[Images are not my own, I wasn’t there!!]
This weekend thousands of Deadheads flooded the Bay Area for the final three performances of Dead & Company. Returning to San Francisco, where the original outfit Grateful Dead was birthed about 60 years ago now.
I won’t write on the history and evolution of the original band and how its changed since the 60s, because truthfully I don’t know it outside some basic cliff notes. But I will write about the love I saw for them, and the scene it created in SF this last weekend in July.
Fans spanned over multiple generations, like I’d never been able to understand before. I’m not a huge Deadhead myself, but over the course of the last week I’ve talked to many and listened to their own relationship to the band, more so a movement. What I’ve learned is through the beauty of this sprawling body of music is everyone has their own unique connection, no two paths or shows seen the same.
On two separate occasions, on the Muni through SoMa to Dogpatch this weekend, I crossed paths with fans of all creed making their way to Oracle Park on Willie Mays. One stop on the way to Dogpatch has a direct line of sight to the venue, where I saw thousands of people creating a sea of tie die.
As I sat and awaited my destination I spectated hoards of fans bleed in and out of the car, excited to attend for all I know what could be their first or twentieth, fifteith Dead show.
Passing through the hostel alone, I met fans of all age, gender, race, generation. It was inspiring and I’ve never seen anything like it, for any artist. Really thought I’d been to my share of festivals with artists carrying a heavy cult following.
The hostel was overbooked through the entire weekend.
Fans have been with the band for decades, some who have known them since they were teenagers. Judging from the vast demographic, that could’ve been the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s. Fans who have only been on this earth for this century. Fans who traveled alone, in pairs, in a group. Fans who adopted the Dead love from a parent, relative, friend. Fans who were attending one night or all three. That bond has been there, longer than I could know.
I met a girl with a Grateful Dead tattoo on her right back arm. She told me she grew up listening to the Dead through with Dad, bonding and jamming together for years. They had tickets to see all three shows, and he flew down to the Bay to meet her just for it.
I talked with a very drunk and very enthusiastic man in his mid 20s at Vesuvio Cafe this last week who, literally, hitchhiked over the last week from Minnesota to San Francisco to have a final goodbye. Professing his love for the Dead and the Beats, it seemed he made his way home. Vesuvio is most definitely that intersection (I and many’s favorite spot in the city).
I talked with an older man in the hostel who has been following this tour alone for the last six months, and its led him here. He recounted doing the same in the early 70s.
As I write this piece at 901 Columbus, in this moment at sundown, I look out the cafe window and see people board a trolley with red roses decorated all throughout the top of the car. Did not see that anywhere a week ago! Not a coincidence, no doubt the work of Deadheads.
One common thread between many conversations with fans is that they were very clear that no two shows of theirs were the same. They emphasized each show wouldn’t have the same two songs the entire weekend. And they didn’t. Their final show, though the lead guitarist Bob Weir emphasizes “it’s never really over,” closed with “Not Fade Away.”