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.
Seems every summer in the '80s, I was at some epic weather show:
-Merriweather '83. As the previous poster detailed, this was by far the most epic weather Dead show ever. We were on the lawn for the entire show, and it literally poured rain the entire second set. But the rain was nothing compared to the lightning strikes throughout the set. Truckin' and Wharf Rat both experienced well timed power outages. Just weird, wacky. We spent the next day in the lots trying to dry out. In fact, they sent helicopters to attempt to "dry" the lawn (mud pit) before the second night show. And I remember the bridge to the venue being follded out, and the row of motorcycles underwater. Simply amazing.
-Alpine Valley '88. Extremely hot and humid. We spent a lot of time on the path in the woods between the lots to try to get some shade.
-RFK '86. The shows that "put Jerry in a coma". I vividly remember the fire hoses spraying the poor souls on the field (we opted for the upper decks), and it still being hot at night post drums. Incredibly hot and humid.
-Buckeye Lake '88. Another scorcher. I believe the afternoon temps were 102.
-Hershey Park, '85. At the other extreme: cool and rainy. Jerry wore a blue blazer!
-Alpine Valley '89. Day 1 was warm and normal. Then that night, the front came in and it was cold and rainy the next two shows. My car got stuck in the mud in the lot when leaving after Day 3.
Then there were the great weather (great temps, nice days/nights) outdoor shows: Alpine Valley '87, RFK '91, Merriweather '84 ('85 was decent, but overcast mostly if I recall)
Of course, through all of this, I was much younger and could handle them. Nowadays, i don't think I could handle the scorchers.
i can't remember,,,,
August 24th and 25th. What a setting to see JGB and Garcia Grisman up above Lake Tahoe, taking the chairlift up, and then running down the mountain at the end of the shows each evening. And there were a bunch of great bands there, los lobos and bela fleck and others! But the wind it was a howlin', and kicking up the dust, and in that goldcoast concert bowl, it was a swirling particulate fishbowl. My brother got something in his eyes and, despite the great scene and accompanying tunes, we had to bail early on day two.
Someone asked about the Rubber Bowl in Akron in '86 w/Dylan. I don't remember it being especially hot. The show I do remember being hot was not even an outdoor show -- it was Binghamton in '79 (Broome County Arena). There was such a crush of people -- this was general admission -- that on the way in my feet didn't touch the ground for the last 100 or so yards. Then, I wormed my way to the front of the stage, but is was so hot and the pressure from everyone behind me so intense, that I had to eventually bail. I remember thinking that if they would let me leave the show from the front row, I would do it. But that of course was impossible, and I was able to eventually work my way back.
Then they opened the second set with China>Rider, and all was forgiven!
7/2/89 great show on a fire-hose day in Massachusetts. My sister-in-law was visiting us from Laos and got her chance to see the Grateful Dead-no translation needed.
Well, nothing will ever beat Merriweather 6/20/83 as a "weather show" for me. I think it was, musically, the very best show I ever saw but I can't prove it. The recordings I've heard all sound "weird" and don't do it justice. The stories of apocalyptic rainstorm are not exaggerated, I assure you. Lighting strikes on the amphitheater, power outtage and recovery on Wharf Rat. Mud covered people slip-sliding all over the lawn. I read many people on the lawn tried to find cover next to the amphitheater- not us! It was just lovely. Like seeing an epic Dead show in a cosmic outdoor, warm shower. Afterwards, the bridge to the parking lot was flooded and they had to lead the post-concert herd through an alternate higher ground route. I always remember when we saw the flooded bridge some guy cried out "How do they expect us to get to our cars, man!" Classic! Then I witnessed for the first time of many, the phenomenon of a post-concert herd of Heads moving through a corridor, everyone making "moo, moo" sounds! This was a special case though, since we really were being "herded"! Next days show felt beautifully mellow, maybe not as special musically, but lots of nice sunshine drying everything out. Great memories.
Short and sweet: eight twenty-seven seventy-two. Seven twelve ninety.
I recall driving back from one show at the Oakland Coliseum Arena.. a holiday show. We exited into a drenching rain, and it was a first rain, so the wheels of my car were slipping on the road as I crossed the upper deck of the Bay Bridge on my way home.
Shoreline could get hot. Arizona? Forget about it!
Wow, Blair. Your ability to describe these places and scenes paints a vivid picture in my mind and whips my imagination into a frenzy. I wasn't there. I never saw Jerry play. Your ability to confirm my dreams of the shows is apreciated! Sick photos, too.
I didn't put myself through the gauntlet of fire too often but the Boreal Ridge show in '85 was somewhat warm and miserable for a plethora of reasons. I was praised for getting us out of there before the end of the show. The University of Nevada in Reno '74 was windy and miserable. Must be something about that neck of the woods. I totally concur with opting out. I get anxious just thinking about 80 degrees anymore.
I only saw the Dead three times, but the first and last, both at Three Rivers Stadium, had definite weather factors. The first, in 1990, was a scorcher. I was a wide-eyed newbie cruising the parking lot and thoroughly digging the scene without a care about the beating sun. Inside there were soak zones set up to cool down the Heads, but I was too busy boogieing at the back of the stadium floor to care. The next day I woke up with pretty severe sunburn blisters on my face. Let that be a lesson to you kids out there about using sunscreen and wearing a hat.
The weather was a bit milder in 1995, as rain was threatening during the first set. When the boys came out after setbreak, they noodled around a bit as the first drops started to fall. Then, just as they launched into the opening chorus of the Beatles' "Rain", the heavens opened with a downpour. It really was cosmic, no fooling. If it wasn't the Dead, I wouldn't have believed it. And the crowd went nuts. They ran through a few more rain-themed songs as the kids danced and shook their bones. Ah, memories!