Key Lime Pie

The Last Dead shows in California

     The whole thing was unexpected.  The Grateful Dead announcing they were going to do a few final shows.  And we got the whole Chicago connection, but no shows at home?  California was home base.  Then Santa Clara was announced, and you couldn’t get tickets.  So you start telling yourself, “That’s OK.  It’s not the same anyways.  Jerry’s gone.  How good could it be?”  So much going on here anyways, that I didn’t give it another thought. 

     Until the phone rang.  Turned out someone I knew DID win the ticket lottery and called me up with the old “What are you doing last weekend of the month?”  You mean the one I blocked out on my calendar in case someone called me with tickets?  Oh, nothing, actually.  

     We had the BBQ, the frisbee going, music playing.  People arriving.  The walk to the stadium was exciting!  Even though there were 8 of us, by the time we got inside, I managed to get separated from the herd.  Since the ticket I was holding for day 1 was pretty sketchy, I decided to go on maneuvers, roaming and getting into conversations with people.  And everybody’s happy.  What a beautiful thing.

     They opened with Truckin' followed by Uncle John's Band. And a surprising thing happened to me as I surveyed the crowd in the late afternoon sun. Every show that I had ever been to flashed before my eyes. I thought of every one of my friends that I had shared the ride with, and got deeply emotional.  This was completely unexpected.

     We were confident that Jerry would make an appearance, in some way. And even though there is no chance of rain for the next 3 months, as they were striking the last notes of the first set, a rainbow appeared above and behind the stage.  It was almost too much.

     So I was sitting there by myself with 2 beers and 3 roses, when Josh appears next to me and says, “You’re coming with me.”  He stubs me down to the floor in the midst of a spinning, whirling brigade of dancers.  And the rest of the night, we never stopped moving and our feet never touched down.

     I never went when it was the Other Ones, or Further, or Phil and Friends.  But this was going to be a big deal.  Adding Hall of Famers like Trey and Hornsby, I mean, it could be special.  And it was.  As we would come to find out, they did not just play a bunch of songs from the catalog.  They were creating.  Building it up and breaking it down, without necessarily GOING into the next song.  Stuff you do when you’ve played together a very long time, not what these guys had been doing.  We were all taken aback.  And after the first show, only one thing really remained – Trey hadn’t taken it over the top.  That changed Sunday.

    We didn’t find Shakedown Street right away.  Turns out it was on the golf course driving range next door, behind the parking garage.  Problem solved.     Got a new shirt and some stickers, and again got overcome with emotion.   Going to a Dead show always offered a kind of spa treatment – you enter the reality free zone and you could just - be.  And everyone, it seemed, was good with that.  Hell, they were good with whatever.  And you just start talking to someone and it’s like you had already gone through formal introductions and now you could get to some heartfelt topic – except without all the lead in.  You  already had the connection, so you just go from there.  It’s quite remarkable.  Over and over it happened to me.   Makes it damn hard to leave.  I remembered that feeling of when it was over, and now you had to return to the world and try to blend in.  I still struggle, and I value those spa treatments.

    Because the Dead is a club.  If you like the Dead, you’re in the club.  And while it was most certainly about the scene, it was also definitely about the music.  No one did what they did.   It was a thing.  And I realize that my entire music career (if you want to call it that) has been largely derived from this model.  Key Lime Pie in its earliest days began as a Grateful Dead / Allman Brothers cover band.  And to this day, we always have a Dead song or two that may get played on any given night.  We’ve tried to find our own voice over the years, but music has always been, and will always be, derivative.  We get influenced, and when we carry it forward, we influence.  And so it goes.

     Sunday, and we’re on our stroll to the last Dead show in California.  Taking it all in.   And the old man out with his walker that we passed on the way smiles and says, “Don’t be late to your concert.  It’s invaluable.”  Now we had our mantra.

     We had great seats for Sunday.  I found them with time to spare, and the wonder of our good fortune was shared by all of our neighbors.  And of course we had to discuss Saturday night.  The guy next to me in total tie-dye regalia says, “So what’s the budget for a rainbow, anyways?  

     The Dead used to play everywhere.  But to see them in California, outdoors, on a beautiful sunny, perfect afternoon is the way we all remembered it being.  And today was all that.  They opened with Feel Like a Stranger, a song on the first studio album I was ever given.  And it seemed like everything they played was tied to some personal memory.  Row Jimmy (Ventura County Fairgrounds), Eyes of the World (my first show at Saratoga), I Need a Miracle (Portland, of course).   They eventually launched into Hell in a Bucket, which threw me back to that time we had 10th Row Center at Shoreline.  And then it happened.  Trey went off, and the entire place went with him.  We had our moment.

   And as the night grew short, Sugar Mag got us all jumping and singing.  Heartfelt thanks individually from Phil, Bob, and Mickey.  You could really hear their sincerity.  I guess it WAS meaningful to them as well.  And how would the Fare Thee Well show finish?  Well, with the opening verse of Brokedown Palace being sung by a stadium full of people.  And it occurred to me that this is the song I sang at my father-in-law’s memorial service.  This musical blood has been running through my veins a very long time.  Man, I got locked up.  About halfway through, I couldn’t sing it any more.  It was like finding out your cool uncle just died.  And all you could think about was the memories of stuff you did together.  And here we were at the end of the road.  The final note faded, and we just sat down, not talking for quite a while.  Deeply grateful to have captured one more moment. 

     Our charge now is to carry it forward.  So let’s get on with the show!