Writer’s Note: It has been four long years since the remaining members of the Grateful Dead reunited to serve up their diverse, intricate style of improvisational music that fueled a culture and ideology of life during the 1960s. While the world has changed drastically since the cultural revolution of the 60s. The spirit of the scene driven by the music of the counter-cultural rock n roll band can still be seen living on in the hearts of Dead Heads everywhere. This could best be seen in April, when the band, now known as The Dead, reunited for the first time since 2004. I had the good fortune to catch four shows during the band’s month-long reunion tour, and I hope that through my own experiences, people will be able to see why there is nothing like a Grateful Dead concert.
Rosalie comes screeching into my driveway around 11 a.m. beeping and yelling for me to get in. She is close to an hour late picking me up, and we have less than eight hours until The Dead hit the stage at the Spectrum in Philadelphia with an ETA of five hours until our destination.
“Don’t forget the cooler,” Rosalie yells, as I stumble out of the
I grab the cooler, where she intends to store 30 mushroom chocolates to deliver to our friends, Peter and Cassidy, who are already in Philadelphia.
We throw the chocolates in the cooler and jump in the car speeding off to pick up Lee, before we head to the city of brotherly love.
“By the way Rosalie, I know nothing about those,” I say in connection to the mushroom chocolates.
“I know you don’t. But you do know it says your last name on the cooler,” she responds with a chuckle.
The ride is as smooth as one could be, considering we are one mistake from being arrested on felony drug charges. We arrive in Philadelphia around 4 p.m. meeting Peter and Cassidy at the hotel room they have rented a few miles south of the Spectrum.
Before we know it, we are bouncing around Shakedown drinking beer, mingling with the weird, and unenthusiastically signaling for extra tickets amongst the hundreds of other Heads looking to score the same miracle. Peter and Cassidy run around with the mission of trying to sell enough of the chocolates to afford tickets into the show. Yes, spirits are high in the Dead community. Heads prepare to see the final show the band will ever perform at the arena that is scheduled to be torn down in the near future.
While we are getting our kicks along Shakedown, time is running out for us to find a ticket. I point this out to Rosalie and suggest we head to the front of the venue to give ourselves a better chance at catching some Head with extras walking in. We stand in front of the box office that reads, “sold-out,” having no luck finding tickets, except for a couple of vultures who mock us over our intent to get one at face value ($100). For the first time the notion that we might not find tickets becomes a reality
“Fuck that!” Rosalie says, “I ain’t buying a ticket off one of them mother fuckers. They aren’t family.
They’re just some fucks trying to make money!”
We eventually find our way into a parking lot, where it is hard to hear over the roar from fans at them Phillies game taking place at the stadium across the lot. Our arms start growing weary and our minds pessimistic over our mission to find three tickets as show time quickly approaches. We have all but given up at this point. Rosalie points out to me that if she does not spend the $100 she has on a ticket then it is going towards drugs, and I was going to have to do them whether I liked it or not.
We all but accept defeat and begin to make our way back over to Shakedown. Just then a man passes by signaling to us that he has tickets. We dash over to him finding he has two for sale. The only problem is another Head got to him first and has already taken one of the tickets. Rosalie informs me to take the ticket, which the man then sells to me for $50.
“Consider this your miracle,” he says with a smile.
While I can’t believe my eyes as I stare at the ticket sitting in my hand, another Head approaches us asking if we are in need of extras. Rosalie and Lee quickly jump at the offer and after a few moments of bold dickering, they are able to get both tickets for $180. We are in!
It is hard to contain our excitement over our luck. We rush back to the car to drop off a few things before we head in. On our way in we run into Peter and Cassidy, who are still looking for tickets. Even worse, the two are in a heated fight over something that Peter had done earlier that according to Cassidy could have lead to their arrest. I wasn’t really paying attention.
While Rosalie insists on making sure the two of them are ok before we go in, the band has already started their first set. I later find out they had kicked off the set by opening with, “One More Saturday Night” and following it with a, “Brown Eyed Women” and, “Good Morning Little School Girl”.
We arrive inside just as Warren sets off on a rendition of, “Althea”, which Rosalie’s ear keenly tunes in to. We grab a drink and quickly groove our way down to the floor in time to catch the final notes of the crowd favorite. After a few moments of trying to blend into the seats along the isle, a guy asks Rosalie if we would like to squeeze into two seats that no one was sitting in next to him. We dance furiously along to the remainder of the set that includes two of the band’s early classics, “Uncle John’s Band” and “Mason’s Children”.
During the second set the band pulls out all the stops as they open with, “Good Lovin” and eventually find their way into a. “Morning Dew”, “St. Stephen”, a cover of the Beatles, “Revolution”, and close with a classic Dead pairing of, “Help on the Way” into, "Slip Knot” into, “Franklin’s Tower”.
The energy in the building is so intense there are moments where it really does feel like the old building was going to fall down. Then the boys give the venue, where they played a record 48 shows throughout their career, an appropriate goodbye via an electric encore of, “Samson and Delilah”.
After the show we find ourselves back on Shakedown. Nitrous tanks hiss all around us. We decide to kill a few brain cells while we look for Peter and Cassidy. The energy that we all felt inside has now poured out into the parking lot, and the police who were passive toward the drug-fueled crowd earlier in the day are now starting to grow aggressive toward many of the vendors and Heads along Shakedown. One cop becomes so annoyed, he throws over one of the vendor tables, causing the mood in the lot to escalate into anger and fear between both forces. We eventually run into Peter and Cassidy, and they are furious over what has just happened. Supposedly the vendor who got violated by the police is a friend of theirs. On top of that, they are bummed over not getting into the show that was the last stop on their month-long tour. On the bright side, whatever it is they were fighting about before the show has passed.
The police, fed up with the scene in the lot, eventually start announcing over loud speakers that the lot is closed, and we are all to evacuate the premise. As we pull out of the venue, stoned and tired, it is sad to think this is the last show we will see on the tour and possibly the last time we would ever see the band perform as one again. While we all know this realization is a good possibility, it is nice to know that while the movement’s spiritual leader, Jerry Garcia, has been gone from this world for more than a decade, and the scene, like the times, may have changed, the music and spirit of the scene continues to live on with the help of both old and new generations of Heads like ourselves that refuse to let it die.