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.
I attended only 6/25 (not extremely memorable...obviously, missed 6/26). I DO remember the heat. On the drive out to the show, the radio report said it was 115 degrees at the airport.
It was hot. Very, very hot.
It was hot.
This was a recently logged field for a parking lot and absolutely no shade in most spots. One memory I have is sitting comfortably on the ground at the wall being one of the first in the show that day and Little Feet came out early to sound check and the crowd of course thought the show was starting and crushed the stage so we spent almost an hour and a half like packed Sardines. I watched many people go over the wall the day from dehydrations and other. We were lucky because the stage put us in the shade but 20 feet back was an oven. Someone got wise in security and they started bringing cases of water and tossing them out and someone got a hose and that was heaven.
Does anyone know what happened to him? Obviously in some sort of health crisis....
because i'm melting over here. well timed blog blair, as i write this response from long island, ny, whose summer swelter has begun in earnest this week. i don't camp, but i try to do one day each year at the vibes, usually the dead related day - so it looks like it's friday this year, and, not to be captain obvious, but the weather is always a factor.
in fact, i haven't camped at the vibes in over a decade because of a weekend i had at one back in 2000, maybe 2001. It was not held Bridgeport, but on a farm in central new york, and was complicated from the get go. During july in central new york you really don't need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows, because it doesn't blow at all. it remains stagnant and hot all day until thunderstorms blow in any time between 3 and 5 o'clock. anything that breaks the heat was welcome when i was in my apartment in albany that summer, but when you're in the middle of a field and your only shelter is a thin fabric tent, vicious, unpredictable thunderstorms are not always a welcome respite to the heat. in fact i remember it being kind of scary, and though my tent was in a good spot and shape (kind of), there were plenty of tents that were basically submerged in water by the end of the storm, and this was on Friday while the festival ran until Sunday.
Anyway, what killed the whole weekend is that most of the music got cancelled, only a few bands went on, and because of a curfew there were no late night performances. The whole weekend felt like a pressure cooker because there was no release to be had through the music; it was just way too many people that were too high stuck in a tough spot and expected to hold it together and not crack. Any other crowd and it would’ve turned into a Woodstock ’99 scene – furthur evidence that deadheads and hippies are good people.
About three years ago, my friend and I were driving up to the vibes in seaside park when a storm of apocalyptic proportions rolled through. The clouds were angry and had lightning dancing in them; traffic came to a standstill as we were inundated by this deluge. It lasted maybe twenty minutes, but it was one of the worst I can remember driving though. Upon arrival we waited in line in ankle deep water for our tickets/bracelet. The rest of the day was perfect weather wise and in all other aspects. I talked to a camper who told me that he and his entire group held onto a tarp that morning for dear life that covered all their stuff while, and he swore it was going to tear (he was a roofer, he’d seen it happen before) or get blown out of their hands taking a few fingers with it. He was a cool dude, he had his baby in her carriage and a flask full of crown royal that hit the spot during phil’s set. I digress…
Also, I think I missed an entire phil and friends show down here at jones beach once because I was sitting up high in the nosebleeds and the wind was blowing strong. If there’s ever an east coast venue where bad weather can ruin a show it’s jones beach. On a good day it’s a great place to be, on a rainy or windy day, the sound is affected negatively to say the least.
p.s. – on a related note, though different band – beg pardon folks - phish just played their annual deer creek run, now called the klipsch music center, and on Friday the band issued a statement over facebook, twitter, etc. of a weather advisory saying that temperatures were expected to hit 110 degrees, the hottest day in Indiana since the 1930’s
Picked-up our tickets at a Ticketron outlet in Ridgewood, NJ a few weeks before the concert. The show was billed as the 'Summer's End Concert'. On the schedule with the Dead were the New Riders and Marshall Tucker.
I was 16 and drove down to the site the night before the gig with 4 friends. Traffic to the site was thick and we parked on some guy's front lawn for $5 (a lot of coin in those days...). We walked to the site which was surrounded by double-stacked cargo shipping containers. When the gates opened - the wave of people to get in actually lifted our feet off the ground; and we just had to go with it and ride the wave into the concert site. It was probably around 4 in the morning. We staked out an area by the first set of towers closest to the stage. We bedded down to try to get a few winks.
The day dawned with a bright sun. And it was a hot and humid New Jersey summer day. It was going to be a long haul... And by the end of the day we would all be roasted by the sun feeling gritty and grimy... But, it sure turned-out to be totally worth it.
The New Riders were the first on - my recollection is that it was about 1:00 in the afternoon. I don't remember much about the Riders' set except that we were happy that the show was finally rolling.
Next up Marshall Tucker - maybe 3 o'clock... They played their FM hits. They were well received, but we were all there for one reason. And, we were getting closer.
Tensions and anticipation in the crowd were beginning to rise - the combined result of being confined to a small space in the midst of 125,000 people, a blazing hot humid day, and everyone chomping at the bit to see the Dead.
The Dead finally came on about 5 or 6 o'clock. A sea of people sun-scorched and tired had new-found energy when John Scher introduced the band and they broke into Promised Land.
During the first set as the sun began to drop below the trees during Friend of the Devil - the crowd really began to settle in - getting its second wind as the temperature cooled and the night air and psychedelics began to kick in.
The first set highlights were an unbelievable Half-Step, Peggy-O and rocking Music Never Stopped to end the first set.
Temperatures cooled and the crowd was rejuvenated. The second set began with Bertha-Good Lovin and the sea of people became one moving dancing wave. The energy that was zapped during the day had been fully restored. The second set closed with He's Gone > Not Fade Away > Truckin'. The playing during this jam was just amazing. And then a Terrapin encore.
After the show - we wandered aimlessly for awhile in search of our wheels. We finally found it - don't ask how as we were all zonked. We ended up at a diner at 3 or 4 in the morning reliving what we had just experienced.
What an adventure!
The playing that September day is legendary - the band finally nailed the 'big-one'. And, I'm sure any dead Head worth his or her salt has experienced this show on tape and later CD as it was an FM broadcast and a Dick's Pick release... Pretty widely listened to; and pretty famous show in the band's annals.
I realize this isn't about the Dead, but it's worth sharing. I saw the Allmans at Tinley Park in 1997, and the rain and lightning were incredibly powerful. It seemed as if the lightning strikes were timed with each of the crescendos in Jessica. The lightning looked as if it was striking right at the top of the lawn. I even remember someone from the band calling for all of us on the lawn to venture down into the pavillion. In this case, the storm, although completetly saturating me, added to the overall strength of a great show.
.....RFK stadium--73?? ,,,,,Wet Willie;Doug Sahm & band; Allman Bros.--first shows after Berry Oakly passed & the Dead--2 days of D.C. heat--mind blazin & all that---they hosed down the crowd at one point---nite came to for more boogie & cool things off---but the music was HOT!
Great topic and conversation starter, Blair!
Ugh, the hot East Coast Summers. I remember Summer of '86 seeing shows. Brutally hot. In particular the last show at RFK before Jery's coma. The temp was 100 degress and the humidity was 100% in gimey DC. The sky was cloudy and there was lightning in the distance. The whole thing felt totally ominous and the performance had to be the worst Grateful Dead show I ever saw. Something was wrong, you could feel it in the air....literally. It was hard to distinguish between the objective reality of the oppressive weather and the intuitive feeling that something was amiss. The sky looked green to me...was it just me?
In Toronto '87 the sky was INCREDIBLE!!! The clouds and sky were definitely a different color (it was not just me this time). During Scarlet when Jerry sang "the sky was yellow and the sun was blue" I remember everyone looking around at each other and smiling in a moment of recognition...sky was not actually yellow, but close enough.
Greek shows always had cool weather-ness. From the vantage of high on the hill watching the clouds float overhead towards SF. I seem to remember at least one crescent moon during Terrapin there.
Reading this sentence brought back a recurring dream that I just had again last night. In the dream Jerry returns to the band after disclosing that he faked his own death to get out of the spotlight for a while. Any interpretations out there other than the obvious wishful thinking?
Well the weather outside was frightful.
But the show was so delightful.