In The Shadow Of The Moon…. Remembering The Dead

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In Loving Memory Of My First Grateful Dead Concert
J.T. Hilltop

Lets not get too technical here, maybe I should call it the potential memory of my first Grateful Dead concert because it was after all over 40 years ago, and I was perceptually challenged in a profound way during that era from the fumes of heated cannabis plants and the ingestion of an array of mind altering substances. But its worth a stumble down memory lane just the same so here to the best of my recollection is my most sincere if somewhat warped and faded reflection. This is my account of the surreal experience of the very first of many Grateful Dead shows.

My best bud Kevin and I went to A&S to the Ticketron booth and chipped in to purchase one general admission ticket to see the Grateful Dead at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. Even though it was only $6.50 at the time to us that was a lot of money. Over twelve lunch periods of not eating to stash the fifty cents from Mom. Sounds like no big deal but let me tell you not eating lunch when you’re in high school while studying the effects of smoking biodegradable sativa plants resulting in a case of perpetual munchies is quite a sacrifice. Besides that, we needed whatever money we could store away to buy some good pot and maybe a hit or two of something for enhancement. We were planning to weed and speed throughout the concert.

With only one ticket it was time for us to become resourceful and put our high school education to some good use. We took our one ticket to the school library where they had a copy machine which was free for students. Using our deductive reasoning we hatched a plan to copy the back and front of our one ticket. We then took the two pages to art class where we carefully cut the ticket front and back using what looked like an ancient hand guillotine or torture device from the dark ages for a very precise cut. Two sides of this cloned ticket were duco-cemented together. Using the blue and yellow colored pencils we colored in the bogus ticket to make an exact replica. Now we each had a ticket and could use the cash we saved for some buzz.

Neither of us could drive at night because we only had Jr. operators licenses so on the evening of the show we had to hitch a ride to the Coliseum. I was well seasoned at traveling BMT (By My Thumb) and while I wasn’t quite as prolific as say Sissy Hankshaw I usually fared very well at copping rides. It was a different era and hitch hiking was pretty common. Our first ride came quick but was with an off duty cop which sent shivers of paranoia down our spines. He turned out to be really cool and just lectured us a little on behavior of teens, littering, (or was it loitering?) and mundane teen crap. The second ride took a bit longer than we hoped in snagging but it was a lucky hit. We caught a ride with a van load of Deadheads that brought us all the way to the Coliseum laughing and smoking pot the whole ride. Kevin had brought a dime chunk of Blond Lebanese hash and a pipe but he kept that in his pocket. I had a two finger baggie of Hawaiian Gold weed from which I rolled two fat doobies to share with our hosts. By the time we got to the parking lot we all were pretty buzzed, and that’s when Kevin handed me the surprise hit of blotter acid. We were primed and ready to rock and within an hour we would begin tripping. Thanking our ride we split and surfed the lot in search of any friends that may be at the show so we could share our get high.

Having found no one we smoked a bowl or two of Kevin’s hash and went inside, moving quickly so the attendant had no time to inspect our tickets. Once inside it was time to find a place as close to the stage as possible to hear The New Riders Of The Purple Sage. We didn’t work too hard on positioning yet because that struggle would come later when the Dead played. We lit our weed and our hash sharing it with all around us an got lots to smoke from them in return. N.R.P.S. played a great set and Jerry came on playing steel guitar for a few tunes. It was pretty awesome but that’s not what we came for. As their set came close to its end the LSD began its magic by transporting us to another planet both visually and mentally. When the set finally came to its close we were tripping proper and had some time to kill.

We went out to the corridors around the arena to do some people watching which is normally cool, but has a heightened sense of uber coolness at a Dead show. A group of totally tripped out people were doing a trippers version of interpretive dance, making strange gestures that if done anywhere else most assuredly would have gained them admission to the loony bin. People everywhere with unusually huge smiles stuck on their faces talking, sharing one type of get high or another. Whippets, bongs, chamber pipes, chillums, joints, one or two 12 inch joints rolled in an Esmeralda papers, pills, tabs, or chemical laced paper being put in mouths and swallowed. Conversations involving what the boys would play or what they played the evening before at The Fillmore abounded. A communal sense of intense excitement as we all became as one, one group of collective conscientiousness anticipating the start of the real show, what we all came for. After a half hour of watching and chatting with strangers, and some even stranger strangers, it was time to find our spiritual spot inside.

After fifteen minutes of strategic jostling, finding holes in the crowd and slipping in a shoulder or a leg to fill in a void and get closer to the stage we had our sweet spot. Just about center a bit to the right about 20 head lengths from the stage, great cosmic vibe and situated in between the massive speaker system. We staked claim to our territory by lighting some hash and proceeded to engage in copious amounts of smoking and toking, sharing it with all in our magic circle of Dead fans. As the lights dimmed drum beats broke through the crowd buzz and some guitar riffs filtered through the speakers. We were stoked now and the acid was in full flight. The universe was perfectly balance in that arena and everyone inside knew. The music began and it was a collective aura of Zen emanating from the crowd, nary a soul left unstoked nor untoked. I’m not gonna try and bullshit you about remembering the set list, so for the sake of my memorial account I will allow a collage of concerts speak to me as I generalize.

I was very fortunate to have caught the Dead while Pigpen was still with us and right at the onset he stole the show working us into a frenzy. The sound had a raw country edge to it with an accent of blues, Pigpen making his harmonica cry in emotional distress. The arena was dark with rolling flashes or colored lights, red, blue, yellow, purple all splattered about randomly reaching out into the crowds and moving around in huge oval patterns. The lights changed around us making our minds eyes congeal into a spin art of vision. Beach balls, balloons, Frisbees all hovered or soared overhead before moving on in some sort of cosmic endless search. The speaker system was blaring loud yet precise, I could hear and sense every note from every instrument. By the third or fourth song the mood had taken a slight turn as China Cat Sunflower began. Or maybe it was St. Stephan, either way the very moment Jerry hit the first notes my entire essence was sucked into another world. Of course the acid heightened my senses and I was tripping pretty heavy at that moment but Jerry’s guitar work infiltrated my soul and took over my body. Nothing else in the world existed, nothing but this magic pied pipers guitar solo. Jerry’s strings took on life, began breathing and pulsing, inter-twining its spiritually mesmerizing complexities with my hemoglobin and the music flowed freely through my circulatory being, now a part of my DNA leaving me feeling nothing short of ecstatic. Each note etched deeper and deeper into my soul and filled me with a sense of belonging, of completion as I became a small part of a living breathing concert with The Grateful Dead being the heart, pumping us life. I bobbed and writhed to the music along with thousands of other jubilant fans. I looked at Kevin and he was in his zone, oblivious to anything else, and a quick look around revealed a vast array of transfixed smiling faces all finding their very own space in time. The concert had been elevated from just another rock show to the ultimate rock concert.

They played about two hours and I never knew if we were in the middle of one song or at the end of another, and that was because they played songs within songs flowing back and forth as if in parallel dimensions. I can’t be 100% sure but I believe the last tune they played was the hippie anthem “Dancing In The Streets” with their own twist on it. They left the stage with everyone still pumped up an buzzed half out of our minds. The collective culture that pervaded took over our minds and our instincts kicked in as the entire crowd clapped, roared, whistled, and screamed begging for more more more!!!!! The level of our collective accolades escalated quickly to an almost ear shattering level, when the band returned. The screams of pure and genuine gratitude rumbled through my inner ears tickling the hammer and anvil, pounding on my eardrums, and trickling melodically down into my Eustachian tube forcing a good feeling over my soul and once again the band brought the music to life.

That was the first time I had ever heard the song “Morning Dew” and it was a gift of galactic proportions. What I found out later was the tune is about a post apocalyptic walk in the aftermath of rapture and the boys created the most haunting and mesmerizing sound I have ever encountered. It oozed apocalypse before I knew what the tune was about, again Jerry’s strings grabbing me and lifting me to another plane, an audio astral projection of the third, fourth, and fifth kind. It was followed up with a few more tunes as the band treated us to a lengthy encore fittingly ending with “And We Bid You Good-Night” It was an experience that even the most eloquent and descriptive words could barely hint at. One of the unifying chants of Deadheads is “There Is Nothing Like A Grateful Dead Concert” words to live by and I have chanted those words over and over ever since. I couldn’t possibly tell you which Dead show was my favorite but I can tell you this, after years and years of concert going when asked what my favorite show ever was I reply it’s a Grateful Dead concert, which one I’m not sure but definitely The Dead. I’m not an elitist, I love many other bands and artists, and many memorable shows including Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Rolling Stones, and Neil Young, to name a few. I even took my son to some LollaPalooza Tours and a Warped Tour and I have always loved rock and roll and always will. I don’t get to nearly the amount of rock concerts I used to, but I go to as many as I can. Memorable recent shows include the Beach Boys reunion, Waters “The Wall” tour, an Phil Lesh an Friends, but in the end, as anyone who was lucky enough to have been to one Dead concert can attest, “There is nothing like a Grateful Dead concert”…..Peace

da boyz

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