Tuesday night I was just outside Atlanta seeing Furthur. Yes, I am a big old hippie. Because my dad is a big fan, I grew up listening to the Grateful Dead and I always intended to see them myself someday, but Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995 (the summer before my senior year in high school) put a crimp in my plans. In college, I saw a lot of Widespread Panic and the Allman Brothers, but never got to see any incarnation of The Dead, such as they were, anyway, sans Jerry.
Well, now I had my chance and you had better bet I jumped at it. Being there brought back so many memories of my old concert-going days: the crowd forming in the parking lot with people selling their wares and chatting amid the aisles of cars, people tailgating and grilling and drinking beers and chasing dogs around, the nice sense of anticipation and collective excitement. I didn’t even really mind when a giant storm blew through and chased us back into the car for a while. In the southeast, I thought, these things just whip through and are gone in 15 minutes, right? Er, wrong.
It rained the entire night. Luckily, we had seats under the roof and so had the option to stay fairly dry once we got inside the arena –unlike the hoi polloi with general admission lawn seats. (Back in the day I was always one of the kids on the lawn, and I used to feel a mixture of jealousy and resentment toward the rich grown-ups who could afford assigned seating under the roof; oh, how time makes fools.)
Eventually, though, we saw a couple of friends and left our assigned spots to go join them at the back of the pavilion, just under the roof but with room to dance a bit more. This was pretty much the perfect spot to really enjoy the show — we could stay mostly dry but we weren’t stuck in an aisle of fixed seats.
People at Dead shows and the like are unfailingly friendly, and we made a friend in the parking lot and helped him sneak into the covered area and then met another couple of new friends at the back of the pavilion, one of whom was this woman with long, braided grey hair who had obviously seen her share of shows over the years of touring. She had a tour name — something about Flower, maybe? I forget because I am terrible and also had consumed some number of tiny champagne bottles in the parking lot. She was wearing a tie-dyed shirt and had some sweet dance moves. She decided to call me “Princess,” spent a good amount of time dancing with my date, and at the end of the evening told me, pointing to him, “He’s a good one. You hold onto him.” I told her I’m working on it.
Musically, the show was awesome. I didn’t get to hear all of my favorites (but then again one never does), but I was happy to hear most of these:
(Setlist courtesy of the Furthur facebook page.)
The band sounded great, and it was wonderful to see guys like Bob Weir and Phil Lesh still rocking out almost 50 years after they first started. They’ve held up, as have the songs, as does the community and the energy that forms when people are connected by music that is so well loved, familiar, and meaningful across generations.
At the end of the show, after an amazing encore, “Quinn the Eskimo,” which I absolutely LOVE, the rain started coming down even harder. It was blowing in under the edge of the pavilion roof and we were absolutely soaked. We were having the best time ever — pretty much just grinning and happy as clams all night long — so not even the torrential downpour could really dampen our moods. The long walk back to the car was a bit ridiculous, however. I had a borrowed raincoat (courtesy of a man who is far too kind to wear it himself in such a situation) but the skirt of my ankle-length dress was soaked and heavy and dragging, so I had to carry it in one hand and my flip-flops in the other. Flip-flops are just too slippery to walk in when the ground is four inches deep with water, you know?
We made it back to the car and then eventually to our hotel in spite of the flooded roads and near-zero visibility in the dark and stormy night. It’s funny, the way the weather affects things like this: on one hand, we missed some opportunities to browse and shop the booths in the lot and to chat with others who were hanging around outside. When the rain storm first started, people kind of kept to themselves in their cars. I think that once people realized it wasn’t going to be a 15-minute quickie storm and rather an all-night flood-fest, we all just kind of decided to grin and bear it. We were all going to get drenched, so we may as well still have fun. The kids on the lawn were still partying it up and the lines for food/beer/merchandise inside the arena, no awnings and open to the clouds, were still as long as ever. Everyone was still happy and friendly and clearly enjoying themselves.
I can see why people decide to pick up and follow the bands they love, meeting the tour at every stop along the way. For me, though, it was great while it lasted but now it’s back to reality!