Truckin’ up to Harvard Square? For local fans of the iconic San Francisco rock band the Grateful Dead, that just might the case this weekend.
Local rock venue, The Sinclair, will welcome the band’s legendarily loyal fans, “Deadheads,” for a three night simulcast of what have been declared the group’s final performances. The shows, deemed, “Fare Thee Well,” will be streamed in high definition at the club on July 3rd, 4th, and 5th for $5 a night (or $10 for a weekend pass).
It is unlikely that the surrounding acres of renowned urban academia will be hosting VW microbuses selling kind veggie burritos among other more explicit mood enhancers but as the Dead song, “Deal,” declares, “It’s go to show you don’t ever know.” In 1970 the band, who formed in 1965, played twice on the M.I.T. campus so they have been to Cambridge for the more stereotypical Dead show.
One thing that Deadheads can count on is the absence of the Dead’s reluctant godhead figure, guitarist Jerry Garcia, who played his last show with the band at Chicago’s Soldier Field – where this run of shows will also occur – on July 9, 1995. A month later he passed away in a California rehab facility leaving a legion of rock n’ roll vagabonds red-eyed and blue.
“It’s a pretty historic weekend for a legendary band and I think this is actually one of those bands that when they say they’re calling it quits, I tend to believe them,” said Josh Bhatti, Head of Bowery Boston, who booked the event. “We looked at our calendar and at the supply and demand for those shows mixed with the demographic of a Grateful Dead fan. Even if you could get tickets, which was not easy, the audience is a little older and maybe can’t find their way out to Chicago for these.”
In the interest of full-disclosure, I must admit that over 100 times I counted myself among this unique tribe. It was with sincere sadness that I accepted Garcia’s death and the end of the band, as well as my travels on what my Dad referred to as “Hippie Outward Bound.” As many Deadheads will tell you, following the band was akin to jumping a freight train in an earlier generation, except in this case many fans were unwilling to accept the final destination when the train rolled to its inevitable stop.
Which for many is where Dead musical successors like Burlington, VT’s Phish came into play, which also explains why it makes perfect sense for that band’s guitarist, the equally lauded and jam-scene beloved, Trey Anastasio, to step into Garcia’s vacant role. For those unwilling to step into the conventional world there was a new jam deity to follow (as the old joke goes: How do you know when a Deadhead is leaving? Either a tour is announced or the phone bill arrives.) and now it all seems to culminate this weekend.
So, why open your venue to this admittedly “unconventional” element, particularly on a holiday weekend, and what can fans expect?
“It’s a quiet weekend, we have an empty venue with a kick ass, half a million dollar sound system, why not put it on?” Bhatti asks in response. “You can get that experience of being around other fans while listening to the show through a proper P.A. rather than your TV speakers and have that fun vibe that’s a little tougher to recreate on your couch or your computer. We have a hi-def projector in-house already so we’re bringing in a bigger projection screen so you can get a full-sized experience. I am sure the production values happening onstage that will be coming into your living room – or in our case coming into the venue – are going to be pretty high and dialed in.”
And for as communal a fan base as Deadheads, this is probably a smart bet. This is, after all, a group that were among the earliest adapters to the WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link), one of the earliest precursors to the World Wide Web that upon its launch in 1985 was initially the dominion of scientists trading ideas and theories. It wasn’t long before Grateful Dead setlists and bootleg tape trading had both carved out their own niches. This is a bunch that knows a little something about word-of-mouth advertising.
“One thing we’ve talked about a bunch is that everyone who’s there on night one is going to be texting their friends and saying, ‘This is what we should be doing.‘“ Bhatti relates. “I feel like the last night, July 5th, will sell out because it’s the last night you’re going to see the band and they might pull out some surprises. If you’re any type of Grateful Dead fan and you’re not in Chicago, you’re going to want to hear the show, you’re going to want to see the show and this is a great way to do it.”
FARE THEE WELL SIMULCAST. THE SINCLAIR, 52 CHURCH ST., CAMBRIDGE. FRI 7.3 – SUN 7.5. 7PM/21+/$10. SINCLAIRCAMBRIDGE.COM.