Grateful Dead at the Movies: A Return to Alpine Valley
May Fourth, 2015 wasn’t just Star Wars Day (May the Fourth be with you). It was also Fathom Events’ “Grateful Dead Meet Up at the Movies”.
This year, the long strange trip down memory lane happened to be from July 19, 1989, a show I attended. This was actually one of my favorite shows ever, at my very favorite venue, Alpine Valley in East Troy, Wisconsin.
I remember that show specifically because it was an outdoor rain show. Rain shows aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. I don’t always enjoy them, but that particular night I was dancing on the flat area toward Phil’s side of the stage, splashing in the puddles and having fun.
The best part about rain shows, of course, is that the band would play the rain songs. This show featured “Box of Rain” and “Looks like Rain”. I remember being so excited to hear those songs then, and I was excited to enjoy them again at the movies.
I was a bit sad that my peers seemed to enjoy the cushy movie theatres seats overly much, but almost every head nodded in time. Spontaneous applause resounded after Jerry’s solos, as if we were hearing them for the first time. By the encore, “Turn on Your Lovelight,” everyone in the house was dancing.
I was disappointed at the rudeness of a few of my fellow Heads. A few people talked through the entire movie. I’ve noticed this behavior at other shows. Recently, Bob Weir stopped playing during a show because of loud talkers in the front row. I wish I could blame this rudeness on a younger generation, but I am afraid the loudest talkers in the theater were folks who were older than I am, and certainly old enough to know better.
During the years I followed Dead tour, I always gravitated to the place in the arena with the best sound and the most room to dance. That meant I rarely actually watched the show. One of the best parts of seeing this movie twenty-five years later was watching the boys play up close. I love the way the band interacted with each other, their music and their audience.
I loved seeing Jerry laugh when he sang the line from “Sugaree”, “You still have to stand out in the pouring rain.” He was laughing, of course, because we were standing in the rain.
Having the cameras onstage gave us an intimate look at the boys’ work environment. We saw photos of loved ones on Brent’s keyboard. We saw the way Billy and Mickey worked together to keep the rhythm going. We saw Jerry’s fingers flying over Tiger, the guitar we all knew and loved.
Because I toured in the later 1980s, I heard a bunch of Terrapin shows. For a while, my relationship with Terrapin was tenuous at best. I sang, “Terrible, I hate this song” in place of the actual lyrics “Terrapin, can’t figure out…”
My hatred for Terrapin continued long after my touring days ended. When I was seeing a RatDog, Furthur, DSO or PL&F show once a year, it would make me a little sad that the one show I would get to would be yet another Terrapin.
I truly believe that music is an oracle provided by the Universe for our enlightenment and contemplation. I knew there was something for me to learn from this song.
Finally, at the Bayfront in Miami, seeing Furthur with John Kadlecik, I made my peace with Terrapin. At the movies, when it was time for Terrapin, I dance my heart out, truly embracing the “inspiration” of this song.
Watching my peeps in the theater texting, Instagramming and Facebooking reminded me of how little technology we had back in the day. How did we all make it to each show? How did we find each other’s camping spots? How did we organize rides? Somehow, we managed to do all those things and more, without cellphones or social media.
I had fun with my phone, taking pictures of the movie screen, trying to capture the boys in thoughtful expressions. Eventually, I gave up, put my phone away and danced.
Those who don’t understand the Dead, their music or our intense devotion to the band, often remark that the reason the band was so popular was because of the substances many of their followers enjoyed.
I will admit to being sober in the theater and not sober at the original show in 1989. I am happy to report that the music held up to my sobriety just fine. Substances were never the inspiration for me. It’s always been about the music.
This was not the first time I’ve seen a movie of a Dead show I had attended. “Crimson, White and Indigo” is one of my favorite Grateful Dead movies. I was at that show, too.
The thing about the July 19, 1989 Alpine Valley show was that I loved that venue, and that particular show, so much, and remembered it so well. Sometimes memory improves on things a bit. In this case, I am happy to report that the show was every bit as magnificent as I remembered, maybe more. The only thing that couldn’t stand the test of time was Bobby’s short shorts.
Watching the sea of tee-shirt-wearing, graying Deadheads leave the theater gave me a new appreciation of why many of them stayed in their seats for most of the show. We are not a very physically fit bunch these days. I’ve only recently joined the gym, and now I have a new reason to be dedicated to it. The lyric “I’m still walking, so I’m sure that I can dance” may not hold up so well over time.
It’s a paradox that I remember well from Dead tour. There were the healthy Heads, from whom you could always buy a good stir-fry or burrito. There were the party Heads, who drank a lot of beer and ate a lot of chips. You could buy interesting things from them, too. At the time, we were young, invincible and seemingly immortal. Now, some of us have serious health issues, but find ways to get to shows anyway. Some of us could use some kind of “Sweatin’ with Jerry” exercise program for aging Heads. Oh, right, we call that “dancing.”