figure that each night there was about 100,000+ people around Soldier Field and 70k got in for each show and I did not hear of any problems with people and the cops there. It's a pretty amazing feat. Everyone seemed to be there for the right reasons, except those cult people handing out their booklets after the show. The focus for everyone was the music. Some where lucky enough to be at all five shows. Some came for just Chicago. Others made flights and hotel reservations for just one night, regardless everyone who made the trip was rewarded with soul satisfaction from the wonderful music of the Grateful Dead.
These five shows played by these seven guys far exceeded the high expectations that everyone had going into the two weekends. The anticipation built the night before the first show, with the soundcheck that was broadcast on audio stream on the mixer site. The soundcheck mirrored what would be the first night's action in Santa Clara. It was pretty shocking to see the setlist and realize that the newest song on the list was 45 years old. The second Santa Clara shattered the theorist expectations that each show would be an era of the Grateful Dead when they opened with Feel Like A Stranger. The show had a flow and feel like it was a show that was picking up where they left off 20 years earlier. The band was starting to act as a cohesive unit although there was still that Bambi on ice feel to the band.
July second, I left work at noon and packed the family into the car. I drove from outside of NYC to Buffalo to drop the wife and kids off with my in-laws. The next morning I woke up an hour before my alarm, at 6 AM. It was show day. I got in the car, stopped at Tim Hortons for breakfast on the road and started my trip to Chicago. I pulled into the hotel around 2 PM and meet up with my friend. There had been lots of talk over the 5 day break about letting Trey and Bruce do more singing and less Bobby. These kids never heard the expression that "Bobby fans are people too."
It takes the young Superman time to learn and to control his super powers. At first he believes that he can just jump a building with a single bound but then he discovers that he can control the jumping and direct himself while in the air. Next Superman discovers control as he figures how to fly. The first night of Chicago the band learned how to fly. Soaring around the atmosphere and exploring the cosmos. As I laid it out in my blog the next day, the band had arrived. The second night was Superman flexing his muscles to get the criminals to surrender instead of using force. The fireworks of a setlist the night before was not there, but the execution of the vibe was just as strong this night. It was not what I was expecting when they started playing the song, but the Stella Blue might have been most heartfelt piece of music the band ever played. Bobby owned it (I told you we were people too) and Trey's solo was the most igniting and original take. Simply awe inspiring.
On the fifth, I unplugged and went up to spend the day with my family in Evanston. It was a needed break and refresher before the final night. For the first time I tried to drive to the lot instead of walking or subwaying it, and it was a nightmare. Yet I got there early and prepped my blog for this show. Our seats for the weekend were in Section 351 Row 2, which was behind the stage. It was really loud back there and it was a good spying view, where we were looking over their shoulders at their interactions. Sitting there I got a call that my friend had a bracelet for the floor, which turned out to be the pit. Walking there I almost ran into someone who looked like George RR Martin, I found out later it was him. (What happened to Cold Rain & Jon Snow?) We got a nice little spot in front of Trey with a bunch of really great people. It was clear from the start that the band was going to throw out the bombs early and often. Each song was really poignant to a finale, "gonna miss me when I'm gone," "story teller makes no choice soon you will not hear his voice," "hoping love would not forsake the days that lie between," and of course "love is real not fade away." As I theorized, Touch of Grey was the night's encore. The top ten hit aside, the closing "we will get by" would be a nice close to these five shows celebrating the music of the Grateful Dead.
My notion of the weekend was we were seeing Fare Thee Well, who were paying tribute to 50 years of the Grateful Dead music. Then the Attics of my Life happened. The band came back for the second encore and started paying tribute to the changing cast of characters that was the Grateful Dead. Pigpen, Keith, Brent, Vince, and of course Jerry got roaring applause from the crowd turning "when you had no wings to fly, you flew to me." Then the monitors transitioned into posting pictures of the current band members and that's when it sunk in on me. This was the core four members way of announcing Trey, Jeff and Bruce as members of the Grateful Dead. The reality that Jerry had not been here for twenty years and that's why we didn't have the Grateful Dead was replaced by the blissful peace that we got to experience the band, the songs and the state of mind one more time. The band didn't try to replace Pigpen, nor Keith and Donna and they most certainly didn't try to replace Jerry. They were celebrating the entity and doing so they eased my soul. Today we celebrate the final Grateful Dead show with Jerry Garcia, just like we celebrate June 17th as the final time Pigpen played with the band.
If you've ever watched a sunrise, you notice that gradually the stars start to fade one by one as the sky goes blue. The stars are still there, it's just that we can not see them watching us. Daybreak on the land is the ultimate form of optimism and I feel like the Grateful Dead will alway be there, "the ship of the sun is sailed by the Grateful Dead." This a new era of life and perspective. The perfect bow on an old pair of shoes.
I like bows. I do not want to trip on my loose shoelaces. So I like to thank my wife for dealing with this blog and helping edit it for me sometimes. It has been a pleasure the last 4 years to run write about the band I love and share their music with everyone. The thought never occurred to me to write a blog but Dan suggested it and I started this on a whim. "Daybreak on the land" is the bow to this blog. Thank you. "Fare Thee Well now let you life proceed at its own design."
The band played 82 songs that were not named Jam, Drums, or Space. They only repeated two songs, Truckin' and Cumberland Blues, which means they played exactly 80 songs. Now I know they did not play some common Grateful Dead songs like Going Down the Road, LL Rain, Peggy-O, So Many Roads, Ramble on Rose and Sugaree but they only played 5 shows and we got so many gems. If there were more shows, maybe some of these would be played. Maybe Bobby's new band with John Mayer might play some of these songs this fall.
These are the SBD copies taken from the webcast of each night action, including the wonderful recorded music by Neil Casal for each set break. Download Night1, Night2, Night3, Night4, and Night5. Looking back on this 5 night run, I have to be happy that I experience the love of the event and not be sorry that it's not going to happen again.