JamBase List | 10 Fare Thee Well Questions To Be Answered

After more than five months of anticipation Fare Thee Well -Celebrating 50 Years Of Grateful Dead finally begins tomorrow night with the first of two shows at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California ahead of next weekend’s three-night stand (July 3 -5) at Soldier Field in Chicago. All of the hype both positive and negative will fade into memory as Grateful Dead members Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh, Bob Weir and Mickey Hart take the stage with Trey Anastasio, Jeff Chimenti and Bruce Hornsby.

[Photo via @GratefulDead50]

Now that the focus will finally be where it belongs, on the music, here are 10 things to watch for over the next two weekends:

1. How will they open the shows?

We’ve got goosebumps just thinking about the moment the band takes the stage and tens of thousands of Deadheads go wild. Will they use typical GD openers from the group’s 30-year career or take an alternative direction? You may recall that the wild, 30+ minute “Viola Lee Blues” opener Phil Lesh & Friends featuring Anastasio and keyboardist Page McConnell played on April 15, 1999 set the tone for their legendary three-night stand at The Warfield in San Francisco.

2. Will they only play songs from the Dead’s live repertoire?

Each time The Dead’s “core four” toured in the post-Jerry era they played songs the Grateful Dead never performed. Whether it was The Other One’s “Wild Horses” in 1998 or The Dead’s versions of Phil Lesh/Robert Hunter originals such as “Night Of A Thousand Stars” and “No More Do I,” the post-Jerry versions of The Other Ones/The Dead didn’t just stick with songs performed in 1965 -1995. In prior appearances with Phil Lesh & Friends, Trey Anastasio has led the bassist’s ensembles through such Phish/TAB songs as “Sweet Dreams Melinda,” “Wolfman’s Brother” and “Plasma.” We’ll soon find out whether the Fare Thee Well band dives into any “new” material.

3. Will the weather wreak havoc on the shows?

While the weather for Santa Clara is looking good, early forecasts for Chicago look like rain. Co-organizer Peter Shapiro has been keeping tabs on the situation as described by Bloomberg Business, “He’s also become obsessed with Chicago’s weather. Rain will alter the mood; if there’s lightning, the crew will need to go through an annoying rigmarole to keep fans safe. He says he’ll be troubleshooting during the shows, not watching them.”

4. Who will sing what?

There are four capable vocalists on hand in Anastasio, Hornsby, Lesh and Weir. How will they decide who sings what song? We’d imagine Phil and Bobby will sing the tunes they generally sang with the Grateful Dead, but all bets are off when it comes to Jerry’s material.

5. Repeats?

The Grateful Dead played hundreds of songs including covers and originals and it wasn’t rare for the group not to repeat any material over the course of five shows. However, we’re talking about a band that’s never played together before, and while we don’t expect them to perform every song played in Santa Clara at Soldier Field, we’d be very surprised if there are not at least a dozen repeats. Then again, Bob Weir told the Wall Street Journal, “We compiled a list of probably 120 or 130 tunes. There’s no way to get to them all. We’ll knock it back to 70 or 80. In rehearsal, if we pull up a tune and it seems like it’s going to take a lot of work, we’ll put it off and go with something that everyone has a better handle on. When we have enough tunes that we’re confident enough to trot out on stage, we’ll come back to the higher hanging fruit.”

6. The Production

Fare Thee Well organizers commissioned longtime Grateful Dead lighting designer Candice Brightman to light each show. Over the past 20 years there’s been a dramatic change in technology for concert lighting and sound. We look forward to see what Candice and Meyer Sound have in store for the five shows.

7. Will Drums/Space take place each night?

[Photo by John Werner]

Lengthy Drums/Space segments were a staple of Grateful Dead performances starting in the late ’70s through 1995. From the looks of Hart and Kreutzmann’s massive rigs in the photo above, we’d imagine they’ll utilize their many toys for a Rhythm Devils drum duet each night. Will that lead into Lesh, Weir, Anastasio, Chimenti and Hornsby then taking Space deep?

8. Will there be any special guests?

Vocalist Donna Jean Godchaux and keyboardist Tom Constanten are the two surviving, former members of the Grateful Dead who aren’t in the lineup for the shows. Will we see either of them guest during one or more performances? Will the band members call upon any of their other friends to sit-in?

9. Will the band use and stick to a pre-planned setlist?

Phil Lesh usually plots a setlist before each Phil & Friends show and rarely deviates from the pre-planned setlist, but that wasn’t the way the Grateful Dead generally did things. Bob Weir responded to the Wall Street Journal’s inquiry about the setlist with “When the Dead was on, the advantage was that while Jerry was singing, I had all that song to figure out what I was going to do next. And Jerry would do that while I was singing. [This summer] we’ll have a number of guys who can do vocals, so it’s not impossible that we could toss our set list and work off the cuff.”

10. How will it end?

The last show Jerry Garcia played ended with a “Black Muddy River”/”Box Of Rain” encore. Will the Fare Thee Well band keep that finale intact as the encore on July 5 or go with the more traditional GD closers of “Brokedown Palace” or “And We Bid You Goodnight” or will they go in a completely different direction?

Watch a YouTube playlist of our Grateful Dead 50 tribute, the Songs Of Their Own video series: