In late May, Live For Live Music contributor Andrew Carter wrote an extensive article of predictions and setlist statistics and trends for Dead & Company‘s 2018 summer tour. With Dead & Company set to play their last two shows of 2018 at LOCKN’ Festival in Arrington, Virginia, on August 25th and 26th, it’s high time for a look back at the band’s 24-show summer tour to review what happened and preview what’s still to come at LOCKN’.
On The Road And Feelin’ Fine
From a larger perspective, Dead & Company’s tour was business as usual, and business remains very, very good. Dead & Company have become the most successful of all the post-Grateful Dead spinoff bands, with Grateful Dead core members Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart now in their fourth year of joining forces with John Mayer, Jeff Chimenti, and Oteil Burbridge.
Playing lengthy, expansive concerts using the Grateful Dead’s deep catalog and traditional two-set format, the group has been sounding tighter than ever. Attendance was consistently strong throughout the tour, with most of the eighteen amphitheater gigs pulling between 15,000 to 18,000 people per night, while the six larger stadium gigs averaged just under 30,000 people per night.
Dead & Company continued the trend of spreading their repertoire out widely over the tour, with 117 different songs turning up over 24 shows. However, only 30 of these songs were played five or more times, and they unsurprisingly comprise many of the most popular numbers in the catalog. Leading the way was “Bird Song” and “Althea”, each with 7 plays, followed closely by “Deal”, “Viola Lee Blues”, “The Other One”, and “Bertha” with six plays each. Of the 24 songs that received five plays, the only new addition to the Dead & Company repertoire was “Alabama Getaway”, which the group debuted on the tour’s opening night at Mansfield’s Xfinity Center on May 30th and remained in the rotation.
At the other end of scale, some of the more notable one-off performances were rare appearances by “Passenger” (Cuyahoga Falls, June 20th), “Werewolves Of London” (Darien Lake, June 19th), “Dancin’ In The Street” (Shoreline [Night 1], July 2nd), “A Love Supreme” (New York/CitiField [Night 1], June 15th), “Even So” (Alpine Valley [Night 1], June 22nd), “Easy Wind” (Saratoga Springs, June 11th), and “Big Railroad Blues” (Los Angeles, July 7th).
In our 2018 summer tour preview, we predicted that Dead & Company would premiere between four and six new additions to the repertoire over the space of the tour and listed 23 songs that were strong candidates to be chosen. As it turned out, there were six full debuts and two partial debuts over the space of the tour, but we only correctly predicted two premieres, plus a partial.
In order of their appearance, fans were treated to premieres of the following songs at these locations: “Alabama Getaway” and “It’s All Over Now” (Mansfield, May 30th), “Jack-A-Roe” (Camden [Night 1], June 1st), “It Hurts Me Too” (Camden [Night 2], June 2nd), “William Tell Bridge” > “The Eleven” (New York/CitiField [Night 2], June 16th), and “Mr. Charlie” (The Gorge, June 29th).
In addition, a section of Paul Simon’s “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes” first appeared as part of “The Wheel” during the band’s first night in Camden on June 1st, and the “Supplication Jam” appeared in a jam that was part of “Uncle John’s Band” in Saratoga Springs on June 11th.
A new trend on this tour was lead guitarist and vocalist John Mayer dropping riffs from “outside” songs into his guitar solos, which constantly had listeners asking about what they’d just heard and what it was. Sometimes, they were quick and subtle and other times they were more obvious. Three of the biggest ones were the insertion of Stevie Wonder’s “Part Time Lover” into “Shakedown Street” (Alpine Valley [Night 2], June 23rd), Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally)” into “Eyes Of The World” (The Gorge, June 29th), and Santo and Johnny’s “Sleepwalk” into “Sugaree” (Eugene, June 30th). By the end of the tour, this became an ongoing spot-that-riff and name-that-tune game for ardent listeners and is a trend that seems likely to continue.
On June 2nd, a Dead & Company show was cut short due to the weather for the first time in the band’s history. As severe thunderstorms arrived in Pennsylvania and New Jersey during the afternoon of the group’s second show in Camden, the inclement weather, plus grounded flights into the area, delayed the start of the concert. Dead & Company were just over 20 minutes into the second set when lightning got too close to the arena, prompting a mid-song order to stop the show until the weather subsided. Unfortunately, the situation remained unsafe and, after almost an hour of waiting, the remainder of the show was canceled.
As a consolation, all attendees were offered free upper-level tickets to next weekend’s CitiField gigs, along with another tour story to add to the collection. The rain-out also forced a unique statistic: aside from the “pop-up” club show at the Fillmore West in May of 2016, the June 2nd show in Camden is the only Dead & Company show that has not contained the “Drums and Space” segments in its (truncated) second set.
The Guest Artist
Justin Vernon from Bon Iver was the only guest artist to sit in with Dead & Company on the summer tour. The Wisconsin native and confirmed Deadhead joined the band for three songs on the second night of the Alpine Valley run on June 23rd. Vernon started his sit-in by singing a version of “Black Muddy River” in a falsetto that was daring as hell and more than a little controversial, but some of the stronger negative reactions were tempered by reminders that the Grateful Dead ethos was founded on the concept of trying anything once. However, Justin’s contributions on “Friend of The Devil” got a more favorable reaction, and his guitar work on “Bird Song” made for an excellent version as he traded licks with John Mayer and Bob Weir.
The Secret Backyard Show
On July 8th, Dead & Company played a secret benefit gig at Keith Addis’ Hollywood Hills home in Los Angeles, raising over $1.1 million to benefit Oceana, an ocean conservation and advocacy organization. The minimum donation for entry was $2,500 and approximately 200 people were in attendance. In order to minimize the possibility of sneak-ins or gate-crashing, word about the gig was kept on the nearly complete down-low, with nearly all Deadheads finding out about the gig on the day of or after it happened.
The band played one 65-minute set that kicked off with the first verse of “Dark Star” and contained the only version of “Samson and Delilah” that was played all summer. On one hand, there are the vast majority of folks who would never pay that kind of money for any concert ticket, and on the other hand, there are folks who would have if they could have; on the third hand, there are the folks who did, and they got to see Dead & Company play “Dark Star” in the backyard of a house party. Nope, we’re not jealous at all. Not one bit…
One of the big Dead & Company stories of 2018 is the ascension of “Althea”, which has evolved into John Mayer’s signature Dead & Company song. John Mayer first discovered the Grateful Dead via the Garcia/Hunter classic, which first appeared on the Grateful Dead’s 1980 LP Go To Heaven, when the tune came up on a Pandora channel. The song seems to have a riff and lyrics that feel as if they’d been written for Mayer, and it shows.
While Mayer’s performances of the song have been consistently strong and energetic from the beginning, in 2018, the song was upgraded to a prominent second set slot at the first Dead & Company show of 2018 in Mexico. With seven plays, “Althea” was one of the two the most-performed Dead & Company numbers on the summer tour. The first six performances of “Althea” were all in prominent mid-second-set locations and adjacent to stone-cold repertoire classics, and the lone first-set appearance was during the tour’s final night in Boulder when the band stacked a seven-song, 72-minute first set with no fewer than five “second set songs.”
The Top Five
With some of the overarching stats and trends from out of the way, in this next section, we’ll discuss our top five favorite shows from Dead & Company’s summer 2018 tour thus far (excluding the band’s upcoming appearances at LOCKN’). Oddly enough, four of the top five shows of the tour happened to fall on Saturdays and take place in stadiums, with the fifth taking place on a Wednesday at the venue formerly known as Deer Creek Music Center—a venue known for conjuring Dead-related magic since 1989.
Like most Dead & Company tours, there were a handful of exceptional shows that were a notch or two above the others, but there has not usually been a single, standout “best show.” However, the Eugene show walked away with this rare honor for the Summer 2018 tour. The band’s first visit to Autzen Stadium in Oregon yielded a psychedelic journey for the ages; after one of the strongest first sets of the tour, an exploratory, deep-dive second set contained two unusually direct nods to all-time highlights from the Grateful Dead’s 30-year career.
The first was opening the set with “Dark Star” and drifting into “El Paso” to recreate the legendary sequence from the legendary Veneta, Oregon show in August 1972. The second was crafting a set that incorporated the all four of the songs that play continuously on sides 1-3 of the Grateful Dead’s 1969 Live Dead LP: “Dark Star”, “St. Stephen”, The Eleven”, and “Turn on Your Lovelight.” Based on his day-of-show Instagram post, these decisions seem to have come at the request of John Mayer, and the day after the show, Oteil Burbridge followed up with an emotional Instagram post about the previous night’s show at “Ground Zero” of the Grateful Dead Universe. This one is worth buying as a download.
After the rainout in Camden and a show in Cincinnati to regain their early-tour momentum, John Mayer’s day-of-show Instagram post (“I’ve just seen the set list. Get down here!”) gave fair warning that a hot one was coming that night in Indiana. The show opened with the first verse of “The Other One”, which the band had just started playing in Camden when that show was called off, and it set the tone for a jammed-out first set featuring “Comes A Time” and “Viola Lee Blues.” The second set leveled the midwestern crowd with the “Help On The Way” > “Slipknot” > “Franklin’s Tower” trio, “Terrapin Station”, and the second verse of “The Other One”.
New York always found a way to generate forceful performances from the Grateful Dead, and nothing has changed with Dead & Company. This show opened and closed with a “Sugar Magnolia” / “Sunshine Daydream” sandwich, and in between there was a “New Speedway Boogie” dropped into the middle of “Bird Song”, another determined “Help > Slipknot > Franklin’s” trio, and a first-time occurrence of “Eyes Of The World” coming out of the “Space” segment. On top of all that, this show contained the tour’s biggest debut: following “St. Stephen,” the band resurrected “The Eleven” along with its “William Tell Bridge” introduction.
After 100-plus degree temperatures during the day, Dead & Company knocked out an equally hot performance that night that may have been John Mayer’ strongest individual night of the tour. After a first set consisting entirely of early seventies-era Grateful Dead classics along with Bob Weir’s infamous “duck walks into a bar” joke, the second set featured a sparkling and shimmering pre-drums segment than ran almost 55 minutes (“Sugar Magnolia” > “Scarlet Begonias” > “Fire On The Mountain” > “Althea” > “Eyes Of The World”) and finished with a rare two-song encore of “Brokedown Palace” and “Not Fade Away” instead of the expected “One More Saturday Night.”
Just like last summer’s barnburner of a tour closer at Wrigley Field in Chicago, no one in the band looked like they wanted the summer tour to end and all stops were pulled out like there was no tomorrow. The energy remained extraordinarily high from beginning to end, from the show-opening “China Cat Sunflower” > “I Know You Rider” and its Colorado reference and a now-rare first set “Althea” from John Mayer, right through to a first-time-ever “Scarlet Begonias” > “Franklin’s Tower” > “Fire On The Mountain” trio to open the second set. The show also boasted a 1973-era “He’s Gone” > “Other One Verse 1” > “Drums” > “Space” > “Other One Verse 2” and a rare double encore to finish—after running through a lengthy “Uncle John’s Band” and taking bows, the band were called back (and had the time) to fit in a tour-closing “Ripple” before the curfew.
The following three shows just missed the Top 5 but get honorable mentions for the following:
Camden, NJ – Night 1 (June 1st): This show contained a spectacular setlist featuring a first set bookended with a “Jack Straw” that was split in half for the first time, along with a “Jack-A Roe” debut. Meanwhile, the second set was bookended with “Not Fade Away” and featured “Dark Star” > “St. Stephen”, a rare pre-drums “Black Muddy River”, and a partial premiere of “Diamonds On The Soles of Her Shoes.”
East Troy, WI – Night 1 (June 22nd): The energy from the crowd at this Alpine Valley show was so strong it was apparent even to those watching remotely via webcast on Nugs.tv. The show was highlighted by a second set that maintained a consistent theme by spreading the three verses of the primal Dead jam “Viola Lee Blues” over its duration. Once again, “it” happened at Alpine Valley.
George, WA (June 29th): The Gorge in central Washington, is the most remote and the most picturesque location that Dead & Company plays in the United States, and it takes extra effort to get there. Those who made the trip were rewarded with a lilting “Crazy Fingers” and a spectacular version of “Cumberland Blues” during a blazing sunset over the Columbia River Gorge, followed later by an otherworldly, best-of-the-tour version of “Terrapin Station” as the last bits of light and color receded behind a distant mountain range.
LOCKN’: What To Expect
Since there are only two shows left this year, the band has no reason to hold anything back during the group’s four sets at LOCKN’ Festival on Saturday, August 25th, and Sunday, August 26th. Dead & Company can stack the setlist as heavily as they would like with the biggest and best songs from the repertoire. They’ll also have additional inspiration coming from headlining the third and fourth day of one of the biggest jam band festival as opposed to playing their own headline show without a support act.
One major factor that will affect Dead & Company’s shows at LOCKN’ is the presence of Branford Marsalis , who will be on hand for the group’s second and final set on Sunday night. With his presence, he may affect what songs the band decides to “save” for that day. However, if Branford is spotted onsite at LOCKN’ before Sunday, it’s not inconceivable that he’d sit in for a song or two on Saturday to give the crowd a taste of what’s coming.
Furthermore, stay tuned for Part Two of this Dead & Company summer tour recap and LOCKN’ preview, where we’ll look back at Branford Marsalis’ appearances with the Grateful Dead and The Dead, diving deep into what attendees might see and hear during Marsalis’ upcoming performance with Dead & Company at LOCKN’ on August 26th.
LOCKN’ Festival will return to Arrington, Virginia, from August 23rd to 26th. The festival will host multiple nights of Dead & Company (including one with Branford Marsalis), Tedeschi Trucks Band, Umphrey’s McGee (including one with Jason Bonham), Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, and Lettuce (including a Jerry Garcia Band tribute set), plus performances from Widespread Panic, Foundation of Funk, George Clinton & P-Funk, Sheryl Crow, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Blues Traveler, Turkuaz, Matisyahu, Toots & The Maytals, Moon Taxi, and much, much more.
For ticketing and more information, head over to LOCKN’s website here.