Yesterday started off just like any another day that’s ever been… I headed out in the morning without realizing where the day would take me. Then I got hit by the same Bus that hit me so many times in the past. I looked online and saw all of the posts from the folks heading to Dear Jerry. Something started churning… With little to no warning I cancelled every responsibility for the day, put a sign on the door that said, “Gone Fishing”, jumped in my car and hit 95 South like an old school fugitive. After living an extremely responsible life for the passed 20 years, it felt as exhilarating as I remembered it being in The Summer of ’89. The logical part of me tried like hell to implant all kinds of thoughts in my mind to remove the adrenaline from my body and replace it with every doubt and fear imaginable. The little voice that says, “It’s Sold Out”, “What if you drive 4 hours and don’t get a ticket?”, “It’s not too late to just turn around and continue with the day that’s just like any other day… Ever been…”
Then the side of my brain that holds the memories of times gone by, the one that was created in large part by my years on the road with The Dead completely and totally kicked in. I just wrote a piece 2 days ago about just showing up where the magic is happening and KNOWING some of it is DEFINITELY going to happen to YOU! The human brain contains 10 times more emotional centers than Logic based centers. That’s a big part of the reason why over the years we’ve abandoned all logical choices regarding life to follow The Dead. My emotional neurology is Dead to the Core! Most likely, yours is too. The Grateful Dead are embedded into my emotional neurology so much that I’m certain my grey matter is actually half red, half blue, 13 point bolt dividing them. I took my own advice and began envisioning myself in some of the best seats in the house. I looked on TicketFly and saw that a bunch of seats in the back of the pavilion were being released. I thought about buying one but my expectations and my vision was for something MUCH better.
I arrived at Merriweather Post 4 hours later and began strolling through the lot. To honor Garcia I wore a black pocket T which caused people to think I was a cop. Get a haircut and wear a plain black T Shirt and people start hiding shit when you walk by. After about an hour, I scored a VIP Package in the lot for about 1/3rd of what it sold for originally. I didn’t know it at the time but it turned out to be one of the best seats in the entire venue, the first row of the elevated section about 10 rows from the stage!
On with the show!!! Since the night was packed with so many artists, I’m just going to point out the highlights of the night for me personally. At 7:00 on the dot Phil came out with his band. Phil’s son is a great guitarist and growing more every month. I think he’s outstanding! That was the last anybody saw of Phil… Seems a bit egocentric if you ask me. Maybe he had something else to do. That’s all I’m gonna say…
Allen Toussaint absolutely KILLED it with a JGB rocker, Get Out Of My Life Woman. The crowd was absolutely supercharged for the massive evening ahead of us. Grisman did what Grisman does and was extremely Grisman! Peter Frampton, who seemed most like the crayon that might not belong in the box, hit it out of the park with Roadrunner building on the momentum of the show. Buddy Miller’s Deal was outstanding and you could get the feeling that this night was gonna be MUCH better than expected. Jorma’s Sugaree was exactly what you’d expect from Jorma. It was Jormaee…
At this point in the evening, I made an incredible observation. As the people in the crowd have gotten fatter over the years, their doobies have gotten equally skinnier. I saw my pal, J**p*r light up a doobie in the parking lot that looked like the toilet paper roll when it only has a single wrap of paper left on it but other than that, people’s Fatties have gotten awfully skinny. I don’t smoke myself, as a matter of fact, I kicked drugs and alcohol after having a habit similar to Garcia’s and have been totally drug and alcohol free 22 years as of TODAY!!! Happy to be alive… Yup, my anniversary! Back to the show…
The biggest ovation of the evening belonged to Jimmy Cliff! The crowd went wild for The Reggae Rocker and he absolutely backed it up with “The Harder They Come”. We were dancing our collective asses off and those moments started happening, when in the middle of your music induced frenzy, limbs joyfully flying through the air, you catch the smiles and flashing moments of eye contact with strangers around you that seem to fill the venue with the kind of Love that only sharing in the music can provide. Weir came out and along with Bill and Mickey joined Jimmy Cliff for a Fire On The Mountain that was raging!! Where was Phil? That’s all I’m gonna say… An OUTSTANDING first set that provided MUCH more than I went into the night expecting.
After an extremely brief intermission, Billy and the Kids took the stage. If you have a chance, GO AND SEE Billy and The Kids! They ripped through Help->Slip>Franklin’s with a the kind of enthusiasm that is rarely found among Dead Projects. Bill seems to have this abundance of new life as of late and played more of a role in the evening than anybody. Truly one of the best moments of the night!
I don’t listen to all of the bands that are considered “Jam Bands” out there so I don’t have much experience with the Disco Biscuits, nor do I have much experience with the Military, but I can tell ya this, the one brother came out dressed like a Para Trooper or some kinda shit. Those brothers absolutely blew the lid off of the place with a Scarlet->Rider that was, for me, the best performance of the night. The jams were as incredible as the absolute commitment displayed by them as they blasted through it with the kind of passion and intensity that has made me want to experience much more of what they’ve got. It was an IMMENSE moment and would’ve been a much more appropriate way to close the set than to be at the beginning of it!
Everybody was tremendous but the show from that point on slowed down considerably. The last hour of the night should have really been towards the beginning or the middle. Brent used to sing, “Never trust a woman that wears her pants too tight.” He wouldn’t have trusted Grace Potter for a second. She came out with some seal colored stretch pants and if I was gonna say anything, it would only be, “Dat Ass!”(there’s probably a more fashionable word for pants that are the same color as a seal) She looked as delicious as ice cream in August. When she came out, Weir kissed her right on the lips as if to say, “Who’s the man still, bitches?!?!” What a gorgeous and talented woman. You could tell she cherished the moment. Weir looks really good and healthy. He was as expressive and as animated as I’ve ever seen him. Like I said, I thought the acts that made up the end of the show were much better suited to be somewhere in the middle of it. The real juice of the show seemed to be all placed right in the middle of it.
Then for my favorite song of all time, Morning Dew, out comes Widespread Panic. I know they have a pretty big following. I’ve always loved Jimmy Herring and Dave Schools is a bad ass bass player that looks like he comes from the same gene pool as Shrek. The bass looks like a Ukulele on him. He can play the hell out of it though. Then as the song began, the worst sounding voice in the history of the world starting singing this beautiful masterpiece. How the hell do Panic fans listen to that for hours??? It was a cross between Julia Child and Hell, if Hell had a voice. I mean, he makes Phil sound like Pavarotti. When I say he KILLED the Dew, I mean like a squirrel getting run over by a truck. I Love all my Spread Head friends out there, God Bless all y’all, but I hope I never have to hear that man sing ever again. The music that accompanied it was outstanding…
Then for Weir, Bill and Mickey closing out the evening with Touch of Grey. Where was Phil? That’s all I’m gonna say about that… MSG Walk of Fame this week. Where was Phil? He’s got a place in NYC. That’s all I’m gonna say about that… The encore and Finale was one of the most enduring tunes in Grateful Dead history, Ripple. It was beautiful to see everybody out there together as we all sang Ripple, Except for Phil. Where was he? That’s all I’m gonna say about that… Clearly 3 of our favorite musicians are on the same page!
All that being said, it was an evening that far exceeded my expectations. It moved along brilliantly and the performances were inspired and filled with all the joy the memory of Jerry Garcia provides. Even with number of tunes that were played, you can think of so many that were left out, reminding you not only of the genius that was Jerry but how vast his musical repertoire is. You know who really sounded a lot like Garcia? Who was able to stay just half a step behind everybody else and somehow still surpass everyone in the process? The one guy that created his own pocket to sing in and placed the lyric fractionally behind all expectation to keep the music from getting too far ahead of it while making it look absolutely effortless? Absolutely Nobody… What came natural as breathing to Garcia has never been replicated. No matter how many try they are always forced by the notes they’re playing to either jump ahead of the moment or, while trying too hard, get stuck behind it. It’s the magic that only one guy possessed and it was an incredibly special night to be a part of.
Remember my friends, put yourself in a position to have something magical happen for you and, often times, it certainly does…
Keep an eye out for my article on the New York Times article! That’s gonna be fun!
Dean Sottile (pronounced So Tilly)