Grateful for Tech: 8 Ways the 21st Century Dead Experience Is Not Like the Old Days

Jay Blakesberg

Crowds in the pit on night one of Fare Thee Well in Santa Clara, Calif.

Shazam, Google Maps, Uber, Twitter... Fare Thee Well brings with it a slew of advances.

Between the tunes, the haze and the memories, it was easy to forget that the Grateful Dead’s Fare Thee Well weekend bow was taking place in 2015 -- until, that is, a minute later when you found yourself reflexively reaching for your phone.

Indeed, the 21st century Dead experience is a trip in itself for those who attended shows when Jerry Garcia was still alive. Gone are the days of meeting your friends at a nearby Hilton or pre-designating a buddy system should anyone be separated from the pack. No scribbling required, as set lists can be noted on a smartphone -- and checked instantly for accuracy on the web or via (trusted) social media. Even tapers have lost their primary function, with the five-date run available for live streaming and downloading through a variety of platforms.

Plenty remains the same, of course -- expect to find the traditional “Shakedown Street” pop up in the parking lot and the waft of Patchouli in the air -- but we couldn't help noticing the differences at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara last weekend.

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No cash, no problem: Not only did many vendors on Shakedown Street accept credit cards for their wares -- selling everything from T-shirts to jewelry, stickers to posters -- but so did all the concessions inside the stadium and pedicab drivers servicing the area, making a meet-up in a faraway lot possible and offering a much-needed break for aching feet at the end of the night. Bonus: with a Square account, a receipt is automatically sent to your email.

Finding your car -- or your crew -- is a breeze: Stressing over where you parked is a thing of the past with Google Maps’ pin drop function. It saves your location and can direct you by foot so no need to try and commit to memory some easily mistakable landmarks like “that row of port-o-potties” or “those two trees.” Same goes for meeting up with friends whom you can text with your exact location via latitude and longitude coordinates.

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Your phone as memento maker and keeper: Sharing the experience of a Dead show with friends who couldn’t be there once required waiting until you got home and could place a call or meet up in person. No longer. Thanks to Facebook, YouTube, Periscope, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and a slew of at-your-fingertips options (provided Wi-Fi or a strong enough signal is available, more on that in a second…), the communal experience is just that, but it’s bigger than ever and binds those millions of fans at the same time.

What’s that song? Shazam it. Our experiment in live song identification failed at the Santa Clara shows due to a weak signal -- no doubt cell towers were overloaded by 50,000 users in a concentrated area (although did the promoters mind that attention was on the stage rather than the phone? Probably not.) -- but had the Shazam app been able to connect to its server, would “Truckin’” have come up? We’ll try again at Soldier Field in Chicago and report back…

Take the music with you: No need to swap a tape to procure a mix board recording of Fare Thee Well, is selling a 12-CD, 7-DVD set of all three Chicago shows along with a shorter “best of” version and multiple digital download options.

Never make a wrong turn again -- or, take the scenic route: Whether driving your own car, renting or simply navigating for a friend, GPS has made road trips -- like the ones taking place right now all over the country as heads find their way to Chicago -- easier than ever before. At the same time, if you felt like taking the long way or a scenic route, it will redirect automatically, all the while providing the all-important estimated arrival time.

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Pot is decriminalized, heads hardly flinch: Now that 20 states have decriminalized marijuana (California and Illinois among them), nothing really changes for Dead devotees as they go through their daily lives, but at the concert, there’s some comfort in knowing it’s unlikely you’d be arrested for lighting a joint. What is different? The vape wave as heads increasingly elect to put away the lighter and go for THC in its purest, vaporized form.

Uber it home. After partaking in the above, better not to drive. Enter: Uber with pick-up service for the blurry eyed and the added ease of a moving dot to show the location of your ride.

Perhaps the best advance that technology affords: the very existence of the web, where set lists, solos and, yes, rainbows can be debated long after the lights come up.