A Grateful Dead tale

This is from the Folk Alliance Region-West mailing list, where we have been talking about the Grateful Dead for the last few days. Reproduced here with the permission of its author, Duff Ferguson:

i was a late arrival to this phenomenon, attending my first show in the late 80s at Giant’s Stadium in New Jersey, and as a teen was admittedly drawn with my friends more by the prospect of some epic partying than a great appreciation for the band’s music or history. but it was clear shortly after arrival that this was a very different scene than the usual rowdy pre-show tailgating experienced at Giants Stadium shows by AC/DC or the Stones — it was more like you ran away into a Renaissance Fair or traveling circus that emerged from the forest, took over an oil stained parking lot and made it a magical suspended time place for an afternoon (with or, in my case, without the aid of Kool Aid). it was worth the price of admission just to walk through the field and eyeball the colorful, rickity vans and buses of the committed traveling fans, who were eager to meet others, jam, relax, share food, but also often sported handmade signs warning not to ask them for any drugs, which i guess was a tiring, continuous request that gets very old. kind of a mobile Burning Man festival of sorts…

we had bought cheap seats at the last minute and were very disappointed to find that our seats were actually in a little nosebleed section showhorned *behind* the stage, so we set about trying to sneak into the floor area and were successful. spotting some roving security guards assigned to catch folks such as us, we were looking around for a hiding spot when we heard “hey man, come over here!” turning quickly, we saw a row of tie-dyed, wheelchair bound people sitting happily in an elevated handicapped-only section beckoning our way. at their direction, we grabbed their chair handles from behind as if we were there helping them move around during the show, and the guards left us alone. in the conversation that followed, the elderly fellow in the chair i manned described how the music and community at the shows not only gave him a place where his disability and age were no barrier to his acceptance, but the qualities of the music also helped his mind and spirit soar in a way that transcended his physical limitations. in short, the music was a therapy.

later, we tried out our cheap seats and found they were literally the best seats in the house… we were positioned backstage right behind the tattered amps, right up close, with a perfect view of the backsides of all the players. from this perspective, removed from the hurly burly, we were able to appreciate the intimate, jazz club jam vibe of the stage itself and the humble interplay and deep respect all the players showed for each other as they worked their way through the long night. they played to each other more than to the crowd, and the results were nothing less than exquisite.

a taste of living history and an inspiration to those who wish in their hearts that their creative output might also, someday… somehow… spark a true, rich cultural tradition all its own…

2 Responses to “A Grateful Dead tale”

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Love this story! I love hearing what the Grateful Dead has meant to other people… so far, this is the most moving.

Leave a Reply