You know that feeling of finding something you lost? Something that once was very important to you? Maybe you hadn’t really even noticed you lost it, but it just faded away in the effluvia of life, and life goes on. But then one day—you turn a corner, open a dusty box, or hear a song on the wind—and all the keys inside you slide back home, and you are deeply, profoundly grateful.
Yesterday, I had the absolute joy of taking my kids and Jon to see the Grateful Dead for the first time. Or, the closest thing to the Grateful Dead that today exists—Dead & Co, which is comprised of all but one of the living members.
When Jerry Garcia died on August 9, 1995, I had already cut back on my shows—I made the Mardi Gras shows in February that year, but I skipped Shoreline in June because of work. In the years previous, that never happened—if there was a way I could drive to a show on the west coast, I would. I never did the east coast tour, but being in the Bay Area made it really easy to catch twelve to fifteen shows in Northern California alone each year. If I factored in CalExpo and was willing to drive to Eugene, add another easy nine.
Why would anyone do this sort of thing? For me, the answer is both complicated and simple. I found a home there, amid the hippies and weirdos. I found a soft place to land when I left home too early and my wings were still soft. This motley band of dancing, laughing, sometimes-tripping kids and the troubadours they followed took me in; in their acceptance they helped me learn that I was okay, and everything was going to be okay—I could thrive, even if sometimes life didn’t look how I hoped it would.
It had been twenty-two years since I last put my bells on my ankles and danced in the dust. I admit that going into a Dead & Co. show that my expectations were not high. Bobby, Billy and Mickey were there, but Jerry’s place on stage was being held down by John Mayer (what?! really??) and Phil’s spot by a young bassist I had never heard of.
But I set that aside when we got tickets, prepared to scowl hard at Mayer if he made the music I loved so deeply about him. I hoped to share a tiny bit of what formed me with my kids, and I hoped we all might catch a glimpse of what it once was.
There were thin remnants of a parking lot scene, and it was easy to see vestiges of the camp following the summer tour, it was a tamed down, smaller scene. Basically, we’re all older, and have careers and nicer cars. The lines to get in were hot and slow, while everyone had their bags searched. (I’ve always wondered what the people who work venues think when the Dead Circus rolls into town…)
So there I found myself, two decades older, standing on the lawn (always get general admission tickets to a Dead show—chairs get in the way of dancing) with a large swath of unanticipated life behind me, waiting to see what came next.
From the first notes, I was blown away.
(I am uniquely unqualified to offer critical insight into what was happening musically on the stage, but I deeply love the music. What I do know is that it was as good as some of the best shows I ever hit back in the early 90’s. When the opening notes of Althea (one of my favorite songs) rang out, I was elated. But Althea was a Jerry song… and yet, by the middle of it, I had tears running down my face. Mayer didn’t just do it justice, he gave it love.)
Jon danced, Abby danced, Jeffrey swayed next to me… EVEN BEAN DANCED, wiggling in his tie-dye around us. We kicked off our shoes, and twirled and laughed and clapped and sang. I cried. When the sun set and the balloons and glowsticks came out, Bean and Abby took turns holding balloons so they could understand why there is a the deaf-area up front, and feel the music. They marveled at the massive, friendly, gyrating sea of arms, legs and swaying dancers lit up in the night under swirling rainbow lights.
Abby wore my concert skirt—a skirt that probably danced at 60+ shows and that needed careful mending by my hands—for her first show. I’m not crying. There, children; this is and forever will be the home of my heart. I am so grateful it can still be found. May it ever be so.
Uncle John’s Band
Man Smart, Woman Smarter
Playing in the Band
New Speedway Boogie
Fire on the Mountain
A Love Supreme (John Coltrane cover)
A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (Bob Dylan cover)
U.S. Blues (reprise)
June 22, 2017