When I was growing up, whenever the Grateful Dead, were due in town, the local papers would jump on the story and spend pages warning everyone about the hippies who would soon be invading the town.  There would be stories about public bathrooms being overwhelmed, people sleeping on public benches, drugs, sex, crowds, and a general feeling of anarchy.

Despite the fact that general anarchy and free love sound like a really good time, I have spent my life being pretty ignorant about the Dead and their “scene”.  I did finally break down and buy a Dead t-shirt one summer while I was working on the carnival (I broke down after being surrounded by booths who made their living selling Dead paraphernalia), but the day after I bought the shirt, Jerry Garcia dropped dead. 

I remember thinking then that all of the Deadheads and Deadhead vendors would need to find something else to do.  I’ve often wondered what happened to all of the people who spent their time following the Dead around when Jerry died.  Do you think they went and found real jobs and gave up the hippie lifestyle?  Perhaps, I suppose, but I think it is more likely that the younger ones began following Phish, a band that seems to be always striving to fill Grateful Dead void and capture the Dead vibe.

I’ve been to two Phish concerts, and to one Trey Anastasio show (he is the lead singer of Phish), and I had a good time and really enjoyed the music, but I am definitely not a “Phish-Head”.  I always thought that the Phish atmosphere should have been pretty similar to the atmosphere at the Dead shows, but the Phish shows seemed a little false.  It was as if people felt they should be acting a certain way, rather than just acting in a way that felt natural.  I’m sure that my Phish-Head friends will tell me that what I’m describing is due to the “wannabes”, and not the true Phish fans, but it’s what I felt when I was at the shows.

Anyway, back to the point of the story:  My friend The King is a really big fan of the Dead, and he invited me to attend the Other Ones concert when they came to Boston.  He told me on a Friday that there were tickets available for the next Tuesday’s show, so I went to Ticketmaster and snagged myself a ticket for a reasonable price.  Finally, a reason to wear my tie-dye shirt!  Below is a journal of what happened:

5:15pm:  The shirt is pretty tight, to the point where if I tied a string to my finger I would look like a Macy’s Day Parade balloon, so I wear a baggy sweatshirt over it.  Darned thing must have shrunk in the wash…but at least the shirt makes me feel like my “Dead Credibility” is high.

6:00pm:  The King had warned me to leave early because there would probably be crowds and crowds of weird people clogging the streets outside of the FleetCenter.  I get out of the cab (the cabbie spent the entire ride speaking excitedly into a cell phone in a language I do not speak…I hate it when I can’t eavesdrop) to let me out on a side street to avoid the crush, and as I turn the corner I see….not much.  There is a small crowd of people hanging around, and although some of them are wearing tie-dye, not many of them look very weird, and the majority of them look like they were in 3rd grade when Jerry Garcia died. 

6:05pm:  I show up at the pizza place where we are supposed to meet, but no one else is there yet.  I grab a beer in a soft paper cup and a bland turkey sub and hang out for a bit, watching the people around me, who seem remarkably like regular people eating in a sub shop.  A cop walks into the pizza place, stops in the middle of the room and looks around very carefully (probably thinking, THESE PEOPLE ARE ON DRUGS, I WISH TO ARREST THEM ALL). 

Once convinced that there aren’t laws actually being broken in the dining area, he struts into the restroom.  I’m not sure if he is going into the bathroom because he has to “go”, or because he is hoping to break up some major, career-making drug deal.  He leaves the bathroom a short while later with an air of disappointment.  Again, I’m not sure if this is due to certain personal shortcomings, or because Tony Montana wasn’t selling cocaine in the restroom.  I finish my sub and my beer and, still not seeing any freaks, I wander off to pick up my ticket at the Will Call Window.

6:30pm:  I’m standing at the Will Call Window, about to pick up my ticket, when a 14 year old kid leans over the nylon line (those poles with seat belts that slide out of them and attach to other poles to form little cattle pens for people who are waiting in line for things) and shouts at me from 2 inches away, “YOU WANNA BUY A TICKET?” 

I resist my natural impulse to choke people who shout at me from that distance, and then resist my secondary impulse to say something wildly brilliant and sarcastic (ok, maybe I just can’t think of anything in time).  Instead, I just shake my head no and watch him walk away in a drug and/or puberty-induced haze.  The cranky dude behind the window (do all the people from the Registry of Motor Vehicles work at Will Call Windows as their second jobs?) hands me a ticket, and I leave for the pizza place.

6:40pm:  I get to the pizza place and wander around until I hear someone shout “Hey Tim” from a booth near the back.  I don’t recognize the guy at first, but it turns out to be The King’s friend, Jim, who recognized me from his bachelor party.  How this guy recognized me from his bachelor party, I have no idea, since I’m pretty sure he was blind by the time I showed up that night (and he might have been wearing a pretty pink dress, but I can neither confirm nor deny that).  Anyway, Jim and The King’s other friend John are in a booth, so I sit down and get a beer while listening to Jim and John regale me with tales about their past Grateful Dead concert experiences.

7:10pm:  The King bursts upon the scene in all of his motorcycle jacket splendor (editor’s note:  the concert was in November, I’m just really slow finishing these articles).  Never mind that it is approximately 39 degrees outside, The King thought it would be important to ride his motorcycle to the concert. The drawback to this is that he is now unable to move his hands out of the “holding onto the handlebars” position, but luckily the “holding onto the handlebars” position is only a turn of the wrist away from the “holding a beer” position, so The King is content and he begins to brag about the parking spot he nabbed right outside the pizza joint.

7:20pm:  Two beers later and The King can finally begin to use his hands again.  He tells us that earlier while stopping at an ATM, he saw a man standing in the ATM booth with about 10 bags of marijuana clutched in his hands, openly looking for buyers.  The police would have apprehended this dangerous criminal, but they were too busy guarding the pizza joint bathroom.  We finish our beers and decide that it’s about time to head to the show.

7:25pm:  After the King shoos about 10 people off of his parked motorcycle (they were probably huddling near the engine for warmth) we get to the FleetCenter and get to The King’s section.  Because I bought my ticket separately, I am slotted to sit in an entirely different section, but I don’t advertise that fact when the usher (more on the usher in a second) checks The King’s ticket and ejects some other people from “our” seats.  We move in and make ourselves comfortable.

After about three minutes of sitting and sipping our beers and making the type of conversation you make while waiting for shows to start, Jim stands up and says, “I’m starving”.  He works his way out of the row and disappears in a crowd moving towards the concession stands.

7:39pm:  Jim is back from foraging.  He sits down and begins to eat a bowl of vanilla ice cream.  This for some reason strikes us as funny and we giggle about it for the rest of the night.  In fact, I was giggling about it until just now when I re-read it and said to myself, “What the hell is funny about that?”  So, we’ll have to leave that story in the “I don’t know why, but trust me that it’s funny” bin.

7:40pm:  The surviving members of the Grateful Dead (now called The Other Ones, soon they will change their name to simply “The Dead”) stroll out onto the stage and slowly pick up their instruments.  The audience pitches a fit, even though most of them probably grew up wondering what the big deal was about the dead tie designer…wasn’t he the guy who got together with Ben and created an ice cream company?  Of course, I am saying this, and I have no familiarity with the Grateful Dead beyond “Truckin’”, “Casey Jones”, and “Touch of Grey”.

The Other Ones, led by lead singer Bob Weir, breaks into “Cumberland Blues”.  People are jumping up and down and there is a general level of happiness.  After about five minutes, the 45-year old longhaired guy in front of me turns and actually asks if I want to sell him any psychedelic drugs.  I say no with a big smile on my face (What were the chances that this would happen at this concert?), and he slowly shakes his head and says, “That’s too bad, man.”  He quickly gets over his disappointment and goes back to entertaining his scantily clad 16-year old girlfriend.

This reminds me of a story:  Two of my fraternity brothers used to go on and on about how they were going to drop acid while we were in college.  They talked about it and talked about it and had pretty much built it up to be the ultimate college experience.  The other members of the fraternity, tired of listening to all of it, decided to give these two guys that great college experience.  These two guys were sold lemon drops on blotter paper one night for something like $15 a hit (yes, the sellers kept the money).

Everyone in the room that night pretended to drop acid with these guys (I wasn’t there until near the end and wasn’t involved with the plot), and it apparently became high comedy when the two guys began talking about the drug-induced visuals they were experiencing.  I walked in near the end of the experiment and asked one of the conspirators why everyone was acting like such idiots.  He took me aside and swore me to secrecy, and I agreed never to tell anyone.  Until now.

8:20pm:  The band has not stopped playing once, and it is almost as if they are playing one, really long song with a few really long verses.  It is very similar to Phish (or, as the King reminds me, Phish is very similar to The Other Ones), and I find myself really enjoying the show.  It is at this point that I begin to become annoyed by a flashlight beam that is constantly waving over the section that somehow manages to catch my eye every two seconds.

I glance to my right and see an usher, who looks a little like Eugene Levy with a flat top, waving his flashlight through the section while sprinting up and down the stairs in an effort to fight crime.  Unlike most ushers at this show, who are relaxed while enjoying the music and the contact high, this guy is becoming his own show.  People standing in the aisle are quickly reprimanded, and anyone who comes back from the bathroom is asked for identification and almost frisked.  I point this guy out to The King and company, and we quickly dub the usher “Dudley Do-Right”.

Dudley is constantly on the lookout for people smoking illegal drug-type substances.  The funny thing is that despite his vigilance, he can’t seem to catch anyone in the act.  Dudley follows one promising lead into the row behind me and interrogates a row of 5 college kids one at a time.  The kids carefully hand the contraband behind their backs to the next person in line, and then show Dudley that they don’t have anything in their hands.  To our extreme entertainment, this ruse actually works, and Dudley stalks off, disappointed.  He was SURE that he would catch someone this time, and gosh, they sure looked guilty.

One of these days, I’m sure he WILL catch someone who is too high to evade him, and then the police will HAVE to accept at his meter maid application and allow him to lead a life harassing the drivers of Boston.

9:20pm:  The Other Ones take a break after a really nice set (any Dead fan is probably groaning right now…”Really Nice?”).  Some other dude, who apparently wrote all of Jerry Garcia’s songs, performs for a half-hour and is ok.  Jim decides against a second bowl of ice cream.

9:50pm:  The Other Ones arrive back on stage and begin to play.  They play another really long song with a bunch of verses, including one that I recognized (“Friend of the Devil”).  The 40-year old psychedelic drug shopper in front of us has had his hand on the 16 year-old girl’s rear for the past hour.  Dudley hasn’t managed to catch him in the act, however, because he is apparently too busy interrogating people who dared to leave his section to urinate.

10:20pm:  Midway through another really long riff, I stop bobbing around with my eyes closed to find John dead asleep in his chair.  His chin is resting peacefully against his chest, and I’m sure he’s dreaming that he’s at a Grateful Dead concert.  I point this out to the King and Jim, who nod their heads in a knowing sort of way, as if it is normal for John to be nodding off during times when he should otherwise be awake.

Susan Tedeschi joins the band on stage, ostensibly to sing, but she spends quite a while just standing in front of the microphone, grooving to the music with the rest of the crowd.

10:45pm:  The Other Ones finish their set and walk off the stage to thunderous applause.

There is approximately 0 chance that the band won’t come back on stage for an encore.  This is how it’s done..the band leaves, we clap until our arms get tired and then they come back onto stage as if our clapping has overwhelmed them into giving us more for our money.  The entire charade makes me tired, to be honest.  I prefer the method that I saw the band Guster use once at a show:  While never leaving the stage, the lead singer explained that this was now the encore portion of their set, and that the band would leave after a couple more songs.

The problem is that even if every artist abandoned the maddening practice for a number of years, some artist would suddenly do it again, and people would rave about how cool it was to get even MORE music for their money, and the whole concept of encores would come back into fashion like Capri pants and bell-bottoms did.  I’m sure that they would be doing them in LA for years before it caught on in such backwater areas as Boston.

10:47pm:  They’re back.  Lead singer Bob Weir explains that this will be the shortest encore in history.  The band then buzzes through another song and races off the stage at precisely 11 (which is the time that the band is legally bound to stop?).

The lights come on, and John, who has been asleep this entire time, wakes with a start, in the process shaking some of the drool off of his chin and onto his shirt.  We file out of the show past Dudley, who is mumbling something to himself about rules and how IMPORTANT they are and people just don’t UNDERSTAND…

We hit the night air tired but appreciative of a good show with some incredible instrumental work.  Once outside, The King shoos away some Japanese tourists who are taking pictures of themselves on his motorcycle.  He climbs on and with a wave disappears loudly into the frigid darkness.  John stumbles off to his car and Jim and I catch a cab without ever suggesting that we grab a drink or continue the party.  Crazy Deadheads or not, it was a weeknight after all.