Dead & Company, the band comprised of Grateful Dead alumni Bob Weir (rhythm guitar, vocals), Mickey Hart (drums) and Bill Kreutzmann (drums) along with Oteil Burbridge (bass, vocals), Jeff Chimenti (keyboard, vocals) and John Mayer (lead guitar, vocals), wrapped up their fourth annual summer tour in Boulder, CO on July 6th.
Now in their fifth year of existence, the band has identified and maintained a scheduled that deftly balances supply, demand, and John Mayer’s recording and touring schedule as a headlining musician in his own right.
This year’s slightly shorter run of 19 shows at 14 venues over five weeks found the band maintaining its ongoing momentum both onstage and at the box office, selling 486,917 tickets (an average of 25,627 per show) and grossing $40.9 million in the process. The momentum continued even as the tour ended, following the band’s soft announcement of the 2020 installment of their Playing in the Sand destination event in Mexico during the set break of the tour’s final show in Boulder. PITS alumni scooped up most of the packages during the alumni pre-sale on July 12th, and the remaining passes sold out within 24 hours after the general sale started on July 15th.
However, for those who can’t make the trip to Mexico, additional 2019 Dead & Company dates in the U.S. are expected to be announced in the near future.
Dead & Company’s shows continued to adhere to the long-standing 2-sets-with-drums-and-space format codified by the Grateful Dead in the late 1970s, though this summer once again contained a very notable exception to this rule.
Once again, Dead & Company’s booking agent, Scott Clayton, put together a fan-friendly itinerary by scheduling 12 of the tour’s 19 shows on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday to ensure that regional and air travel boosted attendance and repeat business. 6 of the 12 weekend shows took place at venues that are less than 15 miles from a major airport, with 4 more located within 40 miles of one. The only exceptions were the 2 shows at The Gorge in central Washington. The Gorge is located in the middle of the state, 150 miles from both Spokane and Seattle, but its stunning setting and attached campground, as always, prompted thousands of people to fly in and/or make the longer drive to be there.
Dead & Company’s 2019 summer tour continued its bedrock concept of playing the biggest and most popular songs from the Grateful Dead’s repertoire the most frequently. However, in the world of Dead & Company shows, that translates to an average of once in every three shows at the most.
Leading the way with 6 appearances each over 19 shows were “Scarlet Begonias”, “Fire on the Mountain”, “The Other One” (split into two parts at two of the shows in which it appeared), “Terrapin Station”, “Brown Eyed Women”, Bertha” and “Playing in the Band” (split into two parts at three of the six shows in which it appeared). Trailing right behind these standards at five appearances each were five more heavy hitters: “Althea”, “China Cat Sunflower”, “I Know You Rider”, “Deal” and “Shakedown Street”.
At the other end of the song lists, there were 22 different songs that only made one appearance during the tour, but only one of them (“My Favorite Things” at Shoreline Night 1) surfaced during the first five shows. After that, all but four of the remaining fourteen shows contained at least one song that was completely exclusive to that show on this tour. The big winner in this category was the show at Deer Creek (aka Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center) outside Indianapolis on June 12th which featured four one-offs, all of which were sung by Weir: “Looks Like Rain”, “Let It Grow”, “Smokestack Lightning” and “All Along the Watchtower”.
Two shows tied for second place in the one-off song category with three apiece: Saratoga Springs, NY on June 18th (“When I Paint My Masterpiece”, “Dear Prudence” and “Midnight Hour”) and Camden, NJ on June 20th (“Dancing in the Streets”, “If I Had the World to Give” and “Ship of Fools”).
BREAKOUTS & REVIVALS
There were four breakouts on Dead & Company’s 2019 summer tour, and we didn’t do too badly by correctly predicting two of them in our tour preview. While we didn’t guess the Dead & Company introductions of “Mama Tried” on May 31st (Shoreline Night 1) and “It Must Have Been the Roses” on June 7th (The Gorge Night 1), we did correctly predict the Dead & Co debuts of “High Time” on June 3rd (Hollywood Bowl, Night 1) and “To Lay Me Down” on June 14th (Wrigley Field, Night 1).
In addition, the band debuted a snippet of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1959 classic “My Favorite Things” (Shoreline, Night 2) which doubtlessly warmed the hearts of any Sound Of Music enthusiasts in attendance but was most likely inspired by jazz legend John Coltrane’s 13-minute version of the song from 1961.
John Coltrane – “My Favorite Things”
Dead & Company also “revived” three songs during the tour, a category which we define here as a songs that Dead & Company has played previously, but not since 2017 or earlier (i.e., at least one full year).
First up was the return of “Spanish Jam” on June 15th (Wrigley, Night 2), which kicked off the second set and was cleverly interspersed with “Scarlet Begonias”. This was its first appearance since November 22nd, 2017 in Hartford, CT. Next was “Midnight Hour”, which started the encore on June 18th (Saratoga Springs). Before being played at SPAC this summer, its last Dead & Company appearance came in Burgettstown, PA on July 13th, 2016.
Most memorably, “Box Of Rain” (complete with an everyone-shrug-it-off-and-laugh false start due to a frozen iPad onstage) made its return to close the first set at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA on June 22nd. Prior to that evening, the song had not been played by Dead & Company since July 9th, 2016 at Alpine Valley Music Theatre.
“TERRAPIN STATION” RELOCATED
The constant shifting of “Terrapin Station” from its customary slot as the final song before the Drums segment in the second set made for some of the most enjoyable surprises of the 2019 summer tour. It started early on June 3rd (Hollywood Bowl, Night 1) when it turned up as the encore and continued three shows later on June 8th (The Gorge, Night 2) when it closed the first set.
Even more surprisingly, “Terrapin” opened the first set a week later on June 15th (Wrigley, Night 2) and led into “Sugar Magnolia”. The following weekend, on June 23rd at New York’s Citi Field, “Terrapin” opened the second set. Three shows later, on June 29th (Atlanta), the song was supposed to lead into drums, but in one of many on-the-fly changes to the setlist that night, the band instead detoured back into the second half of “The Other One”.
On July 5th (Boulder, Night 1) “Terrapin Station” finally did arrive in its normal position preceding the Drums segment. These change-ups were a very welcome development and a constant source of parking lot conversation, spawning hope for similar setlist prankster activity on subsequent tours.
Since we’re discussing the subject of Dead & Company setlists, we should be acknowledging Matt Busch, Weir’s manager who works closely with him to assemble the lists for each show. This was a tour with a visible and active effort to shake the lists up; other changes included splitting up of “Scarlet Begonias” and Fire on the Mountain” on three occasions and deploying both songs at non-traditional locations. Sliding longtime post-Drums resident “Wharf Rat” into the pre-drums segment on June 18th at Saratoga Springs was another enjoyable setlist shakeup.
Busch also taps into the longtime Grateful Dead music tradition of the music tailoring itself to the show’s location. In this area, the tour had two setlists that stood out. On June 29th in Bristow, VA, the first set and the second set’s post-Space closing run of songs were filled with ideal choices to reflect the venue’s location just outside the world’s most politically powerful city of Washington, D.C. (“Shakedown Street”, “Throwing Stones”, “New Speedway Boogie”, “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”, “U.S. Blues”) alongside songs that gave a nod towards Virginia’s proud rural countryside to the south (“Dire Wolf”, “Cumberland Blues”, “Friend of the Devil”). However, the pre-Drums portion of the second set could have been lifted directly from a Grateful Dead show in 1973: “Here Comes Sunshine”, “Playing in the Band” (the full version, complete with the reprise a la Grateful Dead versions from ’71 to ’74) and “China Doll” preceded the classic pairing of “China Cat Sunflower” and “I Know You Rider”.
Three shows later, the setlist on July 2nd in Dallas was also exceptional. The 8-song first set contained no fewer than four songs that directly referenced Texas (“Minglewood Blues”, “Deep Elem Blues”, “El Paso” and “Jack Straw”). After the second set opened with a 1978 song in the form of “Shakedown Street”, it was straight back to the 60s for the rest of the second set with a run of songs that were all in the Grateful Dead’s repertoire by 1969 at the latest: “Uncle John’s Band”, “St. Stephen”, “The Eleven”, “Black Peter” and “Good Lovin”. It was an old-school night all around, in fact, as the entire show only contained three songs that debuted in the Grateful Dead’s repertoire after 1971.
Lastly, we can’t resist pointing out that Busch helped assemble two shows on the tour that were comprised entirely of the Grateful Dead’s original songs—an occurrence much rarer than one might think. On June 7th (The Gorge, Night 1) the show consisted of 15 Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter songs and 2 Bob Weir/John Barlow songs, while the show on June 26th in Charlotte consisted of 4 Weir/Barlow songs, 10 Garcia/Hunter songs, and one song co-written by Hunter and Ron “Pigpen” McKernan. Whether or not this was intentional remains unknown, but few are likely to complain if it were to happen again.
There were two guest appearances during Dead & Company’s summer tour. The first one was an ideal way for Dead & Company to throw some ropes to a new generation of musicians: On June 4th at the Hollywood Bowl, they invited approximately 20 members of the Los Angeles High School Jazz Band to start the show by playing their version of the John Coltrane classic “A Love Supreme” as the members of Dead & Company slowly ambled out and joined in one by one. After a few minutes, Weir and the jazz band’s leader counted everyone into “Shakedown Street.” After the first verse and chorus, the jazz band exited stage left one by one. It was a beautiful moment—and those kids cooked, too.
The second guest appearance came on June 14th (Wrigley, Night 1) when drummer Sikiru Adepoju joined Kreutzmann, Hart and Burbridge for the Drums segment. Adepoju is well known to fans of the Grateful Dead, as he’s been sitting in on Kreutzmann and Hart’s drum segments since 1988 and remains a near-constant member of Hart’s various non-Dead musical projects.
WEATHER REPORT (NOT) SWEET
After thunderstorms forced an early conclusion to a Dead & Company show in Camden, NJ in 2018, it remained to be seen if the elements would conspire against the band once again this year. As it turned out, the weather at 3 out of 19 shows gave attendees an extra story or two to tell.
On June 7th (The Gorge, Night 1), high winds and temperatures dropping into the low 50s made for a very chilly first set in the Washington wilderness, one in which even band members under stage lights layered up with coats, hoodies, and beanies to fend off the cold. Fortunately for all involved, the high winds subsided after dark to make the second set a little easier on everyone. Then, on June 13th (Wrigley, Night 1), The Windy City lived up to its billing as high winds during the second set brought a driving rainstorm along with them. The gusts of wind became so intense that rain blew under the stage roof and soaked the band right along with the crowd. But in this wireless age, the band just played through it, and the sight of a drenched Weir guiding the band through “The Days Between” quickly became the signature visual image from this show.
However, the runaway winner of the 2019 Bad Weather Award goes to July 5th (Boulder, Night 1), when torrential thunderstorms and quarter-sized hailstones forced the band to stop the show after only two songs as 30,000 people were instructed to leave the field and seating bowl to seek cover. The band was permitted to resume the show over an hour later as darkness approached and temperatures dropped, but everyone’s patience and persistence was rewarded as the band skipped their traditional set break to play the remainder of their planned show as one long set that lasted almost three hours (with the encores) and sailed well past the venue’s 11:00 pm curfew. Fortunately, Boulder had nearly perfect weather for the tour’s closing show on July 6th, and the band delivered an expansive, sprawling show (complete with three encores) to send everyone back into the real world.
DR. JOHN (1941-2019)
On Thursday, June 6th, New Orleans music legend and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dr. John passed away at the age of 77. Born Malcolm (Mac) John Rebennack in 1941 but famous from the late 60s onward as Dr. John, The Night Tripper, the pianist and vocalist with a truly distinct style was a longtime friend and colleague of the Grateful Dead. At the conclusion of the Space segment on June 7th (The Gorge, Night 1) the band displayed a large photo of Dr. John on the video screen as they began “Black Peter”. Before Weir sang the opening line, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti got ample time and space to improvise a beautiful piano intro in Dr. John’s signature style. The moment was a subtle and touching highlight of the show.
ANKH YOU VERY MUCH
Bassist Oteil Burbridge became quite the sight over this tour—and not just for his increasingly colorful stage clothes. First, Oteil began playing most (but not all) the shows on this tour with his face painted in a wide variety of colors and patterns that were applied pre-show by his wife, Jess. Then, on June 8th (The Gorge, Night 2), Oteil debuted his new 6-string “Ankh” bass that he used as his primary instrument for the remainder of the tour. Burbridge’s post on Instagram the following day revealed that the Ankh is a custom-made Modulus bass that took master luthier Joe Perman three years to complete. He also noted that the body’s shape of an ankh cross was a tribute to the spirit and culture of ancient Egypt, and the color scheme was a tribute to Sun Ra, who would raise a purple and black banner onstage during performances.
THE WOLF RETURNS
After months of behind-the-scenes maneuvering by Dead & Company’s official photographer, Jay Blakesberg, fans who attended the show at New York’s Citi Field on June 23rd were stunned to see John Mayer stride onstage for the performance armed with the late Jerry Garcia’s “Wolf” guitar, which was custom-made for him in the 1970s by Doug Irwin and whose tone is legendary among Deadheads. The Wolf was put up for auction in 2017 and generated $2.2 million for the Southern Poverty Law Center, but Blakesberg was able to quietly arrange for Mayer to try the guitar out for an afternoon in March, and he clicked with it to the point where he felt comfortable with using it at a Dead & Company show. Three months later, The Wolf just happened to be part of the six-month “Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock and Roll” exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art when the tour passed through the Big Apple.
How did Mayer do with The Wolf at that show, you might ask? Keep reading…
THE TOP 5
Unlike last summer when, Dead & Company’s all-time classic show in Eugene, OR was the clear best-of-tour winner, this year’s Top 5 did not contain a show that stood head-and-shoulders above the others. So, with apologies to our favorite 6’11” Deadhead Bill Walton, who wishes we weren’t quite so hung up on rankings and ratings, here are the Top 5 shows of Dead & Company’s 2019 summer tour, in chronological order:
After a hit-and-miss opening night of the tour, the band put it in top gear 24 hours later and delivered a show with mid-tour momentum on their Bay Area home turf. The first set highlights came from a strong “Bertha” and “Good Lovin’” combo to open and Weir’s complex pairing of “Lost Sailor” and “Saint of Circumstance” to close. Meanwhile, the second set gave Mayer a prominent spot to deliver a beautiful “Row Jimmy” which was followed by the set’s big jam, “Deal”, into a lengthy version of “The Other One” whose verses were bisected by Drums, Space and a snippet of “My Favorite Things”. A “Morning Dew” set closer that served as the set’s knockout punch, and that two-song encore of “Uncle John’s Band” into the reprise of “Playing in the Band” that the band had started the night before certainly didn’t hurt, either.
After the cold weather of the previous night, the folks who made the trip to central Washington were rewarded with a beautiful show to match the view. The first set contained the debut of Oteil Burbridge’s new “Ankh” bass and a spectacular closing salvo of four “second set” songs: First up were the tour’s only versions of “I Need A Miracle” and “Comes A Time”, followed by “Throwing Stones” and the second surprise placement of “Terrapin Station” in a week to wrap it up. After yet another typically spectacular Gorge sunset, the long, involved second set started with a 30-minute journey comprised of “Uncle Johns Band’ sandwiched in between two halves of “Playing in the Band”. The “Deal’ that followed matched up to it, along with a filthy “Viola Lee Blues.” Later, a stirring version of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” preceded a celebratory “One More Saturday Night” to close the set.
It was a good omen when the show at this 105-year old baseball stadium and Chicago landmark started with “The Other One”. Just two songs later, Dead & Company played their first-ever “To Lay Me Down” complete with Mayer on steel guitar. The set had a double-barreled finish with “Bird Song” and “Jack Straw”. The second set hit its peak when “St. Stephen” begat “The Eleven”, which begat the hottest-jamming moment of the tour when Mayer guided the band to a soaring peak as high winds brought sheets of rain over the delirious crowd. Sikiru Adepoju then joined Hart, Kreutzmann and Burbridge during the Drums segment that followed, and the weather gods decided that the rest of the show would happen in the rain, buffeted by such high winds that the band got drenched, too. But the sights on the big screens of the band getting as wet as the crowd just made it into one big, wet group hug, and the “Not Fade Away” that closed the set completed that communal sentiment.
When John Mayer walked onstage at the New York Mets‘ home field carrying The Wolf, it looked like this one would be special before a single note was played. The Wolf’s famous tone was obvious within seconds, and “St. Stephen”, “Cold Rain and Snow”, and the tour’s only “Samson & Delilah” made for a great opening trio. The second set started with “Terrapin Station” outside its normal pre-Drums slot, and the “Althea” that followed was a highlight of the tour. Watching Mayer pogo up and down while playing his signature Dead & Company song with The Wolf was a knockout moment, as was the song’s final verse. Weir hit those nasty slide guitar notes after Mayer sang “This space is getting hot”, delivering those precious few seconds of perfection that people have chased for decades. Later, the “Morning Dew” that closed the set offered a second peak moment of the summer tour. Mayer’s extended closing solo, complete with the slow buildup leading to big chords and fanning at the end, was both overwhelming and strangely familiar to longtime Deadheads. Bottom line: Mayer used The Wolf in front of a stadium full of people in hopes of channeling some pure, uncut Grateful Dead energy, and he succeeded. Twice.
The 85-minute first set in Atlanta contained a long, strong opening duo of a stand-alone “Scarlet Begonias” and “The Music Never Stopped” and a couple of regionally appropriate nuggets in “Alabama Getaway” and “Tennessee Jed”. However, it was the second set that made this one a classic. On a night that contained several on-the-fly changes to the setlist, the best one was splitting “The Other One” in two to bookend a trio of “Franklin’s Tower”, the only “Crazy Fingers” of the tour, and “Terrapin Station”. Two knockout punches followed with Mayer’s signature song Dead & Co song, “Althea”, in a surprising new location coming out of out of the Space segment. That led into Weir’s individual highlight of the summer tour: the definitive Dead & Company version of “Standing on the Moon” (so far). For the encore, they finished what they started with that “Scarlet” opener four hours earlier, delivering its companion song, “Fire on the Mountain”, to a satisfied crowd.
Three other shows didn’t quite crack the Top 5 tier but deserve a shout-out here nonetheless. Here they are, in chronological order:
Not to be outdone after the previous night’s classic, the second of the two nights at Wrigley Field saw the band throw curveballs at the crowd all night, starting with “Terrapin Station” in the opening slot followed by “Sugar Magnolia”, and closing the first set with “Lovelight” was also a nice touch. Dead & Company then revived the “Spanish Jam” to open set two, which was followed by the and first-ever pairing of “Scarlet Begonias” and “New Speedway Boogie” before the classic trio of “Help on the Way”, “Slipknot’ and “Franklin’s Tower”. Later, “Sunshine Daydream” brought everybody from third base and across home plate for a satisfying finish. If you went to Chicago, you went to the best doubleheader of the summer.
The last time the Grateful Dead played at the New England Patriots’ football stadium in July 1990, current Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was 12 years old and the Patriots were over a decade away from winning their first Super Bowl. Fortunately, Brady left a bit of whatever magic dust he uses for Dead & Company to spread around during their show at the Patriots’ current home, and it generated a show-opening “Eyes of the World”, the first “Box of Rain” in three years (complete with an amusing false start), and a second set highlighted by the thickest and gooiest “Dark Star” of the summer tour. Wicked! Mayer also added to the fun by wearing a Madonna t-shirt that Weir amusingly wore onstage with the Grateful Dead at a stadium show in 1987. However, consistently slower tempos throughout the evening kept this show and its excellent setlist out of the top tier.
July 5th – Folsom Field, Night 1
Boulder’s Folsom Field on the campus has become a top venue for Dead & Company. Not only does the 95-year-old football stadium not really feel that much like a stadium compared to today’s modern venues, it’s also in Colorado, a home away from home in the Grateful Dead universe since the 1970s. But for the first time in four years, the weather intervened, and thunder and hail stopped the show after 2 songs and forced a delay of more than an hour. Once the band was cleared to resume playing, they re-took the stage, skipped their usual set break, and played for almost three hours. Along with Weir’s dogged determination to lead the band through the full show they’d planned, the highlights came from an exceptional version of “Deal”, a timely “Box of Rain”, a lengthy “The Other One” and a set-closing “Morning Dew” with a faster tempo that recalled the Grateful Dead’s late ’60s versions.
That’s all, folks! Thank you, Dead & Company, for a real good time this summer. For more information on Dead & Company’s upcoming plans, head to the band’s website here.