[UPDATE 5/1/23]: Michelle Behr, the Deadhead whose long, strange “bucket list” trip to Playing In The Sand while struggling with terminal cancer became a unifying cause among Dead & Company fans in 2022, passed away on Sunday. Behr’s passing was confirmed to Live For Live Music by Behr’s aunt and uncle, Toby and John Atlas.
Related: Bill Kreutzmann To Sit Out Dead & Company’s Final Tour
Per Behr’s aunt Toby, Michelle was able to make it back to Playing In The Sand for the event’s final edition in 2023, but a few months later her health began to decline.
“She was a remarkable person who managed to run through her extensive bucket list, most of which involved hearing live music with loving friends,” her family said in a statement to Live For Live Music.
Our hearts go out to Michelle Behr and her friends and family. Thank you, Michelle, for inspiring loved ones and strangers alike with your tenacity and optimism. Scroll down to read more about Michelle’s “bucket list” trip to Playing In The Sand, how Dead & Company fans rallied together to support her cause.
[1/11/22]: When Dead & Company canceled its two Playing In The Sand destination events in Mexico at the eleventh hour, a wave of confusion rippled through the band’s fanbase. By the time the band and promoter CID Presents pulled the plug on Playing In The Sand, thousands of fans had already arrived in Quintana Roo, and many more were already en route.
The cancellation of the two-part 2022 Playing In The Sand followed a flurry of change-ups from the event as stakeholders searched for a way to make it work amid a worrying surge in cases of the COVID-19 Omicron variant. Just one day prior to the cancellation, the band had revealed that John Mayer tested positive for COVID-19 and would not be in attendance, but confirmed that the show was on and tapped guitarist Tom Hamilton as a substitute.
In the initial chaos of the cancellation, various fans were vocal about their frustration. One of those fans was Michelle Behr, a 50-year-old fan from Massachusetts who heard about the cancellation when she touched down in Cancun. As she told Rolling Stone at the time, “The organizers have created a shitshow. I don’t know the right way to do this during a pandemic, but it wasn’t this.”
This was meant to be more than just a vacation for Behr, who has terminal cancer and was attending the Dead & Company Playing In The Sand event as a “bucket-list item.” Fellow fans had raised the money to pay for her trip, while others were participating in a campaign to get the band and crowd to wear purple in solidarity with Michelle and the ongoing fight against cancer. John Mayer had even gotten word of the campaign before the show’s cancellation; back in December, the Dead & Company guitarist sent Behr a purple-lit message of encouragement and excitement ahead of her trip to the shows in Mexico.
The initial tension was quickly diffused when CID informed package-holders that guests would be given the option to vacation as originally planned in addition to receiving a full refund. In the days since, reports from those on the ground have been more “silver-linings” than “stranded.”
Michelle Behr was among the people to take CID up on the free weekend in Cancun. When Live For Live Music reached her for comment on Tuesday morning, she was quick to note that she was having “an amazing time” in Mexico. “I’d really like people to know how much fun we’re having here,” Behr noted. “Everyone cheered up a lot when we heard about refunds.”
Behr and her Deadhead family have made the most of the situation at Moon Palace, taking in a lecture and slide show by Jay Blakesberg, drifting through a courtyard playing old Grateful Dead and Dead & Company videos each evening, and generally enjoying the “free” stay.
A group of attendees even gathered alongside the beach on Sunday, dressed in purple, to hold a “healing circle” for Michelle. “It was magical,” she told Live For Live Music.
[Photo via Michelle Behr (center) – “Healing circle” for Michelle]
“This was the most stressful lead up to a vacation I’ve ever experienced in my life,” Michelle added. “It was also one of the most amazing experiences once I got here. People should know that this community is full of some of the most amazingly generous people I’ve ever met. … I think the Moon Palace staff has been kind and friendly and helpful. I think CID ultimately did the best they could with insanity in the middle of global pandemic. I’m just thankful to have been here.”
[Photo via Michelle Behr – In Mexico]
On Monday, Dead & Company drummer Bill Kreutzmann, who had pulled out of Playing In The Sand prior to its cancellation due to a medical issue, posted a note of hope and gratitude to fans following hectic series of events. In it, he directly referenced Michelle Behr and her experience. Read the full note from Billy below:
To everyone who went down to Playing in the Sand, and to everyone who had planned on it, I just want to send out a heartfelt thank you for bearing with us and I want to let you know that we are all in this together.
I share your disappointment that it didn’t happen. And it pained me to watch the situation change so rapidly that many of you were already at the resort (or well on your way) before the announcement was made that the shows were canceled. It was a roller coaster ride for all of us, but I am also aware that for many of you, the journey just to get that far was a hero’s journey, and so I can only imagine the sting upon arrival.
But as I’ve watched reports from this past weekend come in, I am heartened by just how resilient we are as a community. We have a spirit and a heart unlike any other.
Thank you Michelle Behr, and all the rest of you — too many to name here — for making tie-dye lemonade!
My thoughts have been with you all weekend long. Please be safe, travel safely home, and stay good family to each other.
We’ll see you just as soon as you can.
Love is real,
Behr, who added shout-outs to both Mayer and Kreutzmann for acknowledging her, echoed the same hopeful sentiment as Billy on Tuesday: “I will be at the next show,” she said, “and I hope to see you all there, please.”
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