4th in the series about my road to the Grateful Dead’s 50th Anniversary “Fare Thee Well” shows
“I’m freaking out, man” Albert said, “We still don’t have the tickets.”
It was the Friday before Labor Day and the Red Rocks shows started Tuesday night the following week. Having heard ‘heads raving about Red Rocks shows, Albert had, for the first time, sent in for tickets via the Grateful Dead Ticket Service mail order system. He did his best to follow the incredibly detailed instructions but we had no tickets on hand and planned to leave on Sunday.
He was, indeed, freaking out.
So he called the ticket order problem hotline and pleaded desperately for help. “I just put you down for 2 on the ‘ticket problem guest list’,” a calm voice assured him, and he began to breathe again.
But the tickets weren’t our only problem. Neither Albert nor I had a vehicle reliable enough to drive to Colorado, so we needed a driver. My buddy Billy the Kid sounded kinda interested, but had not decided.
Saturday, the original tickets arrived in the mail. With what amounted to 2 extra sets of tickets, we convinced Billy to drive the three of us up there in his huge, old American sedan, “Blue Thunder, the Urban Assault Vehicle,” so we were set to go.
We were about 60 miles out of Austin on Sunday night when Billy said, “I wonder how that tire is doing…” Not so well, it turns out: the tire in question had a growing blister bubble on the side, signaling a sure blow-out coming up. “Spare’s no good, either,” he confessed.
Holding our breaths, we drove on, hoping we made it at least to a town before we blew the tire out. Then, at Brownwood, we found another miracle: a true service station, complete with racks of new and used tires, and a “Travel Center” trailer serving coffee and donuts. About an hour later, Billy’s grinning. “I got two good tires for less than I woulda had to pay back in Austin!” he gloated.
Ain’t that Heaven sent?
So we drove through the night through West Texas, cut through the northeast corner of New Mexico and north to Denver, arriving there about mid-afternoon Monday. We’d planned on staying at the campgrounds they set up close to Red Rocks, but one quick pass through “JerryWorld” convinced the 3 of us to seek out more isolated camping. I likes me some good crazy sometimes, but I also like calm and quiet sometimes. And it seemed abundantly clear JerryWorld would not offer that.
Looking at the map, I pointed to Golden Gate Canyon State Park and we headed off. These days, there’s a cut-through that gets you there quickly, but back then, you took a winding two-lane mountain road through a little almost ghost town before reaching the park’s entrance. That’s changed a bit too. Back then, you had to buy gas before 6 or you were out of luck, as they rolled the sidewalk up about then in the tiny town of Blackhawk — now that’s a major casino resort area.
We hit a pace of quietly camping in the mountains, then rolling down to Red Rocks for the shows in the afternoon. With our 2 tickets plus our 2 “ticket problem ” passes, we had an extra ticket for each night, so we passed those “miracle tickets” along, sharing our good fortune and great times on the Rocks with one more happy Deadhead each night. The boys sent us home gently at the end of that last night, with that final encore, singing,
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue…
With a quiet “See ya later,” they waved and left the stage — we knew they were through. Time to head back to Texas, freshly re-energized.
By the Red Rocks run in June 1984, Albert and I had that feeling of sorta knowing what we were doing, or, at least we knew how to get the tickets and where we wanted to camp. We still didn’t have a car between us that could make the journey, so we recruited Monte, one of Albert’s friends. He jumped at the chance, since Albert had been raving about Red Rocks since our return the previous year.
On the way, we stopped at a store in Brownwood, and upon returning to the car, Monte couldn’t find the car keys. We weren’t locked out, since I’d stayed out there waiting, but we couldn’t leave. After searching the car, he decided they must have dropped down into the trunk.
We could remove the back seat to reach through to the trunk if we only had some pliers, so we started stopping random strangers entering or leaving the store to ask for pliers — that’ll get your some weird looks. After borrowing some and removing the back seat, we blindly pawed through the trunk contents to no avail. We were standing around in the sun in the parking lot not knowing what to do next, when Monte reached down and opened the cassette carrying case by the driver’s seat — and there were the keys.
We looked at each other, then I quickly said, “Nobody says anything. We get in the car and go and nobody says a word for at least an hour.” Fragile moment there, too easy to blow up, and too late to matter once we were on our way again. Luckily, the rest of the ride went smoothly after the Brownwood incident.
This year, we perfected our daily routine for the shows. Wake slowly in a mountain camp and take your time with a late, hearty breakfast. then early afternoon, after a light lunch, start rolling down the road to the shows. After the show, leave the madding crowd behind to drive up into the mountains, start a campfire, relax — and roast some ears of corn. Yum.
One night, while getting very much into watching and feeding the fire, Albert wandered off to get more wood. Monte and I heard crashing noises coming our way shortly, and Albert proceeded to pull in a HUGE dead tree stump. It’s gonna sound like I’m exaggerating, but no shit, this was one of those tree bases that had root branches spreading out in all directions, and, well, the “wingspan” of this chunk of wood was about 8 feet across.
Before Monte or I can say anything, he’s triumphantly dragged it onto the fire and stepped back. “Isn’t that a little…big?” I asked, but he poo-pooed my concern, transfixed by the rapidly growing fire. Within minutes, flames are shooting up 15 feet into the air. “Albert!” Monte & I both said, and he’s like “What?” But we did manage to get him to drag it to the side somewhat so the flames would die down to, oh, only about 8 feet in the air.
Amazingly, we did not burn down the forest that night — but the Dead sure burned down the house at that year’s shows! In the first half of the final night’s second set, they wandered out of “Playin’ in the Band” into “Dear Mr. Fantasy” — playing it for the very first time, stunning everyone in the stands. This year, they sent us out singing “U.S. Blues” as the final encore
Summertime done come and gone, my, oh my!
As the final notes faded into the ether, we came down from the mountain and drove off into the night, southbound through New Mexico towards home.
“What is a Deadhead? and where do they come from? One day, there’s none of ’em then there’s thousands, and then they’re gone again. We band migratory birds to study their habits — shouldn’t we study the Deadheads?””
— Denver radio talk show host
By 1987, we were finally able to take one of our cars to Colorado — mine, amazingly enough. Of course, when the water pump blew out near Denver, it was Kate, our third musketeer that year, who had to pay for the rescue repair outside of Denver. She was the only one with a credit card and we sure didn’t have enough cash between the three of us.
But we made it up to Golden Gate Canyon State Park again. We discovered all the other folks camping on our little campground loop (Loop J) were all there for the shows: Peter & MJ, schoolteachers on vacation from Maine; Dave and Mary Lee from Massachusetts; and Dave from Chicago, who’d driven down with no tickets but high hopes for a miracle. We dubbed ourselves the Loop J Group.
Well, as things had worked out, we brought Dave’s miracle for him. We’d bought an extra set of tickets for all 3 nights, since our old buddy Billy had left Austin and was working somewhere near Denver last we heard. But we never did find him that trip, so we delivered miracle tickets to a rather ecstatic Dave.
The Loop J group settled into a great camp-show-camp routine, but no matter how early we tried to start, we’d get there and see a bunch of people ahead of us in line already. “They ought to have pre-boarding for senior Deadheads,” MJ suggested. “They do it for planes — why not here? I can’t outrace 19-year-olds.” Each night we ended up pretty much in the middle, but never down towards the front. Not that there’s a bad seat in Red Rocks.
Kate received a postcard from Pete and MJ a week later — from the Telluride weekend of Dead shows. Those had been sold out for months, and Pete & MJ had no plans to go, but…miracles, you know? But that’s another story for later.
This would be the last Grateful Dead Red Rocks run for me & Albert, though we didn’t know it at the time. We would be back in 2003 for the resurrected Dead, but my, how things had changed by then. No longer did we have a 45-minute drive up a dark, winding 2-lane mountain road to the campground. The cut-through had us in camp within 20 minutes on a four-lane road the whole way, avoiding Blackhawk entirely, so I never even saw the modern casino mecca.
By the 2010 Furthur shows, we even booked a hotel room instead. I’ve been told now that I’m officially too rickety to camp like that any more, and I find difficult to argue the point.
I will get by…I will survive…
We will get by…we will survive!
TO BE CONTINUED