Four Questions About the Dead's 50th Anniversary Shows

(Illustration by Ryan Snook for Billboard)

The schism between some Deadheads and Phish phans appears to be a full-scale rift now that Trey Anastasio has been selected to accompany the "Core Four" founding members at the Grateful Dead's alleged final shows in Chicago in July.

The news broke Friday that the Dead would be celebrating their 50th anniversary with a three-day run of shows at Soldier Field - where they last played in 1995 - on July 3-5, with Anastasio assuming the Jerry Garcia role in the band.

Here are the four biggest questions/complaints, as noted on fan sites like Deadheadland:

1. Trey's selection as guitar player

Many Deadheads moved over to Phish when Garcia died in '95 and the Dead's touring circus grounded to a halt. Phish were the heir apparent. But they already had their own phans, who were way younger than most of the Deadheads. Many Deadheads did not cross the divide, preferring to listen to Garcia and Bob Weir songs for the millionth time rathewr than open their ears to Phish's more fun-tastic approach to jamming. These older Deadheads probably don't get Trey and hence question why he was tapped, as opposed to so many other axemen who played with Further, Ratdog and Phil Lesh & Friends over the years, like Warren Haynes, John Kadlecik, Jimmy Herring, Steve Kimmock and Jackie Greene. 

In a interview I did with Weir for Billboard, which broke the news on Friday, he told me: "Trey is well schooled in the style of music we play - listening intently to what’s going on and reacting meaningfully to what other people are playing. He’s well versed in what we call the fluid tonic - if there’s a key shift or modality shift within a given section, you can hear that and relate as I say meaningfully."

To me, Trey is the perfect choice. He's a phenomenal player who grew up admiring Garcia. He'll do an amazing job.

There's some concern among phans that Phish will not tour until after the July shows. This is probably true.

2. Chicago's selection as the city for the shows

"A couple of the guys didn’t want to travel that much," Weir explained. "Were we going to take it on the road, for instance? Were we going to do a festival style event or go back to our classic mode of an evening with the band? That’s what eventually made the best sense."

But why Chicago, I asked?

"First off, it’s centrally located, so a lot folks can get there. We have large fan bases on the East Coast and the West Coast. We have a large fan base in that area. It just seemed if we were going to do one event like that, we ought to take travel into consideration for our fan base."

The shows' promoter Peter Shapiro told me: "They’re the Great American Rock & Roll Band returning to where it ended, 20 years later. It’s being constructed around those themes."

If they're just going to do three shows, Chicago's as good a place as any to hold them.

3. Will there be camping?

A petition is asking the promoters (Shapiro and Madison House Presents/AEG) to "Please allow overnight parking in ALL parking lots for the Dead's 50th anniversary shows July 3, 4 & 5 weekend." Nearly 3,000 people have already signed the petition, which says allowing camping would be "the safest thing to do."

Camping events are where the Deadhead scene best expresses itself, with a full-blown Shakedown Street. This is what the community wants. Shaprio grew up in the scene, as he told me: "My career started basically from being at a Grateful Dead concert in 1993 in Chicago. I got lost in the parking lot. That led me to make documentaries, to Wetlands and then Brooklyn Bowl, Capitol Theatre and Relix. I’m leading a life set by the Grateful Dead."

I asked him: What’s the scene going to be like at Soldier Field? Will there be a Shakedown Street?

"I embrace that stuff," Shaprio said. "If you approach it the right way - if we respect them I think they’ll respect us. A big part of the Grateful Dead experience was going to that summer stadium show."

When I sent him the link to the petition, he replied: "Interesante."

So the book on camping at Soldier is apparently not closed. Stay tuned.

4. Are these really the Dead's last shows?

The Fare the Well shows are being billed as the last-ever Grateful Dead shows. That may or may not be the case. When I asked Weir about this, he stated: "We'll see," and noted that since he's younger than the other Core Four guys, "I've got some miles left in me. But I hope it's not the last time."

Considering how difficult it's become to get Weir, Lesh, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann in the same place over the years, this may indeed be a finale. At least until the next anniversary.

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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.