Grateful Dead

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.

A sunny afternoon at Frost in ’87. Photo: Regan McMahon ©2012

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.

Our gang at Red Rocks in ’87: Jon (R.I.P.), Regan, Michael, Deb and BJ.

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.

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Joined: Jun 6 2007
Roosevelt Stadium...

...definitely had a certain grimy grandeur. The GD sure played well there. The 7/18/72 and 8/1/73 shows I went to there both stand out among the best early shows I saw. (I only saw two shows each in '72 and '73). Always felt slightly in fear for my life there, though...Bad neighborhood, chaotic line scene. I saw Pink Floyd there in June '73, too. My memory has just conjured up a large model plane on a wire crashing into the stage during some PF song, but it's possible I'm confusing that with some other PF show--or some other band in another place for that matter. Can't think of why it would have been at a PF show offhand...

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Joined: Apr 9 2011
Roosevelt Stadium

What a place.......the infield would get like a swamp after any rain fall...the bathrooms could get at least 2 inches of ???? after a rain storm...I remember a Yes concert there after such a down pour .....A young miss dressed to the hilts in white halter and pants made her way through the stands towards the infield .......her comment to me and my friends was " I'm going to meet the band " the way she was dressed , well lets just say it wouldn't be a problem......We told her that it might be tough going through the field in those heels.....She was determined .....she climbed the railing and lost her balance..she fell....into a mud puddle ......got up and continued towards the stage..... I suppose to complete her quest......I guess you just had to be there....I had a lot fun times there seeing Pink Floyd , Eagles, Faces and of course the Dead......its a shame the place no longer exists........

Underthevolcano's picture
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Joined: Feb 6 2008
future memories

Heading to Pawsox stadium-McCoy Stadium in RI to see Furthur. gonna be another hot day on the eastcoast. New memories to be made and future stories to be told.

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Joined: Nov 8 2007
Snow, Sun and shower ("S" cubed)

Never saw a show in the snow . . . I'd imagine that'd be a bit hard for the boys, but I'd still be completely game for it!

Rochester June, 1988 Silver stadium -- minor league baseball park -- sunshower at opening coming in off of Lake Ontario -- Box of Rain ("Sun and shower, wind and rain . . ." > Cold Rain & Snow (Jerry in gray blazer . . . which he shed for the 2nd set . . . back to the ole tried and true black T). Green Onions> China/Rider. Pretty cool. Also, only time I saw "Believe it or not" which I really dug! (believe it or not . . . ;-)

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Joined: Dec 12 2011
Spac

Don't remember if it was 84 or 85 but there was something like 7in of rain in 4 hours. It felt like the louder we cheered, the harder it rained. One memory was the mud slide that turned up on the side of the hill. As I was trying to find a ride back to NH I here this loud discussion with someone saying "you are not getting in my car, I don't care, you can walk" Turned out there were two who had decided to partake in the mud slide without thinking about the effects of the mud. Almost had to hitchhike home when someone spotted me and asked who I was riding with. I took a ride to the show and found out half way through Vermont that he was not going back to NH

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Joined: Jun 6 2007
Well, Fluff...

...you know what the desert apologists say: "But its a DRY heat."

Scorching heat plus humidity is worse IMO--it's like somebody is standing on your lungs AND holding a lighter on your skin.

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Joined: Feb 25 2012
Looks like

113 degrees in the shade at the Sam Boyd in Las Vegas takes the top spot as THE heat show. What were they thinking when they scheduled that? Did everybody really survive? I can't even imagine being out in that kind of sun for any length of time, never mind partying. Think I would have been drinking gatorade with shots of EmergenC every now and again (electrolytes & vitamins) all day.

Bonner Springs may have been second (or actually won based on the combined heat index) . Neither of these have been checked against the historical record for the days in question but when people come up with specific numbers you tend to believe them.

I guess with those kinds of extremes I never went to a show that was more than a tad toasty...

marye's picture
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Joined: May 26 2007
a fond moment of thanks

for that time at the Henry J when it was freezing cold and pouring rain, and Bill Graham decided to take pity on us and open the doors a little early.

If I recall correctly, half of us hadn't gotten over the NYE flu yet as it was...

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Joined: Jun 14 2007
SPAC

At the Saratoga 6/13/83 show it threatened rain. During intermission the sky lit up with intense heat lightning with no rain or thunder. The Dead came out for set 2 and with the sky on fire broke into one of the most electric Scarlet Fires ever heard. The lightning was adding an incredible amount of intensity to the crowd and the band. After drums they broke into The Wheel, "If the thunder don't get you then the lightning will". The place went nuts. Morning Dew was one for the ages. Phil was more than making up for the lack of thunder and Jerry was as electric as you'll ever see him. Alot of electricity that night.

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Joined: Jun 22 2007
My trusty, lucky

"Pocket" poncho (which is to say, garbage bag with a hood) accompanied me to outdoor events for close to a decade. "Lucky" because, whatever the forecast, however likely a deluge seemed to be, I never once had to peel the sucker out of its pouch to keep me dry. Some major mojo there, folks, as it saw me through scores of concerts, ballgames, fairs and parades. Ain't nobody rainin' on this guy's good times!

And I guess it was a good thing that I never had to use it. One day while caught in my car during a downpour, I fished it out of my glove box figuring that if there was ever a time of need, this was it. I opened the bag, pulled out the poncho and began to unfold it, only to have it disintegrate into little bits of plastic.

Sure was fun while it lasted...

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