Grateful Dead “Fare Thee Well” Concert Their Greatest Prank Ever: A 60’s Style Acid Test

    dead50America’s Band is making history in their “Fare Thee Well” concert tonight. I’ve been here for three days, and the first two were what we expected (and last night’s July 4 concert was like no other July 4 party I have ever witnessed) but tonight…. I have followed Kesey and the Dead since 1968 (yes, I was 6), attended and/or listened to too many concerts to number, I was prepared for anything, but not tonight. I’ve never seen a musical performance in my life like tonight.  Magnificent unapologetic 60s music, the most hard-core Ken Kesey-style Merry Prankster “happening” that only the Dead could have pulled off. Their “Fare Thee Well” concert is not a message from them to us but a message for us to each other: from its opening chords they staged the whole concert tonight as a massively apocalyptic event, a bunch of crazy 60’s stone cold phreaks gathering at the edge of Armageddon to dance one last time together.

    As Deep Capture readers are used to doing, we can now sit back a see how long it takes the world to catch up with what happened tonight.

    POSTSCRIPT (7/13/2015):

    I have found only one review of the final night of Grateful Dead’s three night “Fare Thee Well” performance that hinted at what happened there. Not a single one of the countless video clips that have been published across the Internet (including some in many major publications) caught the moment. Indeed, I believe many in attendance were baffled until it was almost too late.  I will explain what I saw (in doing so I fear I must over-quote lyrics, which I will replace if the proper video clip emerges).

    The sound for the third (Sunday) night was mixed differently than I had ever heard, even at a Dead show, and  in a way that would probably not have been apparent to anyone streaming it at home. In much of the first set, and especially into the climax of the first set, the bass was heavily boosted, and the reverb just…. well… would not fade away (if I may be excused the expression). The result was a stadium vibrating like we were being visited by Armageddon itself. As the sun went down and the first set began to draw to a close, the Dead blasted Soldier Field with a sound that got increasingly cataclysmic,  psychedelic, and weird until (I believe the films will show) even a fair bit of the audience took their seats. In the twilight they transitioned to their climax, distilling 50 years of of music into one howling crescendo, as if to say, “We will not be here to do it for you again, we will condense it into one drop, so please taste this,” and literally shook the stadium with “Throwing Stones/Ashes to Ashes” (see 1987 studio version here) while like a man on fire Bob Weir  defiantly shouted these lyrics:

    Picture a bright blue ball just spinning, spinning free
    Dizzy with eternity
    Paint it with a skin of sky, brush in some clouds and sea
    Call it home for you and me
    A peaceful place, or so it looks from space
    A closer look reveals the human race
    Full of hope, full of grace, is the human face
    But afraid we may lay our home to waste

    There’s a fear down here we can’t forget
    Hasn’t got a name just yet
    Always awake, always around
    Singing ashes, ashes, all fall down
    Ashes, ashes, all fall down

    Now watch as the ball revolves and the night-time falls
    And again the hunt begins and again the blood wind calls
    By and by, again, the morning sun will rise
    But the darkness never goes from some men’s eyes
    (Well I know)
    It strolls the sidewalk and it rolls the streets
    Staking turf, dividing up meat
    Nightmare spook, piece of heat
    It’s you and me, you and me

    Click flash blade in ghetto night
    Rudy’s looking for a fight
    Rat cat alley, roll them bones
    Need that cash to feed that Jones
    And the politicians throwing stones
    Singing ashes, ashes, all fall down
    Ashes, ashes, all fall down

    Commissars and pinstripe bosses roll the dice
    Anyway they fall, guess who gets to pay the price?
    Money green, or proletarian gray
    Selling guns instead of food today
    So the kids they dance and shake their bones
    And the politicians throwing stones
    Singing ashes, ashes, all fall down
    Ashes, ashes, all fall down

    Heartless powers try to tell us what to think
    If the spirit’s sleeping then the flesh is ink
    History’s page will be neatly carved in stone
    The future’s here, we are it, we are on our own
    On our own, on our own, we are on our own

    If the game is lost, then we’re all the same
    No one left to place or take the blame
    We will leave this place an empty stone
    Or that shining ball of blue we call our home

    So the kids, they dance, they shake their bones
    And the politicians throwing stones
    Singing ashes, ashes, all fall down
    Ashes, ashes, all fall down

    Shipping powders back and forth
    Singing black goes south and white comes north
    And the whole world full of petty wars
    Singing I got mine and you got yours
    While the current fashions set the pace
    Lose your step, fall out of grace
    The radical, he rant and rage
    Singing someone got to turn the page
    And the rich man in his summer home
    Singing just leave well enough alone
    But his pants are down, his cover’s blown
    And the politicians throwing stones
    So the kids, they dance, they shake their bones
    ‘Cause it’s all too clear we’re on our own
    Singing ashes, ashes, all fall down
    Ashes, ashes, all fall down

    Picture a bright blue ball just spinning, spinning free
    It’s dizzying, the possibilities

    Ashes, ashes, all fall down
    Ashes, ashes, all fall down…


    There in the gloam of Soldier Field,  those who had been part of The Trip and those who had only heard of it had come together as though on the rim of a volcano on the verge of a final massive eruption. Those who sensed there is no escape chose to face it by gathering one last time on that edge to surrender with love and joy in a frenzy of ecstatic dance to surrender . That moment, that first set’s ending, was truly the final message of the Grateful Dead.

    The second set was nurturing, and as if to help us recover from what we had been shown. They told us to keep truckin’, and sang of the passing of their peripatetic friend Neil Cassady (an inspirational figure in Beat literature, such as Dean Moriarty in Jack Keroac’s On the Road, and with Kesey a seminal figure in the Beat-Hippie bridge),  and the spiritual echoes Cassady left in his wake (including the birth of Cassady Law to a crew member of the Grateful Dead):

    I have seen where the wolf has slept by the silver stream.

    I can tell by the mark he left, you were in his dream.
    Ah child of countless trees, ah child of boundless seas.

    What you are, and what you’re meant to be
    Speaks his name, though you were born to me,
    Born to me, Cassidy.

    Lost now on the country miles in his Cadillac.
    I can tell by the way you smile, he is rolling back.
    Come wash the nighttime clean, come grow the scorched ground green.

    Blow the horn, and tap the tambourine.
    Close the gap of the dark years in between
    You and me, Cassidy.

    Quick beats in an icy heart, catch colt draws a coffin cart,
    There he goes and now here she starts, hear her cry.

    Flight of the seabirds
    Scattered like lost words,
    Wield to the storm and fly.

    Fare thee well now, let your life proceed by it’s own design.
    Nothing to tell now, let the words be yours, I’m done with mine.
    Fare thee well now, let your life proceed by it’s own design.
    Nothing to tell now, let the words be yours, I’m done with mine.

    See official version from 1980:


    They moved on with (among others) an incomparable “Terrapin Station”, ended with “Not Fade Away,” and double-encored with “Touch of Grey” (“I will get by, I will survive”) then, to close, “Attics of My Life”:

    In the attics of my life…
    When there was no ear to hear, you sang to me….
    When there were no strings to play, you played to me….
    Where all the pages are my days, and all the lights grow old.
    When I had no wings to fly, you flew to me, you flew to me…
    In the secret space of dreams, where I dreaming lay amazed.
    When the secrets all are told, and the petals all unfold.
    When there was no dream of mine, you dreamed of me.


    It was a beautiful second set, played with the tenderness of a last parting.  But I had no doubt that what the Grateful Dead came for was to create that singular, unrepeatable moment that occurred when the narrative arc of “America’s Band” celebrated its conclusion in Soldier Field as we all bid each other “Fare Thee Well” in a dusk of fear, darkness, and dizzying possibilities.





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    13 Responses to “Grateful Dead “Fare Thee Well” Concert Their Greatest Prank Ever: A 60’s Style Acid Test”

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