It may not be so strange, but it certainly is a long trip between Ben-Gurion Airport and Soldiers Field in Chicago. However, some longtime Israeli fans of rock greats The Grateful Dead are considering making the transatlantic trek for a chance to see the grizzled remaining members of the American counterculture band in their final stand – a series of just-announced stadium performances on July 3, 4 and 5 marking their 50th anniversary.
Of course, it’s not really the Grateful Dead which officially disbanded in 1995 following the death of guitarist and figurehead Jerry Garcia.
But the “core four” members of the San Francisco-based phenomenon – guitarist Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh and drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann – have reconvened in various configurations and members in the ensuing years.
For the Chicago finale at the same venue that hosted the Dead’s final show on July 9, 1995 – dubbed “Fare Thee Well... Celebrating 50 Years of The Grateful Dead 1965-2015,” the quartet will be joined by pianist Bruce Hornsby, who was a temporary member in the early 1990s, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, and in Garcia’s big shoes, Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio.
“These will be the last shows with the four of us together,” Weir told Billboard magazine over the weekend when the shows were announced.
That finality has prompted many self-described Deadheads in Israel to consider changing summer plans and finding the funds to make the pilgrimage to see their beloved band for “one more Saturday night” celebration.
Jerusalem resident and longtime Dead fan Beth Steinberg, 53, first saw the band in the late 1970s and would regularly gather with friends and family at the band’s annual Giants Stadium shows near her home in New York.
“I really loved them live, there was nothing like it – the atmosphere, the sense of community, the great music.
Always different, always exciting,” said Steinberg, who together with her husband and fellow Deadhead Ira Skop are the founders of the capital’s Theater in the Rough.
“I’ve missed them, but as for going to Chicago, probably not, as it’s complicated for us in July because of our Shakespeare shows. But I’m not ruling it out.”
Yoni Schwartz, 41, from Pardes Hanna-Karkur, has remained a fan of the Dead members’ post-Garcia work and of the jam band culture that arose in the wake of the band’s success.
“I’m still in a bit of shock that they are doing it, but I’m glad they are going to dust off their (not-so) rusty strings one more time!” said Schwartz, quoting one of the Dead’s mainstay tunes “Stella Blue.”
“I saw a bunch of the 2003 and 2004 shows with the ‘Core Four’ ...
but it’s not the Grateful Dead without Jerry Garcia. Jerry was the driving force behind the Grateful Dead musically and spiritually. While I’m a big supporter of the Grateful Dead members’ post-Jerry work, it’s just not the good ol’ Grateful Dead without Captain Trips driving the train,” he added, referring to Garcia’s 1960s nickname.
“That said, it doesn’t have to be the Grateful Dead for their output to be musically significant. Each member is extraordinarily talented and has done amazing work both reinterpreting the GD catalog and branching into other musically compelling directions. However you can’t call it the Grateful Dead – and they are not calling this final reunion that – without Jerry.”
Schwartz, originally from New York, first saw the Dead in 1993 on a visit home from college for Rosh Hashana.
“I told my parents I wanted to fly home from college to be with the family for Rosh Hashana. Little did they know I had scored mail-order tickets for the first three nights of that run... and really was coming home for that. I did make it to shul both days though,” he said.
Schwartz said that he wasn’t sure if he was going to “hop on the bus” this time around, referring to the Deadheads’ affectionate term for following the band on tour. But he added that Internet technology can fill in as a second-best scenario.
“If I can’t make it to Chicago, I’ll ‘couch tour’ it and stay in touch with my US show family via Twitter/Facebook.
Technology has come along way since ‘The Well’ (the Dead’s early Internet foray into social networking) and it makes it easier to be part of the magic and not get as bad case of the FOMO (fear of missing out).”
One Israeli Deadhead not willing to miss out on the grand finale is Avner Amir, 58, from Hadera.
“Sure, I’m thinking really seriously about going,” said Amir, who saw the Dead more than 50 times while living in the San Francisco Bay area in the 1980s during two extended periods.
“I know in my brain that I’ll never see Jerry play again and there’s nobody really to replace him. But I think they are going to be great shows with the original spirit and music.
“For me it’s a bit difficult, but my son Gon and his friends are going for sure,” said Amir, adding that Gon is a drummer who has played in the past with the Dead’s bass player Lesh.
Amir, in the course of an interview, convinced himself that he needed to join his son in Chicago to be part of closing the book on The Grateful Dead.
“I’m a self-employed artist and designer and I’m not sure I can get away. But if I get the chance to go, I’ll take it... you know what, in the end, I’ll probably go. How could I miss it?”