By Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Mike Levine is traveling from Florida to Chicago see all three of the Grateful Dead's final concerts. Stephanie Cameli says she is looking forward to the band's "Fare Thee Well" shows this weekend "like a five year-old before Christmas."
After the death of lead guitarist Jerry Garcia in 1995, the surviving four members say they will end The Grateful Dead's 50-year run this Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the city where Garcia played his last show as frontman 20 years ago.
All three shows at the 61,500-seat Soldier Field stadium have sold out and tickets on the secondary market are selling for an average of $600 each, said Cameron Papp, a spokesman for StubHub.
Known for their poetic lyrics, marathon shows and constant improvisation, the Grateful Dead emerged from the San Francisco Bay area in the mid 1960s to become one of the most legendary bands of the era. The band is the template for groups such as Phish, Blues Traveler and others in the "jam band" movement.
Levine, 41, has low musical expectations for the concerts but hopes they will provide a sense of closure for the band's long-time fans, known as "Deadheads".
"Mostly it's about getting together with old friends and listening to the music we love," said Levine. "Everytime you saw them something magical happened, even when they weren't that good."
Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio will fill in for Garcia at the Chicago shows. He will be joined by original members Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzman who have toured, along with other musicians and under various names, for years.
Pat Sullivan, 60, an Indiana university professor, has followed the band since he was a teen and will take his own son to all three Chicago shows.
He expects the concerts will be "bittersweet," since it represents a part of his life that will go away.
"This is really, really deeply meaningful for me," said Sullivan, who said he has made lifelong friends through the band. "I think it will be quite emotional."
For Cameli, 45, of Indiana, the band creates a sense of "profound togetherness" in its audience. She used to give away or trade jewelry at concerts and said she is anticipating the Chicago shows "like a five-year-old before Christmas."
Nina Zippay, 48, recalled seeing the band in Chicago in 1995 before Garcia died of a heart attack after years of drug abuse. Last weekend, she went to a farewell concert in California, and said that when the Dead started playing the old favorite, "Uncle John's Band," she and her husband both started to cry.
"If this is really the end, it's a nice goodbye," Zippay said.
(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski, editing by Jill Serjeant and David Gregorio)