When the Chicago Fare Thee Well Tour celebrating 50 years of The Grateful Dead was announced, Brian knew immediately that we would be going. He had been a Dead fan almost his entire life and was ready to delay college a year to follow them across the country — but then Jerry Garcia died and he went to college like everyone else.
Twenty years after the Grateful Dead’s last show, the surviving members of the band — Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, and Bill Kreutzmann, along with Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio and keyboardists Bruce Hornsby and Jeff Chimenti — were coming back together to honor the expansive song library of The Grateful Dead. It was to be a celebration of the band’s rich and crazy history, and a tribute to Jerry Garcia and the loyal Deadheads who stood by them and continue to lift them up.
The Fare Thee Well shows promised to be a spectacular moment in pop culture history
Tickets went on sale the morning of February 28, 2015 while we were in Las Vegas for Prestige Conference. We woke up early and got ready for the mad dash to get tickets to all three shows. But just minutes before tickets were set to be released, the website was crashing and we had a white screen of death. Then Ticketmaster was crashing and hanging, and was basically unusable as more than 500,000 people logged on to purchase tickets at the same time.
It was a nightmare.
Tickets for all three shows were sold out in just a few minutes and we didn’t get any. It was a disappointing and frustrating morning for us and for fans around the country as the entire ticket sales process for these shows was a disaster — even the mail order tickets were messed up!
The demand was high, many fans were upset at being shut out of the shows, StubHub prices soared to as high as $2,000 for a ticket, and not long after, two additional shows in Santa Clara, California on June 27 and 28, 2015, were added to the Fare Thee Well tour.
After being shut out of the Chicago shows, we decided to go VIP for the Santa Clara shows, purchasing a package that included our hotel, transportation to and from Levi’s Stadium, our seats, and access to a VIP Lounge with food and drinks. Again tickets sold out like hotcakes, but thankfully we got our VIP tickets! Phew!
Fare Thee Well Santa Clara, Day 1
The kids were off on a camping trip to Half Moon Bay for the weekend with my parents, and Brian and I hit the road, driving down to Santa Clara for a weekend of Grateful Dead and awesome people watching. When we got to Santa Clara, we checked out Levi’s Stadium, grabbed a late lunch at Boudin, and got checked into the Wild Palms Hotel, which was packed with tie-dye clad Deadheads. We were greeted by CID Entertainment Staff, who gave us our Fare Thee Well t-shirts, concert posters, VIP wristbands, and all the details needed for the weekend.
We relaxed at the hotel for a little while, decompressing from a heavy workweek and several big client deadlines, but our room wasn’t very nice, so we decided to hop on one of the early VIP buses to Levi’s Stadium — as my first Dead show ever, I really wanted to to see everything. Plus, as VIP ticket holders, we got access to a special lounge where we could relax in style.
When we arrived at Levi’s Stadium, we were each handed a fresh, long-stemmed red rose, a long time symbol of the band. There were people young and old rocking tie-dye clothing and crazy costumes, and wearing old Grateful Dead concert tees as badges of honor. It was quite amazing to see the stadium fill up. Strangers quickly became friends, bonding over memories of Grateful Dead concerts past and sharing stories about young “Bobby” Weir and Jerry Gracia.
The VIP Lounge Didn’t Disappoint!
There were posters and displays featuring old photos of the band members, and lots of Jerry, showing that while he wouldn’t be on stage, he was present in the hearts of the fans and the band. Beer and drinks were flowing and there was a ton of food, including burgers, chicken strips, pizza, fries, chips and dips, salsa and guacamole, popcorn, candy, chips, desserts, and much more — and we could go back all night if we wanted!
But seriously, the best part of having VIP tickets was access to the clean, uncrowded bathrooms in the VIP lounge — with 80,000 people crammed in the stadium, no lines to use the restroom was worth every penny of our VIP concert package.
The stadium was slowly filling up and soon it was time to take our seats. I have been to big concerts before, but nothing compared to seeing Santa Clara’s Levi’s Stadium almost overflowing with passionate, happy fans. Every seat was full, even those behind the stage with obstructed views. You could feel the anticipation and energy in the air, as fans anxiously waited for the band to take the stage. Something special was about to happen.
Brian Was On Cloud Nine
Brian was smiling from ear to ear and was antsy in his seat — more so than he has ever been waiting to get into Disneyland’s early entry! The Grateful Dead song library is enormous, so we had been speculating about what the set lists might look like for weeks, and were thrilled when night one kicked off with two of my favorites: Truckin’ and Uncle John’s Band.
I am pretty familiar with a lot of the Grateful Dead’s songs because Brian listens to them daily and all summer long out by the pool, but I didn’t know many they played this first night. My favorites are the faster paced songs, and many of these were slow. Brian said they were mostly all from their really early years. The fans all around us though were partying, dancing, singing along — and it was so much fun.
Just before the hour-long set break, a light sprinkle of rain could be felt, and a huge, beautiful rainbow appeared right over Levi’s Stadium. Fans all around us shared excited exclamations that Jerry Garcia was indeed with us and looking down on the shows.
I didn’t know much about Phish before this either, and thought Trey Anastasio did a fantastic job stepping into Jerry’s shoes — those are some big shoes to fill. I know there was a ton of skepticism about Trey taking Jerry’s spot for the Fare Thee Well tribute shows, but I thought he assimilated into the group really well, without standing out too much. I also freely acknowledge that as a newer fan, my love is less about the specific people, and more about the music and the songs.
Other favorites of the night were St. Stephen, Turn On Your Lovelight, and the encore Casey Jones — I like to dance, so all my favorites tend to be upbeat and fun! The only thing I’m not a fan of is Space (it’s weird). So I enjoyed taking a seat and relaxing my tootsies during Drums and Space.
What an amazing date night! After the show, we made our way out of the Stadium to the VIP buses, headed back to the hotel, and passed out. We needed a good night sleep so we could do it all over again tomorrow!
Fare Thee Well Santa Clara 6/27/2015 Set List:
- Uncle John’s Band
- Cumberland Blues
- Born Cross-Eyed
- Cream Puff War
- Viola Lee Blues
- Cryptical Envelopment
- Dark Star
- St. Stephen
- The Eleven
- Turn On Your Love Light
- What’s Become Of The Baby
- The Other One
- Morning Dew
- Casey Jones
Fare Thee Well Santa Clara, Day 2
On Sunday we woke up late and were starving, so we drove over to San Jose’s beautiful Santana Row to hunt down a place for brunch. Even without reservations, Village California Bistro and Wine Bar was able to seat us quickly on their outdoor patio. The food was fabulous! Brian had the Smoked Salmon Bistro Eggs Benedict and I had the Egg Bruschetta, which was so good, I’ve duplicated the Tomato & Avocado Breakfast Bruschetta recipe at home!
After brunch we walked around Santana Row, window shopping, enjoying the gorgeous weather, and spending time alone without the kids! Later we took a long nap, got ready for Fare Thee Well night two, and again hopped an early bus over to Levi’s Stadium. With all the awesome foods available in the VIP lounge, there was no reason to go out to dinner first!
The Band Found Their Groove
On the first night, you could tell the band was still finding their groove, but by the second night, they had it nailed. Night two brought and entirely new set of songs, including several of Brian’s favorites. I loved the opener Feel Like a Stranger, as well as Loser, Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo, and the closer Sugar Magnolia. But I have to say, Trey, who smiled all night long, simply killed it on Brown-Eyed Women, Alabama Getaway, and Hell in a Bucket. He is incredibly talented.
An Experience Like No Other
I danced my butt off throughout the entire show, enjoyed some great food, and felt overwhelming feelings of awe, love, and gratitude. Each night we joined 80,000 fans to witness history in the making. More than 150,000 people across the two nights — people of all walks of life, of all ages, of all backgrounds, of all races, and beliefs came together to celebrate. It was enormous, overwhelming, and inspiring, yet intimate and peaceful all at the same time. It was something I have never before experienced.
It’s a true tribute to the Grateful Dead’s place in music history that:
- After 50 years and a 20 year break in touring, they still have such a huge following of devoted, enthusiastic fans
- They can sell out and fill stadiums with 80,000 people two nights in a row
- They have people crying that it is over
I am so happy I was able to share this experience with my husband, a true fan. We’ve really had a blast traveling without the kids!
Fare Thee Well Santa Clara 6/28/2015 Set List:
- Feel Like A Stranger
- New Minglewood Blues
- Brown-Eyed Women
- Loose Lucy
- Row Jimmy
- Alabama Getaway
- Black Peter
- Hell In A Bucket
- Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo
- Wharf Rat
- Eyes of the World
- He’s Gone
- I Need A Miracle
- Death Don’t Have No Mercy
- Sugar Magnolia
- Brokedown Palace
Not a single song was repeated throughout the two shows — and there were still a TON of popular songs they didn’t play, which started speculation about whether or not they’d repeat any songs next weekend in Chicago.
The Only Bummer About The Weekend
The only downside to the entire night was that Levi’s Stadium clearly wasn’t ready to welcome 80,000 people into the stadium at one time, nor were they equipped to deal with security appropriately. As a result, there were several moments during both nights were we felt unsafe.
Now let me be clear, we didn’t experience anyone being malicious (except a few drunk guys who were super rude). What we experienced was a lack of security, poor planning, a stadium that was mostly drunk and/or high, and passionate fans who weren’t satisfied with their seats. You see, the only aisle to and from the concourse (restrooms, food, drinks) from the floor/pit on our side of the stadium ran straight through the VIP seating area. So we paid a premium for seats, only to be practically pushed out of our seats throughout the entire show.
Our seats were on the aisle, and by about the third song of the night on both nights, it was completely packed with fans wanting a better view of the stage — and I’m short, so one tall guy stands in front of me and it’s game over. We didn’t have to worry about one tall guy though, we had to worry about hundreds of people stacked in the aisle so tightly, we couldn’t get up to get to the restroom without pushing our way through drunk/high fans.
Unfortunately, even though the aisle was packed full of people, it didn’t stop those from the floor/pit trying to get up to the concourse to use the restroom or get more food and beer. They were pushing, they were frustrated, they got stuck between oblivious fans, and often they simply pushed their way up the isle by shoving those who actually had seats out of their way, or simply stepping on our feet.
To say that the VIP ticket holders were frustrated was an understatement, as it got pretty heated at times with people shouting at each other. And what did the Levi’s Stadium staff do? NOTHING. While night two was a tiny bit better than night one, they did nothing. Several staff members told us that this was their first big concert at the stadium, they didn’t expect any of this, and they were under staffed and unprepared.
Leaving the stadium was downright scary the first night. Imagine 80,000 people rushing out of the stadium at the same time, out one entrance, across one small bridge. It was chaos. Again, people were pushing, yelling, and those that were drunk and/or high had absolutely no recognition of personal space. Thankfully, on the second night, we scoped out a different entrance off the side of the stadium by the VIP lounge and bypassed all of the craziness.
I’d definitely say that Levi’s Stadium management, their staff, and their security team learning a thing or two this weekend.
What About You?
Are you a Deadhead? Did you get see one or both of the Santa Clara Fare Thee Well concerts at Levi’s Stadium? If so, what did you think? What did you think of Levi’s Stadium? Anyone going to Chicago for the final Fare Thee Well shows?
I’d love to hear from you!