NEWS: Grateful Dead ends long, strange trip this weekend in Chicago

(Oh, this one is going to make Dan mad.  He and I have spent a lot of time hating on the Grateful Dead over the years, but I have found some love for the band in the last 10 years or so.  I’m not running out to get me some fancy fucking tickets to hang out with the stink that will be at those shows or anything, but I will admit to enjoying a few spliffs and some ‘Dead records from to time.  Well, it’a all coming to a final end this weekend with a few shows in Chicago.  Obviously the main doughnut won’t be there, but there are a few fancy fill-ins stepping up to make the shows memorable.  Here’s a story from about the fun coming this weekend. – FATS)

The Grateful Dead celebrates its 50th anniversary this weekend with three last shows before the band declares itself officially “Dead.”

The final gigs will take place at Soldier Field in Chicago, the same venue where the Grateful Dead last played with legendary guitarist Jerry Garcia nearly 20 years ago, before his death at age 53.

The four surviving original members — Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh, and Bob Weir — will be joined by Trey Anastasio (Phish), Jeff Chimenti (RatDog, The Dead and Furthur), and Bruce Hornsby.

They say it’ll be the last time the band will play together.

Flocking to Chicago

Grateful Dead fans, known as Deadheads, are flocking from around the world to attend, including many Canadians.

Among them are the members of a Toronto-based Grateful Dead tribute band called Caution Jam.

Guitarist Eric Fefferman plans to catch all three concerts. “Once you become a Deadhead, you’re forever in love with the music,” he told CBC News.

Appropriately enough, Fefferman and his bandmate Les Garant, who play a monthly gig at Grossman’s Tavern, met years ago at a Grateful Dead show.

Fefferman recalls how he became a Deadhead: “It just happens by accident. Somebody takes you to a show, you’re not expecting much, and all of a sudden you’re walking out of there and planning your vacations and all of your pay cheques around going to Grateful Dead shows.

For Garant, the appeal was that the Grateful Dead kept the music fresh with its improvisational approach to songs.

“If you go see Bob Dylan in Toronto, and you see a great show, and then you go see him in Ottawa, you’re going to see exactly the same great show,” Garant explained.

“But I used to buy seven tickets for seven different shows in a row from the Grateful Dead and not hear the same song twice.”

Documenting the Dead

In all, the Grateful Dead played more than 2,300 shows, more than any other rock band in music history.

jerry-garciaThe Grateful Dead’s official archivist, Canadian David Lemieux, is preparing a massive 80-CD boxed set of live concerts, one per year from 1965-1995, called Thirty Trips Around the Sun. It will be released in September and sell for $700 US.

He said it documents the band’s evolving music.

“Their sound changed virtually every year if not every tour,” said Lemieux, “and it changed quite dramatically.”

This free-spirited approach kept the music exciting for the fans and for the musicians themselves.

“I don’t think they wanted to ever be bored,” Lemieux said, “and they certainly weren’t because they would always push the envelope and challenge themselves and try new things.”

Deadhead dedication

Music journalist Alan Cross pinpoints the success of the band in its ability to create a close network of fans that made up for a lack of hit songs or bestselling albums.

“Being part of the Grateful Dead community was like being part of a family,” he said. “And you would do anything as part of this family to follow and support the band.”

grateful-dead-fansThe Grateful Dead encouraged its fans to trade tapes of concert recordings, as long as they weren’t sold for profit. In this way the band was decades ahead of other musicians, who are only now facing the reality of releasing music as a loss leader to draw fans into buying concert tickets.

Cross is hosting a documentary presentation that will be part of a live cinema event called Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years of Grateful Dead at Cineplex theatres across Canada on Sunday.

Fans who can’t make it to Chicago can watch the concert live-streamed to cinemas here and around the world.