Even with six years of touring featuring hundreds of songs played across dozens of states, Dead & Company still manages to surprise. On Tuesday, the post-Jerry Garcia incarnation of Grateful Dead members played a truly unique show at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. The band’s debut at the famed Morrison, CO venue was marred by lineup changes, substitutions, and even an early departure, but through it all, the band played on.
The first sign of encroaching darkness came with the pre-show announcement that drummer Bill Kreutzmann would not perform that evening due to a “non Covid related illness.” Dead & Company made the announcement just as doors opened at Red Rocks, revealing that Bob Weir & Wolf Bros drummer Jay Lane would fill in beside Mickey Hart, who himself would ultimately leave the show early. Soon after the initial announcement, Bill The Drummer went into greater detail on his Facebook page, stating,
Friends, one of the many things this pandemic has reminded us is that health is more important than anything. I developed some cold-like symptoms this week and had it checked out and I am relieved to report that it isn’t covid and also isn’t anything serious. However, out of an abundance of caution, my medical team has advised me to take it easy so that I can continue to do what I love – make music with my brothers.
Having just been to Red Rocks with the Kids, I can tell you that the altitude up here really affects me and can compound with the respiratory symptoms I’ve been experiencing today to make for unnecessary difficulties. So out of an abundance of caution we called in my friend Jay Lane to assist in the drum chair tonight.
I love you and don’t worry — I’m not going anywhere. I’m just taking a breather, so to speak, so that we can continue to dance and shake our bones. I’ll be back to full steam ahead momentarily.
Thanks for understanding,
There is still no official word, as of this publication, on whether Bill Kreutzmann will join Dead & Company tonight, October 20th, for the band’s second of two Red Rocks shows.
The show must go on, however, as Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Jay Lane, John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge, and Jeff Chimenti took the stage. Ahead of the performance, Weir took a moment to address the crowd, saying, “So, we got a bit of a situation here tonight, and JonBo [John Mayer] here’s gonna help me explain it to y’all.”
“It’s not COVID…” Mayer began. “…But it ain’t good,” Weir added. “And so, Billy is not gonna be joining us tonight, Billy Kreutzmann. And to make matters worse [laughs], we have Jay Lane on here.”
“But Bob,” Mayer chimed in matter-of-factly, “what would you say to the people in the crowd who are now concerned about the condition of our friend and brother, Billy Kreutzmann?” Bob responded, “Billy will be just fine. It’s not a COVID situation, and we look forward to his return, but in the meantime, the show must go on.”
With that, Dead & Company launched into a fitting rendition of Buddy Holly‘s anthem of eternal love, “Not Fade Away”. Not only was the song thematically relevant, but the tune’s pounding rhythm gave Jay Lane the floor to declare his presence.
The band hit it on the nose as Dead & Co segued into “New Speedway Boogie”, as Weir—rightfully—pined, “this darkness has got to give.” Mayer explored the darker recesses of the song, leading the band through a bluesy crawl as the crowd collectively wallow in the unprecedented performance they were now witnessing.
Dead & Company — Intro > “Not Fade Away” > “New Speedway Boogie” — 10/19/21
Wallowing soon came to a close, however, and it was finally time to get the party started as Mayer led the charge through “Big Railroad Blues”. With all of the emotionalism out of the way, it was just about time to kick out the jams as the band put the show into gear. By the time “Tennessee Jed” rolled around, it felt like business as usual as the strangeness settled into normalcy.
Though Bobby is only a year younger than Bill, the altitude seemed to have done him well last night as he delivered fiery vocals that kept the crowd warm up there in the mountains. For his part, Jeff rattled off some of his patented honky-tonk piano playing that kept the kids dancing and shaking their bones.
The tag team of Hart and Lane came back out in front for the rollicking rhythm behind the sing-along “Friend of the Devil”. Mayer and Weir passed off vocals like a baton race as Jeff’s grand piano keys twinkled like the stars in the Colorado sky, pushing the song to its final destination. JonBo then took over with the bouncy rhythm of “They Love Each Other”, with the low-end filled in by the punchy bass notes of Oteil.
Dead & Company — “Friend of the Devil” — 10/19/21
[Video: Matt Frazier]
An unexpectedly early cover of The Beatles‘ “Dear Prudence” came next from Bob before Dead & Company dropped hard into a set-closing “Don’t Ease Me In” that had all of Red Rocks howling at the moon.
Dead & Company — “Dead Prudence” (The Beatles) — 10/19/21
[Video: Matt Frazier]
Dead & Company — “Don’t Ease Me In” — 10/19/21
[Video: Matt Frazier]
Returning for set two, the ensemble took its first true improvisational outing of the evening with “Scarlet Begonias”. Though summertime has come and gone, even a chilly fall night in the mountains of Colorado can be ignited by the general warmth that emanates from the Grateful Dead catalog, regardless of who may be playing it. The ensuing improvisation saw Mayer’s leads guiding the rest of the ship behind him, crashing over peaking waves and safely bringing the vessel into the port of a crescendo, emerging on the other side at the Golden Shore for Bob Weir’s “Estimated Prophet”.
Dead & Company — “Scarlet Begonias” — 10/19/21
The bounce of the reggae-infused tune put Oteil front and center as the entire rhythm section bobbed and weaved together. The ambient darkness of the groove carried with it none of the emotional gravity of the “New Speedway Boogie” of set one, but rather found the band basking in the murk and the mire. As Weir vamped his traditional vocal improvisations, Mayer explored the nether regions of the song using his envelope filter as a guide.
Sensing the prevailing darkness, Dead & Company throttled the mood to the eternal bliss of “Eyes of the World”, resulting in the lengthiest track of the evening, clocking in at just under 18 minutes. The blissful improvisation served as a sonic foil to “Estimated”, with Chimenti pushing the track into a light, jazzy direction before joining the set-opening “Scarlet Begonias” with its partner in “Fire on the Mountain”. Oteil’s velvety vocals glided atop his perforated bass notes as the group bounced into one of the most eagerly anticipated “Drums” segments in recent memory.
Hart and Lane had no trouble connecting as they focused on a more traditional sound, rooted in a steady rhythm, as opposed to some of the more avant grade “Drums” segments from the Rhythm Devils. The rest of the group slowly filed back out for “Space” jumping back in for “Turn On Your Lovelight”, the beat never ceasing for a moment.
The ballad slot went to an evocative “Morning Dew” that carried through the mountains like the chilly fall winds. Following the song’s climactic crescendo, Mickey Hart departed the stage, leaving just Jay Lane on drums for the set-closing “Casey Jones”. Hart’s absence was felt during the elongated buildup that closes “Casey Jones”, though the remaining band members were able to fill in the rest of the sound.
Dead & Company returned for an encore—still without Hart—with enough time for John Mayer to rattle off a quick “Althea”, making its first appearance in the encore slot for Dead & Co. Hart later posted on his Facebook page, “Please excuse my early departure from tonight’s show. All is well. Looking forward to night two of Red Rocks.”
Dead & Company — “Morning Dew” — 10/19/21
[Video: Matt Frazier]
Dead & Company — “Althea” — 10/19/21
[Video: Matt Frazier]
While Dead & Company’s debut at Red Rocks presented a unique set of challenges, the group was able to think on its feet and come together to deliver a truly memorable show. Here’s hoping for a slightly more predictable show tonight, and wishing all those in the band a speedy recovery and good health ahead.
Scroll down to check out a full gallery of photos from Dead & Company’s eventful Red Rocks debut courtesy of photographer Tara Gracer.
Dead & Company returns to Morrison tonight, Wednesday, October 20th. For a full list of upcoming dates, head here.
[UPDATE]: Read our coverage of night two here.
Setlist: Dead & Company | Red Rocks Amphitheatre | Morrison, CO | 10/19/21
Set One: Not Fade Away > New Speedway Boogie, Big Railroad Blues, Tennessee Jed, Friend of the Devil, They Love Each Other , Dear Prudence, Don’t Ease Me In
Set Two: Scarlet Begonias > Estimated Prophet > Eyes of the World > Fire on the Mountain > Drums > Space > Turn On Your Lovelight > Morning Dew, Casey Jones 
Encore: Althea 
 Included ’73 lost verse (‘I heard your news report’ etc.)
 w/o Mickey Hart
Jay Lane replaced Bill Kreutzmann, who was out due to medical issues