At 7:30 p.m. it was virtually impossible to find a place to park by Mizner Park Amphitheatre. All you could find as you drove in circles and pulled into side streets were tie-dyes, beards and colorful flowing skirts flocking in one direction.
Furthur, Bob Weir’s and Phil Lesh’s most current Grateful Dead project, was moments from taking the stage for the first of two sets. The concert was sold out, but that didn’t stop thousands of people from setting up camp beyond the amphitheatre entrance at Mizner Park.
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Some folks stood by the will-call tent pointing a finger up to the sky or waving wads of cash, trying desperately to attract the attention of somebody—anybody—with a spare ticket.
“I’ll give you $100 for a ticket,” an old man with long graying hair offered as I picked up my tickets.
Still, a large majority of folks showed up knowing there was no way into the concert, but content to hang back and listen to show from the party spilling out of the amphitheatre and into the surrounding mall. Some stayed on the lot adjacent to the concert area, dubbed Shakedown Street, to enjoy the show from atop their vans and RV’s. It was the final show of their spring tour and Furthur was about to pull out all the stops. Everyone knew it. You could smell the anticipation in the air. It smelled like cigarettes, marijuana and body odor.
Furthur kicked off their first set with a triumphant “Not Fade Away,” followed by “Mississippi Half-Step,” into “The Music Never Stopped.” Bare feet danced ecstatically in the grass. Girls swayed their hips, spinning their hoops about their midsections with their eyes closed and ear-to-ear smiles across their faces.
Generations gathered at the park to catch a glimpse of the musical history coming to life before their eyes and ears. Old, grayed men sung and danced alongside teenagers and twenty-somethings. A young girl wearing a green-lit headdress sat upon her father’s shoulders. Parents rolled along their infants clad in baby stealie-tees and ear protection.
The first set drew to a close with extra-special renditions of “Little Red Rooster,” and “Turn On Your Love Light,” featuring extended jams with solos by long-time Grateful Dead collaborator Clarence Clemons on the saxophone, and moe. guitarist Al Schnier.
The Grateful Dead had always inspired folks to travel. Some followed the band on tour and others journeyed great distances for handful of shows. Furthur continues to inspire the same thing.
Three friends from Ohio, Adam Fishman from Sugar Heights, Mike Weiss from Columbus and Brian Ratner from Cleveland each flew down to Florida specifically to catch the final Furthur concert in Boca Raton.
“This is as good of a sound that this band has made since Jerry was alive,” said Fishman. The statement carries much weight coming from a few Deadheads who caught the Grateful Dead in the early seventies.
Bill and Paul Bailey, two brothers, flew in from Ontario and British Columbia, respectively, for the concert.
As Deadheads from near and far speculated on what the band might bring to the table that night, Furthur opened their second set. The big guns were coming out.
Opening set two was “Hard to Handle,” followed by an epic jam consisting of “China Cat Sunflower,” into “I Know You Rider,” into “Scarlet Begonias,” into “Eyes of the World.”
That jam launched the audience into space. It was one of those moments in a concert where everybody is deliriously elated, singing every word of the songs they’ve always sung. Where everyone is so thankful to be there—to be a part of the culmination of the half-century of musical history—that the only thing they could do is close their eyes, throw their hands to the sky and scream.
Furthur tied off the final set of the tour with “Viola Lee Blues,” “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad,” and a beautifully vocalized “Good Night.”
The band laid down their instruments and went backstage to adulations from the thousands of people in attendance. For a brief moment, a faint shooting star streaked across the sky. Jerry must have approved.
A few minutes later, Lesh emerged to encourage folks in the audience to consider organ donation. A liver transplant survivor, Lesh has since always been an outspoken advocate of organ donor programs.
Shortly after, the band re-emerged for an encore performance that featured Dead staple, “Uncle John’s Band” into The Beatles’ Abbey Road finale, “The End,” to tie off the tour. Fireworks fired into the night sky above Mizner Park as the band joined arms and took their final bow.
The exodus that ensued was carefully watched over by grave-faced cops clad in bulletproof vests. Nitrous tanks hissed in the darkness and road-weathered musicians played solo guitar and saxophone along the sidewalks for dollars and change.
Everyone was headed somewhere. Some rode off to Boca Muse for a late night set by Florida Grateful Dead cover act, Crazy Fingers. Others boomed to Hooligans for The Heavy Pets.
Here’s a universal fact. A fact the Dead had sung for decades:
The music never stops.