You always remember your first—mine was on the 4th.
On July 4, 1989 at Buffalo’s Rich Stadium, I saw my first Grateful Dead Show.
I had friends who treated Dead Shows like notches on their bedpost—just racking them up for bragging rights. So for a virgin like me, this was pretty big deal. In the end I actually didn’t make it to all that many, since five was a relatively low number among my peers. Some were more memorable than others; none were more memorable than this.
If there was ever a time for a young man of my generation to see the Grateful Dead, it was probably this Show. Jerry was in his post-rehab prime and the music was incredibly tight. Of course, there was the “Touch of Grey” contingent to deal with—neophytes who had seen the video on MTV and didn’t know all that much more. In hindsight, neither did I. Despite diving headlong off of “Franklin’s Tower” that first time my aunt ever loaned me her mix tape, over a quarter century later I’m still learning to appreciate this band more and more.
With such a history, it’s hard to nail down the Grateful Dead’s halcyon days. In a tumultuous tale of peaks and valleys, this was probably the last time they truly felt on top. Who knew that just over a year later, keyboardist Brent Mydland would take his premature leave? Who knew that Jerry would follow soon after? Well… we all kind of knew that was coming, but it certainly didn’t soften the impact.
As for my own proverbial “long, strange trip,” this show was a solid exclamation point on an all-around happy childhood/early adolescence. If you had told me then and there that three years later I’d be headed to military college—by my own choice, nonetheless—I’d have said you were stoned… and being at a Dead Show, you probably would have been.
Among the more uplifting features of the digital era is that you can now search for pretty much any memory from your past, and the collective consciousness of the internet will respond with the most vivid images. In this case, I found the entire concert on YouTube. Many thanks to Voodoonola2 for posting this—you have no idea how much it means…
The Fourth of July evokes a lot of things to a lot of people. While I maintain my respect and admiration for traditional Independence Day imagery, I’ve never been able separate the holiday with my experience that day.
While I’m pumping this through my laptop speakers and grilling in my backyard this Independence Day, I’ll think back to that socially awkward 14-year-old kid—floundering for an identity, and having a hell of a good time looking for it.
Enjoy the Show, and God Bless America.