I’d estimate that there are several thousand folks from the Buffalo area on their way to Chicago for this weekend’s “Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years of the Grateful Dead” shows, the final gigs the band will be doing. I know of at least 100 people who were planning to leave Buffalo on Wednesday and make their way toward what is normally referred to as Soldier Field, but let’s face, will basically be Deadhead mecca until the final chord resounds and the Dead bid us a final good night on Sunday.
However, ticket demand exceeded supply by the hundreds of thousands, and with the preponderance of pay-per-view and streaming options out there – scope out Dead50.net, if you’ve been living under a rock – an awful lot of Western New Yorkers have turned 4th of July weekend into “Fare Thee Well” weekend.
Streaming the show at home and planning a party around it is very much in keeping with the communal spirit of the Dead, and I can attest – I streamed both Santa Clara shows last weekend through a digital projector onto a 10 ft. screen in my living room, and invited folks over to join the fun- that you do indeed feel like you’re part of the show when you’re doing so. Also, you can avoid waiting in line for the porta-potty and paying exorbitant prices for often not the most delectable beer. Pack that fridge!
Here are a few things to keep in mind for your at-home “Fare thee Well” party.
1)Don’t invite anyone who doesn’t “get” the Dead.
Trying to explain to someone who has never been a fan that the whole idea here is to play a song, and then use that song as a vehicle for improvisation, is a total buzz-killer. “This song is way too long,” “Those vocal harmonies sound a little out of tune,” and “Why doesn’t the bass player hang on the root note?” are not things you want to hear while you’re trying to get your jam on to “Eyes of the World.” These shows are a gift for Deadheads. Don’t invite anyone to your party who isn’t one.
2) Make sure you’ve got a proper stereo system set up and some version of a high definition television.
The best option: Rent a digital projector and a movie screen, if you don’t own one, and plug your laptop directly into the projector, and then out into your stereo. If you’re having the “gig” outside, rent a small P.A. system. Computer speakers just aren’t going to cut it. If Phil Lesh drops a bass bomb – and he will, be assured – you’ll blow your cheap speakers up!
3) Don’t invite any Trey-haters.
When it was first announced, months back, that Phish guitarist/vocalist Trey Anastasio had been hand-picked by the “Core Four” of the Dead – Bobby Weir, Lesh, Billy Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart – to be the guitarist for these historic shows, the massive Grateful Dead community became a breeding ground for Trey-hating trolls. These people are all insane. Anastasio is the proper choice, as he made plain by basically being a total 6-string Ninja throughout the Santa Clara shows last weekend. Who wants to hear some self-appointed “protector of Grateful Dead integrity” whine and moan while Trey’s trying to bust one during “Scarlet/Fire”? Not me.
4) Be prepared for Phil to sing more songs than he probably should.
This is my only real criticism of the Santa Clara shows – Lesh is a fantastically inventive bass player, and there is no Grateful Dead without him, but his voice during most of Santa Clara’s two nights and four sets sounded like Burl Ives interpreting Tom Waits. I’d love to hear more from Bruce Hornsby – picked along with Anastasio and organist Jeff Chimenti to round out the “Core Four’s” efforts - sing many more songs than he was allotted during the Santa Clara run, and both Weir and Anastasio sang very well throughout those shows, but hey, Lesh knows this is the last go-round, and who are we to deny him? Just roll with it.
5) Jerry is gone, and nothing’s gonna bring him back.
Everyone who is into the Dead is likely to know at least one person who just plain never got over the death of founder and guitar deity Jerry Garcia 20 years back. For these people, nothing the surviving members of the band do, no matter how tasteful and in keeping with the ethic Garcia espoused as the Dead’s unofficial and unwilling leader, will ever be good enough. It’s unpleasant to be doing your best to get into the music, to let it take you into that happy place, while some fully-grown man or woman is sobbing all over their tie-dye about how much they miss Jerry. The rainbow over Santa Clara during the first show last weekend should be taken as a gift, or perhaps a sign from the merry prankster Garcia: Get over it.
Have fun, folks! Enjoy this piece of musical history in the spirit with which it is being offered!