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.