"There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear." In our jam band bubble, we are lucky enough to take in stupendous music year after year, yet some periods are more special than others, and 2015 is one for the record books. Enchantment is abundant in our world, and for the surviving members of the Grateful Dead not much has been run of the mill in respect to the various celebrations for their 50th anniversary. Since we aren't talking about any band here, there's no such thing as status quo when it comes to a Dead type tour, but for the first time in the post-Jerry years, the community that surrounds the surviving members of the group seems to be more vibrant than in any of the days since August 9, 1995.
While we've all been lucky enough to experience countless amazing musical and community moments since the passing of the unofficial patriarch of the Deadhead Diaspora, I can't think of many instances that top what has already occurred during our current trip around the sun. Yes, there have been some top-notch tours with the Core Four, together and apart, but I'd be hard pressed to find a collection of post-Jerry shows that reached the collective heights of Fare Thee Well. And while the melodic merits of Santa Clara and Chicago will continue to be argued by every card-carrying deadhead, not one of us can deny the communal clarity that those final Dead shows brought to fruition. While I only imbibed via the movie screen, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that those concerts were the closest representations of bona fide Grateful Dead experiences to have taken place since the untimely passing of Jerry. Whether via the interweb or in person, everyone that has survived the highs and lows of the past two decades were there, basking in all the glory embodied in the phrase, "There's nothing like a Grateful Dead concert."
Now three of the core four have tapped into the notion that something special is transpiring in our promised land and formed Dead & Company. While I can't blame Phil for not joining in, as I don't have many details, other than speculation and hearsay from a handful of folks supposedly in the know, I do wish he were taking part. However there will still be plenty of chances to get our Phil fix through shows at the Capitol Theater in Portchester, NY, his rambles at Terrapin Crossroads, and the expected Core Four appearance, amongst other combos at Lockn' Festival. Phil is celebrating GD50 in his own way, and I wish him all the best in everything he does. But while Phil does his personal thing, I am truly stoked for Dead & Company and all its possibilities.
As I have subjectively high expectations for the shows about to go down, intellectually I know that this incarnation has every ability to fall flat on its face. Weir, Hart, and Kreutzmann are taking an incredible risk introducing a complete outsider into our scene, and the backlash from some fans has been palpable. But Mayer is a commensurate guitarist and performer, and all evidence suggests that he is holed up somewhere right now studying his ass off for tour. While the potential to bomb is prevalent, this ensemble also presents us with the possibility of musical majesty and reinvention that has not been heard on such a large-scale in decades. And for those that think Mayer doesn't have the chops to pull this off, rumor has it that he will have some help on the way from a smattering of different guitarists at various tour stops. With great possibility comes great risk, and I'm certain the boys are keenly aware of this and will do everything in their power to ensure success in autumn.
And thus far ascendancy has been the name of the game in respect to marketing this shindig. Not since the mid-nineties has a Dead oriented tour found so much response in respect to ticket sales. While famous venues such as MSG generally tend to sell out without much effort on any given tour, demand has varied even in the recent past. Tickets could be found lining chain link fences, or left on the lot as trash at show time for the Dead reunion at Penn State University in October of 2008. Dead Tour 2009, which is the most recent comparable arena sized tour, largely did not sell out. While this tour will more than likely have some dates added still, word on the wire is that every show pass will be claimed nationwide. For three dudes considered passed their prime, and a man that was until recently largely loathed by the majority of Deadheads, this feat is immensely impressive.
And while the expected sell out has been nursed along by a few annoying, but germane marketing practices, sales ploys can not be all that's behind this triumph. Although the mere idea of the fiftieth anniversary being the last hurrah has drummed up a certain sense of nostalgia for older deadheads who got off the bus a while ago, and mustered the possibility of seeing the magic happen live and in person for younger deadheads that never got to go out on real Dead tour, the overwhelming energy currently felt within our community can not solely be driven by these factors alone. There is certainly something happening here, yet what it is truly cannot be defined. Luckily for us it can be wholeheartedly embraced! The various spinoffs of our favorite band are more popular than they have been in a long time, and the surviving members have been successfully tapping into this energy.
So whatever reservations you may have about this tour: the cast of characters, the exorbitant prices, the runaround getting tickets, the redundant notion that this all is a money grab, and John Mayer being at the forefront of it all, I implore you to catch a show or two, or ten. This could be the last circus of its size, or not. But it will most certainly be the last group of shindigs for 2015, and if I could tell you one thing about this year, it has been full of symphonious sorcery with more to likely come. There's been another band at the helm of our scene having its best year in a generation; you guys may have heard of them. For those piscatorial fellas and what's left of the Dead, something mystical is in the air. Take it all in before it passes you by.
Words: Russell Glowatz