Fare Thee Well, the Grateful Dead 50th anniversary shows that also puts a cap on one of the most remarkable live music careers in music history, wrapped Sunday night at Soldier Field in record-setting fashion.
Produced by Peter Shapiro in partnership with AEG subsidiary Madison House, Fare Thee Well featured the "core four" of surviving members Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, and Bill Kreutzmann, along with Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio standing in for the late Jerry Garcia on guitar and vocals. Jeff Chimenti (keyboards), and Bruce Hornsby (piano) rounded out the band, which performed two joyous sets of music each night at Soldier Field, site of the last Grateful Dead performance with Jerry Garcia 20 years ago.
Two days after pulling off the Super Bowl of the Dead, Shapiro was elated. "It’s a great feeling," he tells Billboard. "When you’re in the middle of it, so many things are moving around, you’re adjusting, things are changing, the land’s moving. But now, it’s done. Nobody can change what just happened. Pretty intense."
Beyond celebrities including Bill Murray, Katy Perry, Perry Farrell and John Mayer, the live music industry was also well-represented, and many were just as impressed as were the ecstatic fans. "I’ve been to thousands of shows, and [Fare Thee Well] was without a doubt one of the coolest things I’ve ever been to in my life," says Bowery Presents talent buyer Josh Moore. "The energy in the building was completely insane. Where I was standing, I was surrounded by agents, managers and promoters from all different areas of the industry, and I think they all would say it was one of the most incredible concert experiences of their lives. From my perspective, it was a flawless production and a perfect weekend."
Asked how the band felt about the shows, Shapiro says, "They all loved it. ‘Magic' was a word I have heard a lot."
The box office performance of the event was magic, as well. Fare Thee Well broke three consecutive post-renovation attendance records [previously held by U2 360] at Soldier Field, culminating with 71,000 paid on Sunday. While numbers are still being tabulated, the final tally was about 212,000 paid attendance. Shapiro declines to discuss financials, but on an average ticket price of about $120 (most tickets were $199.50, with some at $59, $79 and $99), that attendance would produce a box office gross of $24.5 million. With two sold out nights of about 130,000 attendance at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., the previous weekend, and VIP tickets for both shows included, Fare Thee Well easily hit the $50 million gross predicted in Billboard back in April.
A wide range of merchandise, overseen by Global Merchandising Services, was available throughout the Soldier Field footprint, and stands were predictably jammed all weekend. No official numbers have been released, but one source familiar with the operation told Billboard that per capita spending on the opening night topped $25 per head, which would take the merch gross close to $2 million for the night, and make a three-night merchandising take well North of $5 million.
Additionally, pay-per-view numbers are still being calculated, but Shapiro says Fare Thee Well "definitely will be biggest music based PPV ever." Shapiro says his own venues, the Brooklyn Bowl in New York and the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, N.Y., did "very well," "and I’m hearing the same from others." Brooklyn Bowl drew 800 paid Friday and Sunday night, Shapiro says, and the Capitol did over 1,000 paid each night. Outside New York, the Sinclair in Cambridge, Mass., also sold out, according to Shapiro.
But the numbers don’t really do justice to what surely was the ultimate "vibe" show of the year -- perhaps any year -- for a weekend that transcended the traditional concert into "lifetime event" for those in attendance, and thousands more watching on pay-per-view in theaters, clubs, and at homes around the world. "I got multiple emails from people yesterday saying it was the best weekend of their life," Shapiro says. "The best thing when you put on a great show is, when it’s over, nothing can change it. It’s in the books, and you can’t change that book. It’s been written and printed."
As with the rainbow that graced the opening Santa Clara show the first weekend, perhaps divine intervention played a role in Fare Thee Well’s blessed run. Weather held perfect in Chicago for Fare Thee Well, then on Monday the city was hammered by rain.
Asked what’s next for him, Shapiro, who will stage the Dead-centric Lokn’ Festival in Arrington, Va., Sept. 10-13, is not quite ready to think about that. "I gotta get out of bed first."