Nearly 60 years after the Grateful Dead began, the band’s members continue to write the group’s legacy as the music of the band beyond description keeps on growing and evolving. On the white sand beaches of Cancún on Sunday, original members of the Dead, their modern-day collaborators, and guests from across the musical spectrum gathered at the Dead Ahead festival.

This special, one-off performance featured a house band comprised of the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir and Mickey Hart along with their Dead & Company bandmates Jay Lane and Jeff Chimenti, with Oteil Burbridge playing bass in the first set and Don Was in the second. Of course, this configuration of players was plenty familiar to those who have continued to chase the skull and roses following the death of Jerry Garcia some quarter century-plus ago.

What drove thousands down to the Moon Palace resort in Riviera Maya, however, was the walk of fame of special guests. For this first of two performances by this near-Dead & Co lineup (referred to here simply as the Dead Ahead band), the group welcomed musical power couple and leaders of the Tedeschi Trucks BandDerek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi. Susan cycled in on vocals and guitar throughout the performance while Trucks played guitar for the entire show alongside Weir and country singer-songwriter-badass Sturgill Simpson, who emerged from his cocoon for a rare public performance. After suffering severe vocal cord damage in 2021, Simpson has shied away from playing live—he hasn’t played a set of his own since September 2021. Finally, providing additional vocal support throughout the show was fellow country singer-songwriter Brittney Spencer.

Related: Dead Ahead: Bob Weir & Wolf Bros Welcome Sturgill, Derek, & Rick On Night 1 In Mexico [Photos/Videos]

Of all the guests, Tedeschi has the most tenured experience in the greater Dead universe going back to her brief stint touring with Weir, Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, and Phil Lesh in The Other Ones. Though Trucks (TTB, The Allman Brothers Band) has long been a major player in the same corner of the music world dominated by Weir and the rest of the Dead, his onstage collaborations with Bobby have been somewhat surprisingly limited (they last performed together at LOCKN’ 2015).

Simpson recently earned his stripes in the Dead community when he made a surprise appearance with Weir and his Wolf Bros band during their set at Farm Aid back in September shortly after the lineup for Dead Ahead was announced. Spencer joined the Grateful Dead cinematic universe back in April 2022 when Weir invited her to join his 50th anniversary celebration of his solo album Ace at Radio City Music Hall. She later joined in with the Wolf Bros once again at 2023’s Park City Song Summit.

This configuration of voices new and old brought to mind “Lady with a Fan” from the Dead’s Terrapin Station suite, “While the firelight’s aglow / Strange shadows from the flames will grow / ’till things we’ve never seen / Will seem familiar.” There were the classic moments that have kept the Grateful Dead a self-sustaining and recurrent force in the popular zeitgeist, like the traditional Sunday “Samson & Delilah”  which opened the show via a vocal triumvirate of Weir, Tedeschi, and Spencer.

There were songs to fill the air from throughout the Dead’s illustrious repertoire, with Tedeschi channeling her inner Ron “Pigpen” McKernan as she handled the band’s early blues favorites like “Mr. Charlie” and the first set-closing “Turn On Your Lovelight”. Of course, there were all the favorites like the reflective “Truckin'”, which moved into an all-hands-on-deck “Uncle John’s Band”, as well as the eternal pairing of “China Cat Sunflower” into “I Know You Rider” in the second set. There were also some new twists, like Sturgill leading the band through “Call Me The Breeze”, written by J.J. Cale and popularized by Lynyrd Skynyrd, which Weir hadn’t played since 2013.

While a Dead-adjacent show featuring either Derek Trucks or Sturgill Simpson separately would be enough to put plenty of meat in the seats, what made this performance so remarkable was seeing the two very different musical forces work together—with Bobby in the middle. The convergence of their distinct styles encapsulated what made the Grateful Dead so special. Throughout the night, different tangents of American music like country and blues came together and got thrown into the deep end of jazz-inspired psychedelic rock, perhaps most notably during an exploratory “Dark Star” under the tropical night sky.

While a common criticism of Dead & Company was the somewhat stagnant setlists, Dead Ahead dug a little deeper in the well of songs. Simpson handling “Dark Hollow” from the Dead’s ’60s acoustic sets a welcome surprise, as was the band actually playing the full “Hey Jude” (with Susan singing) before the classic ’80s stadium Dead pairing of Traffic‘s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and the “Hey Jude” reprise.

There were still moments of that Grateful Dead magic, like when noted weather-controller Bob Weir opened up the sky itself for a brief sprinkle of precipitation just before he led the band into “Looks Like Rain”. After clearing the skies for a beautiful night on the beach, Bobby turned his and the crowd’s attention to the heavens for a fitting tribute to the late Jerry Garcia with a geospecific “Standing on the Moon” (“I see the Gulf of Mexico / As tiny as a tear / The coast of California / Must be somewhere over here”). After closing the second set with the walk-off clap-along “Not Fade Away”, Weir and Tedeschi looked back toward domestic shores with the encore of “U.S. Blues” to finish off the show.

So, will we ever see this configuration of the Dead Ahead band ever again? Maybe so, maybe not. But that has been the lasting legacy of the Grateful Dead for the past 59 years: creating shared moments of spontaneity that may never happen again. So, rather than worry about what may happen in the next second, stay present in the current one—because if you’re really there with your eyes, ears, and heart open, you can experience that moment again, and again, and again within for the rest of your life. You know that love won’t fade away.

Below, listen to a full audience audio recording of the show via user EJL95 and heck out a selection of videos from Dead Ahead by Grunzy Channel with a full collection of clips available here. The house band returns again tonight, January 15th, with special guests Rick Mitarotonda (Goose), Margo Price, and Sturgill Simpson.

Dead Ahead – 1/14/24 – Full Audio

Dead Ahead – “Dark Hollow” (Bill Browning) – 1/14/24

Dead Ahead – “Truckin'” > “Uncle John’s Band” – 1/14/24

Dead Ahead – “Looks Like Rain”– 1/14/24

Dead Ahead – “Turn On Your Lovelight” (Bobby “Blue” Bland) – 1/14/24

Dead Ahead – “Sugaree”– 1/14/24

Dead Ahead – “China Cat Sunflower” > “I Know You Rider” (Traditional) – 1/14/24

Dead Ahead – “Dark Star”– 1/14/24

Dead Ahead – “Call Me The Breeze” (J.J. Cale) – 1/14/24

Dead Ahead – “U.S. Blues”– 1/14/24

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Setlist: Dead Ahead | Moon Palace Cancun | Riviera Maya, MX | 1/14/24

Set One: Samson & Delilah (Traditional), Dark Hollow (Bill Browning), Mr. Charlie, Ramble On Rose, High Time, Truckin’ > Uncle John’s Band > Looks Like Rain, Turn On Your Lovelight (Bobby “Blue” Bland)

Set Two: Sugaree, Hey Jude (The Beatles) > China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider (Traditional), Dear Mr. Fantasy (Traffic) > Hey Jude, Dark Star > Drums > Space > Call Me The Breeze (J.J> Cale) [1], Standing On The Moon, Not Fade Away (The Crickets)

Encore: U.S. Blues

[1] LTP by Bob Weir 2/13/13

Notes: House band featured Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Jay Lane, and Jeff Chimenti, with Oteil Burbridge playing bass in the first set and Don Was in the second. Derek Trucks and Sturgill Simpson played guitar the entire show, with Susan Tedeschi periodically coming out to sing and play guitar in addition to vocalist Brittney Spencer.