Not knowing exactly what to expect, we both jumped in and began to navigate through Chicago. With help from family and technology, we manged to make our way to Soldier Field by walking and public transit. Friday, July 3rd was the first night, and we were more than ready to start this adventure. Soldier Field is one enormous complex with many parks and walking paths. We had no idea where to go at first, so with some fine Chicago brews in hand, we set out, jumped in, and joined the circus. The sights, smells, and sounds of such an immense gathering as this, was so welcoming. The long awaited time for us to be with this family was finally here. As show time approached, we followed the masses and upon entering the stadium, all of us were handed roses, giving us a wonderful feel and vibe right from the start. We are in! Seats fill up, anticipation mounts, and then you hear it....70,000 people screaming once the band takes the stage. There really is no way to describe the feeling that we had when they came out, other than that is was spine tingling. A guitar click here, a drum test there..........bam.....right into Box of Rain for the three night run opener, being that the last time they played this song was at Soldier Field in 1995, it was great indication of what was to come.
From there, it just kept getting better. Jack Straw was brilliant and then they went into Bertha and Trey unleashed with guns blazing. Towards the end of the song, he let it loose just enough to get the crowd into a frenzy, and just as the true professional he is, he melded right back into the band to deliver a good ol' fashioned Grateful Dead rock and roll ending. Other highlights from that night included Scarlet Begonias>Fire On The Mountain and the ever psychedelic Help On The Way>Slipknot> Franklin's Tower for a 2nd set closer. Wow! The band said goodbye to us that night with a Ripple encore. After that night, Rachel and I both agreed that we were seeing the BEST rock and roll of our lives.
After a good night's sleep, we were right back at it, this time though, we had a plan and knew where we were going to go. We settled in for a bit and just kicked back until show time. It was July 4th, night two, and the crowd was in great spirits. First set opener was a blistering Shakedown Street, and boy did that get everyone in the mood for a party! Trey again seemingly knowing exactly how to let it rip and then come right back flawlessly with the band. Third song in, we were treated to Standing on The Moon with Trey on vocals. This is a song that when you hear Jerry sing it, it can move you to tears. Trey did the same thing. "I want to be here with you" rang out from him as his guitar swelled along. That set ended with a screaming version of Deal which then transitioned into the set break during which I shared wonderful conversation with a couple from Columbus, Ohio. We were all in agreement that we were indeed blessed to be there in the moment. Second set opener was Bird Song, which gave the crowd an ever pleasing smile and universal vibe. Highlights for me were West LA Fadeaway.....so slinky and almost dirty, Drums>Space, and Stella Blue.....Bobby went for it and I must say he captured the pure emotion that the song demands and gives out. And, as it was the 4th of July, the encore was U.S. Blues followed by fire works. "My God" I thought as we walked out..."How are they going to top that show?" A wide eyed Rachel cried, "Did that just happen?" Feeling spry, we headed over to the House of Blues to spend a couple of hours with moe., and following our late night music journey, were not so spry anymore and needed much resting.
Sunday. We were two shows in and ready for the final night that the Grateful Dead will ever be playing as a whole band again. The vibe was remarkably happy, magical, wonderful, etc, etc, however, there was a sense of sadness and raw emotion that I know the crowd shared collectively with the band. They took the stage, hugged each other, bowed to all sides of the stadium, and went right into China Cat Sunflower>I know You Rider, followed by Estimated Prophet which was a first set highlight for sure. That set ended with a pounding version of Throwing Stones (no pun intended), which helped maintain the spirit of the event. And here it was, the final set of music, what a feeling. Highlights for me were again Drums>Space, this was beyond tribal, it went to the core of my guts and made me ponder what being a human being is.......and the set closer of Not Fade Away. This is where I truly felt the magic, of what not only what music can do, but what this band has done for so many years. As the band slowly stopped, 70,000 plus people kept the "No our love will not fade away" chant going for what seemed like ten minutes or so. We were all singing this back to the band and giving them the most heartfelt thank you for the three nights we had just witnessed and also for so many years of wonderful art. I also felt we were all singing to Jerry as well, thanking him. The last ever encore was Touch of Grey and then into Attics of My Life which was accompanied by a video montage. While Bobby was singing, we were shown pictures of the band through the years and then pictures of the current line up, one by one, and then a whole band shot. When Trey's picture came up, it seemed almost everyone in that place screamed their hearts out in appreciation for a job well done. Same thing for Bobby, he pulled it out...he really did. Then the whole band pic...that led to tears, I could not help it.
The crowd emptied into the streets still keeping the Not Fade Away chant going into the hot summer Chicago night air. Much love and peace again to Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzman, Mickey Hart, Jeff Chimenti, Bruce Hornsby, and Trey Anastasio and THANK YOU FOR A REAL GOOD TIME!!!
And thank you to The Burlington Free Press for including us in your Grateful Dead 50 Chicago article.