A Year Too Late: Thoughts on the Grateful Dead

Never Saw The Grateful DeadI love the music of the Grateful Dead. That much is plain to see to anyone who knows me. I begun to listen to it when I was around 15. I had purchased Europe ’72 and American Beauty through Colombia house (12 CD’s for a penny, remember that?) on a whim not knowing really what to expect. Soon both albums were a fixture in my home stereo and I had copied them to tape so I could listen to them in my car. Within a few months I was recording the shows on Scarlet Begonias Radio, broadcast on my local radio station. This music was better than anything I had been exposed to. I didn’t realize or understand the concept of improvisation and energy in music until I started picking apart the jams. I know it’s overused, but the music touched me. I wanted more, and surely would experience it live soon.

I was a freshman in high school when I passed up my one and only chance to see the Grateful Dead.

“Hey man, you should come to Highgate with us! We’re leaving Thursday morning.”

“I can’t. The math final is at 2pm.”

A math final. Yeah, I know.

At the time, I wasn’t concerned. I was sure I could see the Dead again. Plus, I had tickets to my first real concert later on that summer, and that would be awesome. It was a HORDE show in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. The date of that show: August 10th, 1995. As much fun as I tried to have, I couldn’t believe I had missed my chance. There was a moment of silence and I came to the bitter realization I missed the bus. The fact that all those people were silent- I couldn’t get over it. I wasn’t the only one who loved this music. This wasn’t even a Dead show, but there were fans here. There were fans everywhere.

I will always feel a tinge of sadness when I think about what I missed out on. Though I try, no amount of Bob, Phil, or Further shows can make up for it. I’m not really sure why I’m writing this. I guess I just felt I wanted to put it out there and maybe hear about others like me, or others who saw them for years. Either way, feel free to comment, so long as it’s positive.

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2 Responses to “A Year Too Late: Thoughts on the Grateful Dead”

  • Joe says:

    I’ll let you in on a secret. I saw them so many times I couldn’t even write out an accurate list of the shows I’ve attended. The funny things is that it was never really about the music for me. I wasn’t one of those people who compiled set lists and bootlegs hoping to one day have an entire catalog of every lyric that Bobby flubbed. I just enjoyed the adventure that it offered. It was never just the concert.

    You’d have to skip school to be down at the Ticketmaster window when they went on sale or be glued to the phone redialing for hours hoping to be one of the lucky people to get through. Most of the time this resulted in a Saturday detention for missing school. There was endless planning and discussion about what cars to take, who would drive (usually determined by who had their license at that moment), and what route would offer a variety of diversions on the way there and the way back. You didn’t just buy the ticket and see the concert.

    To make the most of the trip you really needed tickets to multiple shows because it justified making the long drives. Six hour hauls to see them play one show, while fun, would just not be the same as seeing them play 3 or 4 consecutive nights. It gave you time to settle in and, in places like Highgate, set up a campsite for a long weekend. Slowly the concert takes a back set to the expedition.

    Don’t get me wrong, the music was good, but the songs were just a backdrop to what was a huge social event. Everyone knows someone who had tickets and decided to just listen from the parking lot or campground because they were having more fun in that moment.

    When I look back, I feel fortunate to have experienced it. I’ve heard Looks Like Rain as a downpour approached, hopped around barefoot with thousands of others singing Bertha, and listened to Scarlet Begonias in the arms of beautiful woman I had only met that morning (yes, very cliche I admit, but young guys look past such things for many reasons). The truth of the matter is that those moments pale in comparison to the little snippets of what happened outside the concert.

    The musical performances are dwarfed by the smaller vignettes of what happened on those road trips.

    * The growl of the engine and a cackle of laughter as we ripped up RT 89 on a pitch black night. We shouldn’t have been passing beers between the cars but the night was warm and the top was down.

    * The excitement of reaching town and finding not only 3 bags of ice for the beer cooler but also a good place to set up the tents within walking distance of the gate.

    * Running into the first girl I ever kissed…when I was 13…and lived more than 2,000 miles away. Hi Sarah!

    * Sitting around the campfire with friends as Ripple played warbled on the stereo of white VW rabbit with a dying battery. The popping of firewood filling gaps in conversations.

    * And perhaps my fondest memory is the deafening ROOOOAAAAR of the nitrous tank piercing the night just 20 feet into the woods behind our campsite….followed by soft giggling in the dark.

    Some things just stick with you over the years.

  • Old Port Jingles says:

    Thanks for sharing. I’m sure it was incredible.

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