Weather Report Sweet: The Grateful Dead’s Meteorological Motivation

Weather plays such an integral part of our lives, both blatant and subtle. On the subtle side, some songs have weather references in them: songs like Riders on the Storm, Summertime Blues, Have You Ever Seen the Rain, The Rain Song, and Windy. There are so many of them.

One band that had a weather theme throughout their history was the Grateful Dead.

What You Need To Know

  • An interview with the band’s Legacy Manager revealed insights into their music
  • The band rearranged setlists according to the weather.
  • Concerts were often affected by weather, such as the concert during the Superstorm of 1993
  • The only show with no known recording since 1971 is likely because of the weather

They’re a band beyond description.

Anyone familiar with their library knows songs like Cold Rain and Snow, Looks Like Rain, Morning Dew, and Here Comes Sunshine. Those paying attention to the lyrics have heard lines about the four winds, daybreak on the land, and a paint-by-number morning sky. 

They even had weather-related album titles like Anthem of the Sun and Wake of the Flood

What inspired the Grateful Dead to focus on the weather?

We turned to the band’s Legacy Manager, David Lemieux, for some answers. Lemieux has seen over 100 Grateful Dead shows, starting in 1987.

He joined us here in the Spectrum News 13 Weather Report Suite virtually to discuss all things weather and music.

Courtesy: AP

The Songs

“The Grateful Dead, more than any other band that I’ve ever known, is incredibly authentic. And they are incredibly influenced by the world around them,” said Lemieux. 

He continued, “they’re talking about the weather and its effect on all of us,” including things like a cool breeze coming on Tuesday, running into a rainstorm, or a sunshine daydream.

“The things that make their way into Grateful Dead lyrics are things that we can all relate to. And the weather, more than anything, is something we can all relate to.”

The Setlists

According to the Lemieux, “the weather would impact setlists quite often.”

In 1993, a monumental snowstorm, know as the Superstorm of ’93, disrupted two shows scheduled in Ohio on March 13-14. On the first night, heavy snow and road conditions prohibited concert-goers from getting to the show.

When the band took the stage on Saturday, March 14, they appropriately opened with Cold Rain and Snow.

A few weeks later, the band was in Albany, NY for a 3-night stand during a stretch of “miserable” cold and rainy weather. Lemieux reminisced about how on March 29, 1993, “the songs they opened with were Here Comes Sunshine, Looks Like Rain, and Box of Rain. Typical Grateful Dead.” 

It wasn’t just weather that affected their song choice. “When Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1980, the Dead were an hour away in Portland playing Fire on the Mountain,” said Lemieux.

2015 Fare Thee Well Show Picture Courtesy: AP/Jay Blakesberg

The Shows

The Grateful Dead was extremely popular among the tape trading community, where attendees would bring recording equipment to record and then share their shows. According to Lemieux, every show since 1971 has a known recording except for one.

Lemieux said he has always speculated that the tapers skipped the February 6, 1979 show in Tulsa because wintry weather may have prevented them from getting to the venue. “The only Grateful Dead show in 25 years in which there is no known recording is weather-related.” 

Summertime shows often posed a risk of thunderstorms, such as what took shape on July 10, 1990, in Raleigh, NC. The band was playing their first-set closer, Promised Land, when suddenly the music stopped.

“The PA system completely went out. I don’t know if it got hit by lightning, but the weather system did that,” recalled Lemieux.

As seen in a video of the show, they milled about for a few minutes, but once they resolved the situation, they took their spots back on stage.

“The band picked up the song in the exact spot where it had cut out. They picked it right up. To me, it was one of the coolest moments I had ever seen. It was incredibly visually memorable for me, and that was completely weather-related,” recalled Lemieux.

He also shared that a weather graphic in a newspaper was often the best way to know what to expect for a show. Concert-goers and show organizers now have the technology to better prepare should hazardous weather threaten an event (such as the Spectrum News app).

These were just a few memories that David Lemieux shared with us; his recollection of every show he attended included the weather. “I remember where I was sitting, I remember the weather getting to the show, and the traffic getting into the show.” 

Think back to some of your favorite concerts. Wouldn’t you agree?  

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