‘Fare Thee Well’ Grateful Dead Celebration Begins On This Date In 2015

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Four years ago today one of the more highly anticipated and lucrative series of concerts in rock history began with the first Fare Thee Well – Celebrating 50 Years of the Grateful Dead performance featuring Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann joined by keyboardists Jeff Chimenti and Bruce Hornsby as well as Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio. The septet started off with a pair of shows at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California June 27 – 28, 2015 and ended with a three-night stand at Soldier Field in Chicago July 3 – 5, 2015.

The Fare Thee Well’s band debut focused strictly on material the Grateful Dead first performed live between 1965 and 1970. While it quickly became clear the ensemble hadn’t spent too much time rehearsing for the shows, which were later called “warmup gigs” by many involved, there were plenty of moments of magic within. Outside of the music, opening night will be best remembered for a controversy over a rainbow that appeared towards the end of the rainbow which was ignited when Billboard erroneously published a report from “an insider who claims the production sprang for the effect, at a cost of $50,000.” Billboard retracted the report with one of the show’s producers, impresario Peter Shapiro cleverly telling the magazine about the rainbow, “It was man-made and the man that made it was Jerry Garcia.”

Musically, the best moments came when the seven-piece was jamming. The first set featured many flubs as the band members either stepped on each others toes or went too far in the other direction with no leaders stepping up. “Alligator” was particularly disastrous. However, “St. Stephen” contained arguably the most adventurous improvisation of the entire run and whole “Cryptical Envelopment” > “Dark Star” > “St. Stephen” > “The Eleven” sequence that started the second set is filled with impressive jamming.

Anastasio spent months in “Dead Camp” studying the music of the Grateful Dead and the lessons started to pay off in Santa Clara. He was tentative at many points and would really come out his shell after a conversation with Bill Walton, when the legendary basketball player and Deadhead told him, “You’re on a team, and on a team, not everyone is equally important.” Trey was at his best when he was asserting himself as did on the powerful “Morning Dew” that ended the second set.

The keyboards were tough to pull out of the mix at the Santa Clara shows, but can be heard much better in the best recording of the opener which can be streamed below. Jeff Chimenti did an impressive job as he focused on organ with Hornsby handling most of the piano duties. While Bob Weir has toured regularly ever since, let’s not forget he had been out of the spotlight for nearly a year following a sudden August 2014 announcement that the guitarist was cancelling all future gigs while he tended to his health. He had a strong night and his interplay with Phil brought chills at points. The drummers took some time to get into groove, but were in fine form throughout the second set and showed off a “Drums” for the 21st century with hints of jamtronica in the middle of the closing stanza.

An odd, unexpected moment came within “Drums”/”Space” as the seven-piece performed the Dead obscurity “What’s Become Of Baby?” a song the Grateful Dead is thought to have only played once. To end the show, Bruce Hornsby had his one and only lead vocal of the evening on a romp through “Casey Jones.” Listen to an audience recording of the show taped by Jay:

Setlist

Grateful Dead at Levi's Stadium

Set 1
  • Truckin'  
  • Uncle John's Band  
  • Alligator  
  • Cumberland Blues  
  • Born Cross-Eyed  
  • Cream Puff War  
  • Viola Lee Blues  
Set 2
  • Cryptical Envelopment  
  • Dark Star  
  • St. Stephen  
  • The Eleven  
  • Turn On Your Love Light  
  • Drums  
  • What's Become of the Baby?  
  • Space  
  • The Other One  
  • Morning Dew  
Encore
  • Casey Jones

[Originally Published: July 27, 2016]