Dead & Company, the newest configuration of the Grateful Dead, announced a 16 show fall tour starting in New York City at Madison Square Garden on November 12. After a two night stand the band rolled into Philadelphia on December 16 to play to a sold out crowd at the Wells Fargo Center.
Dead & Company consists of original founding Grateful Dead members Bob Weir on guitar and lead vocals along with Mickey Hart, and Bill Kreutzmann playing the drums, and alternate percussion. Jerry Garcia’s spot is being played by seven-time Grammy winner, and pop star, John Mayer. Allman Brothers bassist, Oteil Burbridge, lays the bass in Phil Lesh’s spot, and longtime Bob Weir keyboardist Jeff Chimenti fills the notes in between. Dead & Company picks up where The Grateful Dead left off.
Bob Weir talked with Jesse Jarnow of Rolling Stone on May 5, 2017 saying, “My model for how to work this material is for everybody to be fluent with the most recent iteration of the tune that we did until 1995 [when Jerry Garcia died]. I think people should go back and listen to earlier versions, but we like people to hear where it was when we left it when we were playing with Jerry.”
When the gates opened at 3 o’clock on November 14, the parking lot began to transform into what fans (aka “Deadheads”) call “Shakedown Street.” Named after the 1978 record and song, Shakedown Street is a pop-up flea market style street fest filled with merchants selling pins, Grateful Dead memorabilia, alcohol, and trinkets.
At any Dead show you can find Shakedown Street, just follow the aroma of BBQ ribs cooking and they hazy cloud of weed being smoked. Buses painted psychedelic, filled with couches lined up next to minivans, cars, and motorhomes all tailgating with the Grateful Dead music faintly in the background. A group of middle-aged men was playing cards while drinking beer reminiscing about 40 years ago they were in the same spot, doing the same thing.
A tie-dye ocean of hippies below strolled around the aisles as the band nonchalantly strolled on stage the lights dimmed and the crowd roared. After plugging in and getting the levels adjusted, the drums kicked into the song, “Dancing in the Streets,” a familiar Martha and the Vandellas song from 1964 that has also been covered by David Bowie and Mick Jagger.
The band plucked into 1970 hit, “Friend of the Devil,” people began to dance. Also known as “spinners” among Dead fans, the dancers moved to the notes flowing from the guitar, gracefully changing rhythms as they danced with one another in a circle. The crowd in unison with Mayer and Weir sang, “ I set out running, but I take my time. A friend of the devil is a friend of mine I get home before daylight, I just might get some sleep tonight.”
Trenton resident and lifelong Deadhead, Jim Kelly said, “It was like 20,000 Deadheads around you like a warm blanket. After a 20 year hiatus, this band is back and just as strong of a music machine as before. Jerry may be gone, but John is filling in smoothly. The music never stopped.”
The Grateful Dead were known for having fans following them around the country, going to every show they played. The connection the band has with the fans is extraordinary on personal and spiritual levels.
During John Mayer’s solo tour, on August 23rd in Wantagh,New York he pointed out Richard Smith, also from New York saying, “I’d actually like to thank this gentleman right here in the headband. This gentleman has been at every Dead & Company show, every show. I’ve looked to you at times when I wasn’t sure that I really knew what would come next….I just want to thank you. I want you to follow me around in life.”
The VOICE had the chance to catch up with Mr. Smith during the set break of the show, “Dead & Company means the world to me. They take me back to 1989 when The Grateful Dead were at one of their better years. I’ve seen almost every show [only missing one show] because I know it won’t last forever and I want to ride this wave as often as possible. John Mayer counts me to be there every night front and center as well, which means a lot.”
Jerry Garcia may be dead but his music and The Grateful Dead’s legacy will live forever, Dead & Company keeps the pulse beating. “I will get by. I will get by, I will get by, I will survive.”