This weekend, one of the most iconic rock bands of all time is getting back together, one last time. After 20 years apart, The Grateful Dead are once again taking the stage at Chicago’s Soldier Field, the site of their final concert before bandleader Jerry Garcia passed away in 1995. This time, the band’s “core four” — guitarist Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh, and drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann — will be joined onstage by Trey Anastasio of Phish on lead guitar and Bruce Hornsby on keyboards. The three-night “Fare Thee Well” tour — preceded by a pair of warm-up shows in Santa Clara, California, are being billed as the last time the Grateful Dead’s core four will ever share the stage again.
Deadheads are travelling to Chicago in droves to catch the Grateful Dead’s final nights together, but there are still questions on everyone’s mind: what will be the Dead’s setlist each night? What will their final song ever be? Can I still grab tickets? For answers, backed up by some hard data, read on below.
Fans of the Grateful Dead don’t just like the band; the group is a religion to them. That’s why it comes as no surprise that tickets to the three-day reunion sold out in record time and appeared on secondary market vendors almost immediately. Originally, single-day tickets averaged $150 across all seating levels (excluding VIP packages), but after the shows sold out in minutes, they shot up to an average of $2,021 per night on the secondary market. You may have heard reports of three-day passes going for as high as $100,000, but for the most part, those weren’t serious asking prices. Three-day passes did, however jump extremely high, shooting from an average face value of $450 to an average sale price of $4,493.
In time, ticket prices have dropped considerably on the secondary market. Two weeks after tickets went on sale, the average three-day pass dropped slightly to $4,230, while single-day passes fell to about $1,990. By mid-May, prices had cooled down considerably, and the average three-day pass had fallen to $3,300, with average tickets for Sunday falling below the $1,000 mark for the first time since Grateful Dead tickets went onsale.
As the Grateful Dead reunion gets closer, tickets have only become more affordable. By now, the average three-day pass clocks in at $1,137, while single-day tickets average $645. If you don’t mind an obstructed view, tickets are even cheaper. Tickets for Sunday night, the Grateful Dead’s final show, start at $204, and three-day passes start at $539 for behind-the-stage views.
Determining a Setlist
Fans of the Dead are notorious for keeping deep records about which songs the band played at each one of its 2,330 shows (that’s over eight months straight of music, if you’re counting). Not only does it make it easy to track live recordings, it also allows you to visualize the way the Grateful Dead evolved over the years. Using some of this data, we’ll see if it’s possible to determine what the Grateful Dead reunion setlist will look like.
First off, let’s take a look at some of the band’s past setlists to get a sense for the kind of songs the Grateful Dead have played over the years. From their formation in 1965 to their breakup in 1995, the band developed a stable of over 150 songs that they could draw on at each show, adding and subtracting songs over time. We charted nine of their most-played and most notable songs, comparing the number of times they were played in five-year chunks. Click on each time period to explore the chart.
As you can see, the Grateful Dead’s library of songs expanded considerably over the years, and many of their most-loved classics didn’t begin showing up until the 1970s. In the early ’70s, the band began phasing out the psychedelic classic “Dark Star,” replacing it with the mainstay “Playin’ in the Band.” A few years later, they introduced the classic “Estimated Prophet” for the first time, as well as the Southern-rock inspired “Alabama Getaway,” which had a little less staying power.
One of the last big additions to the Grateful Dead’s setlists was “Touch of Grey,” which first showed up in 1982 and became the band’s only Top 40 single in 1987. After that, the hit became a mainstay. From 1985 to 1995, the Grateful Dead’s setlists coalesced into a “greatest hits” of sorts, incorporating their only Top 40 hit “Touch of Grey,” bringing back classics like “Dark Star,” and de-emphasizing 1970s-specific songs like “Alabama Getaway.” The band was still producing new songs at this point, but for the most part, they were playing the classics.
Now, take a look at the kinds of songs the Grateful Dead played at their two-show warm-up in Santa Clara this weekend, broken down by the decade those songs first appeared.
On their first night back together, the Dead stuck almost exclusively to their roots in the 60s. “Truckin’,” “Uncle John’s Band,” and “Cumberland Blues” all first appeared on 1970’s Workingman’s Dead, but everything else the Grateful Dead played comes from their first four years together. On the next night, however, the Dead expanded their setlist and drew more from the ’70s than any other decade. The setlist hewed towards deep cuts, but there’s some overlap with our chart above.
At Santa Clara, the band mostly stuck to material written in the first half of their career, which makes sense given that it’s the time period fans revere the most. For example, Rolling Stone put together a list of the best concerts the Grateful Dead ever played as a guide for new fans wanting to sift through the group’s live recordings. Of the 20 shows Rolling Stone listed, 15 were were in the ’60s and ’70s.
The Grateful Dead are aware that most of their fans consider the ’60s and ’70s their heyday, and it looks like they’re working to stick as closely to the most iconic version of the band they can. So when the Grateful Dead take the stage on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, expect them to stick to the classics.
Friday and Saturday’s setlists will probably resemble the first two nights at Santa Clara with minor variations, but expect big, era-defining songs like “Dark Star” and “Alabama Getaway” on each respective night. The back-to-back combo of “China Cat Sunflower” and “I Know You Rider” was a no-show in Santa Clara, but is almost certain to appear on Friday. Another notable absence from Santa Clara is “Estimated Prophet,” a classic that began dominating their setlists in the 1970s; expect that to show up sometime in Saturday’s set as well.
Sunday night is a bit of a toss-up, but considering that it’s the last time the “core four” will ever play together again, expect it to resemble those “greatest hits” setlists the band was playing back in the late ’80s and early ’90s. If “Touch of Grey” shows up, for instance, expect it to come on Sunday night.
As for the last song at Fare Thee Well? There are a lot options. The Grateful Dead are known for bringing shows together with a powerful encore, and they have to end this string of shows strong. “Not Fade Away” was a beloved Dead encore for years, but since it’s a cover and not an original, it’s unlikely the final show will end with it. The last Soldier Field show ended with “Box of Rain,” but they might want something more special this time around. Our vote? “Brokedown Palace.” Not only is it the encore from the final Santa Clara show, it contains the lyric, “Fare thee well, fare thee well. I love you more than words can tell.” It’s the perfect final note for the Grateful Dead.
Why Are People So Worked Up About the Grateful Dead?
So, why are people are getting so excited about the Grateful Dead? For many, the Grateful Dead are one of the most important bands to come out of the 1960s. They helped define the entire psychedelic scene as the house band for Ken Kesey’s acid tests before building an intense following of their own by fusing Americana, blues, jazz, and rock into their own style. But if you’re still not sure why the Dead are important, it’s probably because you haven’t experienced them live.
Over their 30 years together, the Grateful Dead played some 2,330 concerts and established themselves as a group that needs to be experienced in person. Known as the Warlocks until 1966, the Grateful Dead started off playing mostly local California shows for years before beginning a grueling tour schedule across America and abroad from 1969 on.
Their heavy tour schedule lead to a brief hiatus in 1975, but when the band picked up steam again, they never slowed down, though they began playing slightly fewer shows a year just to keep the pressure down. In 1977, they even played one of the most notable shows of their career with a three-night event in front of the Pyramids in Egypt. Ultimately, the only thing that could stop the Grateful Dead from playing together was the death of lead singer Jerry Garcia in 1995. Now, they’re back for one last string of concerts.
Those impressive tour dates didn’t just pay off in critical acclaim, either. All told, the Grateful Dead have sold 19 million albums in their career. Here’s how they stack up against other similar-selling rock groups.
The numbers alone are impressive, but consider this: the Grateful Dead’s sales came almost entirely without radio promotion. The Dead released several singles in their first 20 years together, but none of them made any impact on the charts until 1987’s “Touch of Grey” clocked in at number 9 on the Billboard Top 40. For comparison, Steely Dan had seven Top 40 singles, but fewer sales overall. Kiss just barely eclipses the Grateful Dead in overall sales, yet they had nine singles on the Top 40. Clearly, Deadheads are some of the most dedicated fans in the world.