On Sunday July 5 the Grateful Dead pulled down the curtain on a 50-year career in the music business. The surviving members of the original Grateful Dead line-up came together at Chicago’s Soldier Field to treat fans to a magnificent final show. The Deadheads, young and old, gathered to pay tribute to original Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzman and Mickey Hart. The originals were joined by Trey Anastasio, Jeff Chimenti and Bruce Hornsby and together they put together a show that no-one present will ever forget.
According to Rolling Stone, when 70,000 Grateful Dead fans sang “I know you rider/Gonna miss me when I’m gone” it was as if “they were singing them to each other,” an indication that they knew that Sunday was the end of an era. When the final notes of the Grateful Dead’s final performance faded into the warm Chicago night it was more than the end of a concert. As the Grateful Dead passed into history, an era ended.
There had been rumblings, discontent about the price of the tickets for the final Grateful Dead shows. There were further gasps of shock when it was announced that their parting gift to Deadheads would be a $700, 80-disc anthology of recording of live shows spanning an entire career. As several generations of Grateful Dead fans mingled at Soldier Field, not a single one of them would begrudge the ticket price. These were people who knew they were witnessing a moment in music history. In many ways, the assembled masses knew they were witnessing a little slice of American history, for the Grateful Dead are surely the most iconic and long-lived of American rock bands.
As the New York Times remarked, the Grateful Dead were a band who lived in the moment. They never played a song the same way twice, the band members free to innovate and demonstrate their creativity. The Grateful dead have provided the soundtrack to many peoples lives. As last weekend’s concerts demonstrate, they bring together septuagenarians, who have been Deadheads since the start, and teenagers who were not even born when the Dead played their last shows at the same venue on July 9, 1995. All came together to celebrate the passing of an American cultural institution the like of which will never be seen again.
President Obama, a Chicagoan himself, summed up the feeling of many and demonstrated that he too is a Deadhead by sending a congratulatory message to the Grateful Dead.
It read “[H]ere’s to fifty years of the Grateful Dead, an iconic American band that embodies the creativity, passion and ability to bring people together that makes American music so great. Enjoy this weekend’s celebration of your fans and legacy. And as Jerry [Garcia] would say, ‘Let there be songs to fill the air.’ “
Many will miss the Grateful Dead, but their legacy will live long in the memory of everyone who was ever touched by their music.
[Photo by Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images]