By request of Mike Edwards, who's making a documentary on this unique, memorable festival at Pyramid Lake. If you were there, tell us about it...
These contemporaneous accounts of events are valuable and a BALL to read!!
Please pass the mushroom Iced tea. Thanks...
is a great account of the event!
Wow! Ranch Rocks was for me one of the single-most influential experiences of my life. I was 27 years old, living in Idaho Falls, Idaho, and had tickets that year to see the Dead at Red Rocks in Denver, which I was really looking forward to ... and then Jerry had a coma. There was a group of about 30 or so Deadhead friends living in Idaho Falls and Pocatello who had all planned on traveling together as a caravan to see the Dead in Denver, so instead we all decided to go to Ranch Rocks in Nevada. We were traveling in 6 vehicles, and each driver was given a headset radio so that we could all communicate to each other while on the road. Mostly we were college students, but others went along, too. There were two nursing mothers in our group, as well as a couple of kids. For all intents, we were a nomadic tribe. If someone needed to stop, the drivers would tell each other over their radio sets, and we'd pull over as a group. The nursing mothers had top priority over anyone - if they needed to pull over, we did, no questions asked. They carried more clout than all the rest of us combined!
We set off on Friday night, hoping to travel all night to get to the site on Saturday morning, the day before the big concert. We drove through Twin Falls, then crossed into Nevada at Jackpot, and kept driving on with the moon on our left shoulder. As dawn broke we pulled into the convenience store/gas station at the exit off of I-80 that led to the road north to Pyramid Lake Reservation. I had been driving all night long, and was buzzing, but I still wanted to drive all the way there. My vehicle was my GMC camping van, and I was carrying 7 other people and a lot of gear.
We followed directions, and when we finally made it after driving along a dirt road for many miles, we discovered that we were the sixth vehicle to have arrived (or, rather, the 6th through 12th vehicles). They had not yet prepared the campsite yet, and so we just parked along the roadside with other early arrivers, and took a break from the road. The landscape was lunar - just gravel with little thorn plants growing here and there. As we waited for a couple of hours for them to scrape off the thorn plants so people could camp, we set up a Coleman stove and made coffee in profuse quantities, which we handed out to anyone who passed by. People kept arriving and parking along the dirt road in the order of their arrival. By the time they had the campsite ready there were already a couple of hundred people waiting to get in, and the sun was already well up in the sky and it was getting very hot.
We found a place to camp together. Some of our people set up a communal kitchen and bathroom facility. I opened up my van's doors and windows and crashed out on the bed inside for a few hours. When I awoke, lunch was being served by our kitchen crew. After eating, and because it was so hot, and because there was nothing else going on yet, and because after all it was so inviting, I walked down to the lakeshore of Pyramid Lake. We were on the opposite side of the lake from the Tribal village, which we could see distantly. Other than that, there was NOTHING around! Nothing.
Well, the scene at the beach was indescribable. Because the concert was not until the next day (Sunday), there still was not a huge crowd there yet. Most of the people were coming in from the Bay Area, but there were folks like us from all over the West. Everyone was skinnydipping! A couple of us found a big log washed up on the shore, and we converted it into a makeshift boat. We sat boy-girl-boy-girl straddling the log, which was totally awesome! It was so completely natural and healthy and FUN to be totally naked with girls behind and in front of me on the log, and all of us (about 10 or so) were paddling that log all up and down the beach, singing, laughing, splashing, and having the best damn time of our lives!
The water of the lake was incredible - it was like swimming in Perrier! It was slightly alkaline, but not so much so that you couldn't drink a little if you wanted. And it was effervescent! As you waded or swam through the water, little effervescent bubbles would tickle your skin. The color of it was an intense amazing turquoise blue, and it was the perfect temperature to just hang out in all day long. I had so much fun that day at the lake that had it only been that one day the trip would still have been worth it.
That evening I wandered back to the camp in search of food, which was already made and set aside for people to munch on as they drifted into our campsite. A lot more people had arrived by then, and the camp area was filling up. There were 'streets' created in the campground that formed organically as people camped wherever they thought looked good, leaving space for others to drive by. One 'main street' was formed from the front gate to the campsite, and it was along this route where vendors started forming up to sell their wares, typical of a standard parking lot scene outside of a Dead show. There was one very big difference, though. Because this was on Indian Reservation land, and because it was "dry", no alcoholic beverages were permitted. And that was STRICTLY ENFORCED by Tribal Police making their rounds through the campground on a very regular basis. I saw someone get kicked out of the concert completely because he was carrying an opened beer bottle. BUT! Every other kind of intoxicating substance was absolutely totally permitted! A Tribal cop would wander into someone's campfire circle, look around and see no booze, and then nod at the person smoking a joint! Had they been drinking a beer, they'd have been kicked out and their booze confiscated, but smoking weed, or anything else - no problem, have a good day! LOL!!!
One vendor on the main street had actually set up what resembled a merchant counter (sort of like Lucy's Psychiatrist Shop in the Peanuts' strip). The banner above it declared for all to see: "Mushroom Ice Tea - $8 per glass". (I think it was $8, perhaps it was another price). As I was walking near the entrance, a pink Cadillac convertible drove in after paying admittance. Since I was the first person the driver encountered, he stopped and asked where a good place to set up his business might be. I asked him what his business was, and then he told me that he'd driven in from Humboldt County just then. He got out and opened the trunk of his car, and stuffed inside the trunk (and stuffed so tight there was no room left) were these enormous black plastic bags full of Humboldt County buds!!!!! I could not believe my eyes! I'd never even ever come close to seeing that much pot in one place before. In fact, if you added up all the pot I've ever seen in my life, it would not be as much as this guy had in his trunk! LOL!!! Well, I pointed out an open spot along the main street as a good place to go, and told him he would have no problem selling his inventory that weekend. He thanked me by tossing me a joint, and drove over to the site I'd pointed out with a big smile on his face!
That night there was drumming going all night long, soothing me to a much-needed sleep.
The next morning, they'd set up the stage for the musicians about 1/4 mile from the camping area. I wanted to try to sell some posters I'd made and brought with me of Jerry, and so took a spot on the main street. A group of three or so people came by who were filming the scene, and they spent a long time just filming me as I sat in my lawn chair surrounded by my posters smiling beatifically at the camera. LOL! They'd arrived in a Winnebago! "Might as well do it the elegant way", I told them...
During lunch back at our tribal campsite, a fellow came by selling amanita muscaria mushrooms. I decided to give them a try.
After lunch I decided to go check out the music. There'd already been several bands, which I could easily hear from the campground. I found my tribe, who were set up in a good spot in front of the stage. One of our people was a taper, and he was busy taping the show. I believe he taped the entire thing. It seems like John Cippolina was in every single band that performed that day! I remember mostly the song that Bob Weir's band played entitled "Book of Rules". I also remember seeing a flock of Canada geese fly directly above the stage at one point. There was a Paiute Indian guy walking around with a denim vest and no shirt who had a bigass lizard of some kind perched on his shoulder. Every where this guy's eyes turned, the lizard would also look - it was like they were in simpatico with each other. He looked at me as he passed by, and I felt like I was back in the 1800s looking at a Paiute warrior. Wow. There was another fellow who had built a sort of wall around him where he'd been watching the bands in the crowd. He had a huge tank of nitrous oxide with him, and a face mask, and was completely tripping out of his gourd butt naked dancing some kind of mystical freak dance in the burning sun!
Well, the shrooms started coming on heavy, and it was scorching hot, and so I asked a couple of my friends to come with me to the lake where we could cool off. There was a well-trodden path between the stage and the lake (which I'd not been on before, since the day before we'd walked to the lake from the camping area). As we walked to the lake, I saw it giving off an incredible mandala of fluttering luminescent feathers that were the same turqoise color as the lake. This vision filled the entire sky above the lake - and I knew then that this lake was indeed (as the Paiutes believe) a sacred lake.
About halfway down the path to the lake, there was a large group of people just standing on the side of the path, all facing inward in a circle. We couldn't tell what was up, so we went over and looked. Assembled were about 50 or so people, and they were all staring at something in the center of the group. As we got closer in, we saw what it was they were staring at: a dead cow. I've seen plenty of dead cows in my life, but I've never seen one like this. It was like out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon! All that was left of this thing was bleached bones over which patches of dessicated leathery hide were draped. You could see right through him! It was absolutely disgusting, horrifying, fascinating, and beautiful all at the same time! People were standing there with their mouths hung open and drool coming out of the corner of their lips, chanting: "Oh Mah Gawd" over and over. I think some of them had must have been there for a long time. My two buddies already were doing the same thing - staring at the dead cow and going into some kind of mind fuck, and I realized that what this was was a booby trap for people who were tripping! It was like quicksand of the mind! So I grabbed my friends by their shirtsleeves and dragged them away from the cow back to the path to the lake. They protested, saying they HAD TO GO BACK TO THE MOTHER, or something like that, but I perservered and got them pointed in the direction of the lake, and they forgot all about the damned thing.
As we got down to the lake, there were THOUSANDS of people. Almost all of them were confined in this roped off swimming area, but since we'd already been there the day before, when there were no roped off places, we just found a nice quiet spot to disrobe and go out into the lake. As we waded out into the incredible water, a boat was parked on the lake about 100 yards offshore directly in front of us. It was a Tribal Police boat. And suddenly a pot-bellied Tribal Fuzz picked up a megaphone, pointed at us, and in a thick Paiute accent said: "Go back and put your pants on!" I looked around, thinking: "He can't be talking to US!" But he was. I was like: "WTF!" But because we were not within the roped off area, he was being a hardass and was making us go back and put on our stupid cutoffs so we could swim in his lake. Well, no sense in arguing with the Law, Indian or otherwise, so we did what he told. But then, as my two friends went back into the water, I decided I was going to be mad about this. So, I walked down the beach until I found someone who looked official because he was holding a radio and had a staff vest on. So I started telling him about what had happened - how the stupid Tribal cop had told us to go back and put our pants on, when thousands of other people were happily skinnydipping their asses off, and how all day yesterday we'd done the same. Except, as I was telling him this, I started crying like a stupid two year old. So I was talking, and crying, and catching my breath between words, and this guy looked at me like: "Oh my god..." Obviously, it was because of the shrooms. But ... there ya have it. When I finally had vented my spleen, he put his hand on my shoulder and said: "Thanks for telling me that. I'll look into it."
Feeling that I had accomplished my mission, I went for a swim - inside the roped off area. This was supposedly the place where they were allowing people to skinnydip. And there were helicopters flying around taking video of all the naked hippies frollicking in the lake. But I decided that I was not going to go skinnydipping, even though I really wanted to, because I was going to wear my cutoff shorts as a flag of protest against the stupid Tribal Cop authority! So I waded all over the roped off zone, proudly showing my cutoffs to anyone who wanted to see them. Sheesh.
About this time one of my friends from the concert wandered down to the lake, having made it past the dead cow successfully. He hailed me from the shore, and then waded out to join me. Suddenly, as he came near, he stopped, his face turned white, and he said: "Oh My God! It's Jerry!!" He pointed and I turned to look, and there was this middle-aged stocky bearded longhaired man standing butt naked in the water about twenty feet away. I looked back at my friend and said: "That's not Jerry. Jerry is in the hospital. Remember? That's why we came here and not to Red Rocks."
My friend kept staring at this guy, and repeated: "It's JERRY I'm telling you! That is Jerry!!!"
I looked again, and sure, the guy sort of resembled Jerry, but so do a lot of guys. I turned back again and said: "Stephen, that is NOT Jerry. I know he looks like him, but it is not him. Jerry is out of his coma, but he still needs to be in the hospital."
My friend, still pointing, and in a voice loud enough to be heard two counties away, said: "I'M TELLING YOU, DAMMIT! THAT IS JERRY!!!" The guy in question looked at Stephen with a puzzled look on his face. Then he sloooowly smiled, gave a wink, and dove into the lake and swam away. My friend started jumping up and down, splashing and whooping, and saying: "I told you that was Jerry! I told you!!" The upside of this ridiculous event is it brought me out of my angry-at-the-Tribal-Cop funk I was in. So instead, I dove into the lake and had a nice swim, shaking my head at how silly some people can be. LOL!
After the concert was over, and it being dusk, we broke camp and headed back home. A couple of people had to be at work the next morning. Ugh. I was completely and totally hammered. I was in no shape to drive, so I turned the wheel over to my friend Clark, who drove down the dusty road out to I-80. We were driving along the freeway in the night, and I opened my eyes and saw a passing road sign that said "San Francisco 120 Miles" (or something like that - I can't recall the exact mileage it said). I laid back and started falling asleep again, and then like a bolt I jumped off the bed and said: "Clark! You're going the WRONG WAY!" Sure enough, CLark had just followed the traffic, which was mostly going to the Bay Area, and we were heading west, not east back to Idaho!!! We'd gone about an hour down the wrong way! Thankfully, we got turned around and headed back to home. After an unconscious night I awoke as we were pulling into Pocatello, just in time for me to go to work at the university.
So, there ya go. If you would like to get ahold of me, please feel free. my email is saukkomies at gmail dot com
It's September 9th, 2 days past the 30 year anniversary of this 'once in a lifetime' event, I just found this thread, and being the artist for the full color poster, I thought I might enlighten some folk about the specifics of the art request as I received said request. But first let me say,as a long time resident of Reno, Nevada, I have visited Pyramid Lake on several occasions, however, as Sela, the promoter, mentioned above, the original location for the event was a ranch in Sierra County, Ca., which, in fact was green, with a brook running through it, and it was along side some rolling hills...
So you see, the poster was already in the works when the location was changed, if I'm not mistaken, it was already being printed, at great expense to the promoters (I charged nothing for my contribution)...
An interesting factoid... I was approached by the promoters on a Thursday, they needed to get the 'print ready' art to the printer that Monday, I didn't receive the info (copy) till Friday evening, so to create what was needed, I pulled what we artists just love, a 56 hour airbrush/typesetting marathon.... I also created a multi color t-shirt design (I have re-created digitally
The t-shirt design for the GDAO, don't know if they will ever print it however)
I was in between wives at the time, so I spent 2 weeks hand delivering those posters to record stores and head shops up and down the San Juaquin valley, good times,
I was the promoter of Ranch Rock. When Jerry was taken ill in 1986 I felt that a healing, comforting gathering was in order. Having never done anything like this before, there were many snags. While a good time was had by all, the changes to our nations political make up and the rescue of the Paiute Tribe's water rights are the real story! Ranch Rock sent a ripple effect outward that most are not aware of. Every year the Paiute still sing about the hippies gathering in the desert whose efforts saved their people. It was called Ranch Rock because of the California Ranch in Sierra County that was the original location. With only 28 days before the concert the Sheriff pulled our permit against the unanimous vote of the County Board of Supervisors who wanted the event to go on as planned. Lacking the 29 days for public notice for permit anywhere else we approached the Paiute Tribe as their Reservation is sovereign. The rest, as they say, is history! Would love to share the dramatic backdrop to this wonderful music happening! - Sela
if only you could track down that film crew today!
My friend and I arrived at Pyramid Lake a couple of days before the concert and car-camped there with some of the other early arrivals. We had a two-person tent for shade, but that was about it for cooling relief, so when I noticed on a map that there were some hot springs up on the north shore of the lake, I suggested that we take a drive, if only to make our world breezier. I was driving a Honda CRX that summer that was front wheel drive and had a five speed transmission, but the unpaved road we found ourselves on soon gave way to loose sand and it wasn't long before I had the thing buried up to the axle. I was pretty sure that we were screwed. We were in the Nevada desert in summer at noontime; we had a cooler full of beer and ice, but the nearest town was about a twenty mile walk away. Then I noticed something strange on a rock formation a couple hundred yards away from where we stood: it looked like hippie girls clad in diaphanous clothing posed on moonscape boulders. My eyes tracked downward from the place where this vision suddenly appeared and that's when I noticed what looked like a film crew near the base of the rock formation. It turns out they were students from San Francisco State who were out there shooting a video and after we established our premise--stuck in sand, beer on ice--they helped lift us out and got us safely back on our way. So, Ranch Rock 86 at Pyramid Lake was a parched moonscape, no doubt, but it's also, for me, clearly a case of Once-In-A-While-You-Get-Shown-The-Light Syndrome.
clearly never saw the place!!!
let's just say there was nothing green for miles. The Playa to come had nothing on that parched moonscape...
My friends and I scoped out the situation and opted for a campground in the mountains an hour or so out. Which had actual running water and bathrooms and showers. This was wise, as far as we were concerned.
I've found scans of two posters so far:
I went to that show. It was really fun being able to jump into Pyramid Lake to wash off the dust and cool down. There was a pretty small but enthusiastic crowd that day, probably due to Jerry recovering from the coma. Bob Weir couldn't play guitar that day because of an arm injury. The Paiute tribe was very gracious to allow the Deadheads to assemble on the shore.
My best memory of the show was that Kathi McDonald can belt it out!
I still have the promotional poster too.