Confessions Of Someone Seeing The Grateful Dead For The First (And Last) Time

The magic of the Grateful Dead's 50th anniversary shows was not lost on this newcomer.

February 26, 2018

Jim Gensheimer/Bay Area News Group/TNS

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How do you celebrate an American institution? Sure, we have holidays, parades, and various other occurrences to mark our support and love for these occasions, but what about a landmark that while not universally loved, recognized as an important piece of our cultural fabric?

Full disclosure, I was 7 years old when Jerry Garcia passed in 1995, was raised in a household that didn't have a ton of Grateful Dead music playing, and saw my first shows during the Fare Thee Well weekend. I don't fit the mold of lifelong Deadhead or whatever other criteria exists, but one thing is certain. The Fare Thee Well shows offered "younger" fans like myself a glimpse into a world we never got to experience.

The buzz was electric. It was undeniable. It was unlike anything I'd ever seen in the hundreds of concerts I've been to. Stepping out of the Roosevelt Red Line stop on Friday, you could feel the energy in the surrounding area. Many were there for the show, some were there for the scene, and some were there simply for the love of the band. I've always been fond of the Dead's music before this weekend, but being immersed in the environment, even hours before the band was set to hit the stage, it became clear that I was entering into a whole new musical experience.

I didn't really know what to expect going in. I've seen Phish 10 times and have been to large shows before, but this was different. I spoke with two woman from San Francisco while we were waiting for the second set to begin Sunday night asking them why they made the trip out here. They replied with, "when will we ever see anything like this again?"

Not to discredit any artists out there, but it's hard to pinpoint many groups that can have the impact that the Grateful Dead have had and create a sustainable community that continually offers their support over time. I was in awe and appreciation of that throughout the weekend. Even for a first timer like me, it felt like I had a long standing connection with the band. 

There's been plenty written dissecting the performance, the venue, and all the logistics surrounding the show, which I won't get in to. Everyone has their own takeaway from the concerts and experience. I keep coming back though to what those two woman said to me, "when will we ever see anything like this again?" 

The answer is, who knows? And that's what made the weekend so special.