First in a series recounting my personal road to the Grateful Dead 50th Anniversary (GD50) “Fare Thee Well” shows…
“You’re 10 minutes late,” Derek said as he picked me up that Saturday night in fall 1972. A college freshman, I was home for the weekend when he called and said he had an extra ticket to see the Grateful Dead. Now, I knew the Dead — or so I figured. My brother got the first couple of albums and Aoxomoxoa was one of my very first record purchases, and Europe ’72 simply blew me away. But this was my first Grateful Dead concert.
They were paired with the Allman Brothers, but Berry Oakley had just been killed in a crash a week before, so they had cancelled. Hofheinz Pavilion felt like a half-deflated balloon, since a lot of people chose not to come, others grumbled about the “half-show,” with still others adding, “…the wrong half.” For me, this was a weird homecoming-that-wasn’t that felt more like a send-off from my high school days to me, with the music and the band on the stage mostly backdrop. I don’t really even remember the show itself.
4 days later, back in Austin, I got the chance for another unexpected Dead show, when another friend, Janik, called up with a spare ticket. This time though, I sat way up close, about 15th row or so. This time, though, it didn’t take long to realize: Now I get it!
My third show was yet another “accidental exposure” in the fall of 1973 in Chicago. My friend Duane was driving up to Chicago for a week, and I decided to ride along to visit my old friend, Tracy (and a new girlfriend, Dale), at Northwestern University. Turns out the Dead were playing there that week, so once again I had the right-place-right-time luck to get in on another amazing show. I also made some long-time friends that week — Tracy would eventually marry this new girlfriend Dale.
1976 offered me an incredible opportunity: the Grateful Dead and the Who, my two favorite bands, together. I was traveling and had landed in the Bay Area just as this bombshell show was announced. Friends back in Texas worried I might die of over-gratification. Some of the folks I’d met in Chicago were in the Bay Area, and I was working in a photography co-op. Since I had my van there, I ended up driving 10 people and myself to the show.
Yet, somehow, as we made our way from where we parked (that’s another story), the group got split up. By the time I walked into the stadium, I was with only 3 of the people from the ride,got through the ticket gate, turned around and they were gone. Going from a group of 11 to flying solo meant I ended up drifting around the Oakland Coliseum through the whole show, enjoying various angles for awhile before moving on to another place. Both the Dead (opening for their guests) and the Who performed beyond expectations, rocking that stadium like a living room. Incredibly, as the show ended, I immediately ran into 2 of my riders. “Hey where were you?” they asked. “All over…”
My final show of the 70s came in December 1978 in Houston at the Summit (now Joel Osteen’s church — at least he’s using consecrated ground!). My girlfriend, Sandy, and I had driven down with a load of Deadhead friends from Austin, picking up tickets and others as we hit Houston. Sandy went along with the flow, mildly bewildered by the circus atmosphere as we got to the Summit. At one point during the show, Sandy turned to ask why I kept laughing so much and all I could do was (well, to quote a Dead lyric) “smile, smile, smile.”
As we were regrouping to leave the Summit after the show, I walked away from Sandy & Nancy & Larry & my Austin friends to go to the bathroom and ran straight into some of the Chicago crew, insisting I should leave with them for Dallas to see the next night’s show. I finally managed to mention I was with these other people, gesturing back around the corner where I’d come from, and had to return to them and couldn’t continue the tour. Meanwhile, Sandy was looking around, wondering where I’d disappeared to after a few minutes, and Nancy just said, “Oh, he’s like that sometimes, just drifts away…”
“…with Cowboy Neal at the wheel, the bus will never-ever land…”
TO BE CONTINUED