There really is nothing quite like a Dead show. Whether it’s the original Grateful Dead or one of its many offshoots, whether it’s your first or your 100th show, the set list and the sense of camaraderie that abounds inside and around the venue will always deliver a completely unique experience.
Dead & Company, the latest spinoff of the original Grateful Dead, this time featuring 21st-century guitar savant John Mayer filling in for the late Jerry Garcia, finally arrived in South Florida on Monday night for a show at Sunrise’s BB&T Center. The show was postponed nearly three months from its original scheduled date, December 8, due to Mayer’s emergency appendectomy surgery in early December. Back on the road and with one less appendix between them, Mayer and the rest of the band took the stage with aplomb and kicked off the nearly four-hour set with fan-favorite “Shakedown Street.”
The show was perhaps the most packed I’ve ever seen the BB&T Center, home of the Florida Panthers, and the sheer volume of fans in attendance meant there were still hundreds of ticket-holders waiting in lines outside to enter the venue when the show began promptly at 7:20.
In typical jam-band fashion, there was no opening act, and Dead & Co. performed two sets and an encore, with a 35-minute intermission breaking up the first and second sets. The benefit of a show in which the headliner plays two separate sets is that there is plenty of room for improvement if things aren’t going quite right early on. From my seats, the quality of the sound improved drastically as the first set progressed, and by the time the band returned to the stage for the second set at 9:30, the mix was nearly perfect. The same can be said for the show itself, which started out relatively subdued and seemed to have trouble finding traction early in the evening. By the time the second set kicked off with a jubilant rendition of The Band’s classic “The Weight,” everything seemed to click for musicians and audience alike.
On the whole, the evening followed the typical recipe for a Dead-inspired show. The hippies, the lifers and the first-timers were all there. There were the typical “over-stimulated” fans sprinkled in. The familiar ramshackle trading post was set up in the parking lot, with fans selling homemade goods and merchandise. The solos, improvisations, and sing-alongs were all there. Deep cuts and old favorites found their way into the set list. What made Monday night’s show different, and what made it special, was the unspoken aura of political activism that reverberated throughout the arena.
For a show that took place a mere 20-minute drive from Stoneman Douglas High School, it should come as no surprise that the #MSDStrong movement took over most of the evening. When the band first took the stage, Bob Weir was sporting a #MSDStrong shirt, and by the final number, the beloved classic “Touch of Grey,” every musician onstage sported one to show their solidarity with the community that suffered this month’s tragic shooting in Parkland. Along with the group’s choice of apparel, the band even invited students, parents and teachers from the school to the show and met with them backstage.
Though none of the band members verbally addressed the crowd all night, it was clear that the victims and survivors of the Parkland shooting were on everyone’s minds. By the time “Touch of Grey” reached its final chorus and the members of Dead & Company sang “we will get by” with the crowd, it felt like a love letter to a community that has been ravaged by a horrific act yet has shown remarkable resilience.
1) Shakedown Street (Grateful Dead cover)
2) Cassidy (Bob Weir cover)
3) Comes a Time (Jerry Garcia cover)
4) They Love Each Other (Jerry Garcia cover)
5) Bird Song (Jerry Garcia cover)
6) New Speedway Boogie (Grateful Dead cover)
7) Bird Song (reprise) (Jerry Garcia cover)
8) Deal (Jerry Garcia cover)
9) The Weight (The Band cover)
10) Help on the Way (Grateful Dead cover)
11) Slipknot! (Grateful Dead cover cover)
12) Eyes of the World (Grateful Dead cover)
13) Dark Star (Grateful Dead cover)
14) Drums (Grateful Dead cover)
15) Space (Grateful Dead cover)
16) Days Between (Grateful Dead cover)
17) Throwing Stones (Grateful Dead cover)
18) Touch of Grey (Grateful Dead cover)
Live recordings from Dead & Company’s stop at the BB&T center can be found and purchased here.
Official #MSDStrong merchandise, with all proceeds directly benefitting the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, can be purchased here.