Grateful Dead Reunion Concert

This upcoming Fourth of July weekend at Soldier Field in Chicago, theJeremy Bednarsh grateful dead surviving “core four” members of the Grateful Dead will be reuniting for three concerts to celebrate the band’s 50th anniversary.  For the shows, which are scheduled to take place between July 3rd and 5th, Weir, Lesh, Hart and Kreutzmann will be joined by an assortment of guests, including former touring member Bruce Hornsby and Phish co-founder Trey Anastasio.  In a promotional video for the event, Jerry Garcia’s daughter Trixie announces her pride in knowing that the Grateful Dead, a truly American rock band, will be celebrated on the birthday of America.  The choice of Chicago is also significant for other reasons, since it’s not only a geographical center of the US, but also because it’s the last place where the Grateful Dead played together in 1995.

These shows also sound like the closing of an age.  As Weird told Billboard, these will be the last shows with the four surviving core members of the Grateful Dead together.  That’s why they’ve chosen to do their show in Chicago, returning to where it all ended 20 years earlier.

To many, the Grateful Dead doesn’t feel like a band as much as they do a religion.  They were one of the first cult acts in music; although the Grateful Dead wasn’t originally as popular as other psychedelic bands, they were the leaders of the Haight-Ashbury music scene, with an intense cult following.  During the 1970s, as the Grateful Dead became more popular around the country, a number of fans began to travel to see the band in as many shows as they possibly could.  Through this, a culture began to develop around the band, with “Deadheads” developing their own idioms and slang.  Soon, Deadheads began to sell tie-dye shirts, veggie burritos and other items at Grateful Dead concerts so that they could make enough money to follow the band around.

Part of this popularity was due to the fact that Grateful Dead shows were experiences in themselves, with no one show like another.  Night-to-night song selections changed over shows, and the band typically played two set in a show, often followed by an encore.  With the same fans attending every concert, the Grateful Dead were allowed to experiment more with their concerts and continue touring.  As one generation of Deadheads aged, new ones sprung up, with multiple generations attending concerts together.

The popularity of the Grateful Dead is comparable to that of Phish, one of my personal favorite bands.  Like the Grateful Dead, Phish has gained (not without good reason) a rabid fan culture due to the popularity of their concerts.