Ever since the initial “Fare Thee Well” announcement last January, the 50th anniversary concerts have become something of a hot button issue among the jam band and live music community. As the editor of a music media publication, I remained objective for as long as humanly possible, reading (but not commenting on) countless insulting and derogatory messages. Some directed at Trey Anastasio. Some directed at Pete Shapiro. Some directed at the “Core Four” themselves, declaring the reunion to be nothing more than a “money grab.”
And then, I came upon this article, written by Stewart Sallo, that first ran in Boulder Weekly, and was later re-posted in Huffington Post. “Ladies and Gentlemen, Not The Grateful Dead.” The headline is sickening, and now I’ve reached my breaking point.
Jerry Garcia’s legacy is absolutely extraordinary. As a casual musician, I find inspiration in Garcia’s playing style, but what he left us is much greater than just guitar playing. Garcia and the Grateful Dead taught us that music, or really any business, doesn’t have to be run through the industry machine to be successful. Live music should be a passionate celebration; it should push the boundaries and inspire.
With these ideals, Garcia humbly led both the band and a thoroughly-devoted following for thirty years.
From my perspective, it seems that fan-base branched into two distinct groups after Garcia’s passing. One group clings to the past, lamenting the death of their leader a full two decades after the fact. It’s an understandable position, as losing a loved one is never easy, and it’s evident that Mr. Sallo is in this category.
On the other side, however, is a community that continues to embrace Garcia’s message in new and exciting ways. Perhaps the most popular of them is Phish, thus creating the artificial rift between the two fan bases, but there are dozens of bands and organizations that continue to embody the Grateful Dead ideals.
Perhaps no one in the industry understands this more than Pete Shapiro. The owner of Brooklyn Bowl, The Capitol Theatre, LOCKN’ Festival, and Relix/Jambands.com has worked tirelessly for the past 20 years (since his days owning The Wetlands) to promote and encourage live music. We’re all working towards that very same goal: to support musicians and their craft.
Towards the end of 2013, New York Times broke the news of a promotional deal between Shapiro and Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh. At the age of 73, Lesh had grown weary of touring, but never weary of the music. The agreement seemed pretty beneficial to all – instead of touring, Lesh would play isolated runs at Shapiro’s venues, and would continue to perform at Terrapin Crossroads, the Lesh-owned venue in San Rafael, CA. It’s the perfect plan for an aging musician who still has music in his heart, but perhaps doesn’t have the stamina in his body for long road trips.
So, when Lesh said to Anastasio, “This is the last time I’m doing this” (about the Dead reunion shows), you can see where he’s coming from. Lesh, who turned 75 last weekend, is the oldest member of the band. He still wants to play the music, but doesn’t want to be in the camp of Dead fans who can’t let go of the past. New musicians come through his Phil & Friends project on a regular basis, yet the “Core Four” have only reunited once in the last ten years.
In his article lambasting the Grateful Dead, Mr. Sallo uses this quote from Anastasio, “I never really sat and studied what Jerry actually played, until now,” to predictably peg Trey as a poor choice to play lead guitar with the band. Honestly, while any of the choices that the article mentions, Jimmy Herring, John Kadlecik, Warren Haynes (and of course Steve Kimock, who was notably absent from Mr. Stewart Sallo’s rant despite his longstanding connections with the Dead) would have been fantastic choices, Anastasio is certainly worthy of the selection.
Aside from the blaring fact that all four members agreed and asked him to play, Anastasio’s quote simply refers to the fact that he hasn’t studied Garcia, like one would study for the SATs. The whole interview pegs Anastasio as someone who has been inspired by Garcia for many years; as someone who is honored to participate in these concerts. Why do you think, Mr. Sallo, that the band chose Anastasio? He’s a fresh face, giving them an opportunity to explore some uncharted musical territory – that’s what the Grateful Dead have always been about!
The assertion that Anastasio was chosen to “fulfill the highest possible financial gain for the promoter” is absurd and shameful.
Guitar playing aside, the other major issue surrounding the shows has been the tickets. All four members, Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart, and Phil Lesh, wanted to do something. They didn’t want to draw it out, because they’re all working on new projects and collaborations (again, the heart and soul of the Dead), but to not honor the 50th anniversary of the legacy would have been a mistake. So what did they do? They chose to play three shows, over a holiday weekend, in the middle of the country, in a football stadium.
They made all of these choices to maximize participation. Considering another proposed alternative was headlining sets at Bonnaroo and Coachella, it’s reasonable to assume that the band wanted to do something that focused and honored the legacy as best as possible.
Naturally, the demand has been high. Mr. Sallo’s article will hit you with a barrage of misleading statistics, designed to enrage. Even if only 30,000 tickets were sold via mail order, that’s 30,000 more than any band has ever given to their fans via mail order in recent memory. At no point was it promised that the mail order would be the only chance for fans to get tickets, and despite the “back-room deals” that Sallo alleges were made, I honestly can’t think of an artist who hasn’t sold tickets on Ticketmaster in the past 20 years.
I consider the mail order to be just one instance among many of the band and their promoters doing all that they can to accommodate as many as possible. Here are some other ways they’re trying…
-Adding additional seating behind the stage (which will probably be a fine view in the end)
-Opening up the floor to GA standing room, to fit more people and to have more of a vibe
-Offering webcast and simulcast options to watch at home or at venues (these haven’t been officially announced yet, but Shapiro has promised them)
-Considering the addition of more shows
-Playing in Chicago, a central location to consider the band’s East and West Coast fan bases
Mr. Sallo, your article “Ladies and Gentlemen, not the Grateful Dead” is a disgrace. You are obviously out of touch with the community, bitter because you weren’t able to get tickets to the shows, and perhaps even bitter that Jerry Garcia left this world before his time. You’re calling the Grateful Dead money grabbers because a half million people tried to get tickets, but is that anyone’s fault? Really?
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the Grateful Dead in 2015. The band has grown from the San Francisco counterculture movement into the inspirational champions of the jam band/live music scene, and it’s no wonder that so many people want to take part in the magic. If you want to relive the 1970’s, go catch The Who or The Eagles on their latest farewell tour. If you want to see seven musicians creating something passionately unique, then perhaps you’re ready for “Fare Thee Well.”
Fare thee well, fare thee well, I love you more than words can tell.