The Dead Still Live

The Dead have not been very “Grateful” since the passing of Jerry Garcia in August 1995. They have only used the Grateful moniker in the Fare The Well shows in Santa Clara and Chicago in 2015, the last performances of the 4 legacy members—Weir, Lesh, Kreutzman and Hart. Since the passing of Jerry, the various members have performed as The Other Ones, RatDog, Furthur, Bobby & Phil, Phil Lesh and Friends, The Dead, and Dead & Company. I have now gratefully seen the band in every one of those incarnations, but also many more times as the Grateful Dead during Jerry’s life. I’ve also have seen Weir bands and Garcia bands during that era as well.

Historical fans know that the band was originally formed in 1965 and began as The Wharlocks, but changed their name when they discovered another band using the same name. They chose the Grateful Dead (no other band used it) and it has remained so.  

My passion for the Grateful Dead began in 1970 in my freshman year at Rutgers. I missed the late 60s initial albums but “discovered” them in a college dorm room with friends/classmates Bill Kneller and Bob Lepucki. I still have a crisp memory of being in a mind-expanded state (yes, I inhaled in that era) and hearing the lyrics from the song Saint Stephen:

Saint Stephen with a rose
In and out of the garden he goes
Country garland in the wind and the rain
Wherever he goes, the people all complain

The version I heard that night was from the 1969’s Live Dead and the song had also been recorded on the studio album, Aoxomoxoa. I still love it.

I was hooked. I instantly bought and listened to their first albums from the late 60s, and then quickly was into their “new stuff”, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, two of the best albums of all time. (American Beauty is #1) according to me.

I saw the Grateful Dead live shortly thereafter in early 1971 in New York with my buddy Bill Kneller. Pig Pen (Ron McKernan) was still with the band, though I thought nothing of seeing him, not realizing his time on earth was short (same thing back then when I saw the Allman Brothers with brothers Greg and Duane).

I became a committed fan and saw them frequently as they passed through NY/NJ/PA, which was very often. I did not travel far to see them but it was unnecessary to do so since they appeared nearby so frequently. In that era I saw the band in large venues like Madison Square Garden, Nassau Coliseum, and the Spectrum, but also in smaller theaters like the Capital Theater, Stanley Theater and others. My favorite venue was a dilapidated stadium in Jersey City, Roosevelt Stadium, which has subsequently been put to its merciful death. In that era other bands often opened for the Grateful Dead, with the spin off, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, most often.

I have not counted the # of times I’ve seen the band (wish I did, and kept the “ticket stubs”—a relic of yesteryear). I guess that it now must be 100+ times, given 50+ years of seeing them, obviously heavily skewed to the 70s and 80s. I realize that 100+ shows puts me in the lower tier of passionate Deadheads. I did not follow them across country as many zealots did. Even today, as I will soon turn 70, it remains a special experience which gives me great joy. I am happy that my daughter, Carolyn, and, to a lesser extent my son, Carl, have become fans and have gone to shows with me.

Today there are many Dead cover bands, and I’ve seen several of them, and they are a fun time too. But obviously they are a generation removed. The songs still sound great when played by a good cover band. But I prefer the real thing. As a fan I worry about the health of Phil Lesh, drummers Bill Kreutzman and Mickey Hart, and importantly Bob Weir, who defacto has become the band’s front man. They have all survived Jerry’s passing, but when Bob Weir (still in Dead & Company) and Phil Lesh (who tours separately) pass on, the flame of the original torch will be extinguished, no disrespect to the drummers.  Their music will live on and cover bands will still deliver an enjoyable experience, but it just won’t be the same.

Nonetheless, the first week of July was a joyous one for me. On Monday July 4 I saw Phil Lesh & Friends perform in Asbury Park at the Stone Pony Outdoor stage. Then on Sunday July 10, I saw Dead & Company perform in Philadelphia at Citizens Bank Park. Dead & Company just wrapped up their (short) tour last weekend at CitiField in NY, so who knows when/if they will return.

As Deadheads know Phil Lesh (now 80) hasn’t performed with the Dead since the Fare Thee Well shows in 2015, though he did a few shows with Bob Weir–Bobby & Phil–in 2018 (I saw one of the Radio City shows)

However, Lesh does occasional shows with his own band, Phil Lesh and Friends, and performed in Asbury Park on Independence Day. His band is tight, and Warren Haynes plays lead guitar. Their set list includes virtually all Dead songs (or Dead covers). Here’s what they played in their almost 4 hour performance.

Set 1:

  1. The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)
  2. Dancing in the Street
  3. Deal
  4. Estimated Prophet
  5. Uncle John’s Band
  6. Saturday in the Park

Set 2:

All terrific tunes (cover of Chicago’s Saturday in the Park was a bit strange, though well executed). It was a full Dead show, absent Drums & Space, with my only disappointment being the absence of Grateful Dead songs sung by Lesh–Box of Rain, Unbroken Chain, and Pride of Cucamonga. Great songs all.

But 6 days later I saw Dead & Company in Philadelphia with my daughter Carolyn. It was a terrific show that didn’t disappoint (Interestingly the last song of the Lesh concert, Truckin’, was the first of the Dead & Company show):

Set 1:

  1. Truckin’
  2. All Along the Watchtower
  3. Here Comes Sunshine
  4. Looks Like Rain
  5. Brown-Eyed Women
  6. Estimated Prophet
  7. Deal

Set 2:

Any show that starts with Truckin’ and ends with Brokedown Palace and Casey Jones is classic, even if there was 3 hours of Drums & Space in between.

It’s interesting to me 50+ years later to fully understand why I enjoy their music so much. Obviously I like many of their songs. But the experience transcends music and hearing their music live puts me in a happy place. I can both think of a different time as a college student and my life as it was back in the early 70s, but also appreciate being alive 50+ years later and enjoying the feeling of pleasure they uniquely can still deliver.

Long live the music of the Grateful Dead. I will never tire of hearing them. Let there be songs that fill the air.

More Strumings


  1. Matt Murphy says:

    Thanks for sharing your own long strange trip, Lonny! Well told, as always!

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