I started to write this several times and in each version seemed to venture off track so I sent it to a very gifted writer friend, Terri Linnea, and through edits and additions, she was able to focus on what I am trying to say.
“Inspiration, move me brightly…”
For thirteen years and over 100 shows, the words and music of the Grateful Dead inspired me. I drove, flew and hopped the railway cars to beautiful wonderlands such as Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Red Rocks, and the Greek Theater at Berkley. The people and places I experienced “moved me brightly.”
In 1980, a friend turned me on to this amazing band. Basically, the “bus came by and I got on.” From that moment until June 1995, the music never stopped. I will never forget that Highgate show in Vermont. My husband sent me off with kisses and some good friends. I was pregnant with my son but I still fully expected to attend shows for many years to come. In fact, I had visions of us dancing together someday: the little toddler, my husband and I. A few months later, I mourned Jerry’s death with the whole Deadhead community. I would never get to dance with my son at a real Grateful Dead show. The experience would never be the same again, at least not for me.
Oh sure, I enjoyed the spinoffs: The Dead, Phil & Friends, and Ratdog. My son and I did go to the Further Fest at SPAC, my favorite venue. Each off shoot provided a chance to enjoy some familiar songs, dance, and see some familiar faces. Yet, something was missing. Or, maybe it was someone who was missing.
I’m not going to lie – I got excited when I first heard of the Chicago shows. We started to plan a “long strange trip” around it. Then we sat down and thought about it. We crunched the numbers, and wondered, “When did it all start coming down to numbers?” Bottom line: if we were lucky enough to get the golden $1500 ticket and hotel package we’d still have transportation costs. Long gone are the days of hitching with a friend in their VW van to the show. No longer can one arrive in the parking lot and pick up a “miracle” ticket. These days, at my age, I have considerations that need to be made in advance. So it comes down to a numbers game, to some extent. Conservative estimates would be $1500 for the weekend. Some posts are bragging about VIP ticket packages costing $110,000. I’m not saying Chicago won’t be fun, but for $1,500 dollars, is it really worth it? What is the price of nostalgia? For 1,500 dollars we could see a lot of cool jam bands this summer who equally deserve our attention.
In addition to the recent press about the ticket scalpers, Grateful Dead Ticket Sales has come under fire, which is unfortunate. You see, GDTS was always the great equalizer. Back in the day we’d fill out a 3×5 card, put it in an envelope with a self-addressed stamped envelope, bring it to the post office and watch the clerk date stamp the whole thing. Then we’d all sit back and wait. That means everyone. Rich, poor, young and old. Some ticket scalpers existed, but GDTS limited them in their equation. They made sure the true fans got the tickets. Let me tell you, when that envelope came back like a boomerang, into your mailbox, there was a party, because you were IN!
Unfortunately there are not many true equalizers left. Wealth allows those that have to get more. This drives prices up because “people will pay it”. Skyboxes and luxury suites divide folks into categories at shows where Oneness used to exist. Venues encourage the divided seat system. People no longer wait in line in a communal type atmosphere outside a box office. We sit at our keyboards and hit Refresh on command. We are plugged into our appointed place at the show before we have even arrived.
Back in the day I heard a story from a reputable source, about a fan who boasted to Jerry that he paid $1,500 to see him play that night and visit backstage. Supposedly, Jerry told the kid he would have let him in for free if he had donated the $1500. For me, if the ridiculous ticket prices were going at least in part to a charity, maybe I would be less skeptical. You will see the “have’s” at the show, that is, those rich enough to afford it. Meanwhile, in this charitable scenario, at least the “have not’s” would be getting some benefit too. Following this line of thinking, maybe I don’t need someone to come up with a ticket-for-charity scheme. Maybe I can just donate a portion of my “entertainment” budget to a worthy cause. Maybe you can, too.
Yet, are we missing the big picture here? If you are “fifty-something” like me, then you are also at the tail-end of the “baby boomers.” The “free love” era brushed your cheek as a baby. One of the great talents of our generation is the ability to hang out and talk about the “big picture.” So let’s think about this a minute. The current concert-going system might just be a microcosm of society at large. Many things have changed from communal to narcissistic. The Occupy Wall Street movement asked a lot of good questions, whatever one may feel about their methodology. Questions such as “Who is this 1% and why do they have so much, when 99% have so little?” In the Dead show context, this same 1% will be taking those few high-end ticket packages. So, where will the 99% be? Outside in the parking lot? Can they enjoy the music just as much from there? Most won’t be able to afford the travel costs. Is that okay? I don’t know the answer. All I know is that each person, including me, needs to be watchful of saying, “I got mine now you get yours.”
Meanwhile, the kids – both young and old – will go to Chicago and “shake their bones.” No, I don’t “throw stones” at anyone who’s trying to have a little fun. I am sure that everyone who ventures forth to that great American city will experience a certain amount of magic. I hope it is worth the trip for each brave soul.
Regarding what trip I will be on, I am still not sure. I am keeping my options, as well as my mind open. I may wander into a simulcast venue and make a toast to Jerry with my friends. I may stay home and watch The Grateful Dead movie again and dance around my living room. All I know is that Chicago will happen with or without me. My only prayer is this: May those who are present be touched by inspiration, as I was, so long ago. May the men kiss their women in between songs, as my husband did with me. May the women smile as they watch the young ones dance, as I wished I could have done with my son. May Jerry be somewhere high and happy, his heart filled with song. May we all enjoy both the memories and the future, with smiles and with tears. This is my prayer for the Grateful Dead Chicago shows: both for those who can go and those who can’t go.
The Grateful Dead changed my life long ago. In many ways, the music and the people and the places made me the person I am today. I don’t have any answers for anyone, including myself. I do know that I still remain grateful forever.