Fare Thee Well: 50 Years of the Grateful Dead, Chicago

Fare The Well 50th Anniversary of The Grateful Dead in Chicago

When Brian and I were driving home on Monday from the two Fare Thee Well Santa Clara shows, all we could think about was how much fun we had, how we didn’t want it to end, and how we both wished that we were going to Chicago to see the final three shows at Soldier Field — how much we wanted to be there to enjoy the music and the once in a lifetime experience.

It was almost all we talked about. When we got home, the talk got serious. Maybe we could go. Would it be crazy if we did? Brian checked StubHub to see what tickets were going for, and yeah, there was no way we were going. We kept going back and forth all day and into the night and couldn’t get any work done. Our thoughts and conversations looked and felt something like this:

  • We want to go. We should go.
  • Look at tickets. No way we’re not going.
  • But I want to go. Could we go? Would that be crazy?
  • We could totally go. Go look at tickets again.
  • Yeah that’d be crazy. We’ve never spent that much on concerts!
  • But it’d be fun and awesome, and a once in a lifetime opportunity.
  • Let’s look at tickets in a different area.
  • OMG. It’s so expensive, and we’d need a hotel, and airline tickets.
  • But I really want to go. We’ll never have this chance again.
  • This IS history in the making, and Brian HAS always wanted to do it.
  • What are the cheapest tickets available? Ugh. I don’t want to sit there.
  • If we’re going to do this, let’s really do it. I want good seats.
  • Let’s check StubHub for better seats.
  • Ouch! Maybe not. I’m so jealous of everyone who has tickets!
  • Brian had always wanted to follow the Grateful Dead on tour… this was his last chance!
  • Let’s look at tickets again. OMG StubHub is ridiculous.
  • No, this isn’t responsible. We should stay home and get our work done.
  • But the kids are already going to Fort Bragg with Brian’s parents, so we wouldn’t need childcare.
  • Maybe we should just do it.
  • None of our clients would even know we’re playing hookey on Friday or Monday — our projects are all in really good spots.
  • We can totally do this. We should do this. We deserve this.
  • Look at StubHub again. Ugh. Maybe not. Let’s sleep on it and decide tomorrow.

So we slept on it and the debate continued well into Tuesday afternoon. We had to make a decision fast. These shows didn’t do digital tickets, so we needed to decide, buy the tickets, and arrange shipping and delivery as soon as possible if we were going to pull the trigger. I think we looked at StubHub at least five different times on Tuesday become making up our minds…

Going to Chicago To See The Fare Thee Well Grateful Dead 50th Anniversary Concerts
We were so excited to be heading to Chicago to see all three Fare Thee Well shows celebrating The Grateful Dead!

We Were Going To Fare Thee Well Chicago

We finally decided to go. We were doing it!

Natalie and Carter were already taken care of, so we didn’t need to worry about traveling without the kids. All we needed to do was secure a hotel, get our plane tickets, and buy two tickets to all three shows. We made reservations at the beautiful Hilton Chicago, which was in walking distance to Soldier Field, we snagged a couple Southwest flights for Thursday night, and we bought our tickets for July 3, July 4, and July 5, at $400 per ticketand they weren’t even VIP!

This was it! We were leaving in less than 48 hours for Chicago! I couldn’t believe it! This was the most irresponsible, crazy, spontaneous thing we have ever done. Ever.

Cancer Made This Experience Possible

My husband and I don’t talk much about his cancer. It was a very difficult time in our lives, and even then, we didn’t tell anyone but our immediate family what we were going through, not even our friends or our clients. While at the fire department, Brian was diagnosed with Gallbladder Cancer, a cancer that has no cure. Luckily, his doctor called him the luckiest man alive, as they caught the cancer (thanks to the super fatty food at Macaroni Grill and a trip to the ER) while still contained in his gallbladder and removed it.

Today we are blessed to say that he is considered medically cured.

Brian had already been planning his exit from the fire department for quite some time when this happened, and if anything, it pushed him to get all of our ducks in a row to make his exit a reality.

He also received a small settlement, as the cancer was deemed work related, but never spent his settlement check. We had kicked around the idea of going on vacation or buying kayaks for the family, but nothing felt like it was the right choice. So he put the money in the bank and waited for something amazing to come along — and that something amazing was the Fare Thee Well concerts in Chicago, celebrating the 50th anniversary of his favorite band, The Grateful Dead.

This trip not only was a chance to celebrate his favorite band and listen to some amazing music, but to celebrate his life and beating cancer, and to commit to living an inspired life.

Southwest Airlines Got Our Party Started

After Brian’s parents picked up the kids for their Fort Bragg weekend adventure, we headed to the airport and the terminal was dotted with Deadheads in tie-dye, old Grateful Dead concert tees, and Fare Thee Well tees.

Our Dead festivities began before we even got off the plane. The Southwest Airlines crew on our flight welcomed all Grateful Dead fans onto the plane and we spent much of the flight debating on which songs the band would play, whether any would be repeated, and what they may do special for the 4th of July holiday. When we landed in Chicago, A Touch Of Grey was played over the plane loudspeakers, with more than half the flight cheering and singing along.

We arrived at the Hilton Chicago late Thursday night, and the hotel was bursting at the seams with people. It was a blur of tie-dye, Dead tees, and hippies everywhere you turned. They were sitting in groups throughout the lobby floors, piling out of elevators, crowding the hallways, and hanging out along the sidewalks, filling bars and restaurants nearby.

As many lamented, “The circus had definitely come to Chicago” — it was awesome.

We got checked in, dropped our stuff in our room, headed down to Kitty ‘O Sheas, an Irish Pub at the Hilton for a super yummy late dinner, and then went to bed — it was going to be a busy weekend!

Grateful Dead Fare Thee Well Tour At Soldier Field, Chicago
The July 3, 2015 Fare Thee Well concert welcomed 70,764 fans, shattering Soldier Field’s post-renovation attendance record of 67,936 set by U2 2009.

Fare Thee Well, Chicago Day 1

Friday morning we met up with our friend Marc Benzakein for a delicious brunch, then headed back to the hotel for a business conference call. Afterward we grabbed a snack, explored Grant Park and Lake Michigan, and checked out Buckingham Fountain, one of the largest fountains in the world.

Shakedown Street

Unlike Santa Clara, where parking lot security was locked down, Chicago welcomed 210,000+ Grateful Dead fans with open arms, allowing Shakedown Street to naturally unfold in the park. I had never experienced Shakedown Street, so we walked over to Soldier Field in the afternoon to check it out, and that was a circus!

There were people everywhere.

People in tie-dye, concert tees, various states of undress, and full blown, elaborate costumes. People of all ages and all walks of life. People selling artwork, pins, jewelry, clothing, food, and more. It was welcoming, friendly, inviting, and completely inclusive. Sit anywhere and those near you would engage in conversation and share stories, snacks, and drinks. And everyone was in a great mood. The weather was gorgeous, excitement and wonder was in the air, and everyone was simply happy to be there and to be surrounded by other happy people.

Checking Out Soldier Field

But then we got hungry! So we headed inside the stadium fences/gates, where ticket holders had access to a variety of food trucks and beer gardens in an outdoor park setting. Vendors were also on hand, serving up all sorts of foods and drinks, and selling music festival wear, accessories, tie-dye, Grateful Dead memorabilia, and more. We grabbed some food and a seat in the shade and just relaxed, enjoying the music and the people watching until it was time for the stadium doors to open.

Grateful Dead Fare Thee Well Tour Chicago
We had so much fun at the two Santa Clara shows, we couldn’t wait for night one of Chicago to get underway!

As with Santa Clara, we were given a single red rose upon entering the stadium, which featured posters and displays throughout the concourse areas of the band and of Jerry Garcia, once again, keeping his memory alive. We then found our seats — and they were awesome!

Compared to the Brand New Levi’s Stadium where the Santa Clara Fare Thee Well shows were held, Soldier Field, even with its rich history, left much to be desired. We stand and dance throughout the shows, so I didn’t mind that the seats weren’t very comfortable, but there were very few, not very good food options. It was a far cry from our VIP experience in Santa Clara — and we definitely knew we’d need to eat BIG dinners before the next two shows!

What Soldier Field lacked in niceness, it did make up for in event experience. Security was tight, staff was friendly, helpful, and well trained, and the concourse, as well as the aisle ways were managed smoothly and with finesse.

The Grateful Dead Music

The band, including Trey Anastasio, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzman, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Jeff Chimenti, and Bruce Hornsby, soon took the stage for the first of night of Chicago’s Fare Thee Well, A Tribute To The Grateful Dead, on the same stage Jerry Garcia stood during his last show with the band 20 years ago. Emotions were high. Anticipation was building. The stadium was buzzing.

When the music started, fans went crazy and we had a killer view of the stage and great seatmates which made the night even better! They played so many of our favorites that listing them would simply be running through the set list — and they didn’t repeat a single song from the Santa Clara shows. I particularly loved Bertha, The Wheel, Scarlet Begonias, and Franklin’s Tower.

Fare Thee Well Chicago 7/3/2015 Set List:

I danced the night away next to my smiling husband who was living a childhood dream and celebrating life, texted my kids photos and video clips, and simply soaked it all in. After the awesome encore of Ripple, we left the stadium and walked along Lake Michigan through Grant Park back to our hotel.

We couldn’t believe that we still had two more nights of this to go!

Fare Thee Well, Chicago Day 2

After not getting to bed until almost 2:00am, we slept in until almost noon then grabbed lunch and rented bikes in Grant park right across the street from our hotel.

Bike Rentals And Relaxing

We rode all throughout the park, along Lake Michigan, and down to the Navy Pier, but it was the 4th of July, and extra crowded. So much so, that we turned our bikes in early and just enjoyed leisurely drinks and a delicious dinner in the Hilton Chicago Bar, while looking out on the sidewalks packed with Deadheads hanging out, selling all sorts of stuff, and looking for tickets.

We then walked to Soldier Field, and I could tell my feet were tired. This was our forth show in a week, which meant my fourth day walking all over the place, and my fourth night standing and dancing in one spot for five hours!

Grateful Dead 50th Anniversary Chicago 4th of July
Brian and I spending 4th of July seeing the Dead50 Fare Thee Well concerts at Soldier Field in Chicago.

4th Of July Celebration

Tonight the Grateful Dead did in fact wave that flag high and wide atop the Empire State Building to U.S. Blues, celebrating 4th of July with a music-to-light show, featuring an assortment of Grateful Dead imagery in the mast of the building. The production was specifically designed for the Soldier Field anniversary crowd at the Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years of Grateful Dead tour, taking place 20 years to the day after the band’s last performance together.

When U.S. Blues ended, The Stars and Stripes Forever began and fireworks were shot into the sky above the stadium, providing the perfect ending to an incredible show that included several of my favorites like Shakedown Street, Me and My Uncle, Friend of the Devil, Deal, West LA Fadeaway, and One More Saturday Night — which is one of my all time favorites!

I think out of all five shows, this was my favorite night!

Fare Thee Well Chicago 7/4/2015 Set List:

The first set of the night included Cumberland Blues, the first and only song so far to be played twice. It was originally played on June 27, 2015 in Santa Clara. Tonight’s show also broke last night’s attendance record with 70,844 tickets purchased.

Grateful Dead Fare Thee Well Tour Chicago's Soldier Field
Attending all five shows of the Fare Thee Well tour celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Grateful Dead was a life-changing experience and the highlight of our summer.

Fare Thee Well, Chicago Day 3

By Sunday, we were exhausted and slept in until almost noon again. We then walked down the street to Mercat a la Planxa for a fabulous lunch. This Chicago tapas restaurant is on the second floor and we sat along the windows with a beautiful view of Grant Park. To help settle our lunch we strolled through the park again, but a storm was rolling in, it was getting muggy, and our feet were tired! So we headed back to relax at the hotel until it was time to walk over to Soldier Field for the last time.

A Bittersweet Night

While we were excited for the final night and the songs it would bring, there was also a sadness that came with it, knowing that this would all be over tomorrow. You could feel both extremes all day throughout the crowds of fans, as if everyone was preparing to say goodbye to family. All through Shakedown Street and the stadium concourse, fans talked about their favorites songs played so far and what songs may be played tonight. They debated what the finale song would be and dissected the band members’ performances.

Our seats were in the very first row of the second deck, almost dead center, and they were fantastic. No one was in front of us, so if our feet hurt we could sit down during Drums/Space with no one blocking our view. Plus, we were up high enough to catch the breeze blowing through the stadium and we had a killer view of the stage. These were a great choice for the final night!

Brian Bourn and Jennifer Bourn Grateful Dead 50th Anniversary
We had fantastic seats for the final night of the Dead50 Fare Thee Well shows — first row, second level, center!

Making The Legacy Proud

When the band took the stage for this final concert, the entire stadium packed with 71,000+ fans, erupted in cheers and applause. The love and appreciation that was pouring out of the fans into the stadium was absolutely beautiful and overwhelming at the same time. Then they began to play, moving right into the popular, rocking, jam of China Cat Sunflower into I Know You Rider. The energy was insane!

Never in my life have I been surrounded by this many people in such tight, cramped, close quarters, and everyone was having a great time and in a great mood. We never encountered anyone acting like jerks, being rude, or causing problems, and there were no fights and no pushing. Everyone was just enjoying the moment and savoring the experience.

The absolute best moment of the night came when the band finished up the second set with Not Fade Away and the entire stadium broke out into song, chanting You know our love will not fade away, which continued well after the the band left the stage. The music had stopped but the fans, clapping, chanting, and dancing, kept the chorus going — almost a promise by the Grateful Dead fans to keep their music, story, and culture alive.

It brought tears to my eyes and I got pretty choked up. I mean seriously, what other band could sell out stadiums full of 80,000 and 70,000+ people multiple nights in a row and elicit this kind of love and loyalty. It was impressive to say the least.

Fare Thee Well Chicago 7/5/2015 Set List:

Attending all five shows of the Fare Thee Well tour was an incredible experience.

This was an experience that Brian and I will never forget. Singing and dancing along with thousands upon thousands of fans, pouring out their love, happiness, and gratitude was life changing. I am so thankful we made the decision to give this gift to ourselves and to be part of this vibrant historic event, and I am sad that it is over.

We want more. We’ve heard rumors that some members of Dead50 are forming a new Grateful Dead Cover Band with John Mayer to tour later this year… so for now, our fingers are crossed and we’ll wait and see.

What About You?

Were you able to go to any of the five Fare Thee Well Grateful Dead 50th Anniversary shows? Were you able to go to all of the Chicago shows, or all five shows, including Santa Clara? Did you hang out on Shakedown Street? What did you think?

I’d love to hear from you!

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