Dead End – at Least for Now

Dead and Company canceled their July 6th concert at Saratoga Performing Arts Center because of guitarist John Mayer’s father’s medical emergency. On Instagram John stated, “This morning, my father suffered a medical emergency and was transported to the ER where he received much-needed and great care. He is now fairly stable and will continue to undergo some procedures, but as you can understand, I have to stay in NYC and can’t play tonight’s show in Saratoga Springs. ❤️” His father is 94. As of this writing, no other concerts on the tour have been canceled.

Since 2015, John Mayer has been the latest guitarist to play with The Dead since the passing of the iconic Jerry Garcia in 1995. Just a few of his credentials before joining the band offer proof of the importance of the shoes he fills.  He attended Berklee College of Music in Boston. His two studio albums—Room for Squares (2001) and Heavier Things (2003)— went multi-platinum. In 2003, he won the Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for his single “Your Body Is a Wonderland.” He’s collaborated with blues artists such as B. B. King, Buddy Guy, and Eric Clapton.  His album Continuum earned a 2007 Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Album.  I could go on, but you get the idea.

I’m a Deadhead!

I’ve been a Deadhead for more than half a century.

One of my proudest accomplishments is that I’ve interviewed Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart. I’m friends with Dennis McNally, who was the Dead’s historian and publicist for more than two decades and wrote Long Strange Trip, the definitive Grateful Dead biography. Dennis made sure I had three comp tickets to every Dead show in the 518 area code when my two sons David and Michael were growing up so they could experience The Dead’s unique sound. He arranged for us to attend a Planet Drum rehearsal at the Palace Theatre featuring Mickey Hart, Babatunde Olatunji, and other world-class percussionists. Both my sons play guitar and drums as adults.

It may be hard for those unfamiliar with this band to understand how devastating this particular cancellation is to their fans. Outside of The Beatles, no other popular music group has come close to having the influence they’ve had on pop culture. They spearheaded what has been called “the countercultural revolution” of the psychedelic ’60s. Their integration of rock, blues, bluegrass, and other musical styles into a blend has morphed and changed night to night for more than half a century, a precedent no other rock band comes close to equaling. Every concert has a completely different setlist. And every song features improvisations that inspired the jam band movement. They have fans who spend their lives traveling from town to town to follow their tours.

Dead and Company

The Dead developed the modern sound system with the clarity and power to send a clear signal to arena-sized concert halls. In fact, Dennis McNally tells me that the lack of large arenas in this market in the late ’60s and early ’70s made performing here a problem early on. One of their first area concerts was at the Albany War Memorial, which was plagued by a bomb scare that forced everyone onto the street.

The band was prescient in their willingness to share their music free, to the point where they remained in debt for more than a decade after becoming an arena act. Early on, they invited fans to record their concerts and share the tapes with other fans. Their earliest concerts were free to the public in San Francisco.

Jerry Garcia told me in 1979, “My goal is to feel alright. That’s my bottom line. If I don’t feel alright, and it requires taking care of myself, then I will take care of myself until I feel alright. That’s the whole thing.”  The quote came from an interview that almost didn’t happen. He’d been scheduled to call me at a certain time on a Tuesday. I had a concert to review and had to leave. He called shortly after I left the house, but he told my wife he’d call back the next night.

And he did.

As The Stones sing, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need.”

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