Dead and Company returned to Riverbend Music Center in Cincinnati, Ohio last weekend for a Saturday night show that was one for the books. Great weather, perfect music, and a welcoming and happy crowd were just the right ingredients to make the perfect cocktail of a concert. To make things better, drummer Mickey Hart was celebrating his 78th birthday that day, and everybody loves a good birthday party.
A mixture of several things all lined up to ensure Saturday’s show was an unforgettable concert. For starters, the show fell on the weekend, which meant more people had time to enjoy themselves without having to race to or from the venue. This was evident by the fact that a Shakedown Street had formed in the parking lot by early Saturday morning, and was getting busy by breakfast.
The parking lots were filled with the common sights, sounds, and smells that were expected before the concert, but it felt a little extra special since this tour was preceded by a global pandemic. There were generations of fans who were clearly out to make sure that their entire Saturday was spent enjoying the one-of-a-kind pop-up community before it left town the next morning. You could almost feel a palpable passing of the torch from parents to their children as they proudly guided them down the rows of vendors, welcoming them into the sweaty, tie dyed and sunburnt world of a summer tour.
By the time the gates had opened and fans were filing in, the excitement was building throughout Riverbend. The band opened with a crowd pleasing version of “The Music Never Stopped”, in which John Mayer and Bob Weir shared vocals. Not too long into the song they transitioned into “Easy Answers”, a late Grateful Dead tune that isn’t heard too often, before falling back into the end of “The Music Never Stopped”.
Next the crowd participated in a joyful singalong to “Tennessee Jed”, lead by Bob Weir, followed by Mayer singing “Here Comes Sunshine”. The band was still picking up pace at this point and although the first set started off a little slow, things were a nonstop party by the end of the night.
The band seemed to dial in with each other’s playing more with each song, and while the first set was composed of shorter songs without much jamming, their versions of Loose Lucy, Mr. Charlie, and Looks Like Rain were all well received, well played, and excellent additions to the setlist.
The final song of the set was the first time we got a glimpse of what the band had in store for us during the second set. “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad” electrified the audience and had every member of the crowd dancing and smiling, while each band member took their turn showcasing their skills and trading the spotlight. For the first time of the night, we saw Oteil Burbridge and Jeff Chimenti joining Weir and Mayer on vocals.
As the band took the stage for the second set, Bob Weir addressed the audience about something that many people knew was coming.
“Sometimes the right and proper thing to do is to make a hideous and great spectacle out of something,” Weir said. “And we have all the right people here tonight to make a great hideous spectacle tonight because it is Mickey’s birthday!”
An excited audience joined Mickey’s bandmates in a delightful version of “Happy Birthday”, and the 78-year-young birthday boy was all smiles as he didn’t skip a beat (literally) before starting into the opening drums for “The Other One”. Next up was another fan favorite that had everybody singing along with Mayer and Weir, “Uncle John’s Band”.
As they are known to do, the band paired “Help on the Way” with “Slipknot!” next, and then treated us to a beautiful and enthusiastic “Franklin’s Tower”, which, for what seemed like the fourth or fifth time of the night, had nearly every person in the audience joined together in song. Jeff Chimenti stole the show during Franklin’s Tower as he smashed out an incredible solo that lasted several minutes.
Weir, Mayer, Chimenti, and Burbridge disappeared offstage as Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann began an extra special birthday version of Drums and Space. Oteil reappeared behind the drum kit with The Rhythm Devils while the three of them took the audience on a percussive and sonic journey somewhere far away from Cincinnati.
When the trip to outer space was over, the band dropped us off in the south by jumping right into “Cumberland Blues” and spared no time getting the crowd back up and stomping their feet. The song ultimately linked back up with “The Other One” again after yet another heater of a jam in the middle.
After things got spacey for a bit during the second half of “The Other One”, Bob Weir serenaded the crowd with a tasteful “Stella Blue”, before they closed out the second set with a predictable, but welcomed-with-open-arms, version of “One More Saturday Night” that reminded everyone why you should never leave a show before the band is finished playing.
Dead and Company returned to the stage to leave fans with a gratifying and uplifting version of “Touch of Grey” for their encore, perhaps a message of resilience to their fans since that night’s concert marked the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
Check out the full gallery of photos here.
The Music Never Stopped >
Easy Answers >
The Music Never Stopped (Reprise)
Here Comes Sunshine
Looks Like Rain
Going Down the Road Feelin’ Bad
Happy Birthday (For Mickey Hart’s 78th Birthday)
The Other One (verse 1) >
Uncle John’s Band
Help on the Way >
Franklin’s Tower >
Cumberland Blues >
The Other One (verse 2) >
Stella Blue >
One More Saturday Night
Touch Of Grey