What everyone’s talking about since the Grateful Dead’s final farewell…
By Leora Katz
For three nights between July 3–6, the four remaining members of the Grateful Dead teamed up with three other musicians for “Fare Thee Well” — a concert series billed as the Dead’s last. The shows took place at Soldier Field in Chicago — the same stadium that hosted the Grateful Dead’s final show in July 1995, shortly before Jerry Garcia died.
I can’t help but feel that I was just part of a massive cultural event, one that will go down in music history and one that has deeply marked every soul in attendance.
The energy, the vibe, the collective experience… that’s what everyone’s talking about as they reflect on what just happened. Sure, the music knocked us off our feet, Trey’s knowing grin had our hearts beaming, and we all just had a tremendously fun adventure with our closest friends… but that’s not what this weekend was.
This weekend was a community — a real, true community — coming together in celebration of life. In celebration of music, of friendship, of happiness, of dance — of spirit, peace, and love. With a deep respect for all that came before, a profound acceptance for what’s happening now, and a shared optimism that everything will be okay.
The collective energy was tangible, and it started way before walking into Soldier Field. The beautiful streets of Chicago were overrun by people there for the shows. There was tie-dye at every turn, strangers having conversations across tables in every restaurant, and no such thing as an awkward elevator ride in any hotel. There were veteran Deadheads with beards so long they must have stopped shaving during their last tour, young jamband fans walking proudly in their go-to band’s merch, and tons less identifiable, but with that warm smile in their eyes that said it all.
Getting in and out of the shows was, technically, madness. 70,000+ people walking to one place at one time — if you do the math, we were shoulder-to-shoulder and barely moving for hours this weekend. But instead of pushing, we chatted with whichever new face showed up beside us. Instead of trying to get ahead, we erupted into spontaneous cheers. We were in it together, and together we were.
And then the shows… the shows! Sheesh, to even try to describe. It was the most stunning display of unity, even more so because everyone in attendance seems to agree. The weaving of band and audience, friend and stranger, old and young — I’ve never seen anything quite like this.
The audience was just as much on stage as the band. They channeled us, we lead them, they took us on a ride, we sang, they danced, and man did we all jam. Everyone around you was a likely dance partner, a definite smile, and a potential high five, hug, or “I love you.” Whether you were weaving through aisles or across the floor, waiting in a washroom, beer, or merch line, dancing up a storm, swaying eyes-closed, or resting your precious feet — you were part of a living, loving, beautiful entity and you were madly embraced by every other part.
How did this happen? Is there some sort of Grateful Dead Darwinism, where only the kindest score a ticket to the show?
If this is what being a Deadhead is all about — and from talking to tons this weekend, it is — the entire world could learn a thing or two from this magnificent bundle of souls.
After the last notes were played, the lights came on, and the band gave their final goodbyes — no one wanted to leave that stadium. People folded into group embraces with tears in their eyes and the biggest smiles, holding on so tightly to what we all just witnessed.
As if any further evidence was needed that this weekend was about a magical oneness, Mickey Hart concluded the final show by saying:
“The feeling we have here — remember it, take it home and do some good with it. I’ll leave you with this: Please, be kind.”
To echo his perfectly timed words, my only hope is that everyone who was lucky enough to be there holds on to this buzzy glowy light and brightly shines it back to wherever they return, spreading happiness, peace and love.
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