Week of May 10, 1999
Middle episode of a three-week series presenting the complete show of June 23, 1988 at Alpine Valley.
As noted in last week's post, the sound man fed the vocals and Jerry's guitar into an automatic panning device that swished from the left speak to the right and back again fairly rapidly. Several correspondents have verified that the sound was indeed that way in the venue (I knew it couldn't have just been on the recording!).
Here's an email from a listener (who prefers to remain anonymous) who was there for the entire five-day, four-show Alpine '88 Grateful Dead run.
Hello David -
I know that you asked a simple question regarding Healy’s sound weirdness for this show. I was at the show and though I have some pretty strong memories as to certain aspects, I’m unsure as to the mix issue. If none of us in attendance manages to recall for sure, I guess an audience recording would have the answer.
Anyhow, I hope you don’t mind if I share a few memories of this night, as well as others from this run, as I feel as they relate directly to the energy, and the sound, of this rather amazing show.
I grew up in the Chicago area and Alpine was a favorite venue. The ’82 shows were fantastic (life changing in some basic way), and I actually flew back from the remote southwest for the reunion shows in ’02 (?). Alpine ’88 was a four show run – two nights, a day off, two nights. I was really looking forward to this – I’d seen the Hampton shows that spring and they had been completely superb and amazing.
By 1987 and ‘88 I was going to school in Ohio but would still make the pilgrimage up to Alpine.
This was the year that the scene outgrew Alpine - the two lane highway that served the venue completely locked up, people stuck for hours and hours, a real mess. Way too many people. Free-for-all (for both better and worse) camping on the golf course (I don’t think you needed a ticket to camp there). And then the real zinger was the heat, near/over 100 degrees during the day for, I think, the entire run – and not desert heat but upper Midwest oppressiveness. A small cotton towel soaked in the ice water of a cooler – courtesy of my youngest brother’s good friends who (thank god) recognized me as I walked through the campground - felt indescribably delicious the afternoon before the second show and probably saved me from heat exhaustion.
I had pavilion seats for the whole run. To the left of the board the first two nights. First night a good show though at the time nothing special. I eventually fell in love with Foolish Heart (1st time played that night) but at the time I didn’t grasp it. Second night I had to flee my seat because of the invasion of the super-inconsiderate, super-high, seat crashing, ever expanding number of teenagers (2+ to a seat). Between sets found a bunch of my friends high on the hill, lots of air and space and we had a sweet dance-hug fest for the second set (despite the Victim [2nd time played – new to us], another song whose power definitely grew on me, it had its place, but never one that I might call a favorite.) I’m not sure but I think we spent the off day “in” Lake Geneva (so to speak).
Refreshed, we were really psyched for the third night. Our seats were definitely better – maybe 12 rows out on Jerry’s side, not directly in front, towards the right a bit. Still really, really good. Should be a great night, right? Yet in the end all I can say about that show was yikes, and not in any good sense.
No clear memory of the first set – nice set list and I imagine we enjoyed it. But the 2nd set was a whole different kettle of fish. (I’ll be the first to admit that how one perceives a show can be intensely personal and subjective – so my thoughts here, particularly as to the last two nights are no more, no less than my own and shared at the time by my good friends who were seated near me.)
Midway through pre-drums I felt that something was wrong with Jerry energetically. At this point in time, it’s hard to be more specific than that, but things simply were not right, noticeably out of balance. As the show progressed, they came out of Space into The Wheel. There is probably no other song in the Grateful Dead canon that means as much to me as The Wheel. The Alpine 82 version is to me sacred music – it was that version that truly ushered the song into my psyche. [Another side note – my first show was 2-3-78 Dane County (DP-18) where they played the only Wheel for a long stretch. I also saw the last one in Memorial Stadium in Seattle where it came out of a huge and vastly powerful drum/space.] However, this time there seemed to be no power, it was empty.
At some point during The Wheel, a roadie comes out to adjust Phil’s vocal mic – it was pretty clear that they were going to segue into Gimme Some Lovin’, which as you know along with Watchtower and the Wheel formed a killer grouping of post-space songs that appeared time and again in ’87 (ie Alpine) and ’88 (ie Hampton).
But then Jerry immediately drops into Stella Blue. The whole band was caught by surprise. Phil and Bob are staring at him and it’s not that they’re pissed – as he muddles into the song I sense that they are growing genuinely frightened that Jerry was having some kind of medical episode (heat? diabetic crash? drugs? all three?). It appeared to me that they were literally on the verge of halting the song and walking over to help him – one of those “Is there a doctor in the house?” moments). And Jerry just kept stumbling on, oblivious, in some nebulous other-world. Truly scary to me and my friends and from what we could tell the band also. In the end they got through Stella and finished the set. That Jerry sang the encore surprised us. Though shaky, he at least seemed to have pulled out of whatever space he’d been in.
After the show we were incredibly depressed. We ran into some of those friends I’d spent night 2 with, once again they had been up on the hill, and one of them started raving about how beautiful Stella was (that subjective thing once again) and we just looked at him and said something to the affect that he was crazy as we described what we had seen up close. Ouch.
The next day pre-show we were having lunch in some small town park – still freaked at what we had experienced the night before. One of us had bought a newspaper, out of Milwaukee probably, it may have had an article about the Alpine shows. At some point we decided to check out Jerry’s horoscope for the day. It said in part (this is from memory but possibly a direct quote):
A gift lost will soon be recovered.
Wow. We could only hope.
The Fourth Night
All of which brings me to the night in question. We were cautiously optimistic and had been blessed with excellent seats – I was about 6 rows out directly in front of Jerry, by chance my good friends were straight behind me maybe four rows back. The band seemed somewhat serious despite the Iko opener – the previous night clearly on their mind. I remember this tiny flub in Roses, what normally would have been no big deal in the slightest. But this time a look of incredible anxiety flashed over Jerry’s face, like he’s thinking oh no its happening again. But they found their place and glimpsed fear passed. The rest of the first set seemed well played, short but strong.
As they came out onto the stage for Set II, Brent was clearly way fired up (I loved Brent – as one of my brother’s friends put it he was “all hands on deck!”). Pocky Way was new to me (my friends recognized it as a Neville’s tune, I did not) – it kicked ass. And then on to what was (for us) easily the most powerful new composition of that run “Believe It or Not.” In the context of the previous night, not to mention Jerry’s near death less than two years before, the whole air to the song simply floored us. “Making music together, though the words I forgot. You know that I love you, believe it or not.” The raw emotion with which he’s nearly shouting the final chorus – “You know that I LOVE YOU! BELIEVE IT OR NOT!” He was singing right into our hearts. Kind of left me all choked up then - still does. Man Smart, He’s Gone, drum/space, Miracle (yeah we really felt that we needed one), all sweet. Then the ripping Gimme Some Lovin’ that went missing the night before. A snarling Watchtower.
And then Morning Dew. Whew doggies! This was a big one. Once again the nearly yelled raw emotion of the vocals. (“I thought I heard a young man moan this morning! I THOUGHT I HEARD A YOUNG MAN MOAN TODAY!”) And then that final chorus before the climax jam (“I guess it doesn’t matter anyWAYYYY!”) And as Jerry screams into that final jam this kid hops up on stage and walks over to Jerry and just stops maybe three feet away and stands there, arms at his side, totally non-threatening. Staring (it seemed) at Jerry’s picking hand as if witnessing the hand of god himself. Completely entranced as Jerry digs in even deeper. Finally a roadie comes over (arm around the shoulder?) and gently leads the kid off. And then a young woman jumps on stage, ducks past a roadie, runs over to Jerry and slides in crosslegged next to him! Jerry’s unfazed, completely blazing.
Another member of the crew leads her off. Incredible, crazy, cathartic energy being released as the song flies to a close. This Dew was a (yet another) jaw-dropping moment (so very many over the years.) One of the friends four rows back described afterwards how his aura shot through the top of his head and he was suddenly watching that climactic outpouring from twenty feet in the air. Yeah – it was pretty wild. Nowdays, it occurs to me that “time” had to have been really elastic for a couple minutes there at the end, given my memory of that sequence when compared with how fast it builds and finishes as I listen to it now.
For the encore Bobby came back on stage carrying an acoustic guitar – to my knowledge something that hadn’t occurred for a few years.
Another friend, the sweetie of mr. aura, said afterwards she immediately knew they were going to play Blackbird, no reason why, she just knew it. Why would she think that, seeing as they had never played it before and this was to be one of only two times? Over the years I’ve read several comments as to how sloppy and poor Blackbird was. These folks completely miss what it was about that night. We felt it was a very special and spontaneous gift. Serious worries had been laid to rest, the band was giddy, as were many of us in the crowd. Clearly not very rehearsed and none of us gave a hoot about that – it was beautiful. Brent began laughing so hard at one point that he fell off the piano bench! All of us were laughing also. And then when you think the song has drawn to a close in all of its ragged glory, that final verse and chorus and the crowd goes way quiet and its crystalline and its perfect – “You were only waiting for this moment to be free. You were only waiting for this moment to be free. You were only waiting for this moment to be free. . . .”
Brokedown Palace was gorgeous and speaks for itself. As I listen now to Brent’s harmonies on this version, it strikes me he was riding shotgun for Jerry on this show, deeply concerned, greatly relieved, very emotionally present, for Jerry, his dear friend.
Yes, a gift lost, recovered.
Back to Healy and the sound. Given all this, it seems to me that it’s not a coincidence that Healy would juice the sound in some way for that night - maybe he saw it as his own way to get the energy back in balance - right left right left right left right left. Whatever his reasons, this board sure sounds magical to me. I’ll be interested to hear whether he had the pa mixed the same (seems funny that I can’t recall given how present I felt at this show).
Thanks David for your time and all you’ve given us over the years.
Grateful Dead 6/23/88 Alpine Valley, East Troy WI
HEY POCKY A-WAY
BELIEVE IT OR NOT*
MAN SMART, WOMAN SMARTER
Jerry Garcia and David Grisman, Not for Kids Only
WHEN FIRST UNTO THIS COUNTRY
Every Wednesday, we post a program from the Grateful Dead Hour archives for your enjoyment and enlightenment. You can browse or search the playlists at gdhour.com or on the GD Hour Search page, and let me know what program(s) you'd like to hear by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for listening!
- David Gans