I am at the front door, the text read.
Go in & relax–we’re at Farmer’s Mrkt I responded.
I had figured Albert was being overly optimistic when he said he’d arrive by 10:30. I figured noon at the earliest, given traffic between here & there but had forgotten what a road warrior Albert is and should’ve known he’d be closer in his estimate.
Meanwhile, our wonderful hosts here in Boulder, Rory & Jane, had taken us to enjoy a glorious Saturday morning in Boulder down at the Farmer’s Market, so we would have to meet up with Albert back at their house before that evening’s show at Folsom Field from Dead & Company, the first of two for the weekend.
For me, this set of shows made for a bit of deja vu back to 1980 when I helped a handful of new Deadhead friends secure tickets for a quick weekend run up to Boulder to catch the Grateful Dead’s 15th Anniversary Show, right here in Folsom Field. I knew also that my friend, Lynn, who provided our transport back then, would be at the show as well. Add in my friends Tracy & Dale, who had shared a 1973 show with me, coming up from Houston, and it really felt like a Return to the Scene of the Time.
Another phrase long used to describe Deadheads swarming to concerts has been a “Gathering of the Tribes” (there’s even a similarly named Gathering of the Vibes festival featuring jam bands). And indeed, as Albert and I got around to wandering down towards the venue, we saw increasing numbers of folks heading in the same direction.
Getting to the first show of a run was always mildly chaotic with various snafus approaching the venue. Albert & I circled around a pizza place to grab a couple of pre-show beers before realizing they had converted their parking lot into a paid parking lot for the concert. The price wasn’t bad really: $25 for parking — $10 coupon for pizza & beer. If we hadn’t already prepaid for parking closer we might have opted for that.
Meanwhile, time kept slipping away and anxious to get to the show itself, we gave up on brewskis beforehand and headed over to park the car and get to the stadium. Since our tickets read “General Admission,” we wanted to get in the gate early to find a good spot on the field.
Only our tickets were General Admission End Zone: not on the field, but at the far end of the stadium from the stage. These were actually the tickets I’d wanted despite the increased distance from the stage. See, these seats were seats, where floor tickets would mean standing for pretty much the whole show. Me, I’ll be up and dancing likely about 90% of a show. But boy do I want to sit down that other 10% these days — between songs but sometimes during as well.
So we settled into some good midline seats (better audio balance) up far enough to see the stage over the massive sound/video booth mid-field, and I noticed something: we were sitting almost precisely where I sat for the Saturday show those 36 years ago! It’s just that back then the stage was on the closer goal line, playing to 5,000 people in the end zone — this time, playing to over 26,ooo, the stage was set at the far end. So while my seat was the same, the band was literally a football field further away.
I hoped to make good use of our smart phones to stay in touch with my friends and meet up at the show in a way we never could have “back in the day.” Back then, it was hit or miss meeting up with friends at shows. Plans about where to meet up before or after the show were discussed, but the first show at an unfamiliar venue always made that tough. Surely our phones would make it so much easier.
Or maybe not. The first text message from Tracy & Dale concerned an all-too-familiar “forgotten ticket shuffle” back to the hotel and then driving over from Denver. Lynn hit a snag getting in when the bar code on his ticket would not read — he had to have a ticket reprinted at the gate to get in. Meanwhile, my phone was dying from too much messaging, Facebook time and map apps to get us there.
We saw none of my other friends at the show that night.
Walking back to the parking garage, though, we were crossing in front of a line of cars when the driver of the lead car called out, “Hey, Alan!” I look up to see Lynn and we briefly exchanged mutual reviews — “Best fucking show I ever saw in my life!”
So it was Sunday before we got to meet up at the stadium with Tracy & Dale. Though they had floor tickets, they opted for staying the stands with us — again for being able to sit as needed. Their oldest son, Dan, was there with his wife, Sarah, and also their nephew Matt — who, it turns out, grew up not but about a mile from our house in Austin.
Lynn came over before the Sunday show as well, so we had a great Grateful Dead reunion. Looking around the group, I time-travelled backwards to my first shows with each — Tracy & Dale in 1973, Lynn in 1980, and Albert in 1981. All around the stadium, similar reunions were taking place as we once again assembled for another show.
What a long, strange trip it’s been indeed!
New take on an old tune showcasing the New Guys
This is not intended to be a review of the shows. For one thing, I’m a fan not a critic. Still, a few comments seem appropriate, especially since last year’s “Fare Thee Well” shows were billed as the final appearance together by the living original members of the Grateful Dead, not simply their 50th Anniversary shows.
To my ears, the Santa Clara FTW shows featured Bobby & Phil & Mickey & Billy — the Core Four, as they’d been dubbed — supported by 3 additional players: part-time Grateful Dead member Bruce Hornsby on piano, Jeff Chimenti on keys, and Trey Anastasio on lead. By the following weekend’s shows in Chicago, though, the 7 of them sounded much more like a band, fully integrating each player’s part into a melodic whole.
Still, some people thought it strange to see Bobby & Mickey & Billy line up new dates with John Mayer on lead after the supposed farewell run with Oteil Burbridge picking up Phil’s part. When the initial shows last fall worked so well, they scheduled more.
And I hear a significant evolution of the Dead emerging from this Dead & Company configuration. Watching these two shows, I began to see the original members (Bobby, Mickey, Billy) lay back a bit, letting the “newbies” really take over the jams to push the music further. Not that Bobby wasn’t still acting as band leader and certainly taking the lead whenever he sang lead. It just felt like the new guys provided a fleshing out of the new Dead & Company.
And that felt great, almost like the passing of a torch.