Blair’s Golden Road Blog — Who Can the Weather Command?
By Blair Jackson
I must admit, when the lineup for this year’s Gathering of the Vibes in Connecticut July 19-22 was first announced, it got me seriously salivating. Actually, I have the same reaction pretty much every year, but this one really got me going, with scheduled appearances by Phil Lesh & Friends (lineup TBD), the trio of Bob Weir, Bruce Hornsby and Branford Marsalis, the Mickey Hart Band, 7 Walkers (Papa Mali’s health permitting) and a slew of non-Dead-connected bands, from the Avett Brothers to Yonder Mountain String Band to Zappa Plays Zappa. Sounds like a great time, all right.
But I keep thinking about the reports from last year’s GOTV, when it was over 100 degrees each day and not much better at night. Growing up on the East Coast and having suffered in the summer heat there a few times in the past 10 years, I can vividly recall what the suffocating heat and humidity feels like, even at 11 o’clock at night. I do not like it. Not at all. The question I had to ask myself before considering spending the big coin to go to a festival like that in late July was: Do I feel lucky? The answer came back: No! I’ve become a bit of a weather weenie in my old age. I’ll only suffer so much to see bands I like at this point. If Jerry comes back, I’ll reconsider.
In general, I loved seeing the Grateful Dead outdoors in the daytime or at night. Part of it was the cool places I saw them. At the Greek in Berkeley, we had the best of both worlds—the Friday-Saturday-Sunday shows would start at 7 p.m., 5 p.m. and 3 p.m. respectively, so concerts began in the daylight and subtly inched towards darkness, Candace Brightman’s trippy lights becoming more and more important as the show went on. You had to bring layers of clothing to the Greek, because in the daytime, the concrete bowl radiated heat and we’d all get sunburned during the two hours before showtime, but in the late afternoon or early evening it was common for the Bay Area’s notorious fog to come rushing through the Golden Gate and smother the Greek in cool breezes and misty vapors.
Frost Amphitheatre on the Stanford University campus across the bay sure was beautiful—a natural grass bowl surrounded by all sorts of trees, from live oak to eucalyptus. But the fog never came in there during the band’s midafternoon shows, and it was usually hot, hot, hot. During the set break, people would flee to the sides and back to grab some shade. I recall one Sunday when it was rotisserie-hot and nearly East Coast humid, and the crowd just wilted in the heat. Jerry looked as if he were broiling before our eyes, as uncomfortable as we all were; not a pretty sight. By the time he got around to playing a glacial “Black Peter” toward the end of the second set, it seemed there were almost as many people sitting and lying around as dancing.
If you’ve ever been to Red Rocks—to see the Dead, or since—chances are you got rained on at some point. In fact, the place was famous for its night storms, some brief in duration, others more sustained. The first year we went, in September 1985, the band scheduled day shows for the first time, in part to escape the ubiquitous evening showers. And it worked. Yes, the opening afternoon felt like being in a microwave (high heat + thin air = crematorium conditions), but it didn’t rain! The spectacular Sunday show (9/7/85) had some of the most interesting weather of any Dead show I attended—super high winds and billowing gray clouds (“Close Encounters” clouds we called them, after the Spielberg movie) that threatened rain but didn’t deliver. During the set break, the P.A. stacks were covered to protect them from an imminent deluge, and the tarps flapped furiously as the band opened the second half with a speedy “Shakedown Street.” In fact, most of what they played in that set was faster than usual, as if the band was trying to stay one step ahead of the rain. What excitement! (And the rain did come, a couple of hours after the show). Two years later, at what turned out to be the Dead’s final shows at the Rocks, the concerts were at night again, and sure enough, we got rained on plenty. Nothing a poncho couldn’t handle, though.
A chilly rain doused us at the end of the first set the first day at the Santa Fe Downs in ’83 (resulting in the fastest “China Cat” on record!), but it cleared quickly and we got a magnificent rainbow right before “drums,” and a rare “Cold Rain & Snow” encore for our troubles. We fried at Grass Valley in September ’83, and that same summer it was blazing with a chance of wasps (from a nest under the stage) at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds in Watsonville. It was in the mid-80s in Autzen Stadium in Eugene when we saw Dylan and the Dead there in ’87, but over 100 degrees down on the field, which was covered in a horrible rubber tarp. I felt like I was melting, until refreshing breezes finally kicked up during “Frankie Lee & Judas Priest.”
But these are just some minor complaints from many years of mostly fantastic weather at outdoor shows up and down California (Laguna Seca, Irvine, Sacramento, Ventura, etc.) and in Colorado. More fondly, I recall puffy white cloud formations dancing along with me to the music, a few glorious sunsets with skies streaking red and purple, soothing winds providing a balm from midday heat, golden sunshine popping out from the silvery edge of high clouds, reflecting in thousands of sunglasses, forcing as many smiles—you could almost hear the collective “Ahhhhhhhhh!” Ever see “Let It Grow” under fast-shifting skies? “Terrapin” under a “brand-new crescent moon”? “Deal” and Loser” and “Me & My Uncle” in a gorgeous Western setting? Cheered the “ran into a rainstorm” line in “Bertha” during a rainstorm? There’s no question that weather often added to the cosmic dynamic at Grateful Dead shows.
Although I saw a few Grateful Dead stadium shows in my time—at the Yale Bowl in New Haven in ’71, Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City in ’72 and ’73, five at Oakland Stadium (’74, two in ’76, ’87 and ’89) and one in Eugene (’87), I never experienced one of those giant East Coast or Midwest concerts with the stultifying heat and humidity—the kind where they break out the fire hoses and spray the crowd (if you’re lucky!). Neither have I been in a true deluge during a show (or a lightning storm like on famous nights at Giants Stadium or at RFK in D.C.). I haven’t experienced a torrential rain on the back slope of some amphitheater, where the lawn turns into an enormous Slip’N Slide, and the parking lot a swamp. And, alas, I wasn’t in the squall at Bickershaw in ’72, either.
But some of you folks were! Let’s hear your weather-related Dead and post-GD stories.
Blair, just to close the loop: yes it was very hot at the Mann last night (but not as hot as last year I think) and the rain held off. BTW the show was great, better than any of the spring Beacon shows IMHO..Apocalypse postponed until next week on Coney Island I guess.
With the new book!
I got a deal from Wiley Books and I'm re-writing it from the beginning--they loved the idea but didn't like the day-by-day format I wrote it in. So now it's going to be straight (ha-ha) narrative history of the five major Bay Area bands (GD, JA, QMS, BB&THC/Janis and CJ&F) from '65 through '69. It's due in a year and it'll be out summer 2014. Gonna be awesome, I promise!
Good luck in Philly, Joey and Gretsch! Sounds as though Furthur is playing really well, judging from reports of the first two shows (the second set of night two in progress as I write this...)!
Joey, We'll be there too! We were also at the Mann last summer when it was one of the hottest days in that long streak of hot weather we had. Last summer our friends waffled for a few days, trying to decide if they were going to try to brave the heat. They bailed a few hours before the show! We made it. Had two brews in the lot with others but when we went in, I decided no alcohol bracelet for me! I chugged about 4 waters that night. Even though the heat must have kept some others away, and we were not crammed in, it felt really, really close. The band kicked in and the party started. I was glad we went. The humidity had me soaked by the end of the night, but I made it! I'm afraid tomorrow night may be a repeat although I was hoping for some "mild" 80 degree weather with a little breeze! But I look at it this way. It's always a good day when some of the Dead come to town! Anyway, hope you have fun and the rain holds off until it's about over. Stay safe.
Blair- any update on Feed Your Head: San Francisco's Psychedelic Rock Revolution: from the Acid Tests to Altamont?
Loved reading your post SaintStevg . I had almost forgotten how our car got stuck in the mud several times trying to leave the lot after 6/20/83. Every time our wheels started spinning, a bunch of heads stepped right up and began pushing our car to better ground. We never even had to ask - help was always on the way! No words spoken- just smiles and waves. Yes, good old days!
Went to San Jose State University to see the boys back in '79. Rumors were that the show might be cancelled because an irrigation pipe had broken and flooded the field. The show went on and we all happily danced in the mud under the typical Feburary "false Spring" blazing San Jose sun. Soon clouds began to form INSIDE the stadium, I guess we were making so much heat and splashing so much water! The band shifted into Looks Like Rain and by the end of the song there was a mini rain storm inside the stadium. Who can the weather command, indeed!
My wife and I got a babysitter and took our seats on the lawn at the Merriweather Post Pavillion in Columbia MD on June 20th of 1983. I'd left from the office and changed out of my suit in the car parked in a field behind the stage area before we carried our ponchos up on the hill. Just as the band took the stage the skies opened up. I'm sure I've seldom seen a storm of that intensity, let alone be out in it. The lightning was insane, several times causing interruptions in the concert amplification, though "The Music Never Stopped" (last song of the first set).
Sorry to say, we bailed out at the break. The poncho was useless and we were drenched. I changed back into my suit pants and shirt to drive home, but the car got stuck in the mud in the field. I got out to push in my jockey shorts under the poncho, feeling only slight embarrassment as three young girls helped me push the car out. My wife was driving, and as it finally moved forward the rear wheels ejected a huge spray of mud up under the poncho.
As we drove out, we went through a flood on the road that stalled the engine. We had to call a tow truck and ended up spending the night at a motel, each wrapped in a bedspread. I can still remember the feeling of standing in that flooded road and hearing the Grateful Dead in the distance tearing into Sugar Magnolia. That's what I get for leaving...
Just another adventure on the Dead journey. We were also at the Dead/Dylan/Tom Petty show at RFK in '86 that was so hot it pretty much put Garcia into a coma - also not a great day - but I will spare you that story.
~ "I'll meet you some morning in the sweet bye and bye..."
...how your buddy vaporized when hit by lightning...how Bob slipped onstage and fell on his ass...how John k. had to kayak onto the stage for set two!
A couple of friends and I are going to the Furthur show in Philly on 7/7. It's supposed to be 100 on Saturday with the threat of severe thunder showers. Our seats are UNcovered. It'll be visions of our younger days at Giants & RFK Stadiums in July for sure!
Yes indeed it was Pink Floyd with the airplane ......I believe it was to start the Dark Side of the Moon part.....Us and Them...Time....maybe???......The cops would not let people hang out after shows......they weren't forceful but they made sure you got the message to "Be on your way!!!!".....