I’m a deadhead. I know it doesn’t go with most of my posts on this blog but if you truly dig deep you can see the connection. I have referred to myself as an old punk on this blog many times. I have always been confused on how the established musical categories have always kept punk and jam bands on polar opposites of the musical spectrum.
They are both music against the man. This is the anti-establishment sound. Here is a news flash for you, I love Joe Strummer and Joe wasn’t just a punk rock warlord he was also a hippie.
With this announcement of final Grateful Dead shows, I don’t think we are getting the whole story. I think all the facts are not on the table. It seems weird to call this a final concert but I can’t help but feel there is more going on than we know. Of course, Jerry is gone but they could continue to roll out Furthur or The Dead shows. There has to be a reason that this is being put to rest. The only reason to see the dead now a days is Bob Weir. With Bob canceling all of his Ratdog concerts last year and having no shows booked this year, I can’ t help but feel there are some deep health issues that Bob is dealing with and that is why they are putting a period to this sentence. I hope I am wrong but it seems this way to me.
The 90’s were the worst decade in history for music. The WORST! Once grunge took over and then the million grunge-lite bands took over the radio and popular culture it was time for me to go deeper in to music’s history. I fell in love with the blues. I tried to see all the greats while they were still alive. I saw Buddy, B.B., John Lee Hooker and many more. I knew the blues had a baby and they named it rock and roll and this needed to be studied deeper. Also in this time frame of the 1990’s, THE WORST DECADE FOR NEW MUSIC EVER, I started listening to the Grateful Dead. This was going to be my “new” music of choice.
Some friends of mine were going to Soldier Field for the annual summer tour and it sounded like a fun way to spend a summer day with friends. I, of course, always loved going to concerts anyway. I quickly fell in love with the vibe. These were great people. They were living off of the grid and they were so full of love and peace. The music was good too. Not all of it mind you, but you can say that of many bands. I started looking forward to when the next time they were coming to town was. I bought more of their albums. This was the new music I was listening to and it was so fresh and fit in with my times. Even though it was recorded decades earlier, it was the hottest new music to me. And the bootlegs, how cool to have so many shows recorded to enjoy. I got into tape trading with other deadheads and then spread out to other jam bands like Moe, Widespread Panic, Dave Matthews Band, Blues Traveler, and many more. I started my own Jam Band radio show called Mike’s Mountain Jam. It was great to feel that love with fellow listeners as I was the one putting the positive vibes out into the universe. I had String Cheese Incident on the radio when they were just starting. I was playing all kinds of great jam bands but I knew, and so did the bands coming up with this new jam music, that nothing compared to The Grateful Dead and we all worshiped at their altar.
I was lucky enough to see the Grateful Dead several times when Jerry was still with us in the physical sense. I caught many shows in my hometown of Chicago at Soldier Field and Rosemont Horizon. I branched out to see them in Portland, Oregon with opening act Chuck Berry. Awesome! Then a trip down to San Francisco to see Jerry Garcia Band on his home turf at the Warfield. Incredible to see Jerry lead his own band and sing every song.
I clearly remember the day the news broke of Jerry’s passing. My wife called me at work and I needed to take a break and walk around the block a few times. This was the real end of The Grateful Dead. After this news broke we waited for Bob Weir to announce his shows in San Francisco and we were back on the road down to the Warfield. I cherish a photo I have of Jerry Garcia when he came out to jam with his opening act, Sting. Jerry didn’t come out often and jam with the opening bands but he did on this night and I was there to see it and have it captured in a photo. Years later when I interviewed Sting I asked him about the experience. He said their manager came up with the idea of touring together after a drunken lunch but it was superb. I gifted Sting a framed copy of the picture which features Jerry smiling at Sting as they jammed. Sting smiled and said, “he was a beautiful man.”
Tonight I will not be able to attend the final Grateful Dead show but I will be paying for the pay per view concert as I sit here on my couch and reminisce about my times at Soldier Field. I won’t even address the nay-sayers of the dead’s music. Clearly you don’t get it and in all seriousness that is your loss. Maybe sometime in your life when new music is terrible, you will take the time to go back and discover this beautiful music that has been captured on so many live tapes.
Everyone is flocking to Soldier Field this weekend because these times are not easy to replicate. Many spend lifetimes trying to capture the feel that comes with an afternoon in the parking lot and an evening in the concert hall with the Grateful Dead.
To one of the greatest american bands of all time that gained massive success on their own terms, thank you for 50 years of peace, love, and great music!