The "NFA Dead 50" campaign is trying to get all 60,000 fans at Soldier Field to chant "Not Fade Away" at the beginning of the band's second act. [DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin]
SOUTH LOOP — Nine hundred miles is a long way to travel to deliver a thank you card. But for Ashley-Nicole Salmons, showing gratitude to the Grateful Dead is worth it.
"I grew up in a military family where I was moving around a lot, and the Dead culture is something I was able to find everywhere I went," said Salmons, who came from Panama City, Fla. to see the group perform one last time. "The band, the music...it was a common love I was able to share with people, and it really grounded me."
Two months ago, when Salmons heard about a fan-based "thank you" campaign leading up to this weekend's farewell concert at Soldier Field, she didn't hesitate to jump aboard.
Grateful Dead fans gather to sign a poster reading "#NFA" in Buckingham Plaza. [DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin]
Named for "Not Fade Away," the Dead's famous cover of a Buddy Holly hit, the "NFA" project coalesced in January in the Facebook fan group "Ripple Dead 50." Its goal is to get all 60,000 fans in the stadium to chant "Not Fade Away" during the sound check before the second act, as a collective message of love and gratitude directed at the band. As a side project, the campaign is also fundraising for the Rex Foundation, the Dead's official charity organization.
"We don't want them to sing it — instead it'll be like us singing to them, just all of the fans thanking them for an amazing 50 years," Salmon said. "It's like all of us reaching out to give the band a big hug."
Bringing tens of thousands of voices into unison is a mighty task, though, which is why Salmon spent most of Friday in Grant Park advertising the campaign. Salmon was one of a handful of captains volunteering to get the word out, inviting passing Deadheads to sign a poster board showing "#NFA" in block letters.
"We're just trying to hit as many people as possible, so we're on the lookout for our people — basically anyone wearing tie-dye," Salmon laughed. "I think we'll be able to get [the band] to hear it — not long ago we just had a couple hundred people signed up on Facebook, and now it's more than two thousand."
Salmon hopes to throw the poster onto the stage during the show, delivering a giant thank you card signed by hundreds of fans.
Fans Maggie Voigt and Joey Fike sold ornate Grateful Dead pins to fund their trip from Roswell, Ga. [DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin]
Though they didn't hear about the campaign until they arrived in Chicago, fans Maggie Voigt and Joey Fike were eager to jump into the project.
"The Grateful Dead is all about family...we're only able to be here because of how close and welcoming that family is," said Voigt, who slept in Grant Park Thursday night, alongside Fike, after the two arrived from Roswell, Ga.
They sold designer pins to fund what Fike called their "urban camping trip," and once they got to the park, other fans offered them food and blankets for the weekend.
"So this whole thing, this whole hippie counter-culture, it wouldn't exist without [The Grateful Dead]," Voigt said. "We just want to thank them for that."
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: