SANTA CLARA (KPIX) — After a half century and more than 2,300 live shows, the Grateful Dead — San Francisco’s ultimate jam band — is winding down their long, strange trip with stadium concerts in Santa Clara and Chicago.
Looking at a poster announcing the goodbye concerts at Levi’s Stadium, the Dead’s historian Dennis McNally remarked on its meaning.
“‘Fare thee well.’ Any Deadhead read that and a certain chill went through them,” McNally told KPIX 5’s Wilson Walker.
Noted music writer Joel Selvin agreed. “It’s kind of brilliantly marketed as the penultimate Grateful Dead experience,” he said. “It seems like you’ve got to go.”
Dead fan Jesse Toews proves their point. “The excitement was there,” Toews said. “I was just, wow! I definitely want to be there.”
According to Selvin, Levi’s Stadium, where the passage of time is marked with a display of blue jeans styles in the stadium’s museum, is just a few miles from where the band first began their career in Palo Alto in 1965.
Had the Dead’s guiding star, the late Jerry Garcia (who died in Aug. 1995). still been alive it’s not certain he’d have been comfortable with a farewell staged in the new Santa Clara venue — or the high ticket prices.
“It was suggested to me that if Jerry Garcia was still alive, the fiftieth anniversary would probably have been celebrated by a free concert in Golden Gate Park,” Selvin said. “That’s a nice thought. It might be true.”
Some fans even threatened to sue over the contorted ticketing process. Others, offended by the prices, simply called it greed — perhaps the worst violation of Deadhead Code.
“It is pretty amazing how much money has gone into this and how reflective it is of maybe the change in the entertainment industry and the change of culture, where we are with group events,” Toews said. “The list of the intricacies of how things have gone down is pretty frustrating.”
Selvin summed it up: “It’s done now, the tickets have been sold and everybody who’s got a ticket is going to the show.”
And, in fact, an estimated 100,000 fans will attend the weekend shows at Levi’s Stadium and given the band’s legendary fan loyalty, success is almost a guarantee.
“It’s going to be massive, regardless of what notes get played in a way,” Toews told us. “If they come out and just drop a funky Shakedown, people are just going to be flipping out.”
And, when the lights go out on the final show on July 5 at Chicago’s Soldier Field, what will be left will still be epic: a musical legacy that will live as long as rock ‘n’ roll itself.
“That’s what they’ve got left. They’ve got the songbook and they’ve got title to that songbook,” Selvin said.
And while their music may never really stop, there are only a few nights left for fans to say farewell.