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In final concert, Grateful Dead bids farewell to faithful followers

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now: What a long, strange trip it's been. After 50 years, the legendary rock band the Grateful Dead bowed out in a series of concerts this weekend. There was history, some controversy, and a whole lot more in the air. And it was, no surprise, one of the summer's toughest tickets.

    Our Jeffrey Brown was there.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    It was a weekend of extended guitar solos, era-evoking sounds, and "High Times" images updated into the digital graphics age.

    There were good vibes of the multigenerational time.

  • MAN:

    It's the last show. We have got to see it. I have got to pass that on to him.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    And a certain amount of nostalgia, including from band members looking back 50 years.

  • BILL KREUTZMANN, Grateful Dead:

    We were just really gung-ho, wanting to play. And that's what — that's how you feel about every day. Any day you had a chance to play music, you got together and played.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    It was all part of a major happening that played out over three days and into long nights.

    It's called "Fare Thee Well," a series of final concerts for a band that blazed its own path on the way to becoming part of rock 'n' roll history. We got here to Soldier Field in Chicago ahead of the celebration to talk to some of the people who are putting it on and taking part.

  • PETER SHAPIRO, Music Promoter:

    It's going to be a big — it's a big circus.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    A big circus?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • PETER SHAPIRO:

    Yes, because there's so much going on. Listen, it's driven by the ringmaster in the middle, which is the band. And the music is the real thing.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Music promoter Peter Shapiro put the event together.

  • PETER SHAPIRO:

    Part of the energy is the people. You will see lots of spectacle. So, all these different people from all over America, from all these different age groups, you will feel it, you can feel it, you know, and you can't get that anywhere else.

    There's just no other scene. That's why I think this sold out in a minute, 200,000 tickets. And people are dying — they want — they want to also go back in time a bit.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    You think so?

  • PETER SHAPIRO:

    Yes, I think it's…

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    To what?

  • PETER SHAPIRO:

    To a better time.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Well, at least to a different time.

    Grateful Dead helped to define the '60s era counterculture, its freedom, its excess, the whole package. All these years later, drummer Bill Kreutzmann told me of the first time he saw a performance by a young man who would become the band's most iconic figure, charismatic guitarist Jerry Garcia.

  • BILL KREUTZMANN:

    Got as close as we are right now, and I watched him and I said, I'm going to follow him forever just to myself. And then about…

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    But what was it that you saw in him, that you saw that made you say that?

  • BILL KREUTZMANN:

    I saw magic that you don't see in everyday people. I saw the excitement of life inside of him just coming forth.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    A lot of people saw the magic in Garcia and the band, the beginnings of a cultlike following called Dead Heads, fans who followed the band from concert to concert through the years.

  • GREG KOT, The Chicago Tribune:

    I think the Grateful Dead were a social phenomenon as much as a musical phenomenon, and that the combination made them truly unique in rock history. I don't there's ever been a band quite like them.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Greg Kot is music critic for The Chicago Tribune.

  • GREG KOT:

    It was a caravan. It wasn't just a band. It was about the band and the fans. Most bands, when they go out on tour, they basically establish a set list and play the same songs in the same order every night.

    The Grateful Dead never played the same songs in the same order, much less even in the same way. They reinterpreted their catalogue constantly, so every show was different.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Also different and ahead of its time, what you could call the band's business mode, one based on constant performing and direct-to-consumer interaction, including encouraging fans to make and share free recordings.

  • GREG KOT:

    There was no middleman. They presaged the Internet era in a lot of ways. They were an Internet band without the existence of the Internet.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    How many shows have you gone to?

  • MAN:

    I have gone to 98. Tonight is 99.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • MAN:

    I got tickets — I just got tickets for 99. Ninety-nine!

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    That sense of belonging to a community was on display in the pre-concert parking lot scene in Chicago, a colorful festival of tie-dye and T-shirts, often worn as proud emblems of attendance at Dead concerts of the past.

    Many here were too young to have taken part in the golden age of the Dead, but they, too, wanted to be part of the scene.

  • WOMAN:

    When else in my life would I have the chance to see something like this? It's like really rare for someone of my age.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    That golden age was wonderful for the band and its followers, until it wasn't.

    Jerry Garcia died in 1995 of a heart attack after years of battling drug addiction. He was just 53.

    In his new memoir, "Deal," drummer Bill Kreutzmann writes of the band's many highs and how they led to serious lows.

  • BILL KREUTZMANN:

    The drugs played the worst, the baddest part of that.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    What did it do to the band?

  • BILL KREUTZMANN:

    It made us all individuals. It made us feel self-centered. It made us not listen to music when we were all playing together. It's just really bad for music.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Money also became a factor, says Kreutzmann, the need for it to support what inevitably became more a corporate entity than just a group of young music-loving guys.

  • BILL KREUTZMANN:

    The purity of it may have run its length, but it still would come back at times. It just — it took a lot more work when it went to the dark side. But we managed. And that's another reason why we're here now doing this. We're all back. We're all healthy again.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Why exactly they are back has been a question, though.

    Original band members Kreutzmann, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, and Mickey Hart, ages 67 to 75, took the stage with help from younger stars, including Trey Anastasio of Phish, one of the many so-called jam bands spawned by the Grateful Dead.

    In the run-up to these concerts, even many old-time fans had grumbled about ticket prices, availability and much more. Two more concerts on the West Coast were added to help meet the demand.

  • GREG KOT:

    If they leave it at this and this is their going-away party, I think everybody will say, well, they earned that weekend.

    But if they extend this out and it turns into a big cash-out tour after this, I will be — and I — I think I speak for a lot of Dead Heads — that will be disappointing to see them go out that way. So, it will be interesting to see how they handle this weekend.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Is this really the end of the Grateful Dead?

  • BILL KREUTZMANN:

    As far as I know. I haven't seen any more shows…

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    So, you're hedging a little bit?

  • BILL KREUTZMANN:

    Well, I — because — I will tell why I hedge. You're very sensitive. You picked that up right away.

    I would like it to do — to do it more. Between you and me and all your lovely fans, I would like to have a couple more shows on the East Coast.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    So, who knows. We were there, and it was an event, all right, music, lights, 70,000 of the band's closest friends soaking up a remembrance of times past, for one more weekend, at least, the Dead very much alive.

    From Soldier Field in Chicago, I'm Jeffrey Brown for the PBS NewsHour.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Whether you're a Dead Head or not, the fun continues online, where you can watch Jeff's full interview with founding member Bill Kreutzmann. Plus, read Jeff's reporter's notebook about what it was like covering the scene.

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