Today I am Grateful for the Grateful Dead

Grateful for the Grateful EFALLING RAIN.

I got a case of the U.S. Blues due to so much happening on Shakedown Street. There is little Help on the Way for the citizens of this country, no matter how much Fire is on the Mountain. No matter how much we Turn on the Love Light it feels like a lost cause, even if the Eyes of the World are upon us. It’s no longer just some Cream Puff War, it is a war on race. If the events of  Fergusson, Charleston, and other senseless crimes have taught us anything it is there are plenty of Friends of the Devil in this country. That those people who thought that America was sitting on Top of the World had no idea how quickly we would be Throwin’ Stones at the glass house that is the U.S.

Not sure what the hell I am talking about? Well then you are not a fan of the Grateful Dead. Funny how a band’s song titles from 40 years ago are still so applicable today. The Grateful Dead is on my mind this week. This past weekend The Dead played their last concert to a record breaking sold out crowd of over 71K fans at Solider Field.

I have been a Dead fan for most of my life. I was introduced to them by my older sister who was a huge fan. I was just 11 years old when I first heard them and instantly liked their beat. Many kids I went to school with were also huge fans and would take the train from our small NJ town to Madison Square Garden when they played there in the 80’s and 90’s. I remember taking a moment with my sister when she found out the great Brent Mydland passed away in 1990. It was when I first realized the impact of this band on others, I was 14 years old and she was driving me to a friend’s house when the news came on WNEW radio. I’ll never forget her reaction.

The Dead were everywhere when I was growing up and they had a cult following. You could pick out the Dead Heads wherever you went, but there was a commonality – they were peaceful people. They loved music and the songs spoke to them. The Dead signature vibe was copied by other bands but none have come close to recreating not only the sound, but the culture. Phish has come pretty close, but they are no Dead.

I was fortunate enough to see The Dead perform one of their last shows. It was July 30, 1995 and I was in college in Pittsburgh, PA. Three Rivers Stadium was hosting the iconic band and both nights were sold out. It was a tough ticket to come by if you had not been fortunate enough to get one. A large group of friends and I went together and the excitement was palpable. I couldn’t wait. I had gone to hundreds of concerts growing up but none were like a Dead Show. Most of the evening was a blur but I distinctly remember the most magical moment.

The Dead came out on the stage after a short break, the lights panned Jerry and the band – the crowd roared. Then the lights momentarily shut off and we all became quiet waiting to see what they would play. Would it be Slipknot into Drums? Possibly Sugaree? It was even better. The lights hit the stage just as Jerry hit the first note of Box of Rain and then the skies opened up in a downpour. It poured through the whole song, washing away the humidity, the crowd went wild. And then just as quickly as it started, at the end of the song it stopped raining. Just like that. It really was as if Cosmic Charlie was there that night.

Almost twenty years ago on August 9, 1995 Jerry Garcia died from a heart attack. Last year Rolling Stone magazine commemorated Garcia in August with a special edition. I was grocery shopping with my son and we were having a deep conversation about life. I came to the end of the aisle, looked ahead and saw Jerry on the cover. I was struck how simple things were 20 years ago. How Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad meant something entirely different than today. Yes, Jerry “many don’t want to be treated this way” either.

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  1. Tom F. says:

    I first saw the Grateful Dead at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, NY in 1970. The New Riders of the Purple Sage were the opening act.

    This past weekend I rode my bike around Soldier Field. I was there about noon and there were already 25,000 to 30,000 Dead Heads there for the 7:00PM show. Grateful Dead music was coming out of passing cars, being played on guitars and sung by anyone who wanted to join in. Lots of tie dye and gray hair along with the younger Dead fans. Everyone appeared happy and excited to be there.

    The Field Museum (natural history museum) which shares a parking lot and driveway with Soldier Field posted a large banner outside the museum promoting “other Dead things inside.”

    On Saturday I met a guy from Toronto who was in town for all three shows. Chicago’s weather was perfect….. it was the Independence Day weekend….. the Cubs and White Sox were both playing at home….. Three Grateful Dead concerts….. my new friend from Toronto was experiencing a sensory overload.

    Three sold out shows…… over 70,000 each night…… so far I haven’t heard any news about any problems, injuries or arrests. Nice folks, those Dead Heads.

    • We really are a lot alike. Love the Dead and the Dead heads, nothing but peace and happiness coming from them yet they get such a bad wrap.