Monday, April 4, 2016


Although I got into the Grateful Dead at the time of LIVE DEAD, my interest in the band had been revitalized back in the middle 1980s, thanks to my friend Scott, a guy much younger than me who was a hardcore Deadhead. We started trading tapes and going to shows together in the Washington DC area, building a great camaraderie. The usual pattern developed: once you know one Deadhead, soon you meet dozens more.

That was the situation in which I found myself in the fall of 1989. Scott and I had mapped out a Grateful Dead mini-tour, starting with the last night of a six-show run at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, a night off in New York City, then two more shows in Philadelphia. We had gotten time off from our jobs and permission from our wives. We were ready to rock.

I told Leonard, another Deadhead buddy, about our plans and he wished us a good tour. And Leonard asked if we knew about the "secret" Warlocks shows scheduled for Hampton, Virginia the week before our little tour. These two shows were not on mail order, you could get tickets only at three outlets near the venue. "So," I said jokingly to Leonard, "do you have tickets for me?" As a matter of fact, he did -- a pair for the second show! I called Scott to give him the good news and we arranged to meet at a motel right next to the Coliseum. Scott had business in West Virginia that day, so he would fly in on the afternoon of the show.

On Monday, October 9, I drove the four hours down from Washington to Hampton, cranking Dead tapes all the way on my killer car stereo. But I wasn't alone. The closer I got to Hampton, the more Deadhead vehicles I saw. I had a "Truckin' Skeletons" bumper sticker on my Cutlass Supreme coupe, so Deadheads were honking their horns and waving -- we were a joyous, tie-dyed army rolling down Interstate Highway 95. Scott and I rendezvoused at the motel, where I had already checked in. Most of the guests were Deadheads -- some rockin' after-show parties would be happening here later. We crossed the street to the Coliseum, where the marquee read, "Formerly The Warlocks." Because this was such a small arena and Dead crowds were becoming so large, the band was using its old name, apparently hoping only the cognoscenti would show up.

In the parking lot, old friends were greeting each other, lots of cool crafts and Deadhead items were available. Everybody who had been to the show the night before was still buzzing about the "Help > Slipknot > Franklin's Tower" second set opener. Scott said, "Shit! We should have come last night." Those songs are his particular favorites. Well, we'd see what the boys had in store for us tonight.

Hampton Coliseum is a great little place to see a show; unlike in most venues in the U. S., there were no reserved seats. We headed up into some seats on Phil's side and waited for the show to start. Scott was talking with a Deadhead sitting next to him when the lights went down and the audience began to roar. Bobby kicked off the show with a rousing "Feel Like A Stranger," followed by Jerry's rendition of the title song to the CD that would be released soon, "Built To Last." This was the era in which the boys were first experimenting with MIDI effects and we loved it. The set rocked on: "Little Red Rooster," "Ramble On Rose" and a super version of "We Can Run." Brent delivered an impassioned lead vocal as Bob, Jerry and Phil provided strong harmonies. The crowd in front of the stage was with them all the way. I have both soundboard and audience tapes of this show and I much prefer the sound of all that audience energy. Next was a lively "Jack A Roe," then one of my favorite Dylan covers, "Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again." Jerry stepped up to the mic for "Row Jimmy," then the first set came to a close with a jazzy "The Music Never Stopped."

Scott and I always had a fun time at Dead shows. We were Deadhead iconoclasts, sharing private jokes and observations. When Brent used profane language, we would wave our fingers disapprovingly. We referred to Jerry's and Brent's corner as "the smoking section," because they were the only cigarette heads in the band. Scott always thought he could read the body language on stage and would come up with pronouncements like, "Jerry's mad at Bob. Bob was starting into 'Queen Jane,' and Jerry shook him off." And Scott and I always had a song we were bored with at the moment, one which allowed us an opportunity to go to the men's room. For a while mine was "Rooster." Anything that slowed down the second set after "Drums and Space" would send Scott to the toilet. This would include wonderful things like "Stella Blue." Once in Philadelphia some guys next to us in the audience were singing along so loudly that we couldn't hear Jerry. I turned to Scott and shouted, "What the fuck is this, The Philadelphia Boys Choir?"

It was intermission now at Hampton and Scott was busy again speaking to the dude next to him, so I ventured down to the lobby for a little promenade. I wandered around for awhile, checked out the tee-shirts, got something to drink and eventually wandered back into the hall. It wasn't too crowded, so I made my way toward the front of the stage. I was very near the front on Jerry's side when suddenly the lights went down for the second set. It was very dark as the band took the stage, began tuning and noodling. I looked up to where we had been sitting, but couldn't see Scott. Oh well, I figured, right here will be okay for now.

"Playin' In The Band" was the set opener. I broke into a big smile. Yes, right here in front of Jerry will be very okay. A nice, long jammy "Playin'," into "Uncle John's Band," then back into "Playin." Now I was starting to feel guilty about deserting Scott. I hadn't seen him in over an hour. But I was glued to my prize spot up front. Now Jerry was striking some ancient, familar chords. "Dark Star." The crowd exploded into a huge cheer -- this was too good to be true! Shall we go, you and I while we can? Yeah, Jerry, let's go! Later, we would learn that this was the first time the Dead had played the song in five years. And it had been over ten years since they performed it on the East Coast.

Well, I wasn't going to go look for my pal Scott now. I relaxed and let myself be swept into this historic trip. Everyone around me was swaying -- grinning and twirling into the music. What a ride. Jerry's and Bob's guitars were blending beautifully, underscored by Brent's soaring keyboards. This was a sparkling, shimmering "Dark Star," like no other that had been played before, due in part to the MIDI treatment. Phil Lesh was laying down a funky, exploratory bottom, combining with the ever-tasteful fills of Mickey and Bill. Somewhere along this amazing journey, "Dark Star" dissolved into an incredible, extended "Space" jam. I love the way Deadheads just make eye contact and flash a knowing smile at you at these moments.

Finally, during the "Drums," I climbed back up to our original seats, where Scott had been patiently waiting. After I explained my absence, we enjoyed the rest of this wonderful show together: "Death Don't Have No Mercy," after the "Drums." A sweet "Dear Mr. Fantasy" with Brent's zany, scatting "Hey Jude Finale." Then "Throwing Stones" into "Good Lovin'." Yow! What could they possibly follow with for the encore? The Dead left the stage while all of us simply shook our heads in wonder at the fantastic voyage we had just taken. A few minutes later the band returned with one last classic from the archives: "Attics Of My Life." The last time they'd played it had been on September 27, 1972! This was a strong, nearly a cappella version; smooth vocal harmonies sent us off into the night.

An hour or so later, Scott and I were tipping beers at a nearby bar. Lots of Deadheads were hanging there, mixing with the regular patrons. "Man, I'm sorry that I abandoned you during that incredible 'Playin' > Uncle John's > Playin' > Dark Star,'" I said to my buddy. "But I just couldn't move, I had to stay there."

"I know," he said, sliding another bottle of beer over to me, "Hell, I would have done the same thing."

Next week, we'd be driving up to New Jersey and Pennsylvania for the three shows we had originally scheduled. This was shaping up to be a helluva Fall Tour.
The original version of this article appeared in the French Deadheads newsletter Songs Of Our Own. And on my old Angelfire blog. Later RELIX published it, as did the Spanish rock magazine Popular 1.

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