What a Short, Predictable Visit It Will Be: The Grateful Dead’s Fare Thee Well Tour

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Pop quiz: Can you identify band member's from this 1972 image?

Pop quiz: Can you identify Grateful Dead band members from this 1972 image?

They’re here, man. Well, at least I think they’re here. Haven’t seen any on the “L” or tailgating in Grant Park. Yet.

Referring to the thousands of Deadheads (or is it Dead Heads?) who will spending the Independence Day holiday here in my home city of Chicago for the Grateful Dead’s Fare Thee Well tour.  Well, perhaps “tour” is a misnomer because the band is performing only three shows before unplugging their amps, hanging up the tie-dye shirts and parking the VW bus for good.

At least, that’s what I think will happen.

In the full disclosure department, I have never seen the Dead except on television and videos. I don’t particularly like their music, although I think “A Touch of Grey” is a brilliant song. I don’t understand why people followed the band’s tours back in the 1970s and 1980s and created a way of life, but hey it takes every kind of people (to steal the title and line from a popular song by an artist I really appreciate).

So as long as the current Dead members — and those fans who could afford tickets and travel here for these “final” shows — are in town, I’m inspired to share some random thoughts. In keeping what I believe is the true spirit of the Dead and Deadheads, I’ll be spontaneous, even organic, man.

The Venue. The band, which has “dead” in its name, is performing at Solider Field, a stadium built in part as a memorial to U.S. soldiers who died on the field of battle.  I hope the band, the fans, the promoters and all affiliated with the shows here will be grateful for the sacrifices other Americans have made over the centuries to preserve our freedoms. Like the right to assembly peacefully, wear tie-dyed clothes and twirl like a dervish to songs that last 47 minutes.

Got to hand it to these guys: They've maintained the brand very well.

Got to hand it to these guys: They’ve maintained the brand very well.

The Fans.  The big question I have: Can every fan of the Grateful Dead still consider him/her self as a real “head” anymore?  Back in the day, a “head” was most equated to someone who regularlyindulged in certain (mostly illegal) substances or was passionate about something. Since the full band hasn’t played live in 20 years, does the “head” moniker still hold water? Can you be a “head” forever — Deadhead or otherwise? Do you qualify to be a Deadhead if you paid $5,000 for a ticket and are staying the night in a $750 hotel room?

The Tickets. When Fare Thee Well tickets went on sale earlier this year, news feeds announced reports of astronomical amounts on the secondary market. Somehow, this falls contrary to the true spirit of the band and Deadheads, where in the past fans could shout “I need a miracle” and score tickets at face value. As a public service, the PRDude is providing a link to this online site, where obstructed tickets can be had for low three figures. From what I’ve learned about past Dead shows, seeing the band doesn’t matter because they don’t move once they step up to the microphone.

Deadhead nation: The Parrotheads are a formidable force, too.

Deadhead nation: The Parrotheads are a formidable force, too.

The Dead. In my long and (in my mind) illustrious career as public relations and marketing communications guy, I’ve never had the pleasure of crafting strategies for anyone in the creative fields.  But, I must take my hat off to whoever manages communications for the Dead. Think about it: The Dead brand — old Hippie millionaire musicians performing a “spiritual” style of rock and roll  in a communal setting — has not only endured, but thrived for decades.  Is there a rival in popular music? Perhaps the Parrothead followers of Jimmy Buffett, those sunburned hoards of fans who buy into the “life’s a beach” philosophy, don brassieres made from coconut shells and indulge in many, many margaritas before, during and after concerts.

As I get ready to publish this post, the weather here is spectacular: Sunny, warm and comfortable — perfect conditions for tonight’s first Fare Thee Well show.

In fact, not a box of rain in the weekend forecast. To the Deadheads who are truckin’ to shows, remember to wave that flag in true Chicago style — early and often.