Friday, October 23, 2009

The Omni: 3/24/88 - Atlanta, GA


So yeah, in college, during the Touch of Grey craze, I did manage to go to one Dead show. The ticket stub is above. I was attending college in New Orleans when a friend of mine, E, who had been magically transforming into a tie-dye-wearing, incense-burning, born-again-hippie, right before my eyes, invited me on a road trip to Atlanta. Sure. Why not? Of course I would never do this sort of thing on my own. Given my sedentary nature, the idea of hitting the road to see the Dead was unfathomable. Impossible. Loony. It would be like signing up for a marathon.

Now, I could tell you the gonzo version of this story. This would involve DEA agents, a red corvette, a bag full of pharmaceuticals, the Georgia Highway Patrol, a number of coeds from Emory University, and a box full of grapefruit. . . but, um, that's not what this blog is about. And trust me, it's not that interesting. And besides, my friend E, who I haven't spoken to in months, would certainly say, as your attorney, I advise you to keep your mouth shut. So, um, I'll just talk about the show. . . (Okay, maybe I'll mention one silly thing that happened).

Anyway, here was the set list:
Set 1: Touch of Grey, Walkin' Blues, Candyman, Queen Jane Approximately, Loser, It's All Over Now, Far From Me, Cassidy, Don't Ease Me In
Set 2: Mississippi Half-Step, Looks Like Rain, Terrapin Station, drums, Truckin', I Need a Miracle, Wharf Rat, Turn on Your Love Light
Encore: Black Muddy River


It was a typical show for the late '80's. Nothing stellar like a Ripple or a Dark Star. Still, I was happy. They played Wharf Rat, which was one of my all-time favorite Dead songs. And the second set blew me away. I had never heard Mississippi Half-Step, Looks Like Rain, or Terrapin. All three stuck with me, the melodies reverberating in my memory for some time after. But enough about the music. The most interesting thing about that Dead show was the crowd.

Okay, I'm no idiot. I realize that much of the zaniness of the Dead could be attributed to drugs. But I promise, something else was at work here. This crowd was way beyond zany. They were fanatical. Possessed. This show was like a mega church service. And this wasn't your mom-n-dad's religion (or maybe it was?). The two-set format, with its drums and space, its slow numbers and fast numbers, its rising and sitting. The concert was abundant with reverence. Ritual. And rebirth. Somehow these good-old rock-n-rollers had taken the hippie culture, born in San Francisco in the late 60's, and dragged it kicking and screaming, all the way to the 80's. Here met a giant party of the holdouts. And their thousands of new recruits. A feast for the no-strings-attached. A final training ground for the armies of the dead. Sure, the culture was a pathetic shell of what it had been. For decades the hippies were mocked and marginalized. Commercialized and bastardized. And it's leaders were now on life support. But onward they marched. Sang and danced. Smoked and drank. Wagged their fingers at authority. And formed a buffer from the norms. It was a safe-haven for the wasted and a bubble of non-conformity. And every night the band played, the Grateful Dead resurrected it.

Something amusing happened to a few college friends after their first Dead show. They changed their majors. They altered their style of dress. A few stopped going to classes. One guy, I did not see for three months. He dropped out of school and hit the road with the Dead. Using his parents money, he followed the band for the rest of the tour. Smart decision? Er, who's to say? But this was the effect of the Dead. Obviously, I was too practical for this sort of thing.

So anyway, here is my one funny story from that concert. After the show was over, my friend, E, and I needed to meet back with our party and find our car (this, by the way, is how most funny stories about dead shows begin. . . compare to, once upon a time, or it was a dark and stormy night). So there we were, wandering around the bowels of the Omni, a big enclosed stadium with multiple levels of parking garages tucked beneath it. And needless to say, we were not, all there. I won't describe how wasted we were. But I will say that it was a wise decision to not make either one of us the designated driver. The parking garages under the Omni were endless. Or so they seemed. And after the concert let out, it was a circus. Hundreds of dead heads were meandering around in a similar predicament. We kept running into the same lost people. Hey. It was horrible. Find your car? Torture. Nope. After what seemed like an hour (five minutes?), E had a vision. One of the voices in his head told him that our car was one level below. And who was I to argue? So we made our way to the nearest escalator. And we stepped on. And we waited. . . And waited. . . And waited. . . This large snaking steel escalator seemed to be descending over ten thousand feet. Wow, this is taking a long time, I said. E nodded. Maybe we are going all the way to hell? E nodded again. He did not seem too concerned. After an eternity, I looked down at my feet. They did not seem to be moving. I turned around and noticed we were still on the top step. The escalator was not turned on. We had made zero progress. And neither one of us had noticed. . . Gah! I poked E in the side. Hey, this thing isn't moving. We need to walk down. E looked at his feet, shook his head, adjusted his eyes, and laughed. Holy crap. You're right! We both laughed and hurried down the steps.

Okay, that was it. Not too funny eh? One of those, you had to be there's? Sorry. It was funny at the time. And hey, I just thought of something. That was a story about me being stuck. About my less-than-satisfactory mental state. And about my perception of moving much faster to an end state than I really was. Could this be an analogy? Nah. . . Not consciously. I aint that clever.

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