Over the weekend, San Francisco said goodbye to a legend—or maybe just “so long.”
Dead & Company, the most recent iteration of the cultural phenomenon known as the Grateful Dead, played three shows in the city where the original band came together, closing out its self-proclaimed final tour. The group’s devoted fans, the ever-present Deadheads, filed into Oracle Park to pay their respects.
“To be here for the final round is everything. My heart is so full. Like the fans, they radiate love right now,” concert attendee Kelsey Kribs told KGO-TV’s Tara Campbell.
In 2015, Dead & Company began performing with several former members of the Grateful Dead, including guitarist and vocalist Bob Weir alongside drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann. Pop singer and guitarist John Mayer also joined the group—surprising many fans—as well as bassist Oteil Burbridge and keyboard player Jeff Chimenti. With the exception of Kreutzmann, who was replaced by Jay Lane for this tour, that same group closed out the band’s latest chapter on Sunday.
The original Grateful Dead disbanded nearly 30 years ago, and since then a number of successors have emerged featuring various combinations of former members. But one thing remained constant: The name “Grateful Dead” was off limits.
Fronted by Jerry Garcia, the band began performing in May 1965. The Grateful Dead quickly became a counterculture icon—and one of the most recognizable names in American music.
It was also a ubiquitous presence on the road. Recording came second to live performing for the Grateful Dead, which played a total of 2,500 shows over 30 years, per Amy Lennard Goehner and Arpita Aneja of Time. Their performances attracted crowds of followers who brought peace, love and psychedelics from city to city, as chronicled in accounts like Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.
“Their constant touring—and selling mail-order tickets directly to fans—created loyalty unlike any other in the history of popular music,” writes Michael A. Cohen of MSNBC.
The Dead actively encouraged fans to tape its shows, even creating designated taping sections at venues. This practice worked, according to Time, because “the Dead played a different song set at every show, sending ‘regulars’ on the road to the band’s next gig.” Improvisation and riffing became an important part of the band’s musical identity.
Al Franken, the former senator from Minnesota, has long been a fan and even once opened for the Dead, according to the New York Times’ Marc Tracy. “You can go to four nights in a row and basically not hear the same tune,” Franken tells the Times. “And they play things differently all the time.”
On August 9, 1995, Garcia died of a heart attack. The remaining band members agreed that they would never again use the name “Grateful Dead.”
Since then, new iterations of the band have continued to reach new milestones. In February, the Dead won its first Grammy. Per the Times, record sales hit a 35-year high last August.
This year’s tour has sparked an intergenerational resurgence of interest in the Dead. Bethany Cosentino, 36, a member of the indie rock band Best Coast, became a fan a few years ago. She tells the Times, “This could sound wildly corny, but I don’t care: The community of the Dead is a necessary community in a year like 2023.”
Dead & Company billed its recent series of shows as its final tour. Still, offshoots of the band have given farewell tours before, so perhaps Sunday’s show won’t be a firm goodbye.
Editor’s note, July 19, 2023: A photo caption in a previous version of this story incorrectly stated the location of a Grateful Dead concert. The photo was taken at the Hartford Civic Center in Hartford, Connecticut, not the Hart Civic Center in New Haven.