On February 2, 1968, the Grateful Dead played the first of two shows at McMenamins Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Oregon. Exactly 50 years later, the Crystal Ballroom is welcoming original Grateful Dead member Phil Lesh back for a special two-night run.
“We would have been happy with anything within that time line, but it has been a dream come true. We’ve been talking about it for almost a decade,” McMenamins’ Minister of Fun Jimi Biron told Amplify. “We were looking at the timeline and they were able to make it work exactly 50 years to the date. And it doesn’t hurt that it happens to be a Friday and a Saturday.”
Phil Lesh and his Terrapin Family Band will take over the 1,500-cap venue from Feb. 2-3 with music inspired by the Grateful Dead’s original sound. The family band includes Lesh’s son Grahame and longtime family friend Alex Koford on drums. Rounding out the group is Jason Crosby and Ross James who are staples at Lesh’s farm-to-table restaurant and music venue, Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael, California.
“He can sell the largest venues,” Biron said. “So to be playing in Portland, Oregon in a 1,500-capacity dance hall is pretty amazing.”
The original show was a double bill featuring the Grateful Dead and The Quicksilver Messenger Service. Performances from that show made it onto the Dead’s 1968 album “Anthem of the Sun.” Those shows ended up being the catalyst for the McMenamin’s business, which focused mainly on hotels and restaurants prior, getting into the live music industry.
Biron explained that the McMenamins “were showed the Crystal Ballroom by a real estate agent and the fact that the Grateful Dead had played there was one of the contributing factors to them purchasing the venue.”
Grateful Dead themes have been embedded in the company long before the purchase of the Crystal Ballroom in 1995. Throughout their businesses there are plaques with Grateful Dead lyrics, signature drinks named after members of the band, and hotel rooms named after and designed for specific Grateful Dead songs.
“In our super upscale restaurant in downtown Portland, Zeus Cafe, we have this really ornate and gorgeous blue stained glass bordering the tops of the windows,” Biron said. “If you look closely it is actually the music to ‘Dark Star’ by the Grateful Dead. The musical notes surround the whole venue.”
Biron added “We are very progressive and modern company and have a whole bunch of different assets, but the Grateful Dead was the root. That’s why there was so much pressure and desire and excitement about actually getting Phil Lesh to come and play the 50th anniversary.”
Lesh’s return in February will mark the third string of dates he has played at the Crystal Ballroom. He also returned to the Portland venue 10 years ago for the 40th anniversary and played the same setlist as the original 1968 show.
Tickets for the Feb. 2 and 3 dates go on sale this Friday (Oct. 20) at Noon Pacific time and more information on the shows can be found at CrystalBallroomPDX.com.