As Chicago began to fill up with the colors of tie-dye on a perfect summer day, Keller Wiiliams and the Infamous Stringdusters took the stage on July 2, 2015, at the Incredibly beautiful historic Chicago Theatre. This Grateful Grass collaboration was a heady kick-off for fans in town for The Grateful Dead's Fare Thee Well shows. The packed house was a mix of jubilant patrons, young and old, including a couple of kids under ten, who stood on their second row seats in the orchestra pit to be able to see over the heads of those standing and dancing in front of them.
Few attendees sat for the first set of the Rex benefit show, which kicked off with a private reception for VIP ticket holders. Regular patrons who were lucky or observant, got a glimpse or picture of Trixie Garcia before the show began, as she came out into the audience after the toast to the music never stopping.
Keller's sound manager extraordinairre Lou Gosain was seen in his usual spot, the sound booth (underneath the overhanging mezzanine at the back of this theatre) lending his vocal backups and smiles, along with his technical expertise.
As taken directly from Panda's set list:
Jack Straw D
Brown Eyed D
Cold Rain E
Big River A
Mr Charlie G
On The Road G
He's Gone E
The touching set opened with a rousing "Jack Straw" and had the packed capacity crowd singing along and smiling to the first of their comfort tunes. "Brown-Eyed Woman", an all-time favorite written by Hunter and Garcia (of course) was only the second of the sing-a-long set.
No thunder or rain (and the weather prediction for the weekend in Chicago is excellent) but an incredible amount of electricity as the theatre was filled with the energy of grateful heads whose "shakin" continued through the well loved tunes and practically exploded when the first notes of "Shakedown Street" were heard.
As one grateful tune led to another, the energy between Keller and the Dusters and their fans seemed to grow exponentially yet turned very bittersweet when the band broke into "He's Gone". Hands were held and neighbors were hugged as the poignancy of the weekend was felt.
The lightning-like energy exploded as the collaboration then segued into "Samson and Delilah". Fortunately, the Chicago Theatre building, which opened in 1905 has been restored and no one in the right mind could ever want to "tear this building down" as the grandeur of the French Baroque venue only accelerated the incredible feel.
A chorus of over 3500 voices merged together singing "the sky was yellow and the sun was blue" as this hearts of many gold (we love you Keller, we love you Dusters) band threw out a blistering "Scarlet Begonias". "Bertha" then brought this amazing sing along set to a poignant close.
As one fan commented that he could listen to them play these well loved Dead songs all night long, the almost two hour set ended seemingly too soon, yet set two with Greensky Bluegrass was gratefully anticipated.
At set break, the street under the magical marquee outside filled up with excited conversation and mingling, reminiscent of the pre-show just a few hours prior, as the kind venue allows attendees to leave and reenter the theatre with just reswipes of tickets.
-Rockin' Randi Starrett for The Lot Scene
Stay tuned for Set Two!!