Being a Deadhead: It’s more than the music

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” — Dr. Suess


I’m not a writer. The limited stuff I’ve published takes weeks for me to write (and rewrite) and has been about Social Impact through Corporate Philanthropy, Giving, Improv at Work, or Managing Heartbreak written in Dr. Suess-esque voice. (which was actually written 22 year ago, pre-internet.) It requires me taking a deep breath before hitting that publish button for the world (or at the very least, my mom) to read my work. I prefer to tell my stories with photos only. It’s been a while since I readily opened my “digital writing kimono” until today after an incredible experience that reminded me what makes me so happy and truly able to let loose.

I’ve been inspired this weekend after watching, listening, dancing to and chatting about the Dead shows in Santa Clara and Chicago. In 2000 I had made a deal with myself that the next time they (or any part of them) toured I HAD to go. I said these words to myself during the Further tour in 2011, yet I never got my shit together most likely because of my own emotional baggage — yes, depression — despite knowing that going to a show would have been musically medicinal. This time, 2015 Fare The Well, I kept my promise to myself and found some affordable tickets for the Sunday show in Santa Clara.

Commenting on the specifics of and riffs or transitions or wax poetically about the set lists and particular songs are not my jam (others do it much better than I), but relishing in the experience of people with whom I’m enjoying the show is noteworthy.

The next challenge— who do I take?

I wanted to take someone who truly understood what it meant and felt like to attend a Deadshow. For you Deadheads, you know what I’m talking about. And someone who “got” me so we could share the experience and all the emotions that go with it. Ok, so one choice was an ex-boyfriend. Yeah, not the best option (musings for another post) and thankfully, he was not available.

Frank pours his top shelf aged sipping tequila. #yum

As it turned out, I went with some kick-ass Salesforce alum who were also die-hard Deadheads. Also in toe was a favorite couple of mine who were first- timers at a show. A trip to Woodside, perfect sunny weather, tasty steak, hearty salad, a delicious pool, and some top shelf tequila started off the day. (Thank you, Frank!)

A short drive over to Santa Clara, Levi’s stadium in the SUV, six packed full, blasting old Dead tunes, we arrived to our parking spot and unloaded as very happy hippies. While the scene was not as reminiscent as my last show 23 years prior, we made our own little Shakedown. Even with the most friendly cops suggesting we pour our glass bottle beers into something a little less breakable lest we get ejected.

After a little Shaking Down in the lot, making a trip to the nearby clean-ish porta-potty, finishing up the beer and injesting the perfect amount of “edibles” chocolate we headed in to the Grateful mayhem — dancing along the way.

Greg “Bridgewater” Feldman who drove up from San Diego and met him in the Parking Lot

It was so fun running into long-time friend, musician, and Emory crush for a big hug and photo op in the middle of the parking lot. Gotta love the shows for that kind of serendipity. Who needs to bring ex-boyfriends when this happens?

Kinda liked his cool baseball hat, however, I remained partial to my Pier 23 cowboy hat (shhh)

And just as fun to meet random very friendly strangers from upstate New York to swap hats with — at least for a photo op! He was cute. (Potential geographically undesirable future ex-boyfriend?)

As we easily passed through security (nothing to hide anyway), we strolled into the massive stadium to find our club level seats. The band coincidentally starts it off with “Feels Like a Stranger”. We dance to our section, in the sun, beers in hand.

This is just about the moment the chocolate kicks in. Can you say HAPPY!???

A little Minglewood Blues followed by an enthusiastic Brown-Eyed Woman helped release some endorphins and my musical high truly kicked in. Time to let loose.

“Brown-eyed women and red grenadine
The bottle was dusty but the liquor was clean.”

One memorable note from Amanda, her first show, she enthusiastically comments “Wow, these people are all so nice and happy! I’ve never been to a concert like this before!” Is it something we now sadly take for granted?

It was really all magic from there on in. Dancing without a care in the world. Remembering what it felt like back when I was 18. Ok, I was likely a little less sober at those 80s/90s shows, but was enjoying it just as much now. Throwing away all cares of what people might have thought about me in my meditative dance state. I also recognized at this age and maturity how to let go any desire or anxiousness to have to meet up with friends I knew were there. To see or be seen. I was there for me. To enjoy the music and energy of everyone there. Even letting go the stress of trying to meet up with an old school hebrew-school friend from 35 years ago who was out from the east coast! (Sorry, Laura) I was happy to genuinely be “in the moment” and be me.

All face painted and ready to head up to Hartford with Shira Levine. April 1988 after our Eight-Week academic adventure summer in Israel 1987
Me in my self-designed dancing bear jean shorts with fellow Deadhead and AEPi friend Scott Piro

The Sunday setlist brought back floods of awesome memories from all my shows, friendships and travel experiences. Alabama Getaway — heard at my first (or second?) show with Shira, April 1988, Hartford and the reason I got into the Dead. (Also the name of my freshman dorm.) I never forget her suggestion — while at the shows to listen and single out each instrument and focus on it, listening to the music it made. I believe that might have been the start to my meditation practice. (which I’ve only recently been more committed to).

Sugar Mags to my Emory days; I Need a Miracle — of all the times hanging out trying to get a miracle ticket (which were only $18.50 back then) in the Omni parking lot; Hell in a Bucket and Brokedown Palace — both which were played at the last show I attended, March 3, 1992 .

Notice it’s pre-Euro currency and was Francs — less than $25 USD

The Dead followed me. Yes, in Europe 1990. A Saturday show in Paris. I was so close on the floor I could have spit on Jerry. Fear not, I kept saliva to myself and behaved. From Paris, I headed on the bus and ferry (the Chunnel was under construction, not opening until four years later).

Halloween, October 31, 1990 in London and guess who was there? Yup, Jerry and the gang. A most MOST memorable show at Wembly arena with a rock solid set list and a rousing “Werewolves of London” as an encore. Every time I’ve been back in London I remember that show and the chanting of the chorus on the Tube ride home from the thousands of American Deadheads who followed them on that tour. These memories bring me back to a very happy history. And 7 times out of 10, when I share that story, the person I’m telling happened to be at that show as well! #connections.

My final show, March 1992, the year of my graduation, I found myself psychedelically and realistically back stage meeting keyboardist Vince Welnick (RIP). Despite the fact it was well before the times of smartphones and digital cameras, I still took my film camera with me whenever I could. Some things never change.

Backstage with Vince Welnick. Omni. 1992

A Nomadic Band of Meerkat Deadheads

The most memorable way to experience the final Dead shows…

On to the Chicago shows. The high of the Santa Clara show dangled the question in front of me — “is there a way to go to see the final, final shows?”. The answer was a surprising YES! No, I wasn’t there IRL (in real life), but I was able to watch it thanks to a most kind and hospitable @andrewshaman who streamed the PPV via his meerkat channel. It wasn’t just Andrew who made the show so special (notwithstanding Bob, Phil, Bill, Bruce, Trey, Jeff, and Mickey), but also the most friendly, enthusiastic, non-snarky, troll-less, supportive fellow fans. Viewing the show and chatting with other fans on line was incredibly apropos given that The Dead “were an Internet band without the existence of the Internet,” as Chicago Tribune music critic Greg Kot put it. For one thing, the Dead were ahead of their time in how they built an audience, shared their music (encouraging fans to record their own tapes) and let their performances be their prime signature.

We participated in the performance adding our own complimentary commentary, sharing past Dead experiences, dancing in our living rooms, crying, clapping, laughing and sending relevant emojis.

Often at most of the shows, you find yourself guessing the next tune, wishing for your favorite (Scarlet), and cheering when you’re right. This meerkat chat was no different. With every riff, or transition, the 420+ members of the chat room chimed in with their guess. And emoji cheers erupted when someone was right. For the late joiners asking for a set recap, meerkaters were eager to oblige.

Screenshot of what it looked like from my iPhone. Enjoying the show with others, friends and strangers around the country.

HUGE props to Andrew, not only for hosting this meerkat stream, but for the wonderful commentary before and after the show and during the intermission. Andrew has an incredibly soothing announcer voice. Not to mention, he was as personally welcoming and grateful to each individual crowd member as they were for him hosting. It was truly an instant family — without the unnecessary familial bickering. Visitors were so grateful they offered genuine praises and even their Esty tie-tyed goods in appreciation for his generosity. It honestly was a virtual Shakedown Street minus the hassle of parking, finding porta-potties, expensive beer lines, or dealing with horrific traffic all from the comfort of my couch. If there were ‘haters’ they kept quiet or went to FB groups to bitch, they just weren’t part of our experience. I give Andrew high accolades for courteously sitting silent during the sets, while I found myself clapping, cheering, singing along and even bawling through some songs (Not Fade Away) alone in my apartment. (Please pass the tie-dyed tissues!)

As excited as I was being in the chat and stream I knew my other Deadhead friends would enjoy it as well. Having Scott (pictured above) ‘at this show’ with me again brought back some great Emory memories — including shows we attended together. He surprised me with the set list I wrote on the back of a photo of us from April 1, 1990. I actually remember writing it!! (And I guess that’s as close to hearing Women Are Smarter this time around.)

Setlist from the April 1, 1990 show

I also invited cousin Darryl (the only other real Trell Deadhead) who now lives in LA. (He was also on the initial short list to come with me to Santa Clara — sadly last minute flights were cost prohibitive). He enjoyed the show as much as I did from his phone, including his own tears which prompted his wife to ask, “ummm, what’s wrong with you?” Apparently it was a part of his life she was never really in on.

Cousin Darryl with Jerry. Early 90s? (Best comment: Darryl looks like he belongs on an episode of Silver Spoons!)

In addition to seeing the show with Scott and Darryl who, I also “ran into” a former business associate from nearly a decade ago who recognized my twitter name! (@julietrell). We have plans to reconnect this month as he’s still in the education space. #reconnections

This insta-Dead family shared much of their experiences and even taught me more about the culture. Through conversation I now know about Wharf Rats, who are a group of concert-goers who have chosen to live drug and alcohol free. Their primary purpose is to support other concert goers who choose to live drug-free, like themselves. They announce their presence with yellow balloons and hold 12 step meetings during intermission at the shows. There were a handful of folks sharing their sobriety numbers right in our meerkat chat — 9 months, 7 years, 15 years September (h/t Scott), 18 years, etc. So cool and proud to hear these folks just as happy as ever and enjoying these shows sober which was a natural high in and of itself. I was honored and happy to be celebrating with them.

While I was hanging out with some of my old and new friends, it was easy to make new ones. As per my previously mentioned stats, @urbangirlgo from Jersey in the chat was also at that London Halloween show!! We embraced and swapped stories, set list and video from the show and now are twitter buds.

This experience transcended time zones. It accomplished experiencing the shows in the same place while enjoying the comforts of our own homes. Even one of the band members cousin — Don Hornsby- happened to join us. It really was the coolest thing experiencing a live concert when you couldn’t be there in person — and knowing everyone virtually around you was feeling the same. #emotionalconnections

Of course there were some songs I wished they played — and threw the titles out there like you throw a quarter in a wishing well, praying that the band just might hear me and my band of merry meerkats. Many of us were hoping for a little Sugaree. And to hear my personal favorite, Women are Smarter, because we are, and it’s always nice to be reminded - in song.

All in all this weekend of shows was something more than all of us watching a show together — so much more. Imagine if every day could be as happy, friendly, and welcoming as a Dead concert parking lot or a meerkat stream of compassionate, kind, and good natured revelers. As per Mickey’s parting words, I know I will make every effort to relive this energy, kindness, and empathy as part of my daily encounters and share it with the world.

Robert Hunter wrote and Jerry Garcia sang it best:

“Strangers stopping strangers, just to shake their hand
Everybody is playing in the heart of gold band, heart of gold band.”

Be grateful. Be kind.

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