A major chapter in the 60-year story of the Grateful Dead comes to a close as Dead & Company’s final tour concludes with a three-night run at Oracle Park in San Francisco July 14-16, but the acts spawned by the original Dead and members Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan and Bill Kreutzmann, continue, from Phil Lesh and Friends to Bobby Weir and Wolf Brothers to the likes of Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Latin Dead and derivative jam bands like Phish.
Throughout the decades since Bobby met Jerry at a Palo Alto, California, music store, the Dead toured prolifically, hitting the road three times a year to play mostly theaters across the U.S. and abroad, some festivals and venues like the old Philadelphia Spectrum and Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City.
Shows on the West Coast were promoted by the legendary Bill Graham, who was tightly associated with the Dead.
A number of promoters did Dead shows in the Northeast and elsewhere, including Ron Delsener and Jim Koplik, but one promoter who enjoyed a particularly close relationship with the band, especially Jerry Garcia, is John Scher, whose Metropolitan Entertainment produced Dead and Jerry Garcia Band concerts at places like Roosevelt Stadium, the 3,200-seat Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey, and the Dead-headlined 250,000-person 1977 affair that also included the New Riders of the Purple Sage and the Marshall Tucker Band at New Jersey’s Raceway Park in Englishtown, where the band debuted its record Terrapin Station.
Scher’s closeness with Garcia dates back to when Jerry was busted for pot by a state trooper on the New Jersey Turnpike and Scher arrived with the necessary cash to bail him out.
These days, when Dead & Company plays the original Dead’s iconic anthem “Truckin,’” Garcia’s mugshot gets flashed on stage as the song lyrics describe a run-in with the law in New Orleans.
Scher also promoted the 1977 show at Cornell University’s Barton Hall that has become one of the most loved live Dead recordings among tape traders and collectors.
“It was a weird show on many levels,” Scher said. “I was there. The Deadheads decided this was if not the greatest, one of the greatest shows they ever did. The band members never concurred with that, although they didn’t argue with that. They just didn’t concur with it. And, yes, it got mythical.”
Asked if a need for money prompted the Dead to tour so prolifically, Scher said the individual members were pretty well set financially, but there was a lot of overhead, with in-house ticketing, sound and lights, a fan club and a number of other now-outsourced aspects that required full-time year-round employees.
Besides, they loved to play, Scher said.
Once, after the full band came off the road, Garcia asked Scher to put together a Jerry Garcia Band tour to go out before the Dead resumed touring.
Scher pleaded with Garcia to take time off and recharge, but Jerry responded that he would be playing his guitar every day for the rest of his life.
“He said, ‘I might as well get paid for it,’” Scher recalled.
He calls the Dead the most important band since the Beatles.
“They have influenced more people from a sociological point of view, than any other actor other than the Beatles in my view,” Scher said.
He expects to see Weir on the road post-Dead & Company, but concedes age is a limiting factor as he is 75 and Hart 79.
“It’ll go on in some form,” he said.
Another place with historical significance for the Dead is the University of Colorado’s Folsom Field, where the original Dead played multiple times and Dead & Company played 11 times.
In fact, it was Dead & Company that helped prove Folsom Field was a viable concert venue after a roughly 20-year hiatus from shows.
Spearheading the effort were CU alum Jim Packer of Lionsgate fame and Associate Athletic Director Lance Carl, who developed a close relationship with Cahill. Carl, a split end on the Colorado Buffaloes national championship winning team in 1990, has since moved on to concentrate on student-athlete matters, with Senior Associate AD Ryan Gottlieb taking over revenue generation duties.
“We got back into the concert business because Lance was hammering the phones and asking anybody and everybody to take his call,” Gottlieb said. “Lance and Bernie love seeing each other when the Dead come to town.”
Lance starting the relationship with Cahill and Dead & Company has been “critically important,” in Gottlieb’s and Carl’s efforts to grow the stadium’s concert business.
“They’ve been incredible,” Cahill said of Carl and his team. “My partners and I, Matt Maher and Red Tanner, were looking at venues that were cool and were big and were not necessarily Coors Field or Mile High.”
Cahill and company spent about two and a half years cultivating the relationship “and ultimately Lance Carl was really an advocate for us,” Cahill said. “It was really Lance who first saw the vision.”
“Don Strasburg at AEG saw it too and knew what it could be. Although other venues would be easier, he knew it was a fit, knew the history, really it was this trifecta – Jim Packer, Lance Carl, Don Strasburg at AEG – without them no there would be no Boulder.”
When Dave Matthews made a cameo on the final night of Dead & Company’s Boulder shows, it was a full-circle moment, Cahill noted.
“Dave Matthews had been the last band to play there before we finally cracked it open,” he said.