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Grateful Dead marks 50 years with concerts in Chicago
02:03 - Source: CNN

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Grateful Dead celebrates 50th anniversary with three concerts in Chicago

Legendary band says it will be the last time 4 founding members perform together

Chicago CNN  — 

The legendary Grateful Dead is celebrating its 50th anniversary this Fourth of July weekend with three concerts at Chicago’s Soldier Field, the same place the band played its last show 20 years ago, shortly before Jerry Garcia died.

Billed as “Fare Thee Well,” named after lyrics from their early 1970s song “Brokedown Palace,” the concerts will be the last time the four founding members will perform together, the band says.

Rounding out the group is guitarist and singer Trey Anastasio of the popular band Phish, keyboardist and singer Bruce Hornsby, and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, who has collaborated with the band over the last decade. They also performed two shows last weekend at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, close to their San Francisco roots, where the group was born 50 years ago during the 1960s counter-culture.

The first time I saw the Grateful Dead was in 1992, the summer before I started college. It was insane for me to see Soldier Field, the place I grew up watching so many Chicago Bears games, be transformed into a raging party.

“Deadheads” of all ages descended on my hometown to dance, sing, and celebrate life. I was fascinated with how a weird band from the ’60s could connect with a stadium packed with so many different types of people.

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Like so many lifelong Dead fans, I became hooked during the whole experience of going to my first show. But when the party was over and I started exploring the band’s full catalog of records and their famous concert “tapes,” I became obsessed. Here are a few reasons why:

  • The great songwriting and vocals on songs like “Brokedown Palace” and “Ripple” from their 1970 Americana-soaked American Beauty album.
  • Their amazing musicianship and improvisation on tracks such as “Eyes of The World,” with sax guru Branford Marsalis on the 1990 “Without a Net” live album.
  • Their adventure-packed spacey impromptu jams like “St. Stephen” and “Dark Star” from their earlier years.
  • The electric feeling that takes over the crowd when the band plays “Shakedown Street,” “Scarlet Begonias/Fire on the Mountain,” “China Cat Sunflower/I Know You Rider,” “Jack Straw” or “Brown Eyed Women” – just to name a few of so many of their great songs they could bust out on any given night.

As a young producer with CNN in 2002, I jumped at the chance to mix in a little fun music coverage with all the hard news stories, and with that came various opportunities of a lifetime to interview the four men who founded the Grateful Dead with Jerry Garcia – Bob Weir (rhythm guitar/vocals), Phil Lesh (bass), Mickey Hart (drums), and Billy Kreutzmann (drums).

So without any more rambling, here are some of my favorite quotes from those intimate conversations that touched on the Grateful Dead’s legacy, capturing the magic all those years, and what makes their music so unique and special.

Weir and Lesh in 2002: What it’s like when the band is ‘on’

“It’s an eternal moment, it’s a timeless place,” Weir said. “We’ve been there on many different nights, but it’s the same moment. When your body becomes electric, and all the other stuff you bring to the party is sort of left behind because you are there in the moment and time drops away, space drops away, you sort of ascend to another place. And those moments have occurred. We’ve reached that moment on any number of nights, quite a few nights. But it’s that one place, that’s the moment.”