Guest blogger David Sweet was in attendance at the legendary Grateful Dead farewell concert last night in Chicago. He shares his experience…
On Sunday night, the Grateful Dead concluded a 50-year career with an on-stage group hug, a massive fireworks display and a tight, sizzling show that captivated more than 70,000 fans, many of whom traveled from hundreds and thousands of miles away to Chicago’s Soldier Field.
Breaking records, a news release reported that 71,000 tickets were sold for the July 5th final show, more than any other event at the stadium. The previous sales record was held by U2, with 67,936 tickets sold for a 2009 concert.
Here are five takeaways:
1) Some things never change, like the pre-partying at the bar. At the historic Hilton Chicago, the bar was packed three hours before the Dead wandered on stage. Two Deadheads reunited for the first time since 1975; another gracefully played a white piano. Guessing the set list (“Definitely China/Rider Tonight”) dominated the conversations. And some suffered from peaking too early, like a girl with a hat covering her eyes, laughing and entertaining many with her comments, who was last seen throwing up in the bathroom.
2) The walk to the venue… Where else would you see a goat standing by a tank of nitrous oxide? Only on Michigan Avenue while strolling to a Dead show. In front of the Greek-inspired columns of the Field Museum, the marble steps were packed with Deadheads, a few hoping for the miracle of a last-minute ticket. The museum itself, steps from Soldier Field, hosted a Grateful Dead exhibit during the weekend.
3) The pre-show high. My wife had not sat down for more than 30 seconds when she was offered a lit joint by the man in front of us. Small video screens dotted the stage; the Dead do not use over-the-top graphics that other rockers may prefer. “Touch of Grey opener” said the guy behind us with conviction, as if he had spoken with Bob Weir moments before.
4) The show: After bowing to the audience and engaging in a lengthy group hug, the band opened with a fantastic rendition of “China Cat Sunflower/I Know You Rider.” The crowd was singing and yelling every word. The sound quality (at least near the top of Soldier Field) was sensational — crisp and graced with the perfect volume. Trey Anastasio was awesome, replacing the late, great Jerry Garcia on guitar and vocals. “Estimated Prophet,” surprisingly, was not paired with “Eyes of the World,” but no one’s complaining. After fireworks exploded, “Truckin’” was played with special verve to open the second set, and the crowd roared while singing the line “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” Slower tracks such as “Althea” and a rare live performance of “Unbroken Chain” were also featured.
5) Fare Thee Well. Words to describe the feeling in the arena are hard to come by. Simply stated, it was a fantastic finale to cap a legendary career that in so many ways truly changed the face of music forever. It’s hard to believe they’re done. The special group brought incredible joy to the world and I was grateful to be there. Alive.
David Sweet runs The North Shore Weekend, an 80,000-circulation publication he helped launch outside of Chicago. David has served as a columnist for The Wall Street Journal’s online edition and NBCSports.com. He authored the book “Lamar Hunt: The Gentle Giant Who Revolutionized Professional Sports” in 2010. He lives in Lake Forest, Illinois with his wife Tricia and three children. He attended his first Grateful Dead show in 1981.
More on this: Grateful Dead End Long, Strange Trip via CNN