Berkshire flashback: July event stokes fire for Grateful Dead fans

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PITTSFIELD >> Tor Krautter had his first run-in — literally — with Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia at a 1986 concert in Buffalo, N.Y.

Krautter, a well-known Berkshire guitarist and the leader of jam-band "The Rev. Tor Band," was a youngster of 17 years. A family member connected to the band scored him an all-access pass.

"I spent some time hanging with Phil Lesh while he was tuning his bass behind the stage," Krautter recalled. "And at one point, I accidentally bumped into Jerry Garcia trying to get by me to the stage.

"I remember nervously looking up at him and saying, 'Excuse me, sir' He stopped short, looked at me and said, 'Did you just call me sir?' He pretended to be annoyed with me and then burst out laughing."

The remainder of the night, Krautter said, he spent behind the stage, listening to the band play.

"It was an incredible experience for a young aspiring musician," he said. "Being that close made me feel as though I was in the music. It's an experience I carry with me to this day."

The Grateful Dead disbanded after Garcia's death in 1995. But now, there will be at least one more chapter in the longest, strangest trip in rock and roll history.

The surviving four members of the Grateful Dead, along with three other iconic musicians, last month announced "Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years of Grateful Dead," a reprise for a band that is now a part of American, as well as musical, history.

Drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, bassist Phil Lesh and guitarist Bob Weir will be joined by guitarist Trey Anastasio of the jam band Phish; keyboardist Bruce Hornsby, who toured with the band in 1992 and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, who has worked with Dead band members on many projects in the 1990s.

The shows will be July 3, 4 and 5 at Soldier Field in Chicago, a site was chosen in part because of its central location and in part because it was the site of the Dead's final show on July 9, 1995.

Krautter and several other local deadheads are hoping to make the trip — pending ticket availability.

Tickets went on sale in January, via direct mail order to the band's ticket office — a ritual well-known by fans over the years. Demand has been off the charts: more than 300,000 ticket requests have been received by GDTS Too. Many disappointed fans already have received their orders back unfilled.

A number of tickets will be made available on Ticketmaster later this month and individual travel companies will also be offering ticket packages.

Surviving members of the Dead have toured in various side projects over the years, together and in various incarnations with other players. But the collaboration with Anastasio, a versatile and accomplished guitarist who himself has achieved superstar status, has created enormous interest in these shows. And the use of the phrase "Fare the Well" in the title puts a stamp of finality on the event that makes even long-dormant fans want to jump back in for one last run.

Back in the day, the Grateful Dead had legions of loyal fans — Deadheads — many of whom would attend as many shows as they could. Drawn to the band's ever-shifting setlists, the excitement of the band's constant musical exploration and improvisation and the laid-back culture of peace and community, many fans would travel all over the country to see the Dead.

In the Berkshires, several fans shared their fond recollections of seeing the band, which performed from 1965 to 1995.

"In my experience, Deadheads invented the road trip to see two, three, four or more shows in a row because the band's setlist varied so much," said Jeff Kurpaska, of Adams, who traces his love of the band to the 1970s. "No two shows were really duplicated."

Kurpaska recalled a seven-day, five-show road trip in 1981 through New England and upstate New York..

"The route covered 500 or so miles and we got tickets in the parking lot of every show," he said.

"You have to have a sense of adventure to be a Deadhead," said Krautter. "Jerry used to say that hopping on the road to follow the band was the modern-day equivalent of running away to join the circus or riding the rails."

"I don't really have a favorite show," said Craig Walker, former Eagle photographer and now a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer at the Denver Post. "I remember more the sense of community at all the shows. Everyone was always very friendly. It was always a very congenial crowd in the parking lot."

"The thing that gets talked about so often is community," said Ryan Browner, a 1996 graduate of Pittsfield High School who is now living in Boston. "That was a big draw for me, the shared experience of seeing such intelligent music with such amazing friends, and to know that strangers could also easily become friends."

Browner is one of a later generation of Dead fans who never saw the band play live, although he has seen many post-Garcia incarnations such as Further, Phil and Friends and The Other Ones, as well as jam bands like Phish.

He has seen the band in videos and has been listening to the Grateful Dead for decades.

"I'm a DJ now," Browner said, "and sometimes at a gig, I'll work in a Dead tune and without fail, the few Deadheads in the crowd will almost immediately look my way and give me the nod and the grin, no words need to be spoken. It's like 'Yep, you got it.' "

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.

A limited number of tickets for "Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years of Grateful Dead" will go on sale at 9 a.m. Feb. 28 at ticketmaster.com.


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