Fare Thee Well

There’s nothing like a Grateful Dead concert.

That was true 20 years ago tonight, the last time Jerry Garcia ever played with the band, and it was true last weekend when the core four surviving members came together for a final three shows. I was there July 8, 1995, the night before the final show, and I returned for all three of the Fare Thee Well farewell concerts, as the band dubbed them.


Twenty years is a long time to go without a Dead show. A lot can, and did, happen to me and everyone else in the intervening years. That’s especially true when, in my case, you were just 23 years old in 1995. All the life milestones came in the next two decades: births, deaths, new jobs, new homes, new friends, less hair, more weight, settling down, being unsettled, all of that.

Many of us lucky enough to catch a Dead show with Jerry could never recapture that feeling of bliss, both musical and spiritual, that came with seeing the band after he died. All the various post-Jerry incarnations, under a variety of names that steered clear of the Grateful Dead, felt wrong. He left too large of a void to fill or ignore or even honor. It just didn’t work for me.

That’s why there was hesitation, despite all the buzz, when the final shows under the Grateful Dead name were announced. Sure, it was exciting to see Bruce Hornsby and Trey Anastasio added to the band. But there would not be, and never could be, a replacement for Jerry.

But for some reason these shows just felt right.


It was time to go back.

Twenty years is a long time, and maybe it took that long to be ready to say goodbye, finally. Maybe more than the band, all of us fans needed the closure. The band was getting back together, and so were all of us. Anyone who had ever seen the Dead had a reason to talk about old times, shoot emails about whether they were going to Chicago, dig up old tapes, check out live music again, just engage.

Facebook profile pictures were laced with Dead iconography. Friends emailed around “this day in Dead history” concerts to stream. Pools were set up to guess which songs they would play. Books, dolls, posters and paraphernalia were hauled out of storage and put back on display.

The circus was coming back to town.


Soldier Field, where the last show was in 1995, was picked for the final three concerts. Tickets were available through old-school mail order, a fun albeit frustrating exercise for most given the demand. But waiting and hoping, only to be ultimately denied, only increased the anticipation.


By hook or crook, and mainly by knowing the right people, I and everyone I know who wanted and was able to attend the shows got tickets for at least one night. I was fortunate enough to be at all three with my brother, who was with me 20 years ago for the July 8 show and went back the next night, a Sunday, for what turned out to be the last Jerry show.

Oddly, to me the music didn’t matter as much to me as the reunion. Warm-up shows the weekend before in California were OK, but not great. I was going for the vibe and the memories, not for the music.

But just like always, the Dead took a left turn and surprised us all.

They killed it.


Starting their first of the final three shows with “Box of Rain,” the last song they played at Soldier Field in 1995, was a genius and emotional move. “Such a long, long time to be gone,” bassist Phil Lesh croaked. “And a short time to be there.”

It was written about his dying father. It can be about our lost loved ones. It can be about Jerry. It can be about the Dead.

It moved me, man. What a moment. Seventy thousand people all in harmony with those guys on stage, hearts beating as one. I didn’t ever think I would see another Grateful Dead concert after Jerry died in 1995. But I did last weekend. And it was glorious.

They rocked. They rolled. The crowd could sense it that first night. They were not going to mail this one in. Trey had practiced! He played Jerry’s parts without making it sound fake. He leaned forward, egging on Bob Weir. Phil smiled. They hugged. We pumped our fists in the air and sang along.

It was electric. It was right.

Every song took on new meaning knowing this would be the last time we’d hear it from the original four all together. “We will get by.” “I can’t figure out. Is it the end or beginning?” “The music never stopped.” “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” And, ultimately, “You know our love will not fade away.”

I don’t expect or even want anyone to understand what a Grateful Dead concert is all about. Some get it, some don’t. It matters not to me whether you do or don’t.

But ask anyone who was there last weekend how those concerts made them feel. Ask what it means to them. It’s real. It’s important.

And now it’s over.

There’s nothing like a Grateful Dead concert. Goddamn right, there’s not.

IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR THE GRATEFUL DEAD - Bruce Hornsby, from left, Jeff Chimenti, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, Trey Anastasio, Bill Kreutzmann of The Grateful Dead perform at Grateful Dead Fare Thee Well Show at Soldier Field on Sunday, July 5, 2015, in Chicago, Ill. (Photo by Jay Blakesberg/Invision for the Grateful Dead/AP Images)


Houndmouth and other news

Greetings, faithful readers. It’s been a while since a proper news update, so let’s hop to it.

Most music fans are always on the lookout for something new. I stumbled upon Houndmouth recently, and was lucky enough to catch one of their shows last week. This band is on the rise and I recommend you checking them out. They are about to release their second record in March, so now is the perfect time to get on the bandwagon. They are a four-piece, with a female keyboardist. All four of them sing, and their songs fit generally into those well-trod categories of alt-country, Americana, roots rock, whatever. I just call it rock and roll.

Here is their latest song:


And here’s another one:


They are on tour currently and I would highly recommend making it to a show if you can.

In other news….

Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann will be releasing the book everyone’s been waiting decades for him to write: “Deal: My Three Decades of Drumming, Dreams and Drugs with the Grateful Dead.” It comes out May 5, just before the Dead’s final run of three shows at Soldier Field.

If anyone’s wondering how the mail order ticketing process is going for those shows, this story gives you some insight:


In the meantime, here’s  a funny clip of Jerry Garcia I recently stumbled upon:


I’m still waiting to hear back on my tickets, but most of my friends have been rejected. The regular on-sale date is this Saturday at 10 a.m.

As you know, Trey Anastasio from Phish is joining the remaining members of the Dead for the final shows. Here is a tiny desk concert he recently did for NPR:


Until next time, keep on truckin’ everyone!


Summertime done come and gone, my oh my

Twenty years ago this July, my brother and I and a gang of like-minded misfits gathered to catch the musical circus as it rolled into town, like it did every summer.

Two decades on, I can’t remember who exactly was with us that hot night at Soldier Field. There was a rotating gaggle of usual suspects who hit as many shows as they could afford and as their schedules would allow. We were all in our 20s. We knew the ride would end at some point, but we didn’t know when.

Turns out, Saturday, July 8, 1995, would be my last Grateful Dead show. The next night, July 9, would be the last Grateful Dead show for everyone else, ever. Jerry Garcia died a month later, and while the band reformed in various incarnations over the next 20 years, it’s never been close to the same.


Now, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the forming of the Grateful Dead, the four surviving original members — along with some very special guests — are reuniting for three shows at the same venue where it all ended in 1995. So much has changed over the interceding years it’s almost pointless to list all the differences. For one, tickets to the 1995 shows were $33.50, as my stub above shows. The best seats this time around are more than six times as much.

Bob Weir, one of the lead singers of the Dead, was 47 years old in 1995 — an old man to the 23-year-old me. But now, as I face 43 and my brother is staring down the barrel of 50, it seems like Bobby was just a young pup when he and Jerry opened that second-to-last show with “Jack Straw.”


There’s no denying that Jerry was in rough shape that night, and had been for years. While we couldn’t have guessed that he would be playing his final shows, all of us who had been watching him decline knew enough to treat every 1990s-era show as a gift.

The biggest gift of all that night, and the moment that stands out for me above all the others, was Jerry’s lead vocal on the Dylan classic “Visions of Johanna.” One vocal inflection and a raised arm, at just the right moment — “Mona Lisa must have had them highway blues, you can TELL by the way she SMILED!” (minute 5:39) — was all it took to send me and the crowd of more than 50,000 into a frenzy. Jerry, and many in the crowd, knew all too well what the highway blues were all about.


They ended that show, triumphantly, with “U.S. Blues,” which contains the bittersweet line: “Summertime done come and gone, my oh my.” They were the last words I ever heard Jerry sing.


Summertime will come again to Soldier Field this July. Joining the original Dead members will be Trey Anastasio from Phish along with frequent Dead collaborator Bruce Hornsby. Thousands of people who make one or more of these shows will have never seen Jerry with the Dead. For them, for all of us, it will be a joyous occasion.

You can’t ever go back, nor should you. Like Satchel Paige said, “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.” Middle/old age is gaining, or already caught, most who were at the final 1995 shows. Even so, many of us, hopefully my brother and I included, will gather, once again, when the circus rolls back into Chicago.

We will cheer. We will sing. Will will laugh. We will dance, poorly. We may even cry.

It’s the power of music and memories, friends. It’s what it’s all about.

See you in Chicago.



Shut up and let him sing

One of the most magical things about great music is you never know when it’s going to transport you to someplace otherworldly, elevate your soul out of your body to a higher plane.

I’ve written a post about those rare times when that happens in concert. But these experiences aren’t limited to just live music. They can sneak up on you, when you’re listening to the radio, or your iPod, or even when you’re playing a song you’ve listened to a thousand times before but for whatever reason it strikes you in a new way. You can be alone, with friends or complete strangers.

This Friday night it happened to me and it still gives me goosebumps.

As has become a somewhat regular thing in our neighborhood, a group of about half a dozen Phish fans gathered to watch a live stream of their concert. We set up a screen outside, with professional-level speakers, and just blast out the live goodness to anyone within earshot. It’s always nice to rattle suburbia as much as possible.

On this particular night, Phish was locked in and delivering one nice, surprising tune after another. Neophytes and longtime Phish-heads were finding more than enough reasons to be ecstatic. It was the Friday night of the three-day Labor Day weekend, so everyone in attendance was in high spirits. We were laughing, sharing stories, talking about the music and generally making a ruckus. It was a grand time.

At intermission, as is also tradition, people request to watch YouTube clips to pass the time. The concert before turned into a Weird Al festival, which inspired my previous post about him. At other shows we’ve played Pink Floyd and even clips from movies. Really, whatever people feel like watching, it goes up.

This night was no different, with our host starting us off with a thoroughly entertaining, if not somewhat disturbing, clip of Shel Silverstein singing on the Johnny Cash show from 1970.


We were abuzz with commentary about how bizarre it was (Shel’s more of a screamer than a singer) and how incredible that this was broadcast to mainstream America on a major television network. Seeing that clip brought out the request to watch when Bob Dylan appeared on the show.

Cash invited Dylan to appear on the the very first episode of his show, taped at the Grand Old Opry in Nashville, and broadcast in June 1969.  Cash and Dylan were friends. Cash famously wrote a letter to 1964 to Sing Out! magazine defending Dylan from criticism about the direction of  his songs at the time, excoriating Dylan’s critics in the folk music world to “SHUT UP! …. AND LET HIM SING!” Dylan frequently referred to that letter throughout his life, including the statement he issued after Cash died in 2003 in which he said he has kept a copy of that magazine because the letter “meant the world to me.” Dylan referred to Cash as the North Star: “you could guide your ship by him — the greatest of the greats then and now.”

At the time Dylan appeared on Cash’s show, he wasn’t keeping the highest of profiles. Just a month prior to the taping he released “Nashville Skyline,” his country record featuring “Lay Lady Lay” where his voice sounds completely different than what it had before, thanks largely to his giving up smoking cigarettes (at least that’s what he said). Dylan wasn’t performing concerts, instead staying mostly at home to raise a family. Prior to the taping of the show, in May 1969, Dylan had been seen only once publicly before that since his 1966 motorcycle accident. In between he had been cutting the Basement Tapes with the Band.

But here he was on network TV, sitting down with the great Johnny Cash. The sing Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country.”

That’s the clip my friends and I cued up on this warm summer night, in between sets of the Phish concert. From the first haphazard notes strummed on acoustic guitar, as Cash tries to get in the groove with Dylan, mumbling something to his seat mate in the living room set, we were transfixed. No one in my group spoke. Cash looks incredibly young. Dylan looks like a child, his hair sheered short. They both are wearing suits.

“If you’re traveling in the North Country fair,” Dylan sings. His voice is clear, crystalline, it cuts through the night air. And then Cash. No one sounds like him. It’s a duet, but it’s rough. They’re not always on cue. They don’t always sing together. With Dylan sitting uncomfortably close,  they bob and fidget, duck and weave, like two musical prize fighters, never really engaging the cameras but still being utterly mesmerizing. The song ends . They shake hands.

This is a clip I’ve seen dozens of times. I’ve heard the audio of it even more. But on this night, for whatever reason, it sent chills down my spine. Our group, that just minutes before had so much to say about everything, is speechless.

When the final note floats out into the summer air, everyone takes a collective breath and reflects on what an incredible clip it is. Forty-five years after it was recorded, on a song everyone knew, two musical giants are able to captivate once again.

This is what great music is all about.

Phox, Phish, Plant and OK GO!

No, this isn’t the title of a long-lost Dr. Suess book.


It’s our Beneath the Waves music news update. And this week we’re chock full of news about new releases out soon, or already available for download/purchase/streaming/whatever.

Let’s start with the new kids on the block:

PHOX: Remember this name. They are an up-and-coming new band from Baraboo, Wisconsin, a city famous as the first home of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. But if Phox’s first full-length release out Tuesday, “PHOX,” is any indication, the city may soon be better known for the band. Already getting tons of positive press, and airplay among indie and college rock stations, Phox is powered by the smoky, sultry vocals of Monica Martin, but it’s not just about her. The band provides an eclectic musical gumbo to back her captivating vocals. The band is on tour now through early August. If they’re not coming to a town near you, or even if they are, check out their first video:


PHISH: It’s been eight years since the last Phish studio release. Based on their unveiling of what would become “Fuego” on Halloween night, my expectations were set pretty low. Thankfully, they jettisoned to two worst songs, got a top-class producer at the helm, and produced a fun, joyful, imminently listenable record. Want to read more about it? Here is a review:


And if you’ve ever wondered how band’s write songs, or at least how Phish did it on this record, check out this excellent NPR piece on just that.


Phish will be performing live on David Letterman tomorrow, Tuesday night, and if you need a live Phish fix before then, they just released Live Bait 10: free live tunes available for download now on their website here:


Robert Plant: I have to admit, I haven’t paid close attention to Robert Plant’s solo career. But I did really dig his work with Alison Krauss from 2007 and we all know what he did with that little combo known as Led Zeppelin. But give this song a listen. It makes me want to buy his new record, the pretentiously titled “lullabye and… The Ceaseless Roar” when it comes out on Sept. 9:


OK GO: Check out this trippy new video from OK Go for their new song “The Writing’s on the Wall.” I think Dr. Suess would have approved:

Beneath the Waves: New releases and the Hunt for Casey Kasem

Lots of new music news, including a couple big surprises, comprise our roundup of the most exciting developments this week. Here we go:

Phish: When Phish decided to unveil a new suite of songs dubbed “Wingsuit” on Halloween night, instead of taking their normal approach of covering a record by another band, there were many groans in jam band land. While some of the tunes had potential, others landed with a dud. This week came word that the band has changed the name of their new record, their first in five years, to “Fuego,” and set a release date of June 24. In further good news, they’ve dropped three of the songs that were part of “Wingsuit” and added another they didn’t play on Halloween. The band also released the trippy cover art, which could easily be mistaken for Hipgnosis-era Pink Floyd:


The first release from the record, “Waiting All Night,” can be heard here:


It sounds pretty slick. This may turn out to be a pleasant surprise, far better than what they laid down on Halloween.

OK Go: One of the most imaginative, and just plain fun, bands out there right now, OK Go, will be back with a new record in October. In the meantime, they plan to release a four-track EP, “Upside Out,” on June 17. They’ve also posted a teaser video for their full-length release, titled “Hungry Ghosts,” here:


For anyone unfamiliar with OK Go, they are known for mixing their music with interactive elements and amazingly creative videos. This one for “This Too Shall Pass,” featuring a massive Rube Goldberg machine, is perhaps their most famous:


Just to show how clever they can be, here is the same song _ the marching band version:


And one more video, for the song “White Knuckles,” for good measure:


Bob Dylan: With no warning, came news this week that the grand old man Bob Dylan will be releasing a new record, supposedly titled “Shadows in the Night,” sometime later this year. The announcement came with the posting of Dylan singing a cover of “Full Moon & Empty Arms,” a song made famous by Frank Sinatra. Combined with the vintage jazz label Blue Note style album cover, speculation is running rampant that the record will be a cover of 1940s-era standards from the likes of Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis. From the Traveling Wilburys to the Rat Pack? Time will tell.


Give it a listen and see what you think of a crooning 72-year-old Bob Dylan:


Sturgill Simpson: I sang the praises of this new country artist in last week’s update. Here is his new music video, and it’s not your typical country fare. It’s got that Willie Wonka going down the river, tripping out feel to it. Maybe that’s to be expected in a song about LSB and smoking pot, among other things. Watch out Phish, this may be more psychedelic than anything that turns up on “Fuego::


Casey Kasem: Everyone’s favorite Top 40 announcer, and original voice of Shaggy from Scooby Doo, Casey Kasem went missing from a nursing home this week. He was later spotted in Washington state, but as of press time his exact location was unknown. The whereabouts of Mr. Kasem inspired a long distance dedication from one of “tailgates and substitutes” most faithful followers. This “song,” if you want to call it that, is definitely not safe for work, but it is hilarious. Fans of U2 will most appreciate this piece by the experimental band Negativland:


And if you’ve never listened to the Casey Kasem Top 40 outtakes, do yourself a favor and hit play. Just make sure no one who is easily offended is nearby:

Beneath the Waves: “Those that go down can go higher up”

Gentle readers, the last post about everyone’s fondest concert memories elicited a flood of responses that were a joy to read. Look for more postings related to great concert moments in the weeks ahead.

While there were several Facebook comments that were quite enjoyable — check out John Chernesky’s Nirvana story, for one — we received a very special surprise here at “tailgates and substitutes” headquarters. What follows is our first guest submission, from a reader who prefers to remain known only as “Lama Lamma,” for reasons known only to him/her.

The story relayed by the Lama was such a great read, complete with an amazing postcard, we just couldn’t pass up relaying it unedited. So, sit back, pour yourself your favorite beverage, and enjoy. We will resume normal programming soon.

Thanks again for reading.

My First Phish Show

4/20/1993, Newport Music Hall, Columbus Ohio

By Lama Lamma

My junior year in college, I was having a tough time. I was sleeping much more than usual; I lost interest in my classes, food, sex, sports. In hindsight, I know now that I had a bout of depression. I’m not sure why and perhaps never will know why.

One rainy crappy spring evening my friends insisted that I made the two hour drive to Columbus with them to hear this ‘new’ band where some guy in a dress played a vacuum cleaner. All I wanted was to remain in my bed; they literally drug me to the car. Waiting outside the small venue in a cold drizzle didn’t help my mood. Having my stash confiscated from my tube sock by over officious door staff made it worse.  In the hall, I stood up in the balcony, wanting and waiting to go home.

The opener “Runaway Jim” was a jolt of electricity through my system, like an emotional defibrillator had been hooked up to my soul.  When “Bouncing Around the Room” came on, some pretty hippie girl took both of my hands and we bounced up and down like grade school children the entire song. This was feeling good. So I made my way to the floor.

They played “Stash” as if to make up for my stolen bud… The energy was electric. I was dancing away to the strains of “David Bowie” and felt the stress drain from my system. Then everyone stopped and dropped to ground except for a few of us newbies, who were left standing there laughing at the madness of it.

That first set, Trey had his left pants leg rolled up, and Mike had his right pants leg rolled up (or do I have that backwards), for apparently no reason whatsoever. When they came out for the second set, they reversed which trouser leg was rolled up. Just to mess with our heads. I loved it.

Since high school, one of my favorite quotes is from Henry David Thoreau: “I don’t want to come to the end of my life and find that I haven’t truly lived.” That first song of the second set contained the chorus “Why wait ‘till I’m old?  Can I live while I’m young?” “Chalk Dust Torture” completed my emotional defib. It has become my mantra.

Then something odd happened. “Fluffhead” touched a part of my soul that was previously bruised and bleeding. If the other tunes were energizing, “Fluffhead” was therapeutic. I can only say that I felt well again. Stone cold sober, dancing to that music made me feel better than I had ever felt before in my life. It was very, very special; an almost spiritual experience.

The boys still had more magic in store. For the first time, I went to Gamehenge. It was like as John Denver describes: coming home to a place I’d never been before. I heard my first “Lama”, my now long-time pseudonym.  In the town where Rhasaan Roland Kirk learned to play jazz on a hose pipe in the 1950’s, I got to see a short hairy man in a maternity dress play “Whipping Post” on a vintage vacuum cleaner. By the time we finally reached the encore of “Amazing Grace,” I was convinced that they were singing directly to me.

I was healed- thoroughly. Like a fog had been lifted and replaced with blue skies. I wrote to the band and told them as much. Mike Gordon wrote a post card back that simply said “Those that go down can go higher up.”

In the years that followed, I had my own Fluff’s travels: Europe, Asia and Australia (the battered post card from Mike acted as my talisman). Washing up in England, I practiced social work. Helping others feel better became my life’s work. I would go on to found and direct a therapeutic residential community for sexually abused teenagers. We had several children’s homes, a private school, and therapy center; I was called as an expert court witness in child abuse cases. Wouldn’t Mike be proud?!

Although it wasn’t an explicit part of our therapeutic approach, Trey and the boys were most frequently heard from my office, car, computer speakers…  I would rip CDs for any kid that asked, which was quite a few. The kids seemed to relate to “Fluffhead” in particular; they identified with the idea of a misfit, going to a dark place, and emerging triumphantly out the other side. (I only recently heard the story of the song’s inspiration, the cancer patient in the Dead lot…did the band know the power of this song when they wrote it so long ago?)

Fast forward to June 2012:

I return to my native Cincinnati after a ‘hiatus’ 3X as long as our band. I’m successful with the house/wife/child/higher degrees/business/responsibilities that come with following a good road. But something was missing; I had that kind of empty sad feeling that aging hippies get in suburbia. It wasn’t depression; that would never return after that first show. Just a sadness, mixed with longing and frustration.

My younger brother scored two Row G seats to the June 22nd show at Riverbend and had to take me- my good karma for turning him on to the best band on the planet. No one had to drag me this time!  At the pre-party I told everyone the story of my first show, showed them Mike’s post card, explained my recent ennui and said that our band was to going to heal me with “Fluffhead.” If they could do it once…

First song we hear is “Wolfman’s Brother,” standing next to my brother. Then the old defibrillator cart rolls out again with “Runaway Jim.” I start to feel not only better, but younger.

The seats were so good that we could read Trey’s lips between songs. I was as close as I was in ’93, only there were some 750 people at that show, and tens of thousands at Riverbend. Decided to stub down some friends for more good karma, and danced on the lawn.

When “Lama” broke, I was mobbed. Three dozen or so of our friends went nuts with me as they played my namesake song. Those 10 minutes were some of the best of my life. We went back to Gamehenge. They replenished my “Stash”- again.  And of course they played “David Bowie”, as now IB40.

At the set break, I helped walked a foreign and out of place female friend to the toilets (guys, if a girl says she needs to go to the toilet, don’t argue, just take her). Standing outside the women’s restrooms my phone rings. A buddy with connections has a back stage pass.   can meet our heros and say ‘Thanks’ and ‘Please play Fluffhead’!  But this chick is ages in the toilet, and I can’t leave her (well, I could, but won’t). By the time she comes out, they are back on stage.


But I was determined to not let this catastrophe ruin my night and returned to our ace seats.  I mentally fought it off, but it was tough.  Just when I needed my second defib- BAM! “Chalkdust.” I’m dancing, sweating and the years are melting away. But no “Fluffhead.”

The encore comes, and I immediately recognize Trey noodling Fluff. They don’t play Fluff as an encore, and I told my bro it was a tease.  But Trey’s guitar was unmistakable… My brother gave me a hug and tears streamed down my face. The first “Fluffhead” encore in some 1,200 shows occurred that night.

And ages later when the dam broke and that moment of triumphant glory came, I was twenty years old again.  And the kid in the lot with the cottonball hair was healed and the abused kids were healed and I was healed.  FLUFFHEAD!  FLUFFHEAD!!  FLUFFHEAD!!!