When promoter Peter Shapiro became aware of the article I wrote last month, "Ladies and Gentlemen, Not the Grateful Dead," taking him to task for the way ticket sales were handled for the Grateful Dead's "Fare Thee Well" shows, scheduled for July 3-5 at Chicago's Soldier Field, he had two choices: 1. Write it off as the "butthurt whining" of someone who didn't get tickets (which, just for the record, was not true), or 2. Defend the manner in which ticket sales were conducted, the choice of venue and the way in which these factors served to stimulate the secondary market, causing ticket prices to soar into the thousands.
But Shapiro was not satisfied with either of those choices and came up with a third, very Grateful Dead-like option: He got my cell phone number from a mutual friend and called me to talk about the issues I had raised. Shapiro set the tone of the conversation by saying, "I'm a 'head' (referring to the term "Deadhead" that is commonly used among fans of the Grateful Dead), you're a 'head.' I just thought we should honor the spirit of the Grateful Dead and talk."
And talk we did, for almost an hour on that occasion, and on numerous other occasions during the ensuing month, leading up to today's announcement that the band will add two shows to the final chapter in their illustrious, 50-year long, strange trip. Over the course of our almost-daily conversations, emails and texts, Peter Shapiro and I maintained a level of respect and professionalism that was truly remarkable as we navigated our way through the complicated topics at hand. As a result, tough issues were addressed, the voices of the many thousands of Deadheads who didn't get tickets to the Chicago shows were heard and a solution was crafted.
There were three primary issues that I had raised in my article: the small percentage of tickets that were fulfilled through the initial mail order by Grateful Dead Ticket Sales, the choice of Chicago's Soldier Field as the venue and the selection of Trey Anastasio as the lead guitarist. I made it clear to Shapiro that my concerns about the latter two issues were relatively minor, and only relevant because they resulted in too many true Deadheads being shut out, while stimulating the secondary market, thereby raising ticket prices.
One of the most fundamental principles of the Grateful Dead and their fans, expressed in biblical language, has always been this: Thou shalt not sell a ticket to a Grateful Dead concert for more than face value. Critics of my article called me out for failing to accept the way ticket sales are conducted in the present day and age, and mocked my suggestion that all the tickets should have all been sold through the mail order. Peter Shapiro was not one of those critics. Rather, Shapiro came to recognize this as a problem that needed a solution.
"Your story, and others -- yours was the biggest one -- made us realize there was a problem," Shapiro commented. "I went to the Grateful Dead ticketing office and saw the (decorated mail order) envelopes; it was painful. We knew people were shut out."
So, Shapiro went to work to create a solution. About two weeks after our initial conversation he mentioned to me that he was trying to convince the band to do two shows in California and asked my opinion of that idea. "What would you think about two shows in the Bay Area the weekend before (the Chicago shows)?" To which I replied, "Pete, if you pull that off and sell all of the tickets by mail order, what's happened with the Chicago shows will be quickly forgiven."
After weeks of tireless work that ranged from convincing the band to negotiating agreements that enabled the use of an online mail order system, Peter Shapiro and the band have announced today that there will be two additional shows, June 27 and 28 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. Most importantly, some 90 percent of the tickets will be sold in true Grateful Dead style, through an innovative online mail order lottery. According to Shapiro, "We will not be using the typical on-sale method. Everybody who enters will have an equal chance to get tickets in a true lottery, and the ability of 'bots' and other online ticket gathering techniques is eliminated."
The additional shows were announced on a special edition of Tales from the Golden Road, a radio show on the SiriusXM Grateful Dead Channel, at 3 p.m. EDT today, and the online mail order began immediately with that announcement at Dead50.net, and will continue through 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday. Shapiro read a letter on behalf of the band, which you can read here.
In the beloved Grateful Dead song, "Playing in the Band," there is a passage that goes, "Some folks look for answers/Others look for fights." It is tempting to interpret this as extolling the virtues of looking for answers, while pointing out the folly of looking for fights. But it is often the case that we must fight for what we believe is right so that the folks who have the power to provide the answers will be moved to do so. This is known as speaking truth to power. Like so many of the messages in Grateful Dead songs, this principle applies broadly to numerous issues that we deal with in our troubled world -- global warming, our political system, GMOs, fracking, police violence -- and the list goes on and on.
In this final chapter of the Grateful Dead, the band's legacy as a vehicle for social justice remains intact. Those of us who took issue with the way so many Deadheads were excluded from the Chicago shows stood up and raised our voices, and Peter Shapiro and the band were forced to look for answers. And the answers they came up with -- two additional shows in the Bay Area, where the band's roots run deepest, and a fair, affordable method of ticketing -- serve to reassure us that the spirit of the Grateful Dead is still alive and well.