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…“But the weird thing is,” he continued, “just how popular the Dead have become in just the last few years. I remember back in ‘69, even ‘70, just before I got drafted, they were still playing for free in the park and handing out free grass and acid to keep what little audience there was from splitting. I remember even when they played Kezar in the spring of ‘73, they only charged five bucks for three bands. And even so, there were only a few hundred people there. You could loll around in the bleachers or lie out on the grass and listen to the music all afternoon, just like a free concert in the park.” He turned to Moose and me. “You guys remember that one, don’t you? It was right after you got here.”

“Yeah,” said Moose. “What a trip! The Dead must have played for about four hours straight.”

“Or four hours stoned,” Hemp corrected. We all laughed dutifully. “Then right after that,” he continued more seriously, “they put out a triple live album of their ‘72 European tour. And now, all of a sudden, they’re more popular than the Stones or Led Zeppelin, at least around here.”

“But I don’t understand,” objected Cookie. “I read that they might be breaking up. Isn’t this concert called ‘A Special Evening With Jerry Garcia and Friends’?”

“Sure,” said Hemp with a wink. “‘Jerry Garcia and Friends’! That’s just to keep the crowds down and the tourists away. I’ll bet anybody the price of his ticket, fifteen bucks, that at least four of the six other members of the Dead show up onstage tonight with Jerry. That’s all you really need anyway. Any takers?”

We all declined. “You’re the expert, Hemp,” I told him without the least hint of irony. “We believe you.”

He took a last puff on the joint, licked his thumb and forefinger and pinched out the lit end, then dropped the roach neatly into his jacket pocket, and stood up. “Line’s beginning to move,” he said.

We all stood up as well, stretching and working out the kinks that had formed due to contact with the cold damp cement, and followed the line as it began to shuffle in a surprisingly orderly fashion toward Winterland’s entrance. Once inside, we presented our tickets and got frisked by the friendly private security guards hired by Bill Graham Presents in order to keep the cops away. They were only looking for cans, bottles, and weapons, paying no attention whatsoever to the obvious herbs, pipes, hand-rolled cigarettes, pills, and other drugs and paraphernalia. After all, they wanted us to have a good time! After patting us down and finding nothing untoward, our guy merely shrugged his shoulders and pointed to a permanent sign fixed to the wall which read “No Pass Outs! If You Leave, You Have Left!”

Inside, everything was a riot of color and celebration. Loud rock music poured from an impressive array of wall-mounted speakers, as members of the audience tossed frisbees and batted balloons around. A light show played on a screen mounted on the back wall behind the drum set on the raised stage where the group would soon be playing. There were some seats in the back, but they were located under the overhanging balcony where both sight and sound would be somewhat obscured. So we opted to join the throng of people who were already packing the dance floor, swaying and bobbing energetically to the recorded music.

In a few moments the house lights dimmed and a single white spotlight suddenly illuminated a single figure who was standing at the front of the stage and adjusting a floor microphone stand to the proper height. It was none other than Bill Graham himself, we were informed by an awed whisper from Hemp.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began solemnly and formally. “On behalf of the entire organization I’d like to thank you for your support during the past year and welcome you to a very special New Year’s Eve concert. As most of you probably already know, The Grateful Dead…” There were loud screams and cheers at the mention of the sacred name. “…The Grateful Dead are taking a well-deserved vacation from performing.” Astoundingly, there were no boos at this announcement, only a loud collective sigh of disappointment and regret. “So tonight,” he continued, “we present to you, as advertised, Jerry Garcia and Friends. Since Jerry’s friends may not be well-known to all of you, I’d like to introduce them to you.” There was some polite, but rather unenthusiastic applause at this announcement.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he again intoned, more dramatically this time, “from Marin County, on percussion, Mr. Mickey Hart!” A spotlight hit the drums on one side of the stage as a cymbal rhythm began, to wild applause. “On drums, Mr. Bill Kreutzman!” Another spotlight hit the other side of the stage as a heavier drumbeat was added and the applause increased. “On bass guitar, Mr. Phil Lesh!” A bass line was added as the roar of the crowd now became thunderous. “On tambourine and vocals, Miss Donna Godchaux, and on piano, Mr. Keith Godchaux!” The light came up on the piano, revealing a tall thin young man with a heavy mop of blonde hair, who was sitting on the piano bench playing a few languid chords. A strikingly beautiful young woman with long, dark, straight hair, wearing a flowing peasant dress was standing by his side enthusiastically beating a tambourine. “On guitar and vocals, Mr. Bob Weir!” This brought the largest demonstration yet from the audience, who stomped and whistled their approval until the building shook. “And finally, on lead guitar and vocals, Mr. Jerry Garcia! Ladies and gentlemen, I give you ‘Jerry Garcia and Friends’!”

Jerry ambled over to the microphone stand and said quietly, “Hope you don’t mind if my friends sit in tonight.”

“Yeah,” agreed Bob, strumming a few chords on his guitar, “we were just gonna sit around the house, you know, have a quiet evening, maybe get a little stoned…” There was laughter and a loud roar of approval. In a louder voice he continued, “But when Jerry called us up, we knew that this was the place to be tonight. So let’s get this party started!”

And astoundingly, without any warning whatsoever, they launched into one of their high-energy numbers, “Bertha”, so fiercely and flawlessly it took our breath away.

About three hours later, after playing most of their old favorites and some of their new, the Dead (“Jerry Garcia and Friends”) closed their first set with a rousing rendition of “Not Fade Away”. Then Bob Weir stepped up to the microphone. “We’re gonna take a little break now. See ya ‘round midnight.” Then they all ambled off the stage as the house lights came up…

—From A Hole in the Fog by Michael Matheny (Cantarabooks, 2003)

2 thoughts on “The Grateful Dead Take a Little Break from Each Other at Winterland: Excerpt From the Novel A Hole in the Fog by Michael Matheny For Conductor John Wilson and His Fans

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