Most of you that know me personally would consider me a hippie of sorts. Sure, I am a long-haired guy that is approaching 40 that still smokes marijuana and isn’t shy about it. Yes, I have been to see nearly a dozen music festivals and seen Phish 13. However, I have never seen the Dead and I never will.
Just about a month after Jerry Garcia played with the Grateful Dead at Soldier Field in Chicago on July 9th of 1995 (Download the audio here), Jerry passed away. A combination of things he was abusing his body with finally made it give up on him (Read the real story here). This immediately gave way to multiple generations of his fans showing what I believe to be at the time, a ridiculous public display of despair and sadness.
At the time, I was twenty years old. I didn’t even know a single Deadhead. I was living in an apartment in Lancaster, Ohio and selling pot to my friends while I delivered pizzas. The music most often in my CD player at the time was Pantera, Metallica, Primus and Nirvana. I didn’t really consider myself a hippie and the only ones I knew were some of the restaurant industry friends that I sold pot to. I was aware of the Grateful Dead and their music, but it wasn’t a part of my life.
Fast forward to 1997 and I began to date a girl that was really into Phish. We all know what happens when you date someone that listens to music you don’t listen to. Eventually I found myself in possession of a few of her Phish bootlegs cassettes and some CD’s. Eventually I found myself enjoying some of the quirkiness of their sound. I was playing in a band at the time so I began to experiment with improvisational aspects of music and began to appreciate the collective changes and transitions between songs that bands like Phish and the Grateful Dead utilized. That was it, I was smitten by the non-verbal communication between musicians that allowed these bands to play their songs so uniquely each time.
I want to see my first Phish show in August of 1997, just two years since Jerry’s passing. I was super green and clueless as to what I was going to experience. I was amazed. The people I met before during and after that show at Deer Creek Amphitheater in Noblesville Indiana were insane. They were colorful, they were nerdy and they were united in the inside joke that was the seemingly senseless lyrics and music of Phish.
Inevitably this exposure to a whole new genre of improvisational music lead me back to the Grateful Dead. So being an addict of history I borrowed the book “Long Strange Trip” by Dennis McNally. I also read the book by Rock Scully, “Living with the Dead“. Both were eye opening to how punk rock that band was in the early days. The band had the company of outlaws, misfits, Hells Angels and freaks. My kind of people. More than anything, it was a very interesting historical depiction of that period in the lives of young people in our country. The rise of the Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco and the political dissension that young people of that time were deeply involved in. I was all about some anti-government for much of my early life so they spoke my language.
I became obsessed with music festivals. In 2003 I became involved in a music festival called Camp Jam in Bluffton, Ohio. I went to work for them shortly thereafter as their marketing/promotions coordinator. I had been promoting bands since I was in my own in 1996, so I knew a thing or two about grassroots and getting the word out.
The overall experience was a little bit of the same each time. I would witness people having some of the greatest times of their lives. Festivals were like a New Year’s Eve celebration from the time the gate opened until the last fire went out on the last day of the event. Strangers would share food, booze, drugs, blankets, clothing and hugs.
In 2003 I began publishing a newspaper focused on the jam-band festival community called The-Bus. This was my ticket to all access to many festivals including Bonnaroo. I partnered with several great folks including Peter Kolesari and Todd Brunozzi to produce the publication.
Eventually I ended up at a show for The Other Ones at Deer Creek Ampitheater in August of 2003. This is when I got my first taste of a REAL Shakedown Street. In case you are not hip to the lingo, this is where the Deadhead entrepreneurs sling their wares. You can buy everything from batteries, to grilled cheese sandwiches, to soap. Yes, handmade soap. So much for the stereotypes. So many of the folks that were there like myself didn’t get to go into the show because they didn’t have a ticket. But the vibe was strong and I easily fell in love with what the community was all about. Sure, their were some seedy elements, but for the most part, it was a beautiful intermingling of folks of all ages. Unified in their apprecation for the pioneers of the jam band movement. I also learned that it is very easy to spot a narc. They wear a BRAND NEW tie-dye shirt, almost.every.time….
I put out about 8 issues of The-Bus before finally packing it in, in the fall of 2005. I loved the experience and moreover, loved the community I became involved in. I made many many life-long friends as well. So why am I going to see the very last show by the remaining members of the Grateful Dead? Because I owe it to myself to do it. I was part of the community that supported the offspring of the Dead’s movement. It is time I see for myself what it is really all about.