On January 5th, just after his band Phish ended a four-night run of shows in Miami, singer-guitarist Trey Anastasio received an e-mail from Phil Lesh, the former bassist of the Grateful Dead. Lesh asked Anastasio to join him and the other surviving members of his band — guitarist Bob Weir and drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart — onstage for reunion concerts this summer marking the Dead’s 50th birthday and the 20th anniversary of the passing of founding guitarist Jerry Garcia. Anastasio recalls his immediate reaction: “It was a thrill and an honor.” Still, he adds, “I thought about it for a minute, tried to think about the implications.” Then he said yes.
“Phil said all four of them thought it was the right thing,” Anastasio says of the shows, to be held at Soldier Field in Chicago on July 3rd, 4th and 5th. Garcia last performed with the Dead at that 61,500-seat stadium, on July 9th, 1995; he died a month later, on August 9th at 53, of a heart attack. Anastasio notes that Lesh, in his message, “talked about the healthy relationships between the band members,” that the reunion “was going to be a real positive experience. And Phil said, ‘This is the last time I’m doing this.’ He seemed pretty definitive about that.”
The Dead’s July run — dubbed “Fare Thee Well” and featuring keyboard players Bruce Hornsby, who played with the Dead in the Nineties, and longtime Weir and Lesh sideman Jeff Chimenti — is on track to become the biggest single-act concert event of the year, and possibly the largest ever. Two weeks after the shows were announced, ticket requests via presale mail order totaled more than 400,000, well past capacity. Peter Shapiro, the New York-based promoter and entrepreneur who conceived the shows, says he and co-producers Madison House Presents are “looking at going 360” — opening up the seating behind the stage — and “going general admission” on the field “to accommodate more people and have more of a vibe.”
Shapiro estimates the cost of producing “Fare Thee Well” – and potential revenue — in “the multiple millions of dollars. But with this response, we can put on a show that takes the spirit of the Grateful Dead, what they were doing production-wise, and push it to the highest level.” He promises vintage touches such as a tapers’ section, specially printed commemorative tickets and “a safe, energetic lot scene.” The demand for tickets ensures that “not everyone is going to get in,” Shapiro warns. So he is working on simulcasting the shows around the country; Shapiro is already holding the dates at his venues, including the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York, and the Brooklyn Bowl.