For the Grateful Dead, New Year’s Eve concerts were often lavish, yet begrudgingly approached affairs. Jerry Garcia reportedly lamented the added pressure of performing on 12/31, despite having played twenty-two New Year’s Eve shows with the Dead, including sixteen in-a-row from 1976-1991. Musically speaking, the shows themselves were generally underwhelming, especially when juxtaposed with the fervent hype that typically surrounded these events.
By the late eighties, legendary concert promoter Bill Graham’s insistence for the band to perform on New Year’s Eve (along with his annual request that his favorite Dead song, “Sugar Magnolia”, be played) was the primary motivation for the group to continue their end-of-year tradition, so it was only fitting that 1991 marked the Dead’s final New Year’s Eve performance as Graham tragically passed away earlier that year.
Since Garcia’s death in 1995, all four remaining original members have gone on to perform on 12/31 again in various formats ranging from solo projects, such as Ratdog & Phil and Friends, to some of the more formal post-Garcia machinations, including The Other Ones & Furthur. Join us as Glide takes a look back at the past twenty-five years of Grateful Dead-related New Year’s Eve performances:
Ratdog – 1998
In 1998, Bob Weir made his first public New Year’s Eve appearance since the Dead’s final NYE show seven years prior with his long-time solo act, Ratdog. Supported by the evening’s well-curated lineup that featured artists such as The String Cheese Incident, KVHW, Hot Tuna, Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum, and Santana; Weir, along with his new-guitarist-at-the-time Mark Karan, led Ratdog through an hour-long set of (mostly) Dead classics, as well as the live-debut of the Weir original “Bury Me Standing.”
Phil & Friends (The Q) – 2000
By 2000, inter-personal relationships between band members, particularly Weir & Phil Lesh, were at an all-time low. The actual nadir arguably occurred on 12/31/00 as the two opposing factions (essentially Lesh vs the rest of the band) staged their own live shows at different Oakland-area venues within mere miles of each other. The Other Ones, featuring an impressive lineup of Dead alumni Weir, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, and Bruce Hornsby, along with Steve Kimock, Alphonso Johnson, and Mark Karan were playing the cavernous Oakland Arena while Phil & Friends were down the road at the somewhat more intimate Kaiser Auditorium. This evening’s legendary Phil & Friends lineup lovingly referred to as “The Q”, featured the lethal quintet of Lesh, Warren Hayes, Jimmy Herring, John Molo and Rob Barraco in addition to a guest-appearance from Phish’s Mike Gordon.
Crusader Rabbit Stealth Band – 2001
What a difference a year makes. Only six months after the aforementioned acrimonious split New Year’s Eve affairs in Oakland, the four surviving original members of the Grateful Dead reunited on stage for the first time since 1995 for a surprise one-off performance at a tiny – and now defunct – Mill Valley, CA bar The Sweetwater under the moniker Crusader Stealth Rabbit Band in June. The group, augmented by Messrs. Barraco & Herring, performed one more set at midnight during the Lesh/Weir co-headlining New Year’s Eve show at the Kaiser Auditorium later that year, offering up a sharp, but very welcome, contrast to the previous years’ divisive celebrations.
The Other Ones – 2002
The core-four members decided to build on the rapport that was re-kindled during the previous year and scheduled an August weekend of reunion shows as The Other Ones at Alpine Valley for an event that was ultimately dubbed a “Grateful Dead Family Reunion.” They followed that up with a nationwide winter tour – the first extended run to feature all four original members since 1995 – and capped things off with a celebratory 12/31 performance at the Oakland Arena.
The Dead – 2003: After making a heart-felt name change to The Dead in February of 2003, the group – with the help of recent additions Jeff Chimenti & Joan Osborne – kicked off a massive summer tour at the Bonnaroo Arts & Music Festival before ending the year with a two-night run at the Oakland Arena. Both Robert Hunter and the session musician supremos The Funk Brothers opened.
New Year’s Band – 2008: 2008 was a relatively quiet year in the Grateful Dead universe. Phil & Bobby kept busy touring with their own solo projects, but there was very little public collaboration between band members that year. Thankfully, that was remedied with another co-headlining New Year’s Eve concert from Ratdog & Phil and Friends, highlighted by a midnight all-star jam that featured Lesh, Weir, Mark Karan, Jeff Chimenti, Kenny Brooks, Jay Lane, John Molo, Barry Sless, Steve Molitz, and Jackie Greene.
Furthur – 2009
Following another successful spring tour with The Dead, Phil & Bobby shocked Deadheads everywhere with the surprise announcement of their newest musical venture, appropriately named Furthur (a clever nod to Ken Kesey & the Merry Pranksters). Along with Chimenti, Joe Russo & John Kadlecik – the latter being well-known for developing a remarkably accurate delivery of Garcia’s unique vocal & guitar stylings during his time with the renowned Dead-tribute act Dark Star Orchestra – Messrs. Lesh & Weir would go on to adopt a rigorous touring schedule for the next four years, performing over 250 shows, including four consecutive Bay Area New Year’s Eve concerts from 2009-2012. This three-set extravaganza at Bill Graham Auditorium including the third set is true adventurous: Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion > Let It Grow > Cryptical Envelopment > Born Cross-Eyed > The Other One > Cryptical Envelopment > So Many Roads, St. Stephen > The Eleven > Not Fade Away
PhilRAD (Phil Lesh & Joe Russo’s Almost Dead) – 2014: At the end of 2014, the then-nascent Grateful Dead tribute act/supergroup Joe Russo’s Almost Dead was joined by Lesh for three nights at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY. Filling in for regular JRAD (and Ween) bassist Dave Dreiwitz, Lesh held down the low-end for the group’s trademark high-energy interpretations of the Dead’s catalog, culminating in a triumphant New Year’s Eve performance.
Dead & Company – 2015: To say 2015 was a banner year for the Grateful Dead would be a tremendous understatement. In addition to the summer’s historic “Fare Thee Well” reunion shows in California & Chicago, Bob Weir followed that up shortly after with the surprise announcement of Dead & Company. Armed with an immensely talented lineup featuring Weir, Hart & Kreutzmann, as well as Jeff Chimenti, Oteil Burbridge, and John Mayer, Dead & Company have taken the country by storm, coming in at #46 on Billboard’s “Decade-End Top Touring Charts,” despite only performing 25-30 shows per year since 2015. Dead & Company have played only two New Year’s Eve concerts to date, in 2015 and 2019.