Requests for tickets are believed to be in the millions. The shows are produced by Peter Shapiro, 42, in association with AEG-owned Madison House Presents.
"This is f----n' nuts," says Shapiro, who was attending his 5 year-old son's soccer game as ticket sales launched, receiving updates via text from Ticketmaster and Madison House's Mike Luba and Don Sullivan on the growing online queue.
Nearly 500,000 were online waiting to purchase tickets when the "box office" opened at 10 a.m. CST, Shapiro says, adding that tickets went completely clean in less than an hour.
"It would have sold out in an instant, the only thing that took a little time was the computers and stuff," he says, adding that the Ticketmaster handled the volume as about 100,000 were sold. "Ticketmaster did not go down."
The Grateful Dead with Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio will perform in a 360-degree configuration, allowing Soldier Field to be filled to maximum capacity. Ticket prices ranged from $59.50 to $199.50 per day, with capacity at 70,000 per day.
First broken on Billboard.com Jan. 16, Fare thee Well will feature Anastasio joining original members of the Grateful Dead for these three 50th-anniversary shows in Chicago. The Dead's last performance with Jerry Garcia, who died in August 1995 with the band at the peak of its drawing power, was at the same 55,000-seat capacity venue on July 9, 1995.
In uniting the "core four" of Bob Weir, 67; Phil Lesh, 74; Mickey Hart, 71, and Bill Kreutzmann, 68, Shapiro has cracked the code to tap into 20 years of pent-up demand in ways that no event since Garcia's death has managed to do. Deadheads, wannabe Deadheads, Phish-heads, and fans of improvisational rock'n'roll in general have clearly embraced Fare thee Well as a true "Grateful Dead" event, or the closest thing possible to it. Added to that the "one-of-a-kind" nature of Fare the Well creates what will surely be one of the biggest concert events in history.
"We've definitely tapped into something," Shapiro says. "It's cultural phenomenon time."
After much debate, producers opted to go "old school" mail order for a significant portion of the Soldier Field manifest, in the tradition of the original Grateful Dead. Fans responded to the point where post offices across the country were running out of money orders, Shapiro says, with many fans expressing their enthusiasm through elaborately detailed artwork on envelopes and requests.
"We knew on Jan. 20 that we had a massive response, with the press covering post offices being overrun by Deadheads," he says, adding that mail order demand exceed 500,000 requests for tickets.
On Jan. 27, VIP tickets and experiences, orchestrated by Dan Berkowitz' CID Entertainment, sold out in seconds.
At this point, Shapiro and Madison House are fine-tuning plans to host after-show concerts and events at various venues around Chicago, as well as finding a way to provide an experience for the millions of fans who want to see the show but can't get in the venue.
"We want to provide video and audio, the best shit out there, and try to bring it to people with the same vibe as being there," Shapiro says. He says that these "pay per view" events would take place not only in Chicago but potentially across the country.
Asked if he's ever been part of an event like this, Shapiro responds, "There's never been anything like this. I'm holding on tight."