The Sun Shine stage was just starting to fill in when we arrived an hour early. With a signed copy of my trans-realist, sci-fi novel, ‘Scarlet Begonias’, in hand, I sidled up to the sound board guys to see if they could slip it to Bobby after the show.
I started with the camera guy, but he only had a press pass and wasn’t part of the crew. Then I leaned over the railing to ask the guys tweaking knobs at the board. They said that they were just hired techies with no backstage access at all. It seemed that reaching my target was going to be more difficult than I’d anticipated, especially after the ease with which I was able to connect with Keller Williams earlier in the day.
I walked to the front of the stage which was crammed tight with a sea of photographers, so I stopped at the far right side where two security guards were positioned. I asked them if they’d be able to give the book to Bobby. They said no, but another guy heard me asking and told me that he’d see what he could do. I thanked him, and he disappeared into the restricted access zone.
It was getting close to show time, and I’d left my family back by the Ali Babba Kabob stand a half hour ago, so I decided to give it just one more try. I spotted another guy who looked like he had access to the inner sanctum.
The first guy hadn’t come back yet, so I asked this one if he could give my book to Bobby. He said he’d try and scurried off with the signed copy just as the crowd was standing up to welcome the trio onto the stage.
The wind blew Bobby’s hair, now grey, as he stepped up to the mike with the unassuming saunter of a seasoned rock star. I felt a surge of excitement that brought back memories of the 40+ shows I’d seen in my twenties when the breeze would tousle his hair in just the same way.
Eleven songs, most of which I’d seen performed by the Dead, comprised the hour long set that felt strangely distant and moved at a tempo slower than any I’d remembered. They started the show off with “Truckin’”, a selection that I found disappointing since it’s played on the Grateful Dead channel on satellite radio so often that the station’s name should be the Truckin’ channel.
And although the songs were expertly executed, I was missing the connection with the audience that was always present when I’d seen the Grateful Dead in the past. Maybe it was the fact that the majority of the audience (most likely born just a few years before Jerry died) had missed the opportunity to experience the intimacy that had developed between the band and their dedicated fans.
Or maybe the connection was there, but the music wasn’t loud enough back by the falafel stand where we were sitting to be fully engaged (I never had to protect the hearing of an 8 year old kid back in the day).
Or maybe I just had poke around the unfamiliar ensemble a bit and make peace with the fact that, with only one member of the Grateful Dead present, it wasn’t fair to judge this acoustic trio against the heady remembrances of the long, long ago.
So I plucked out the juiciest bits and am leaving the rest for further consideration:
“Iko Iko” – I’ve never heard a version I didn’t like.
“Deep Elem Blues” –Whenever the ‘song-which-shall-not-be-played-so-often’ comes on the radio, I switch over to the Blue Grass channel where I sometimes hear “Deep Elem Blues” being played by a bunch of picking maniacs. The frequency of this occurrence struck me as quite improbable, and I sure do love me some improbability, so this song made me happy.
“Uncle John’s Band” –I made my daughter walk up to the sound board with me for this one because I used to play it on the open-mike circuit in Chicago. The harmony vocals were spot on, and it felt really good to sing along.
“Not Fade Away” – I couldn’t help but feel sad during this one since it was obvious that fading had indeed occurred. I was brought to tears when I heard this song for the last time in 1995 (April 2nd, The Pyramid – Memphis, TN) because it carried the eeriest sense of imminent release, foretelling the future with a subtle reluctance to fully commit to the message in the lyrics, despite the desperate appeals being chanted from the audience.
All things considered, there’s still no better way I could imagine spending an evening, and I am grateful for the experience. I sure hope my book and the note of sincere thanks found its way into Bobby’s hands.