May 30th, 2018
A sunny summer evening, the sky was yellow and the sun was blue. I walked into my first Dead show--only it was the Grateful Dead’s cover band Dead & Company led by original members Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart. These three originals are accompanied by Allman Brothers Band bassist Oteil Burbridge and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti. Oh yeah, and this dude John Mayer. For those who don’t know, Mayer can freakin’ play. Standing nearly 10 feet away from him for the entirety of the show, I watched his every move, every note he mouthed before bringing it to the life on his signature Paul Reed Sunburst guitar, and the energy and passion that he exuded from him during every single song. Almost like there was a special something influencing it all.
This is how I got on the bus.
I first heard about the Dead when I was a freshman in college. I grew up with Rush, The Eagles and Boston but I had never really known anything about the Dead until somebody in my freshman hall had asked me if I had ever listened to them. A few months after that I was home on winter break, stuck shoveling the driveway. I put on one of the Grateful Dead’s greatest hits compilation, The Very Best of Grateful Dead and was instantly hooked. The more popular songs like “Truckin’”, “Casey Jones”, “Fire on The Mountain” all stuck immediately. They became so familiar to me just in those few hours of shoveling, almost like it were a Boston or Eagles song—something I’ve known and loved my whole life. Little did I know that some of my favorite music was about to be discovered.
That same bus has been driving all around since 1965.
The Grateful Dead was formed and led by Jerry Garcia for three decades before he passed away at the age of 53 in 1995. Garcia’s death led to the disbanding of the band that had never let the music stop in 30 years. Nobody could ever emanate the impact left behind by Jerry Garcia. But Garcia never wanted the music to stop, and Bob Weir and the other surviving members knew that, a la Dead & Company.
So how exactly did Mayer get the gig?
Mayer mentioned in an interview with Billboard that he discovered the Grateful Dead while listening to Pandora in 2011. Four years later, Mayer invites Weir onto the “The Late Late Show” and the two showcase their ability to jam Grateful Dead favorites “Althea” and “Truckin’”. Later that year they were on their first Summer Tour of 22 shows, with John Mayer front and center—filling in the big shoes Jerry left behind. They certainly haven’t looked back since, with four more tours since the inaugural venture in 2015.
And to answer the commonly asked question when talking about Dead & Company, no, Mayer does not play “Your Body is a Wonderland” or any of his songs while he’s on tour with the Dead.
“And I think of Jerry Garcia and his intentions with every song we play. I’m only there so that on my best of nights, you might get to him”
Is what I read on John Mayer’s Instagram on the eve of the May 30th opening night in Mansfield this past summer. Mayer has proven time and time again that this experience is, “the most selfless thing I’ve ever done”. His diligence in learning the endless catalog of music and ability to put his own twist to it is incredible to watch. It’s like “fuck, this dude can play” which makes one think just how good Garcia was, because after all, he was the guy who laid it all down to begin with.
I was missing one thing. I needed to see them live.
The hundred some and counting live versions all over YouTube and Spotify weren’t enough, I longed for the full experience. Shakedown Street, a parking lot full of busses and vans with barefoot, long haired dead heads popping out in their tie dye shirts. I wanted to feel what has kept this music going, even after fifty years.
Okay well Shakedown Street shut down by the time I got over there, and there certainly wasn’t that many barefoot people and my hair was just as long as most of the other people in the crowd, but that’s beside the point.
I remember walking to the bathroom after parking at the concert and this feeling of pure bliss struck me. There was something in the air, and I’m not only talking about the smell of pot. After denying a hit of a marijuana cigarette from what looked like a seasoned veteran, I made some small talk with a short, older guy who told me he’s been to over 50 Dead shows. He asked me how many shows I’ve been to, I told him this will be my first. He looked at me, smiled and replied, “we’re happy to have you on the bus.”
From that point on, I knew I was in for something special—and it certainly did not disappoint.
Five months later with a handful of different concerts tucked under my belt, this one still stands as the most memorable. The energy and passion shown by the members of the band and the crowd was unmatched. Garcia was there, I’m sure of that.
So, Dead & Company, I can’t help but sing, thank you for a real good time.