"We’re off and running," says Fare Thee Well co-producer Peter Shapiro, the day after the two-night opening salvo of The Grateful Dead's 50th anniversary reunion came off -- exceedingly well, by most accounts -- at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., June 27-28. "It feels like we’ve got the spirit of Jerry [Garcia] at our back, and we’re headed East."
Thousands of Deadheads are doubtlessly headed East, as well, where Fare Thee Well will resume Friday at Chicago’s Soldier Field, site of late Dead frontman Garcia’s last show with the band 20 years ago. Shapiro, along with his co-producers at Madison House Presents, have little time to bask in the afterglow; load-in has already begun at Soldier Field. But, for now, Shapiro can savor the moment as he begins his journey from Santa Clara to Chicago.
"I feel really good about the music that came off the stage, the energy of the crowd, the energy of the musicians together, and their interaction with the audience," Shapiro tells Billboard. The combination of Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio and the "core four" of original Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, and Bill Kreutzmann, along with Jeff Chimenti and Bruce Hornsby, "has really become a band, versus just bringing different musicians together. We’ve got a new band. Seven guys. It’s a band, and it’s great to see the interaction with Trey and the ‘core four.’"
Asked how this "new band" felt about the shows, Shapiro says, "You’ve got some happy guys right now. Lots of smiles. You can see in their faces how happy they are."
Shapiro says that "everything went smooth on a production level," singling out lighting director Candace Brightman and sound engineer Derek Featherstone for Fare Thee Well’s "amazing" audio and visuals. Shapiro also gave high marks to Levi’s Stadium, praising "the technical aspects of the stadium, as well as the environment created inside. It was a ‘feel good’ vibe, which is very important for a Grateful Dead show. And this felt like a Grateful Dead show."
One final word on "rainbowgate," the ongoing discussion as to whether the rainbow that graced Levi’s Stadium as the band neared the end of its first set on Night 1 was a production element or a natural occurrence: "It was man-made," says Shapiro of the rainbow, before adding, "and the man that made it was Jerry Garcia."
OK, then. Now Fare Thee Well is en route to Chicago and the Santa Clara edition is in the books. "It was a very big warm-up show that went really well, everyone said," says Shapiro. "It will be really cool to see the Chicago shows and how they’re celebrated, not just at Soldier Field, but across the country in these venues and theaters. We’re ramping it up."
Shapiro admits he feels "a little relieved to get that under our belt. What’s nice when you do a group of shows like that, they’re done, we did it, no matter what happens in Chicago we’ll always have the California shows," he says. "Those were great shows, and they will be remembered by the 150,000-plus people that were there. We go to so many shows and festivals, it’s hard to remember this one or that one, but the Dead shows at Levi’s, people will remember. People will remember ‘Morning Dew.’ It’s not often you get to put on shows that the people will remember forever. We’ve done two of them, and we have three to go."