| Shaun Tandon |
NEW YORK (AFP) – Surviving members of the Grateful Dead are planning a reunion in a likely finale to the band that spawned a countercultural movement through their legions of traveling fans.
The Grateful Dead, who emerged from the hippie movement in California in the 1960s and whose fans include late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, will celebrate the band’s 50th anniversary with shows on July 3, 4 and 5 at Soldier Field in Chicago.
The stadium – the oldest US football stadium still in use and home to the Chicago Bears – was the site of the Grateful Dead’s last show with frontman Jerry Garcia after decades of touring in July 1995.
Garcia – who sang, played guitar and wrote songs – died one month after the concert, signaling an end to a cultural era in which free-spirited “Deadheads” followed the band from show to show and swapped bootleg recordings.
The reunion will feature the band’s surviving members – Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh and Bob Weir – with three guests to fill in for Garcia.
“These will be the last shows with the four of us together,” Weir told the industry journal Billboard.
Trixie Garcia, the late frontman’s daughter, voiced hope that the concerts would offer an opportunity for “Deadheads to come together.”
“The great thing about this show happening at Soldier Field in Chicago on the Fourth of July is because this is an amazing American rock band being celebrated on America’s birthday,” Garcia said in a video Friday announcing the concerts.
Among the musicians who will play on stage in Chicago will be Trey Anastasio, the singer and guitarist for Phish – a band often considered the successor to the Grateful Dead in their improvisational musical style and base of passionate but convivial fans.
Also joining the band will be Bruce Hornsby, a genre-merging pianist and singer who frequently collaborated with the Grateful Dead in the past, and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, who has played in a series of post-Grateful Dead groups involving the band’s members.
Surviving members of the Grateful Dead have reunited before, including for a benefit show in 2008 for then presidential candidate Barack Obama, which led to a series of full concerts.
But the Dead members have increasingly looked weary after years of marathon shows – which were famous for the wide consumption of drugs. Weir in August cancelled an entire tour of his RatDog band including a show due this month in Jamaica.
“It is with respect and gratitude that we reconvene the Dead one last time to celebrate – not merely the band’s legacy, but also the community that we’ve been playing to, and with, for 50 years,” Lesh, who turns 75 in March, told Billboard.
The Grateful Dead achieved a wide cultural influence despite never having commercial success in the music industry’s traditional sense.
Only one song – “Touch of Grey”, a concise pop track that the band had played for years live before releasing it in 1987 – ever made the top 10. Instead, the Grateful Dead pioneered modern musicians’ relationship with fans by not only allowing but encouraging bootleg recordings, which proliferated in the hundreds.
The communal vibe at the concerts gave the Grateful Dead an almost spiritual air for many Americans of the Baby Boom generation, including some who later achieved prominence including former vice president Al Gore and the late Jobs.
True to the band’s roots, the Grateful Dead will again sell tickets for the final concert to fans by mail order. But in a sign of changing times, tickets will also be sold online as well as VIP packages with exclusive seats and hotels.
Deadheads turned to social media to react to the news, with most rejoicing but some questioning why the band picked Chicago instead of California to sign off.