I am attending the Grateful Dead’s final shows in Chicago. These concerts will be the their retirement shows, and they are entitled “Fare Thee Well”, named after a lyric in their song “Brokedown Palace”.
There aren’t too many performers who retire this way.
In the mid-1970s, the Band recorded a movie (filmed by Martin Scorcese), and an album, called “The Last Waltz”. It was a documentary of their retirement concert, held on Thanksgiving Day, 1976 at Winterland Arena in San Francisco.
In addition to the Band, it features guest appearances by Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Dr. John, Bob Dylan, and many other stars of that time.
Most musicians don’t have the opportunity to announce their retirement, and then record their retirement party. I can only think of a few artists (in addition to the Band) who have managed to do this:
The Beatles- filmed on the roof of their recording studio in London, January 30, 1969. John Lennon finished the 40+ minute performance by saying “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition.”
Led Zeppelin performed a benefit reunion show in 2007, which was released on DVD as “Celebration Day”. They were in fine form that night. I’ve watched the show several times. It’s a pity they won’t tour.
Pink Floyd reunited to play 4 songs together at the Live8 show in London on July 2, 2005. Watch it on YouTube if you can.
There are a few big-time touring artists who will probably retire in the next 5 years or so. The Rolling Stones are on the road this summer on their Zip Code tour. U2 is playing New York City, Chicago and LA. The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac are on extended tours. I recently saw Paul McCartney in Tokyo and Philadelphia.
They will all eventually retire too.
Which brings me to the Grateful Dead. They announced that they are reuniting for 5 shows this summer (2 in the Bay Area June 27-28, and the final three shows in Chicago, July 3-5).
Interesting coincidence- the shows are being filmed by Martin Scorcese.
Of course they won’t be playing with Jerry Garcia, who died in 1995. Their “core four” of Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann will be joined by Trey Anastasio (Phish), Bruce Hornsby and Jeff Chimenti.
It will be a bittersweet weekend. It will be sweet, because it will give me the opportunity to say thank you for many great memories over the years. It will be bitter because I used to love seeing them perform in their prime, and they aren’t in their prime anymore.
Unfortunately, some of them aren’t even alive anymore.
Which brings me to Jerry Garcia.
I loved the guitar playing of Jerry Garcia. I still do.
I can listen to recordings of Jerry Garcia playing electric and acoustic, in a band or solo. I can listen to almost every year of his recordings, at least until near his death in 1995.
When Jerry Garcia died, the surviving members of the Grateful Dead were faced with a difficult choice. Should they continue playing with a different sound, continue playing with the same sound, or stop playing altogether?
What they did was a combination. Sometimes they formed bands that sounded like the Grateful Dead, and sometimes they formed bands that sounded different. In either case, I found myself thinking “something is missing”.
Jerry Garcia’s guitar playing, and his unique vocals, were missing.
I know the Grateful Dead won’t sound the same in Chicago as they used to.
I just want to wave goodbye, and say to them (as they used to sing), “thank you, for a real good time”.