The final chapter: FARE THEE WELL
In the end, there’s just a song…
By Jill Matlow
As my friends and family know, it’s no secret that I’m a huge Deadhead so when the Fare Thee Well reunion shows were announced, I knew I had to make the pilgrimage to Chicago in July. What I didn’t anticipate was the anxiety, stress and craziness that would ensue leading up to this historical event.
Being the consummate planner, I decided to book my hotel and flight in January hoping to secure a ticket for one of the shows, which I did! But I couldn’t fully relax until I was literally sitting in my seat at Soldier Field on July 4th. I suspect that anyone who attended one or more of the shows in Chicago can relate to some of the behaviors and antics that I put myself through in preparation for the trip.
Did you ask yourself these questions before you left for that weekend – Will my flight be overbooked, late or canceled? Will my hotel be overbooked when I arrive? Will we have good weather? Did I pack my ticket? (And then, of course, the rechecking of your bag a hundred times to make sure your ticket was still in there). I am usually a bit obsessive when it comes to vacations and the details, but this trip took me to a whole new level. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and there was no room for error!
My flight was booked for Friday morning, but I was packed by Wednesday. The night before my flight, I set two alarms (I spent at least a half hour trying to locate alarm clock #2 in my closet). Of course, on Friday morning I woke up an hour before either of my alarm clocks rang. With plenty of time to get ready, I walked to the express airport bus a few blocks away, got on and arrived at the airport in no time.
As soon as I walked into the United Terminal, I saw someone I knew. I had a feeling that I was in store for a great weekend! So many people sporting their tie-dye tee shirts at the airport. I boarded the plane and sat next to a fellow NYC Deadhead and we talked the entire way to Chicago. After a quick train ride from O’Hare, I arrived at my hotel – the Aloft City Center. I requested a quiet room (I know, how’s that for irony? In town for a huge concert and requesting a ‘quiet’ room!), unpacked and was off to the races!
I decided to pop over to Soldier Field for a dry run. I walked a mere mile and half to Navy Pier where I boarded the water taxi and arrived at the Aquarium behind Soldier Field to get the lay of the land.
After an hour or two, I boarded the water taxi home and returned to my hotel to have a delicious meal at their adjoining restaurant Beatrix. (Did I mention that the dessert I ordered Oh My! Caramel Pie was voted the #1 dessert in Chicago?). Having not slept well the entire week leading up to my trip, I decided to turn in early for a good night’s sleep after dinner.
Up at the crack of dawn on Saturday, I was raring to go. I couldn’t believe the day I had been anticipating for 6 months had finally arrived. I grabbed a burrito (how fitting) at a nearby health food restaurant called “The Protein Bar” and set off to Navy Pier again to board the water taxi back over to Soldier Field. When I arrived, I had to show my ticket (which at this point was in a sealed envelope in my purse) to a security guard to get into the vending area. I pulled out the sealed envelope and the security guard said “And the winner is…”. I loved his sense of humor!
I spent the next few hours checking out the vending booths and meeting up with friends old and new. In 2009, I met someone at a DSO (Dark Star Orchestra) concert on Governor’s Island. The concert was cut short due to thunder and lightning and everyone was ushered onto ferries. Needless to say, the crowd was unruly. The guy behind me, a voice of reason in a sea of insanity, made sure I got on the “ship of fools” safely. On Saturday, we reunited near the water at Soldier Field. So many random meetings and reunions. My dad’s fraternity brother has a daughter who is a huge Deadhead. I met her and her husband for the first time that day. We felt like we had known each other our entire lives. Standing by Will Call, I met a friend of my cousin’s, who had traveled from Idaho for the show. Hugs, smiles and just feeling that common bond and love that all of us experienced that weekend and over the years at shows.
Strangers stopping strangers, just to shake their hands.
The gates opened at 5pm and I heard horror stories about how 70,000 people tried to get into the stadium for the previous night’s show so it should come as no surprise that I was the 3rd person to enter the stadium that day. My seat was located in the 400 section (the highest section in the stadium) in the 25th row. I found out that day that just because you go to the gym and do yoga regularly, does not necessarily guarantee that you can climb 25 stairs at a stadium with ease.
By 6pm, the crowds started to pour into the stadium. My section was filled with friendly, fun people. I sat next to a couple that lives 20 blocks from me in NYC! To my right was a fun couple from New Orleans.
The moment we had all been waiting for had finally arrived and the band took the stage.
Shakedown Street was the opener and it was electrifying! It was overwhelming being with 70,000 other people who shared the same passion as I did for all these years. Favorite songs including Deal, Cumberland Blues, Me and My Uncle, Bird Song and Friend of the Devil were just some of highlights of the night. A plane flying overhead with the lyrics “All the years combined, they melt into a dream” on a banner were soon heard live as the band played Stella Blue, another crowd favorite.
Closing with U.S. Blues and stadium fireworks lighting up the sky (not to mention the fireworks earlier in the evening from Navy Pier) made for a night I’ll never forget. The show ended and a mass exodus of concertgoers left the stadium in a peaceful fashion, holding on to their wonderful memories of the night.
On Sunday morning I awoke (still thinking it was a dream) and took an architectural river cruise a few blocks from my hotel. As I walked back to my hotel after the cruise, it hit me that the weekend I had been anticipating for so long was coming to an end. And then I looked up and standing in front of me was Jennifer, a dear friend I had attended Dead shows with in Philly in the 1980s – 30 years ago! We had lost touch over the years and there we were, standing together on a sidewalk in Chicago. We were both stunned! With chills, tears and smiles, I joined her and her boyfriend Gary for a quick drink and to reminisce before we said our final goodbyes, and I headed to the airport.
I could not have asked for a more perfect ending to my long journey following the band I truly love and always will.
And when you hear that song come crying like the wind
It seems like all this life was just a dream…