“The Deadheads are doing the dance of life and this, I would say , is the answer to the atom bomb.”
-Mythologist Joseph Campbell, 1985
*** *** ***
Mary cooked a wonderful breakfast for me but then I felt like I should leave. She and Linda had to watch Bar Exam lecture videos. They started while I was packing up, and I don’t envy them. Ugh. Seemed awful.
I shoved my panniers into Mary’s storage closet, said my goodbyes, and was off. I really appreciated Mary letting me keep my stuff at her place and totally understood why she couldn’t put me up two additions nights. I had not been able to find another host despite contacting over twenty of them, and was forced to get creative as to where to spend my night.
I immediately headed over to see the crowd at Folsom Field. A subculture was descending on Boulder and I wanted to soak it all up.
I started talking to some guys and they offered me a place to stay the night after the show between bumps of ketamine…so I ruled out that option.
A bit of rain was expected in the early afternoon, so I figured it was a good time to head to Owsley’s Golden Road, a Grateful Dead bar if there ever was one (Owsley was the Grateful Dead’s sound engineer and LSD cook in the 60s/70s):
I sat down at the bar to talk to people:
I met a glass blower from Taos, New Mexico, another guy from Cincinnati, and this guy, who sold his house and car to buy a Honda Odyssey van he’s been living out of for 18 months while traveling to shows:
The scene was picking up as I was leaving. I was headed back to the stadium to hang out with everyone waiting outside.
Back at Folsom some vendors were setting up Shakedown Street (temporary flea market type deal for people to sell their Grateful Dead wares):
Lots of street kids were looking for a miracle (a free ticket to the show).
Some were better at asking than others:
But even then, I didn’t see anyone get a ticket. These aren’t cheap to come by.
Before jumping in the line to get in I sat down and kicked back next to the staff entrance because it was quieter. I started talking to this guy from Philadelphia:
I never caught his name, but he said one day in Philadelphia he just snapped and had to get out. He left his family, his girlfriend, and his job and just started moving without any money. He wasn’t even a Deadhead, just a guy passing through with nowhere planned next.
I got in line to get in. It was an hour early but I like seeing a stadium fill up.
We all listened to the band doing a sound check, where it became clear that “Bertha” and “Throwing Stones” would be on the set list for the night. No problem there!
I started talking to a guy who said he’d been to almost every show on the summer tour, including Indianapolis and Cincinnati. I mentioned how I would have loved to have been to those shows but I had work to do on the bike. We started talking about our respective adventures – he had just gotten divorced and moved back home to Orange County, CA to reevaluate life. His cousin had some connection to Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh’s accountant and was able to buy tickets to every show on the tour and was following the band around looking for incredible music and answers. I started realizing I’m a bit of a cliche – lots of people in Boulder right now traveled to these shows as part of an effort to get some life answers. My way of getting here was the coolest though…
I was worried about locking up my bike, but there would be event staff near it all night. Breath of fresh air!
Wandering around a stadium well before showtime is always primo people watching, and at a Dead show, you get the cream of the crop. Old hippies, new hippies, “regular” people, families, burnouts, Wall Street types. They were all there and all ready for some jams.
Back at my seat a man was explaining the directions to some contraption this woman bought that you put over your face, look into the sun, blow into a straw, and the breath makes the eye holes rotate. I didn’t really get it but it highlights how enterprising this crowd is. Everyone is trying to get a buck in this scene it seems, and a lot of them are using the bucks they make to to get to the next show, just like back in the day. Nothing has changed, Deadheads have just swollen with age.
Before long the band took the stage, opening with “Bertha”. I was ecstatic. Everything I’ve ridden so hard for came down to this moment. It was time to dance!
So let’s back up – in case you don’t know, Dead & Company is made up of three Grateful Dead members: drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, as well as Bob Weir singing and playing rhythm guitar. Oteil Burbridge of the Allman Brothers is on bass, long time Dead side project keyboardist Jeff Chimenti is on keys, and John Mayer (yes, that John Mayer) is singing and playing lead guitar. Despite the new blood, these are Grateful Dead shows through and through, regarding the length of the show, the songs played, how they’re played, and the crowd that comes.
I never in a million years thought that I’d want to be at these type of shows. For the longest time I ignored jam bands and the band that created the genre in the first place. But something in the last 18 months changed it all. A friend dragged me to an Umphrey’s McGee concert and I started to get it – six guys improvising over the backbones of rock songs where no two nights are the same and every time the song is played it’s done just a little differently than the last time. In other words, the music is an exploration, an adventure. Just like my tour across the country. You have to be in the moment and truly locked into the music to fully appreciate it, and once you get it, you can’t let go. At least I couldn’t. It’s the sound of freedom and I can’t think of music that’s more life-affirming.
I started listening to the Grateful Dead almost exclusively a year ago. I had always been aware of them but never really delved in. That all changed coming out of my collarbone recovery when the rootsy songs drenched in Americana about gamblers, murdering cowboys, and unusual takes on breaking up were coupled with the most joyful music I could imagine, and I got a message I really, really needed. I started learning everything I could about the Dead – the way they ignored social norms and lived life to the fullest (for better or worse), the way they were completely committed to the music and getting to “that place”, and the impenetrable legacy they’ve left on the rock n’ roll I hold so dear. Their music was tailor made for my touring. I would ride my bike listening to old shows and I never knew where the music was gong, just like I didn’t know where I was going. They enhanced my sense of adventure immeasurably, and I still listen to their old shows probably 95% of the time I’m listening to music on the bike. I saw Dead & Company in Columbus, OH, this past November and was blown away by the scene surrounding the show, and even more blown away by how well Mayer was stepping into Jerry Garcia’s impossible-to-fill shoes. I had to switch around only a couple days of my planned route to make these shows, and I thought about them every day leading into Boulder. It was finally time to enjoy the fruits of my labor, and oh did I.
I can’t believe how well the band played. They’re even tighter than when I saw them months ago, and it’s clear Mayer has done his homework learning the songs.
40,000 other people were having just as much fun as me, especially during “Terrapin Station”, by far the highlight of the night. It moved me to tears. It’s the one I’ve tended to get lost in the most on the road so far:
And then finally “Throwing Stones”, maybe the most meaningful song to me personally given the lyrics:
There were times especially during the second set where I would just close my eyes, focus intensely on the music coming from the stage, and feel a joy that just can’t be experienced any other way. There was nowhere in this country to be last night other than in Boulder, and I feel profoundly lucky and grateful (hehe) to have been there. And that was just the first night! It happens all over again tonight, and I can’t wait to see and hear what they pull out of the catalog for us all to bliss out with.
I still didn’t have a place to sleep last night and my plan of riding the adrenaline rush of the show through the night awake wasn’t going to work out; I needed a place to rest. I figured the best bet was to hit the 24hr Denny’s and stay there as long as I could stay awake and look for a place to lock up and crash nearby.
I’d say I was in the diner from about 11:30-3:45. The poor staff just counted 3 for the graveyard shift and were unprepared for the onslaught of post-show concertgoers. Everyone was super patient and understanding…especially me, because I was basically going to use Denny’s as a hotel of sorts. I wasn’t going anywhere.
I dozed in and out while there. It had been a long day and I couldn’t keep it up. I wanted to be rested for tonight. I rode off down Boulder Creek Trail, found a place to lock up, then sat down and leaned back against a wall on a bridge and got a few hours of chilly sleep right there in the open. A Warmshowers host would have been much nicer, but I do what I gotta do out here.
I woke up groggy, but ready as ever for Night 2 at Folsom Field!
Bertha / Good Lovin’ /Tennessee Jed / Cold Rain and Snow / Even So / Uncle John’s Band / One More Saturday Night
Scarlet Begonias / Fire on the Mountain / Saint of Circumstance / Terrapin Station / Drums->Space / Stella Blue / Throwing Stones / Not Fade Away
Encore: Black Muddy River