“The bus came by and I got on, that’s when it all began…” – Garcia, Weir, Kreutzmann
Wake of the Flood:
When I was sixteen years old I was walking down the hallway to my bedroom and I heard what sounded like an old blues singer belting out a song and picking on a guitar. I remember walking up to my brother Mark’s open bedroom door and saying, “what is this garbage?” Half joking and half genuinely interested. He responded, “it’s the Dead man.” in a tone as if I should have known. At the time I was headlong into the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel and Van Morrison, among others. I later found out the singer was Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, the song “Katie Mae” from “Bear’s Choice.”
The Golden Road:
I don’t remember when, where or how it happened, but I would quickly become a Dead Head. My first Grateful Dead shows were fresh out of high school in the Summer of my eighteenth birthday. I caught the last two shows of the 1990 Summer Tour in Chicago. It just so happened to be the last two shows of who would become my favorite Dead keyboardist Brent Mydland. There is nothing I could have done to prepare myself for this extraordinary, enlightening and revolutionary time in my life. The experience of the music, sense of belonging, camaraderie and feeling of euphoria would transform me forever. I was home.
“Inch your way through dead dreams to another land…” – Hunter
The Music Never Stopped:
The Grateful Dead personifies imagination. It is so much more than the music. I found the more I listened, the greater the benefit to my creativity, happiness and understanding. A world for which I had always yearned became possible. Beyond the music, it was the experience of family and community. I had always been into music and musically inclined since childhood. Soon after I picked up the guitar in my teens, it wasn’t long before I became mystified by the exploratory, improvisational and traditional styles of the Dead. It was then I first realized the band doesn’t play the music, the music plays the band.
Death Don’t Have No Mercy:
After Jerry Garcia died in August of 1995, I suddenly felt dissociated from the Grateful Dead. Though I had been drifting from going to shows due to his declining health, the impact of his passing was undeniable. I will always remember the first time I heard the music as much as I will recall the day of his passing. At the time I didn’t know if I would ever see them play again. The years sped by as I invested my listening into many other diverse genres of music. I explored Bluegrass to Traditional Irish, Latin and Afro Cuban to Jazz, Delta Blues to early Country. No matter how many styles I encountered, I always found my way back to The Dead.
“Sometimes the songs that we hear are just songs of our own.” – Hunter
While I was going to Dead shows in the early 1990’s, something amazing happened in my life. Their music empowered me to join a couple of bands that covered their songs. During this time, I began writing my own songs. There is something unique about the energy and experience of the Grateful Dead’s music that encourages creativity unlike any other musical group I have heard. In the advent of my own musical expression, I began to hear their music in an entirely different way. Beyond the notes, chord structures, vocal harmonies, jams and rhythms, there was a massive energetic presence, like the soul of a sun.
The Grateful Dead’s music is experimentally, multi-dimensional opening gateways on an intuitive and emotional level very difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t heard the music. The personal experience is interpretive like an abstract painting continually, organically and seamlessly morphing from one note into another enchanting the listener audibly so absolutely, the sound is almost visual. There are distinctive streams of consciousness conveyed by the energetic vibrations of the music transforming the very dynamic of the environment. Imagination blooms like a red rose in the bosom of Spring.
“Reason tatters, the forces tear loose from their axis…” – Hunter
There has always been an enigmatic movement of mystery woven into every Grateful Dead concert. A controlled chaos of anarchic notes and rhythms playing off each other in an obscure symphony of pioneering discovery akin to a space exploration. Thought, sense, emotion and spirit-invoking free-form jams guide the listener through “dead” dreams to another land. The mirror of contemporary reality shatters in formless reflections of matter. Where outside observers may see an elaborately concocted escape from everyday life, the “Deadicated” experience a personal and communal expansion of awareness, belonging and being.
Saint of Circumstance:
It had been several years since I had seen any current assembly of surviving Grateful Dead members perform together. With options a plenty, I found myself passing on them as they arose. Until I heard rhythm guitarist and vocalist Bob Weir and bass guitarist Phil Lesh were doing six limited, theater engagements in New York, Boston and Chicago. I was ecstatic at the prospect, until I found out both shows in Chicago were sold out. Accepting defeat, I resigned myself to the cold rain and snow. My friend Miko suggested submitting our names through a community connection. If notified via email, we would have the opportunity to purchase tickets. We were both selected!
“In the secret space of dreams, where I dreaming lay amazed.” – Hunter
Attics of My Life:
The days between purchasing the tickets and the shows flew by. Soon Miko and I were truckin’ down to Chicago for a couple of dates with destiny. Every mile we travelled intensified the excitement of once again being in the energy of musical fellowship. Eventually, like many other Deadheads, we began tossing out possible songs Bob and Phil may dust off and perform. Upon arrival, the marquee of the Chicago Theater illuminated N. State Street with “Bob and Phil Duo. SOLD OUT.” A growing collection of the faithful braved the chilly winds that blew through the city corridors. Several crashing the scene with fingers in the air looking for a miracle.
Playing in the Band:
Crossing the threshold of a venue at a Grateful Dead show is uniquely special. The excitement of simply being there is unparalleled. The 97-year-old theater offered the perfect atmosphere for history to be made. An antiquated red curtain hung at the front of the stage holding back the eager crowd’s anticipation. The sound of a distant bass and random notes from an acoustic guitar signaled the curtain to rise revealing Bob, Phil and Wally Ingram on percussion. “Box of Rain” met our adulation. It was the first song I had seen the Grateful Dead perform in Chicago at my first show almost 28 years ago.
“Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right.” – Hunter
The first night held many hallowed treasures. Intimate acoustic renditions of “Cosmic Charlie,” “Looks Like Rain,” “Estimated Prophet,” and “Operator,” among others with the trio of Bob, Phil and Wally. The second set yielded classics such as stripped-down versions of “Playing in the Band,” “Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain,” “Dark Star>St. Stephen,” Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” and “Sugar Magnolia” with Bob, Phil, Wally, Jeff Chimenti, Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams. “U.S. Blues” closed the night as the 3,600-strong spilled onto N. State St. reveling in the afterglow of a momentous evening.
The red curtain rose on the second night to the familiar rhythms of “Cumberland Blues.” Bob, Phil and Wally served up acoustic selections of “Tennessee Jed,” “Alabama Getaway,” “Loose Lucy,” “Lazy River Road,” “Cassidy” and other rarities. The full group guided the second set with a beautiful rendering of “Crazy Fingers.” They played classics such as “New Speedway Boogie,” “Mountains of the Moon,” “Cryptical Envelopment>Let It Grow>The Other One” then back into the last verse of “Cryptical.” A stunning and emotional “Days Between” ended the seamless second set as the train pulled away from the last station on the tour.
“Fare you well, fare you well, I love you more than words can tell.” – Hunter
That’s It for The Other One:
We emerged from the Chicago Theater onto N. State Street, found our way to the car and were heading home from two unforgettable nights with Bob, Phil and friends. The Grateful Dead Channel on Sirius Radio carried us into the early morning as we drove through the night with the melodies and memories still ringing in our ears and hearts. Seeing the music in a historical theater with a modest audience was truly special. I was flooded with emotional reminiscence of my 32-year experience with the Dead. Reflections of adoration and gratitude sustained my bliss till the morning came.
What I may remember most fondly about the Grateful Dead is the community and goodwill shared with family, friends and others who experienced the inspiration and passion of excellent music and extraordinary company. Any musical group can bring people together. Few can keep them together for decades singing sweet songs to rock our souls. It has been almost 23 years since Jerry Garcia passed from this world. The music he made and influence he had upon millions of people continues to grow with each new generation. We will always hear your voice come through the music and we will always hold it dear as it were our own.
“If I knew the way, I would take you home.”