Dead & Company Get Sentimental in Saratoga Farewell

The long strange trip is allegedly coming to an end, but not before one more Saturday night in Saratoga Springs. Kicking off Father’s Day weekend on a high note, the spirit of Jerry Garcia was alive and well as Dead & Company rolled into town for a pair of sold out shows at Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) on June 17th and 18th.

dead and company saratoga

Billed as “The Final Tour,” concert goers from all over turned out in huge numbers, creating both a circus-like atmosphere, a bit of an over-crowded cluster, and oh yeah, one heck of a good time! While the weekend also marked the 40th anniversary of the Grateful Dead’s first-time playing in Saratoga, many fans were also quick to point out the last time Dead & Company were in town, the show never actually happened, as it was abruptly called off due to a family emergency within the band. It was never rescheduled, although this year, a second Dead & Company show was added for the first, and last time ever.

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In typical Dead fashion, just getting inside the venue was an adventure in itself. Between massive traffic jams, Shakedown Street shenanigans and huge lines at the turnstiles, before the show even started the lawn overflow had spilled well into the food court area. The place was absolutely packed and the buzz in the air was tangible, friendly, and electric. Strangers were literally stopping strangers just to shake their hand. As Dead & Company took the stage to a rousing ovation, things would kick off with a well-received cover of Sam Cooke’s classic “Let the Good Times Roll,” a sure sign that both the band and the fans were on the same page.

dead and company saratoga

Anchored by original Grateful Dead members Bob Weir (guitar/vocals) and Mickey Hart (drums), this incarnation of the group features cross-over pop superstar John Mayer on lead guitar and vocals, Oteil Burbridge (bass/vocals), Jeff Chimenti (keyboards/vocals), and Jay Lane (drums). Noodling their way into the familiar sounds of “Scarlet Begonias,” the 14 minute dance party would pick up even more steam as the band segued into the time tested sing-along of “Deal.” Weir would croon “Black-Throated Wind” for us next, before handing over vocal duties to Mayer for the always appreciated “Dire Wolf.”

dead and company saratoga

The centerpiece of the set, and perhaps the whole night, came next in the form of “Bird Song.” As people slowly realized what it was, you could almost feel the collective sense of joy. The delicate and lush harmonies transporting you to a place of peace and tranquility, despite having the controlled chaos of some thirty thousand people all around you, all clamoring for a better view of the stage. John Mayer’s melodic guitar work played particularly well off Chimenti’s tasteful keyboards here, yielding the longest piece of improvisation of the night, clocking in at just under 19 minutes. A silky smooth transition into “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” had the entire place feeling groovy and singing along once again with huge smiles on their faces as the opening set came to close.

After a brief break in the action, an up-tempo “70’s era” version of “They Love Each Other” kicked things back into gear to start the second half of the show. The popularity of Mayer was very noticeable here. Anytime he would sing a verse, a wave of female cheers would cascade through the audience, though Mayer, wearing noise canceling headphones, would never hear them. Instead focusing on interplay with Weir and settling into a fiery groove that would eventually lead the train to “Terrapin Station,” the captivated crowed swayed to the music in pure delight as the lengthy, complex composition was executed beautifully. Oteil Burbridge, who will headline the Rye Bread Music Festival not far from Saratoga next month, was particularly charismatic as “Terrapin” reached it’s final peak.

Like I told you, what I said / Steal your face right off your head

– “He’s Gone”

After that, there was nothin’ left to do, but smile, smile, smile as the song that gave birth to one of the most recognizable logos of all time, “He’s Gone,” gave the audience both a chance to sing and to reflect. The slow and bluesy groove would gradually build on itself, adding subtle layers of momentum until coming around again and finally revealing itself as “The Other One.”

About 13 minutes into it, things would get a little weird as Mickey Hart and Jay Lane would tag team on “Drums/Space,” which took on a decidedly darker, droning-type vibe that had at least one person near me slightly concerned for their apparent heart condition. Eventually the rest of Dead & Company would return to the stage and seamlessly pick up right where they left off, continuing with the second half of “The Other One.”

Next, Bobby would lead the band though the emotional high point of the evening with a heartfelt rendition of “Days Between,” a tribute to the enduring legacy of Jerry Garcia and a sentiment that resonated deeply with everyone in the audience. Picking up the pace now, the band would get everyone back on their feet and dancing once again for a set closing “Turn On Your Love Light.” With the audience still hollering for more, everyone knew exactly what was coming for the encore. And while fans were treated to a smokin’ yet obligatory “One More Saturday Night,” you couldn’t help but feel skeptical at the shows bittersweet ending.

With the band currently sounding as tight as ever and clearly still with significant drawing power, are we really to believe this is the end of the road for Dead & Company, or is this perhaps just the start of an exciting new chapter? With scores of imitators and Dead cover bands already ensuing the music never stops, one thing is for certain: whether this band tours again or not, The Grateful Dead will never die. After a few days of rest, “The Final Tour” will resume at Citi Field in Queens, NY before heading to Fenway Park in Boston this weekend.

Dead & Company | Saratoga Performing Arts Center | Saratoga Springs, NY | 6/17/23
Set 1: Good Times , Scarlet Begonias > Deal, Black-Throated Wind, Dire Wolf, Bird Song > Going Down the Road Feeling Bad
Set 2: They Love Each Other > Terrapin Station, He’s Gone > The Other One (verse 1) > Drums > Space > ‘The Other One (verse 2) > Days Between, Turn On Your Love Light
Encore: One More Saturday Night

Dead & Company | Saratoga Performing Arts Center | Saratoga Springs, NY | 6/18/23
Set 1:
Hell in a Bucket, Sugaree, Mississippi Half-Step > Mr. Charlie, Friend of the Devil > Lost Sailor > Saint of Circumstance > Big Railroad Blues
Set 2: Samson and Delilah, Playing in the Band > Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower > Drums > Space > Death Don’t Have No Mercy, Throwing Stones, Sugar Magnolia
Encore: Werewolves of London > Playing Reprise

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