Part 6 of my long strange trip to the Grateful Dead’s 50th Anniversary “Fare Thee Well”
After a seemingly interminable Texas drought of 3 years of no Dead shows — three years, man! — a fall swing through the South was announced in ’88, including 3 shows within my reach: New Orleans, Houston and Dallas.
The only possible response: ROAD TRIP!
With shows on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, we had us a full, fun week coming our way that fall. Albert and I got the tickets and started planning the 3-part run.
The first part of the triple-play reunited our 87 Red Rocks crew: me & Albert & Kate. After Albert and drove Houston on Monday evening, we three drove over from Kate & Scott’s place in Houston on Tuesday. Leaving Tuesday morning, we made it to New Orleans by about 1, and found the Kiefer Lakefront Arena where they would be playing. We decided to drop Albert off as soon as we could to wait in line since it was a general admission venue. Then Kate and I went to set up camp at Fountainbeau State Park, on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain.
When we returned 3 or 4 hours later, we found out Albert was second in line, guaranteeing us incredible spots that night. We started out directly in front, hands on the edge of the stage. As more of the crowd filled in, though, Kate started getting fidgety. Feeling suddenly claustrophobic, she said, “I’m moving back some,” and disappeared.
As they tore into “Hell in a Bucket,” I caught eye contact with Mickey thundering the drums a couple of times. But I’ve never been assertive enough to hold my spot up that close, so we slowly got edged out and moved back a bit. You know how it goes: a lithe little lady mutters, “Excuse me,” and you let her squeeze past —then her man-mountain boyfriend shoulders his way after her. Albert and I ended up standing about 20 feet back from the stage — which was still closer than I’d ever been.
Dead shows often feature guests joining to jam and we were not disappointed in New Orleans. During the drums break in the second set, some of the Neville Brothers (Cyril and Art, I think) joined in the fun. Then, for the encore, Art Neville returned on keys and singing, joined by the Bangles,making for one of the strangest stage line-ups I ever saw.
Too bad the video ends before the odd ensemble closing out the night with “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” — yessiree, folks, we sure were knock, knock, knocking that night.
Another story for later— Kate, our designated driver, could not find us or the car. To be fair, we changed meet-up points, but Albert and I were still locked out of our car waiting as the cops were rolling through the parking area, loudspeaker blaring, “This is not a campground. Clear the area. You must leave…”
On Wednesday, I-10 east outta New Orleans looked sadly like the worst possible version of “Shakedown Street” — we saw at least 3 large Deadhead buses in the first 100 miles that had been pulled over by cops checking them out while making all passengers stand by on the shoulder of the road. No wonder the Dead so rarely played New Orleans — it didn’t look attitudes among the local gendarmes had changed since their first visit in 1970, memorialized the “Truckin’ ” lyric:
Busted, down on Bourbon Street…
Apparently, though, the band fared better than fans o the road. After the show, they were spotted hanging out enjoying New Orleans nightlife, with reports of Bobby with a Bangle under each arm on Bourbon Street. Even on Thursday afternoon, I caught a brief bit of an afternoon radio interview with Jerry — still in NOLA, just hours before the Houston show.
As Albert & I found our seats in the Summit (round 3 there for me & the Dead), I discovered my friends Tracy & Dale, sitting in the row directly in front of us. I hadn’t seen them in probably 10 years. Married now with 2 kids and a third about to make an appearance in December, they were still chasing Dead shows, like we’d done in Chicago back in 73.
The Houston show seemed slightly lackluster to me, but “it’s always your own Dead show” — so I know several friends who loved this show. One guitar-slinging Deadhead friend, Mike, loved getting to hear Brent take “Dear Mr. Fantasy” into the reprise from “Hey Jude” at this particular show, so Mike had a great show.
This show also marked the debut performance of a new tune, “Built to Last,” which ironically became the title song for their final studio album the next year.
Built to last while years roll past
Like cloudscapes in the sky…
Show me something built to last,
Or something built to try…
After the show, Albert and I spent the night at Kate and Scott’s place, along with some other Austin friends of ours, Jeff & Cindy. They’d come down for the show and were headed for Dallas the next day. Uncertain of where they’d land in Houston, they’d brought their tent — which they pitched on Kate and Scott’s outside deck for the night. Nothing like good old-fashioned city camping.
Albert opted to ride up with Jeff and Cindy, so I headed off to Big D on my own.
Just before the lights went down, a friendly young girl started an odd pursuit of me, following me to my seat, hanging out in the empty one next to me for the first several songs, begging sips of beer from me. She was not unattractive (though way too young for me). but her attentions quickly became annoying.
See, I’m usually rather selfishly focusing on the music to such an extent that I’m not always the best company, much less “date material” at a Dead show. Looking back, I was accidentally flying solo at both the 76 Who/Dead show & Greeks 86, and spent most Manor Downs wandering around, sometimes seeing folks I knew but often just wandering through the crowd. Other shows found me utterly failing to flirt effectively even when I was interested, like the one lady with Gordon’s group at Manor Downs, or Joanna after the Greeks.
So, my flirty new friend disappeared after I proved unresponsive, leaving me to enjoy the rest of the first set. I especially the unsubtle truths offered in “Dupree’s Diamond Blues” after she’d wandered off:
Many a man has done a terrible thing
Just to buy his baby a shining diamond ring
It was Brent’s birthday, so they opened the second set a round of “Happy Birthday” before sliding into this old chestnut:
My all-time favorite on-stage Dead gaffe came near the end of this particular show. During “Sugar Magnolia,” Bobby rounded a “musical corner” — and suddenly changed keys by mistake, sliding his chord a fret too far. Brent & Jerry exchanged a “Huh?” look, then followed him into the new key. About a minute later, Bobby caught it, looking momentarily startled, then subtly shifting back down to the right key.
She’s got everything delightful —
She’s got everything I need!
This would be the last time the Dead ever played in Texas.
There were rumors of a possible 3-5 night run at Austin’s Southpark Meadows (then a venue that had hosted Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic and Crosby-Stills-Nash and Peter Tosh, now a shopping village) on the summer 95 tour but…
TO BE CONTINUED