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20 Years Ago: Jerry Garcia Plays His Final Grateful Dead Concert

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Jerry Garcia‘s final show with the Grateful Dead — held on July 9, 1995, at Chicago’s Soldier Field — was no lasting tribute. Hoarse and tired, Garcia’s shaky visage spoke to the health problems that would soon consume him.

Relix magazine, in a brutally frank contemporary review, described the entire tour as “star-crossed.” That run of bad luck continued on this night, as Garcia had equipment problems to match his personal ones. Ultimately, he had to replace his trusty Rosebud guitar with a tour spare, the old Tiger. Garcia, Relix‘s Patrick Russell wrote, “seemed distracted much of the time. Aside from the moments when he was in the zone and losing himself in the music, Jerry looked like he really just wanted to go home and forget all this.”

Indeed, as the evening wore on, Garcia barely contributed to an abbreviated second set, which seemed to directly lead to an unusual two-song encore that concluded with the now-sadly appropriate “Box of Rain.” (You can see the complete set list below.) “Such a long, long time to be gone,” Phil Lesh sang as the concert ended, “and a short time to be there.”

Garcia died in his sleep on Aug. 9, 1995, a week after he turned 53, at a rehabilitation clinic in Forest Knolls, Calif. Bootlegs from this final, flawed July 9 show were furiously passed around. Extra tickets are now sold for hundreds of dollars, as fans atomized the experience to the point of examining ear-monitor recordings of the band speaking to one another onstage.

Still, as sad as it was, Garcia’s death was anything but unexpected. In the period before the Grateful Dead arrived in Chicago, he had enduring a series of health setbacks, including a diabetic coma in 1986 and a canceled tour in 1992 (Garcia cited “exhaustion”). He’d long since kicked a heroin habit, but years of hard living had taken their toll. “I had a feeling he was going to swing back out of it, and he was actually trying to do that when his heart quit,” Bob Weir said in 2014. “He was pressing a bit harder, I think, than his body could keep up with.”

Born Jerome John Garcia in 1942 in San Francisco’s Mission District, the Dead’s frontman had come to personify the psychedelic optimism of the ’60s – and, to the surprise of no one, tributes poured in from far and wide following his death. Garcia, it seems, wouldn’t have approved. “I’d rather have my immortality here while I’m alive,” he said in 1993. “I don’t care if it lasts beyond me at all. I’d just as soon it didn’t.”

It did, of course, as illustrated by three consecutive sold-out shows held in July 2015 at the very same venue, as the remaining members of the Grateful Dead convened to say farewell after 50 years together.

Grateful Dead’s July 9, 1995, Set List
“Touch of Grey”
“Little Red Rooster”
“Lazy River Road”
“When I Paint My Masterpiece”
“Childhood’s End”
“Cumberland Blues”
“Promised Land”
“Shakedown Street”
“Samson and Delilah”
“So Many Roads”
“Samba in the Rain”
“Drums / Space”
“Unbroken Chain”
“Sugar Magnolia”
Encore: “Black Muddy River”
“Box of Rain”

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