Flashback: The Grateful Dead Play ‘The Wheel’ at Farm Aid in 1986

We’re now less than a month away from Farm Aid 2019, which will take place September 21st at the Alpine Valley Music Theater in East Troy, Wisconsin. The lineup includes Bonnie Raitt, Margo Price, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Tanya Tucker, and Jamey Johnson in addition to Farm Aid board members Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, and Willie Nelson.

The first Farm Aid took place September 22nd, 1985 at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois. Most benefits were one-and-done back then, but on July 4th, 1986 the held another one at Manor Downs Racetrack in Manor, Texas. This established a yearly pattern that (with the exception of 1988, 1989 and 1991) has continued to this day. That 1986 show had a killer lineup that included the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, Rick James, Bon Jovi, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Joe Walsh, George Jones and Waylon Jennings.

The Grateful Dead weren’t at Manor Downs Racetrack that night, but they simulcasted “The Wheel,” “I Need a Miracle” and “Uncle John’s Band” from a gig at Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, New York to the audience. All seemed well from a far distance, but Jerry Garcia was in extremely poor health and just six days later he fell into a diabetic coma and was unconscious for nearly a week. His kidneys completely shut down and at one point his heart even stopped because he was allergic to the valium they administered. Everyone in the Grateful Dead camp prepared for the worst, but he managed to come out of it.

He briefly forgot how to play guitar after coming out of the coma, but keyboardist Merle Saunders worked closely with him and, by an absolute miracle, he was back onstage with the Grateful Dead before the year was up. They even played Farm Aid again the next year and were on an incredible high thanks to “Touch of Grey.” But Garcia still wasn’t taking his health seriously enough and his condition slowly worsened until his death in 1995.

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