By Emily Faulks
Two raccoons huddle together for warmth on top of the gigantic red sandstone slabs that surround the venue, our source of entertainment for the 45-minute wait into the amphitheater. Hunter’s moon, the full moon following a Harvest moon that signaled preparation for winter, begins to rise over the hills up into the clear sky- setting the scene for the cold night ahead. Having suffered the mistake of not bringing a coat to the last October concert at Red Rocks, I am bundled and excited for the four-hour performance Dead and Company has in store for us.
This past summer, my friend Natalie and I took a trip down to Bristow, Virginia- the closest location that Dead and Company was traveling to on their 2021 tour- our first Dead & Co. concert. We brought heavy rain gear after checking the weather that forecasted 90% precipitation, but were pleasantly surprised when the skies cleared up towards the end of our drive and raised our spirits. Jiffy Lube Live is an outdoor amphitheater shaped like a wide bowl, with the stage positioned in the basin. Natalie and I were essentially at the rim of the bowl laying in the dewy grass, but we didn’t mind- because right when we entered the bowl, Dead and Company stepped on stage and immediately started playing “Cold Rain and Snow,” that reminded me that we were, in fact, not in the cold rain. The songs were lively and felt emblematic of completion, not only with summer coming to an end in less than a week but also with the looping thoughts of stress and anxiety that were with me until the concert. Bob Weir, one of the lead singers of Dead and Company, shared messages of letting go in some of his songs, with personal favorites such as “Bird Song,” “He’s Gone,” and ending with “Black Muddy River” that speak about the unexpected joys of going on a path alone, and leaving someone or something with grace. “Black Muddy River” in particular struck a chord with me, as Bob Weir opened with the verse “When the last rose of summer pricks my finger/ And the hot sun chills me to the bone/ When I can’t hear the song for the singer/ And I can’t tell my pillow from a stone/I will walk alone by the black muddy river/And sing me a song of my own;” an obvious parallel to the inevitable end of summer and departure back to Colorado- but also reminding me that spending time alone at school is not a bad thing and can lead to necessary reflection. Many of their songs were less introspective as well, and prompted the multicolored sea of Deadheads to kick their shoes off and break out into unrestrained dance- myself and Natalie included. After the two sets and encore song, the sun had long been set and we made our way back to the car. The Dead and Company concert in Bristow was so unique in that the setlist felt rooted in space and time so that the audience would appreciate the deeper messages of the music, beckoning me to come back and learn more.
Two months later, Natalie flew halfway across the country and accompanied me to our second Dead and Company concert of the tour. We weaved through the enlarged steps to join the rest of my housemates in the middle of the crowd at Red Rocks. The band entered the stage, just in time for all of us to start dancing to “Bertha” together. Bob Weir, wearing what I think is the same white cowboy hat from Bristow, was looking as Western as ever, singing “Bertha don’t you come around here anymore” in the opening song. Despite the rugged western motifs that occupy the landscape of Dead and Company songs, so many of them serve as allegories for the band’s values. During the song “Hell in a Bucket,” I turned to my friends and said “Is it just me or does they sing a lot about roads?” And looking back at the songs chosen by the band, I still stand by my original statement- although, most of the time the road is a metaphor for the paths of life. Whether it be by train, car, or foot, Dead and Company encourages listeners to choose the path that leads to love- sounds very corny, but I totally buy it. The band played about a 10-minute version of “Bird Song” again, but this time with the musical motifs more subtly weaved into a trance-like jam. “He’s Gone” was also played at the Red Rocks show- when Bob Weir sang the line “Nothin’ left to do but smile, smile, smile” while tracing his hands to mimic a smile, the audience mirrored it back to him, staying in-tune with the cues from the band throughout the set.
Deadheads are certainly an interesting group of people. In the corner of the audience on the patch of foliage near the stairway, artist Scramble Campbell painted a canvas in monochromatic blues to the sound of the band. Near the end of the concert, he raised his finished work and the crowd cheered enthusiastically, the large screens on both sides of the stage zooming in on his painting. After the second set, similar to the Jiffy Lube Live intermission, the two drummers created a percussive wave resembling either a fever dream or indigenous adjacent (might I say slightly appropriative?) music lasting about ten minutes. Some people sat with their eyes closed, while others were swaying and wildly flailing their extremities. Mickey Hart played the legendary Beam, a large metal string instrument he invented for his percussive intermission, creating a haunting sound that I have never heard before. The second set of the night fit the ambient atmosphere of Red Rocks, with many trance-like guitar improvisations and echoing vocals. John Mayer, bundled up in a black jacket and hair pushed back haphazardly from his headphones, carried many of those guitar solos that night- I am continually impressed and surprised how well his musical style compliments that of the original Grateful Dead members. The show ended on a lighthearted note with “Ripple” that brought my friends and I close into a huddle.
The biggest lesson Dead and Company has taught me from the two concerts: wherever you are, and whoever you are with (or without), “enjoy the ride.”
Scramble Campbell’s painting from the night can be found here