August 28, 2003

Summer Getaway with the Dead

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2003

I saw my last Grateful Dead show on June 17, 1995. Seven and half years later in November of last year I caught the Other Ones at Madison Square Garden. The Other Ones were the Grateful Dead minus Jerry Garcia and with new additions to the band. A few months later the guys got together and decided to tour with a new, but old name… the artists formally known as the Grateful Dead will now be known as the Dead. Sometimes it’s confusing. I used to refer to the Grateful Dead as the Dead for a nickname, a quicker abbreviation of their band name. Whether it was a marketing scheme to scratch together some quick cash, or perhaps it was a collection of guys that have known each other for almost forty years who finally smoothed over some differences... it didn’t matter. The Dead were touring finally and I was going to see as many shows as I could, Jerry or no Jerry.

At the epic Jones Beach show, the highlight of the summer Dead tour, I sat next to a guy named Jimmy from Maui. He lives there now, but got to see over four hundred Grateful Dead shows sine 1973.

“Sure I miss Jerry,” he shrugged, “but music is music. And I’m here for the music. If Jerry were here, it would be almost perfect, but he’s not, and it’s still amazing music. It’s still a great mellow vibe, which is good for me, I’m old now. I dunno if I could handle too many intense moments like the Grateful Dead used to throw at you every night back in the 1970s.”

The biggest difference between the time I followed the Grateful Dead (1992-95) and when I followed Phish extensively (1998-2000) was me. When I followed the Dead I was easily one of the youngest on tour (aside from tour babies… hippies take their kids everywhere). The average age for a Deadhead in 1994 was a good fifteen to twenty-five years older than I was at 21. I often refer to phishkids in my many stories and ramblings. Most of them can’t buy alcohol, some of them can vote (barely), and the Phish tour is saturated with thousands of these wandering, rolling, newbie heads. All of the sudden the roles are reversed. I’m the elder statesmen at the majority of the Phish shows I attend, and geez whiz, I’m only 30.

Another subtle difference I recently observed were the sizable amount of small children (under the age of ten) on tour. During the summer tour with a bevy of outdoor venues and amphitheaters with lawn seating, it’s very common to see Deadheads bring all their kids into the shows. I think it’s a cool idea, as long as they behave and I don’t have to party next to them.

On Phish tour every VW bus had a dog or puppy. Obviously the median age of a Phishead is something like 24 or 25, not old enough to have children of sufficient touring age. Instead of kids, they have dogs. Not quite the same, but a major responsibility nonetheless. At the entrance to the IT Festival in Maine, the security guards thoroughly searched every vehicle that entered the campgrounds. They looked for weapons, fireworks, nitrous tanks, large caches of alcohol for personal sales, and most importantly… for dogs. Dogs were not permitted at the IT Festival. In the past at former festivals, dogs have gotten ill and some died from heat exhaustion, lack of water, and from being locked up in their owner’s vehicles for hours on end.

More kids, less dogs on the Dead tour. No Jerry, but a guy named Jimmy played guitar instead. The band and the crowd was happy to be back, if even for a short while. And I couldn’t stop myself from thinking… if Jerry didn’t die, these guys would still be playing! And I would have seen well over two hundred Dead shows by now.

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.

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