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Boulder’s romance with Dead & Company waltzes to

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By Peter Mayer

As Dead & Company’s “Final Tour” rolls into town for three concerts at Folsom Field July 1 -3, Deadheads across the region will gather at the foot of the Flatirons one last time to celebrate the music of the Grateful Dead and bring to a close a 50-year relationship between the band and Colorado fans. Over that time, the Grateful Dead has had a huge influence on Boulder’s local music scene and Dead & Company has chosen Boulder as one of their favorite places to perform.

Folsom Field has a long tradition of live music featuring some of the world’s biggest bands including the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, the Grateful Dead, Simon & Garfunkel, Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, Dave Matthews Band and many others. But recently, Dead & Company has been the only stadium show in town.

For the past seven years, no other musical act except Dead & Company has performed at Folsom Field. On this “final tour,” Boulder’s three concerts are more shows than at any other stop on the tour. Boulder holds a special place for the band and for fans. The July 1 show is already sold out and anticipation is building for a three-day celebration of Grateful Dead music across the community with pre- and post-concert music and events.

When I went to Boulder High from 1979 and 1982 there were two kinds of rock fans: Deadheads and everyone else. The Grateful Dead was not played on commercial FM radio and attracted fans and allegiance by allowing their concerts to be taped and traded by fans. I first saw the Grateful Dead in the rain at Red Rocks on June 13, 1984, and then managed to see them ten times over the years before Jerry Garcia died in 1995. Garcia was the central figure of the band and the real deal — a uniquely American singer, songwriter, guitar player, a titanic cultural figure and an irreplaceable musical talent.

There was public mourning, grief and sadness in Boulder and across America as news spread that Garcia had died in a California rehab facility, trying to get himself healthy. Everyone understood that this was the end of the Grateful Dead and the end of an incredible era of American music. We had been through this before with other irreplaceable pieces — John Lennon, John Bonham, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix. It was over. But the Dead lives on.

It is difficult to understate the influence of the Grateful Dead on Boulder’s musical tastes. The Grateful Dead was a jam band — part rock, part jazz, part folk and part bluegrass with lots of improvisation, all things Boulder music fans love. Boulder’s enduring musical legends Leftover Salmon, the String Cheese Incident, Yonder Mountain String Band, and Big Head Todd and the Monsters emerged in the early 1990s music scene which was fed by Deadhead energy and musical appetite. Grateful Dead cover bands like Shakedown Street and Steely Dead still sell out shows across the region.

In truth, Dead & Company is the best Grateful Dead cover band out there. The band currently features two original members — Bob Weir and Mickey Hart — along with John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge, Jeff Chimenti and Jay Lane. Dead & Company will sell out three nights at Folsom Field on the strength of the original source material — the songs of Grateful Dead — and the outstanding supporting cast that make Dead & Company musically exciting and stadium worthy. 

Statuesque guitar hero John Mayer never really listened much to the Grateful Dead as his own career blossomed, but after a chance meeting, Bob Weir recognized that Mayer brought the guitar and vocal fire and flame needed to ignite a new musical project. Then there’s Oteil Burbridge, who played bass for the final incarnation of the Allman Brothers and is the groove master, sonic glue and essential harmonizer. Chimenti and Lane have played Grateful Dead music with Bob Weir for more than 20 years and are consummate pros. Dead & Company succeeds because it keeps the spirit of the Grateful Dead alive and well while adding its own style and interpretation to songs that the audience knows and loves.

For Boulder area fans, the annual July Dead & Company shows at Folsom Field have been a welcome return of big live music to Folsom Field which is as good a stadium venue as you will find. I rode my bike to see Fleetwood Mac play at Folsom in 1977, I’ll do it again this year for the final Dead & Company run. There is something energizing and beautiful about a big stadium show in Boulder. Dead & Company is saying goodbye to Boulder, but this shouldn’t be the end of concerts at Folsom Field. Wouldn’t it be great if Boulder could attract other big acts like Taylor Swift or Beyonce to perform at Folsom Field? 

Peter Mayer is the co-chair of PLAN-Boulder County.

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