EAST TROY, Wisconsin — Despite local fears of an out-of-control Deadhead invasion, the reunited members of the Grateful Dead staged a triumphant return over the weekend, playing two nights of good ol’ rock and roll amid the grassy fields and
grain silos at the crossroads of America.
The two-day festival, billed as Terrapin Station – The Grateful Dead
Family Reunion, marked the first time all four core members of the
improvisational rock powerhouse shared a bill — going by the moniker “The Other Ones” — since the death of Jerry Garcia in 1995.
Guitarist Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh, and drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart had spent recent weeks criss-crossing the country separately with their own bands before joining forces here at the Alpine Valley Music Theater, playing to 35,000 jubilant fans in the Midwestern summer swelter.
“I want to thank you all for having the faith to join us in this
adventure, and make it a community,” a visibly pleased Lesh told the
concertgoers, many of whom traveled from as far as California, Florida, New
York and Texas, filling the hotels and campgrounds between Chicago and
The concerts were nearly cancelled last month after local authorities
predicted that over 100,000 ticketless fans would show up for
the Dead’s legendary party scene — but fears of unbridled mayhem were
largely unfounded. According to local news outlets, the Walworth County
Sheriff reported some 300 arrests over the weekend, mostly minor (though
expensive) citations for marijuana possession.
Still, security around the amphitheater was tight. Interstate rest areas
were closed for miles around, and tow trucks lined the highway medians,
apparently prepared to prevent derelict Volkswagen buses from piling up
roadside. Guards stopped every car to check that each passenger held a
ticket before allowing passage into the vast fields that served
as parking lots.
Inside the lots, the scene was swinging, though notably more subdued
than on Dead tours past. Dreadlocked teenagers fresh off the String
Cheese Incident tour mixed with tie-dyed doctors, bikers, lost dogs,
mechanics, and families with rugrats, wandering the aisles amid mellow
tailgate hangouts, cars blaring a surprisingly wide assortment of tunes,
and the impromptu vending zones known collectively as “Shakedown Street.”
To warm up for two headlining Other Ones sets each night, Hart’s Bembé
Orisha, Kreutzmann’s Trichromes, Weir’s Ratdog, Phil Lesh and Friends,
and Dead lyricist and troubadour Robert Hunter tag-teamed the main stage,
highlighting different facets of the reborn Grateful Dead collective. The
set lists were coordinated against repeats, and on Sunday, Ratdog played
the rare and complexly orchestrated “At a Siding” portion of the
“Terrapin Station” suite, then the Other Ones picked up the 1978 opus at
an earlier movement, “Lady With a Fan.”
Friends such as Jorma Kaukonen, Karl Denson, and hot upshot jam band the
Disco Biscuits filled a second stage, while members of the Dead and their
extended family fielded questions from a “conversation stage.” A steamy
exhibition hall showcased relics of Dead lore such as Garcia’s 1968
concert amplifier, outsize stage props from tours past, album artwork
and original master tapes from the band’s legendary Vault. Vendors filled
the entry concourse, peddling tie-dyed clothing, hemp jewelry, books, CDs
and other goodies.
Trials for a tentative fall Other Ones tour, the shows coincided with
what would have been Garcia’s 60th birthday — and the seventh anniversary of
his death. While in past Other Ones incarnations the iconic guitarist’s
presence was sometimes felt as a palpable void, the new band reinvented
the Grateful Dead sound to simultaneously embrace and move beyond
Garcia’s shadow. Without the lead guitarist in the de-facto bandleader
role, the music was subtle and rhythm-based, with Weir and Lesh taking
turns steering the band. Guitarist Jimmy Herring played a mix of Garcia’s
and his own lines, but rarely grabbed the reins. Two keyboardists worked
in tandem, Jeff Chimenti washing Hammond organ swells, while Rob Barraco
twinkled electric piano tones.
“In a way, they’re reasserting their relevance,” said Mike Shay, 27, of
New York. “This is all about reminding the fans and themselves who they
are. It’s all about their roots. The music becomes really literal. They
aren’t just playing those songs.”
The Other Ones’ Saturday set was upbeat, with the songs indeed seeming to
tell the story of the past seven years — a rough road along which Garcia
died (and along with him the Grateful Dead, as it were), Lesh nearly died
of liver failure, and the veteran musicians had bickered publicly about
the direction of the Other Ones and the group’s business entity. Slamming
through tunes such as “Iko Iko,” “That’s It for the Other One,” “One
More Saturday Night,” and especially on the long-dry-docked “Born
Cross-Eyed,” the Other Ones displayed chops tighter even than the Dead’s
in their later days.
At the end of Sunday’s easy-rolling set, the Other Ones lined up and did
a few Rockettes-style chorus line kicks, then huddled into a group hug
and jumped up and down en masse, clearly signaling a new beginning —
and, likely, a fall tour.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.