They might not have played “Sugar Magnolia”, but Dead & Company embraced the wonders of nature down by the riverside on the first of two nights at the beautiful Gorge Amphitheatre in George, WA on Friday.

Bob Weir, John Mayer, Mickey Hart, Oteil Burbridge, Jeff Chimenti, and Jay Lane have spent their final tour hopping from stadium to stadium with the occasional amphitheater thrown in, but The Gorge stands alone as the sole destination venue of the tour with its breathtaking natural scenery. Nestled amongst the rolling hills of the majestic Columbia River Gorge, the venue offers fans a concert experience like no other, with spectacular views and gorge-ous sunsets, but it was the effect the landscape had on the band that made for a very special show on Friday.

Sweltering heat and long lines entering the parking lot caused some tension leading up to showtime. Fans walked along the road to the venue, beads of sweat dripping down their flush-red faces, after abandoning their rides. Once inside, they were greeted with dense crowds and a celebratory mood, but the heat of the beating sun would not relent until after the first set.

Some of the tension in the air released as the band hit the stage and greeted the crowd with “The Music Never Stopped”, a song that becomes increasingly meaningful as the Final Tour winds down and the future of the Dead remains uncertain. Next came the upbeat “Alabama Getaway”, setting a joyous tone as the audience continued to pour into the venue.

Dead & Company – “The Music Never Stopped” – 7/7/23

A beautifully reflective “When I Paint My Masterpiece” complemented the paint-by-numbers sky above as the sun began its slow descent. Early Dead classics “Mr. Charlie” and “Tennessee Jed” then gave way to a pair of songs named after animals, “Dire Wolf” and “Bird Song”, which took flight and soared through the open sky before landing for the night’s first of three “blues” songs, “Big Railroad Blues” by Cannon’s Jug Stompers, bringing the first frame to a close.

Fans continued to arrive during set break after waiting in their cars for hours to enter the lot. Meanwhile, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and other grunge favorites played over the house PA in a nod to the Pacific Northwest’s rich music history.

With the temperature still close to 100 degrees, fans were dropping like flies, but the Deadhead community took care of each other, calling for medics and quickly clearing paths through the packed crowd. By the end of set break, though, the sun started to relent as it sunk down behind the hills to the rear of the stage.

A sticky-sweet “Sugaree” signaled the start of second set, followed by an exceedingly patient “Estimated Prophet”. As the song transitioned into an improvised jam, Weir ad libbed poetic lyrics, reflecting on how he and the band have “tread a lot of road,” (and what a long strange trip it’s been!).

Dead & Company – “Sugaree” – 7/7/23

As twilight faded into darkness, flashing light-up toys in the crowd mixed with the stage lighting and twinkling stars—the audience, band, and landscape melded into one. After being exposed to the elements all day, fans got to enjoy the full magic of The Gorge during “Scarlet Begonias”. The song began with some rhythmic disagreement among the band, but the sextet displayed its mastery of time and telepathy as they gradually negotiated where to put the one, ultimately settling into a groove without so much as an acknowledgment of the metric magic trick they just pulled off.

The dynamic duo of Chimenti and Mayer propelled the “Scarlet” jam to exciting territory. The pair’s playful onstage chemistry has been a major source of improvisational magic for Dead & Company, and with the ever-focused Lane on drums, there is a rare and special alchemy that speaks to what the Grateful Dead is all about.

Mayer and Lane continued their musical interaction at the start of a slowed-down “Viola Lee Blues”, marking the second blues song and Cannon’s Jug Stompers cover of the evening. The band descended into momentary chaotic weirdness, but spontaneously settled back into the groove before blasting off for a cosmic “Dark Star”.

Though left unfinished after just one verse, the psychedelic space odyssey was a highlight of the set. Images of deep space on the huge LED panels on either side of the stage disappeared into the actual starry sky as the musicians on stage stood illuminated among the stars, with magnificent colors transforming like nebulas around them. The spacewalk continued through “Drums” and “Space” until Dead & Company returned to Earth for the third and final blues song, “Cumberland Blues”. A rare “Black Peter” with Weir on vocals offered a moment of reflection before “Casey Jones” brought the second frame to a close.

Due to the venue’s curfew, the band remained on stage for the encore, which consisted of the geographically apropos “Black Muddy River”. The Columbia River flowed swiftly behind the band as they capped off a memorable night one at The Gorge.

Dead & Company are set to return to The Gorge Amphitheatre tonight, Saturday, July 8th. The band’s final tour concludes next week with a three-night run in San Francisco. For more information and ticketing details, visit the band’s website.


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Dead & Company – “Mr. Charlie” – 7/7/23

[Video: Mark Krzos]

Dead & Company – “Scarlet Begonias” – 7/7/23

[Video: cdViking]

Setlist: Dead & Company | The Gorge Amphitheatre | George, WA | 7/7/23

Set 1: The Music Never Stopped, Alabama Getaway, When I Paint My Masterpiece, Mr. Charlie, Tennessee Jed, Dire Wolf, Bird Song (Jerry Garcia) > Big Railroad Blues (Cannon’s Jug Stompers)

Set 2: Sugaree (Jerry Garcia), Estimated Prophet > Scarlet Begonias > Viola Lee Blues (Cannon’s Jug Stompers) > Dark Star (verse 1) > Drums > Space (‘New York State of Mind’ tease) > Cumberland Blues > Black Peter, Casey Jones

Encore: Black Muddy River