Deadheads and Marching Bears were out in full hippie swing at the Hollywood Casino Ampitheatre in St. Louis on June 21st, as the iconic Dead & Company played an epic three-and-a-half hour set. The band took musical control of thousands of fans who were more than ready to lose their minds and open their hearts to the familiar, yet somehow unfamiliar sounds of one of the most prolific and inventive jam bands ever to survive the 70s. Consisting of former Grateful Dead members Bob Weir on guitar and vocals, and Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann playing drums, the band has also had the pleasure of superstar and guitar legend John Mayer to lead the lineup since the beginning. Rounding out the band is bassist and perpetual smiling machine, Oteil Burbridge, and Jeff Chimenti, who absolutely played the hell out of some keyboards and organs. Having this top-tier blend of new faces bring new thoughts and energy with the experienced wisdom of the original members only furthered this interpretation of the Grateful Dead’s music into a legacy that will outlive us all.
The show kicked off a little bit before the last remaining rays of the blistering summer sun sank below the horizon.
Set One started with a single off of the 1975 record Blues for Allah called “The Music Never Stopped” and, believe me, the music sure wasn’t going to be stopped that night either. The amount of life and soul that filled the crowd as soon as this band started playing was electric, almost ‘out-of-body’. I am convinced that I was not the only one who felt that way either. Grooving their way through classic hits like “Alabama Getaway” and “Easy Wind”, the first set ended with “Bird Song”, a beautiful tribute to a bluebird set free, Janis Joplin. I’d challenge anyone to say that the way Bob Weir and John Mayer played this one, trading guitar solos and vocals, Janis wouldn’t have been right in the front row dancing and living beautifully.
By the time the second set began around 9pm, the sea of tie-dye shirts and rainbow flags were only further exaggerated and set aglow by the hallucinatory and astonishing light show that was starting to begin. With the sun finally gone, the visuals of the night could finally be fully recognized and appreciated. Add in the abundance of weed and ‘other things’ everywhere and this show was about to take on a whole new life of its own. Set Two started off with a gift for fans: a song that hasn’t been heard live since 2019, “Box of Rain”, which led perfectly into an all-time fan-favorite, “Scarlet Begonias”. Dead & Co. cruised effortlessly through the evening, making pit stops along the way to explore hits like “Uncle John’s Band”, “Fire on the Mountain” and even “U.S. Blues”, the song that inspired the awesome light show that the Empire State Building displayed a few years back. The real treat of the night was when the band encored the performance with “Ripple”, one of the best and most true-to-form Grateful Dead song ever recorded — a simple country tune mixing biblical references and hippie philosophical thought.
It was a great way to end the night.
When it was all said and done, the experience was exactly what I thought it would be, while at the same time, being totally different and new and awesome. Maybe it had to do with knowing that this particular Dead show will never be played again. These songs, in this order, played by these humans — it’s a shooting star. It was a passing object, moving faster than you can imagine. Once you miss it, you will never see that particular one again. Luckily, with Dead shows, they kind of have a thing for recording their performances, so maybe you’ll get to re-experience it to some degree, but nothing will quite recapture the vibe of the real thing. If this specific shooting star happens to be passing through your area any time soon, be sure to look up and experience what it’s like to see Dead & Company with your own two eyes. It’s truly magical.
Photography by Thomas Semonco