Words by Camp Spain
Photos by Ryan Swerdlin
On Tuesday, June 13th, 2017, Dead and Company planted their feet in Atlanta, Georgia after a rock solid two night stand at Folsom Field in Colorado. With temperatures reaching 87 degrees at the strike of the first chord, the weather was hot, but that was of no concern to the eager crowd. The twirlers twirled, the hula hoopers hooped, and the mood was nothing but a shared sense of joy in the experience. With the setting sun and a nearly cloudless sky, it was an ideal setting for the music of the Grateful Dead.
The music itself was a journey, and one that unfortunately began a bit too late for me. I finished my shift at work that afternoon and sprinted to our small caravan’s rendezvous point, where we immediately piled in the car and made our way east. We made fantastic time and rolled up in the knick of time for the first note, or so we thought. As we trekked through the lot and approached the gates, I found myself smushed shoulder to shoulder with shirtless deadheads straining to catch the echoes and vibrations of “Scarlet Begonias,” “Shakedown Street,” and “Dire Wolf.”
It’s all part of the show.
Fortunately the line picked up momentum and I could finally hear the music and see the band clearly as I made my way to a spot in the lawn to the sound of John Mayer’s bluesy riffs over “Tennessee Jed.” The first set was killer: kicking things off with upbeat tunes, then bringing the mood down with a relaxing “They Love Each Other,” and ultimately capping the first set with the textbook slow-build that is the Mississippi Half-Step jam. With the first set finished and my patience with the lawn gone, I found a friend and made my way to a seat in the reserved section for the second set.
The bliss of the second set made me entirely forget about my entry woes as the powerful vocal intro to “Here Comes Sunshine” lulled me in. The band really shined, exhibiting a tightness and cohesiveness that only the Dead can pull off deep in improvised jams. You could see the communication between the members in executing the sublime segue from “Playin’>Uncle John’s Band>Playin’.” The band then gifted the crowd a showstopping execution of “Terrapin Station,” much to the everyone’s delight.
My biggest takeaway from the set was the “Drums” and “Space” segment. I have always been a sucker for a good “Drums,” so enjoying that to it’s fullest potential was no sweat, but what blew me away the most was when the rest of the band joined the stage for Space, which was a Chimenti-led rendition of Miles Davis’ “Milestones.” What a treat! The band then brought the crowd full circle with a powerful “Days Between,” and capped off the set with “Sugar Magnolia,” sending even the crowd into a dancing frenzy.
The “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” encore brought the night to a joyous finale. The band and crowd were both perfectly in sync from the first verse to the last chorus, showing us just how alive and well the spirit of the Dead is today. The band is not a hollow shell playing everyone’s favorite songs, but a cohesive unit of musicians who are passionate about their craft, and successfully able to bring crowds of eager fans, young and old, together for the time of their lives. I look forward to what the future holds for not only Dead and Company, but the survival and continued celebration of a community of people and the music they share.