10 Things Bob Weir’s Manager Revealed About Dead & Company + The Final Tour

Matt Busch gives insight into the band’s final run on the Wook Plus podcast.

By Andy Kahn Jul 28, 2023 11:31 am PDT

Dead & Company‘s Final Tour was the subject of a recent interview conducted by Matt Busch, who is the manager for Dead & Co. guitarist Bob Weir. Busch discussed his role with the band and gave candid, behind-the-scenes insight in to The Final Tour on a recent episode of the Wook Plus podcast.

One of Busch’s primary responsibilities, in addition to managing Bobby, is writing setlists for Dead & Company (and Weir’s other projects like Wolf Bros.). Busch’s setlist construction process and considerations came up often throughout the two-hour chat, along with many other fascinating topics.

Watch the full episode here and below and scroll on for 10 things Matt Busch revealed about Dead & Company and The Final Tour.

1. Bill Kreutzmann Didn’t Quit Dead & Co. Over Tempos

The controversial subject of tempo came up during Busch’s interview in the context of there being a sense that song tempos on The Final Tour were faster. Busch stated he felt based on beats per minute that tempos were not necessarily faster but drummer Jay Lane’s feel and groove gave the songs a different pace.

Busch also made clear that song tempos were not why drummer Bill Kreutzmann chose not to participate the in the Final Tour. Busch notably mentioned, “Billy didn’t quit the band because they were playing too slow,” leaving open the question as to why he did “quit the band.”

2. Dave & Company Was Tied To 2001 Folsom Field Incident

Busch detailed the circumstances surrounding Dave Matthews’ sit-in at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colorado. He pointed to the fact that Dave Matthews Band’s curfew-breaking performance at Folsom Field in 2001 was the last at the college football stadium until Dead & Company played there for the first time in 2016. Busch also mentioned a private event Weir and Matthews played together in January at New York’s Brooklyn Bowl as helping spark the sit-in.

Matthews selected “The Weight” and “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” and Busch proposed “All Along The Watchtower” and “Not Fade Away.” Busch gave drummer Jay Lane credit for propelling the performance of “Watchtower” which mimicked the way DMB plays the Bob Dylan classic.

3. “John Didn’t Want To Do His Solo Tunes With Dead & Company”

The Final Tour, like previous Dead & Co. tours, was absent any songs from John Mayer’s extensive solo career. Despite his deep catalog of original songs, Busch revealed it was John Mayer himself who made the call to keep them out of the Dead & Company live repertoire. “John didn’t want to do his solo tunes with Dead & Company,” Busch stated matter-of-factly.

Busch mentioned Mayer’s song “Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967” was kicked around as an idea for a potential play, but ultimately it was Mayer’s call to avoid that material entirely.

4. Bob Dylan *Was* Invited To Final Shows

A rumor circulated ahead of the final shows of Dead & Company’s Final Tour that Bob Dylan was going to join the band during their three-show run in San Francisco. Dylan’s recent live performances of Grateful Dead covers and songs associated with the band – including Bob Weir’s Josh Ritter collab “Only A River” – helped fuel the speculation. Dylan and the Dead toured together in 1987 and released a live album recorded on the run.

“We did invite Dylan to the last shows,” Busch revealed, “but we’re still waiting on an answer.”

5. “It’s All Over Now” Was Almost Played For The 1st Time Since 2018

In 2018, Dead & Company covered “It’s All Over Now” two times but they shelved the song written by Bobby Womack and Shirley Womack after those two appearances. The song was the first hit for The Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead performed it over 150 times between 1969 and 1995.

Led by Weir with both the Dead and Dead & Co., the lyrics “I used to love her, but it’s all over now” might have seemed somewhat fitting to have been sung once more on the Final Tour. Busch mentioned the band soundchecked “It’s All Over Now” at both The Gorge and in San Francisco, but Weir decided against playing it.

6. “Dark Star On The Big River Jam” Was Spontaneous

One of the highlights of The Final Tour was the emergence of what Busch labeled “Dark Star On The Big River Jam.” As the title suggests, Dead & Company merged the melody of “Dark Star” with the rhythm of Johnny Cash’s “Big River” first at Fenway Park in Boston and then at Deer Creek in Indiana.

At Fenway, Busch talked to Weir during “Drums” and the guitarist decided he wanted to change the setlist coming out of “Space.” Here’s what Busch said went down:

Bobby looked at the set, what was left, and I had he second part of The Other One coming out of “Space.” And he said, ‘I don’t want to do that, kick that to tomorrow night, let’s do something else.’ I’m like, well, what do you have in mind? And he’s like, ‘We’ll be in the key of whatever, let’s just jam around there and see what happens … see what John [Mayer] wants to do. Run over to John and he said, ‘I’d rather do a song than just that. What if we do a cowboy tune out of ‘Space?’’ I’m like, all right, I like where this is going.”

“El Paso” and “Mama Tried” were tossed around before both Busch and Mayer landed on “Big River” at the same time. Busch relayed the idea to Weir who said “That’s a great idea, but I’m not singing it” (Weir typically sings “Big River”). Unsure of what exactly to do and running out of time, Busch headed to tell the teleprompter operator to get “Big River” ready.

Upon coming back to the other side of the stage Busch encountered Weir, Mayer, bassist Oteil Burbridge and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti who let him know of their plans to mesh “Dark Star” with “Big River.” Chimenti suggested they take on the “Dark Star On The Big River Jam” one more time at Deer Creek. Busch recounted Weir’s response to Chimenti’s suggestion:

“Bobby goes,’That’s great, but we’re not running it. We’re just doing it.’ All right, cool. And then they talked down how they would do it, and then did it a completely different way in real-time. Originally, I think during John’s last [“Big River”] solo is when they would start playing “Dark Star” over it, and then Bobby would start singing “Dark Star” over his solo in “Big River.”

Instead, they played the whole song all the way through. I remember standing there thinking, ‘Oh fuck, they’re not doing it’ and then Bobby sort of did this motion [gestures with hand], and next thing I know, he’s singing “Dark Star” and it just blew all our minds.

7. Mickey Hart Almost Did More “Fire On The Mountain” Rapping

Drummer Mickey Hart rapped the third verse of “Fire On The Mountain,” in a similar fashion to his original version of the now-classic Grateful Dead song, on night two of the band’s three-show run at Folsom Field. The idea first came up earlier in the tour when Mickey’s daughter Raya planted the seed with Busch.

After rapping a verse in Boulder, Hart was potentially going to take another shot at it before the end of The Final Tour. Not only that, but Busch mentioned there was talk of having Hart add in lost verses of the song that was written by Hart and Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter.

“There’s actually six verses to ‘Fire On The Mountain’ and at one point he was going to put in some of the other verses,” Busch recalled. “I don’t know if he was going to do all six.”

8. Unused Robert Hunter Lyrics Were Considered For New Dead & Company Songs

When asked about why Dead & Company never wrote new original songs, Busch noted that attempts had been made but “somehow never got done.” There were even unused lyrics written by Robert Hunter that were considered but “Dead & Company never fully got into the songwriting process.”

Though not Dead & Company songs, the Hunter lyrics did lead to the creation of two new songs. “Thunder,” which Bill Kreutzmann brought to Billy Strings, came from those Hunter lyrics. “Big Sandy Creek,” which Bob Weir brought to Matty Michna, also came from those Hunter lyrics.

9. The Band’s Fenway Entrance Was The Wildest Part Of The Final Tour

Busch was prompted to share the craziest or wildest part of The Final Tour. After taking some time to come up with an answer, Busch landed on how the band entered Fenway Park in Boston. He then explained that the logistics surrounding how the members of the band got into Fenway was anything but typical.

“We were parked in the media lot [and expected to] get a ride in SUVs and a motorcycle cop [would] lead us through the crowd and go inside. The cop said, ‘We’re not, these streets are too crowded, we can’t do that.’

“So night one, we’re basically like, ‘how are we getting in the venue?’ We kind of came up with a plan where I think only Bobby and Mickey were on the buses and everyone else was in the [Fenway] clubhouses for the dressing rooms. We would just drive Bobby and Mickey to the clubhouse where we meet with John and the other band and then we would just have to come out the dugout and walk through the crowd and get to stage.

“Well Bobby steps off the bus, [and decides] we’re just gonna walk. It’s 200 feet away, we’ll just gang walk it. And they step out, and Gate B is right there, the public entrance. And Bobby goes, ‘Fuck it, let’s just go in.’ And we went right in, the main gate, through the concourse. I mean, the concourse is going bonkers, yelling. They can’t believe what they’re seeing, while John and they’re coming through the field at the same time. Everyone just kind of met on stage.

“So the second night we’re like, we got to do this together and we’ll get double the security detail, but we’ll do it together. But the walk actually is, if you’re a baseball fan — and I am a baseball fan as much as I hate the Red Sox — I had to appreciate this moment, we’re walking into the Red Sox clubhouse, down their stairs, to their tunnel, through their tunnel, up their dugout steps — we’re in the Red Sox dugout– out onto the field, that glorious view of the Green Monster that every baseball player in history has had, and then led through the field. Of course it’s not a straight line, because it’s the barricade of the field, so we’re like zigzagging in and out of the crowd, the crowd’s going nuts, the whole stadium is cheering.

“It was like the most rock star entrance ever.”

10. How The Final Tour’s Final Setlist Came Together

Busch’s role in writing setlists for Dead & Company came up frequently throughout the extensive interview. Busch abandoned past practices he utilized for writing setlists on The Final Tour, instead relying on his own intuition and input from the members of the band.

Viewing the two shows at The Gorge and the three shows in San Francisco as a single, final run, Busch prepared setlists accordingly. Busch noted the absence of “One More Saturday Night” on the Saturday night of the San Francisco stand was due to Weir needing to rest his voice after the strain that comes from singing it. Since they had a third show to play on Sunday, it was relegated to The Gorge.

The Final Tour’s final show’s finale was also discussed. Busch detailed the thinking that went into the encore of the Sunday San Francisco show. Busch pointed out that the Friday San Francisco show’s setlist was constructed of songs sung by Jerry Garcia (which was partly why “It’s All Over Now” was left off that setlist). That show’s “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” was planned well in advance, though sadly Sam Cutler’s image needed to be added at the last minute. The somber “Knocking” encore was planned for opening night so as to make certain the final night was celebratory.

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