It has been one week since the Fare Thee Well shows graced us with their presence on the stage at Soldier Field in Chicago. Sunday’s closer was too incredible to even put into words. Time was needed to decompress and arrange all the thoughts and musical moments of these shows before admitting defeat that the weekend has really, truly, honestly, come to a close. Months of build up to a magical weekend slipped by quickly and before we all knew it, poof, it was gone.
The events in Chicago over Fourth of July weekend has become more than the Grateful Dead. The music that was so heavily anticipated has become greater than the sum of all their shows, albums and memories of the past. The energy surrounding the weekend was filled with nothing but positive vibes and bliss. Have you ever seen so many people in one place that felt incredibly happy to be alive and living in the moment? That’s what Soldier Field contained. It was a gigantic stadium filled with great joy that weaved in and out of the seats, the floor, the walkways, and spilled out into the lot, to Shakedown and beyond. Smiles were everywhere, including Soldier Field staff, security and police. The magical happiness was contagious throughout the city, including hotels, restaurants, and bars. What other band can create a ripple effect felt far beyond the reaches of the stage?
As for Sunday’s closer, they held nothing back for the final performance. For the three shows, it appeared that Friday’s opener was designed to help fans release all that pent up energy they’ve been holding onto for months. Saturday’s show was a breather, a time to relax and take in the moment. Sunday’s show was the icing on the cake, the big bang, the epic show fans have been waiting for. All the big songs came out to play.
Trey Anastasio and Bruce Hornsby gave an incredible vocal performance with the opener of “China Cat Sunflower,” a song not often played at the starting position of a show, though maintained its familiarity by properly sliding right into “I Know You Rider.” A crowd favorite, “Estimated Prophet,” and one that has been eagerly anticipated, made an early appearance on the setlist. When the first notes of “Estimated” dropped, the stadium went absolutely insane. Everyone was on their feet jumping up and down, with arms in the air and ecstatic cheers of joy expressed aloud. “Built to Last,” from the Grateful Dead’s last studio album, came right onto the set and reminded fans that their music is timeless. “Samson and Delilah,” another heavy fan favorite showed up before going into an unforgettable, tear filled “Mountains of the Moon.” “Throwing Stones” had fans stomping their feet, creating a thunderous pounding throughout the stadium. It was an incredible way to close the first set on such an intense high.
During set break, a surprise fireworks display was set off to the delight of attendees. There were two nights of fireworks in a row? Again, this show was unstoppable with huge surprises in store. No one wanted the evening to end.
After a 45 minute set break, followed by a long trippy jam session to open, the second repeat of the five show run came into play with “Truckin’,” which made its original appearance in Santa Clara to open the first set of the first performance. How appropriate to have such a dynamic song materialize, once again, during the last set of the last show. Fans went crazy. The energy continued as they grooved into “Cassidy,” a tune that guaranteed everyone was jumping up and down, dancing their asses off; set two was on fire. “Althea,” a song many thought may open the show, finally emerged with Anastasio on vocals. This cruised right into the big one everyone had been waiting on.
The song that every single person wanted to hear, whether they were in the stadium, listening in their car, or watching on the webcast, finally came out to play. “Terrapin Station” crawled onto the stage and sat there to the thrill of thousands who have been patiently waiting to hear the notes begin. Teases of this tune were hinted at throughout the weekend and to everyone’s delight, finally came to light. Everyone went into a wild frenzy as this mystical melody filled the air. Not surprisingly, it seamlessly meshed into “Drums,” with the Rhythm Devils once again giving a performance that blew everyone away. The trancelike rhythms created by the duo included notes created by what’s known as “The Beam,” an 8-foot instrument that is strung with 13 bass piano strings all tuned to the note of D. Ghost-like sounds danced from the strings when Mickey Hart strummed this unique instrument. The very last notes of “Drums” included blasts from the locomotive horn, which woke everyone up in the stadium, before a psychedelic “Space” took over.
An incredibly rare performance of “Unbroken Chain” appeared mid-set, having only been performed live by the Grateful Dead 10 times before this evening. The same sequence of “Space>Unbroken Chain” was last performed at the final Grateful Dead show on July 9, 1995 at Soldier Field. Phil Lesh sang the notes to this song beautifully, and many of his emotions picked up, as fans in the audience cried tears of joy to hear this rarity being performed at the last show. Bob Weir then sang “Days Between” exceptionally well before the evening ended with “Not Fade Away.” What a way to end the evening it was indeed. As the performers slowly walked off stage, the Rhythm Devils kept the beat going as the audience belted out the lyrics, “You know our love will not fade away.” Even as the drummers left the stage, the stadium kept the lyrics going. It was only when Lesh walked back on stage to give his donor rap that the audience chant came to an end.
The evening was brought to a close with a double encore performance that included “Touch of Grey” and the final, tender rendition of “Attics of My Life.” Weir performed on an acoustic as Lesh and Anastasio put their instruments down to sing in tandem to this tearful, grasp at the heart performance. The evening ended with Mickey Hart’s very last words to everyone, “Please, be kind.”
Now that it has been a week of decompressing and digesting what was witnessed last weekend, many fans are finding it difficult to transition back into reality. The energy and vibe felt by all wants to be held onto forever. Something magical happened last weekend in Chicago. There’s no denying it. The feeling of euphoria still lingers with the phantom brush of wristbands still wrapped on an arm, the desire to check the Ticketmaster app for one more ticket drop, and that feeling of wanting to blurt out, “Anyone have extras?” What a long, strange trip it’s been, but this is not the end of a legacy; it’s just the beginning and there are so many roads left to explore. Until then, fare thee well…
Set 1: China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Estimated Prophet, Built To Last, Samson & Delilah, Mountains Of The Moon > Throwing Stones
Set 2: Truckin’, Cassidy, Althea, Terrapin Station > Drums > Space > Unbroken Chain, Days Between > Not Fade Away
Encore: Touch Of Grey
Encore 2: Attics Of My Life