Furthur, more or less
Returning to the scene of the Dead 30 years later
I went back with some misgivings – no Jerry Garcia will do that to even the most ardent of Deadheads. I’d seen the video clips, heard Bob Weir and Phil Lesh’s vocals on those Jerry songs we hold sacred. Was that a keyboard part where Jerry’s guitar once rang out?
I was a little nervous that Furthur – Bob and Phil the only remnants from the band that musically and magically blew people’s minds in its heyday – would be only slightly more than a nostalgia act.
A little background: This year is the 30th anniversary of what I call “My Deadhead Years.” From my first show in 1980 (Boston Garden) to my last, July 4, 1987 (Foxboro Stadium with Dylan), I saw 13 shows ¬– from Rochester and Saratoga, N.Y., to Hampton, Va., to Portland, Maine, Providence and Boston. OK, I wasn’t the biggest Deadhead ever, and never traveled with the band (though I did see back to back shows at least twice.) But I did my time on “the bus.”
In 1983, I saw the Dead five times. The early ‘80s may not have been Dead’s greatest years, but I saw some pretty great shows, and had really great times.
The point is that while I still like to listen to old Dead recordings now and then, I have moved on musically – and a lot of that is due to them. I found Johnny Cash through their version of “Big River” and found folk and alt-country in part because of their influence.
Since those days – and especially since Jerry died – I never really had an urge to see any of the other iterations of the band live. I did catch Bob’s Ratdog at the Gathering of Vibes a few years back, which was enjoyable in the festival atmosphere.
But a couple of weeks ago, I was offered great seats for a Furthur show at an outdoor venue in Boston. I wouldn’t have gone without the offer and if a good friend (and also a former Deadhead) had not taken me up on the idea of going with me.
Both of us were hesitant, hoping it wouldn’t taint our blissful memories of Dead shows past. We poured over previous days’ setlists, discussed which songs we didn’t necessarily care to hear, and spent many Facebook posts exchanging videos on YouTube – the good and the not-so-good.
The night came and we strode down the street to the venue. To our surprise, the Dead culture – selling of T-shirts, pins and other trinkets; the raised finger in search of the “miracle” ticket ¬– was still intact. Young adults in tie-dye happily mingled with older generation fans in ratty 1990s-era tour shirts. The ever-present smell of marijuana, inside and outside of the venue, stirred the senses and brought back memories of “the scene” surrounding the Dead shows of my youth. It was nice to see that the good vibes surrounding the band, however outdated they felt, had not completely faded away.
So what about the music? That’s the concern we actually started with. Is it still vital? Does it hold up without Jerry Garcia – his voice, his magical guitar work?
The answer is yes and no.