At the Grateful Dead meet-up

Taking a break from the news, I attended the so-called Grateful Dead Meet-Up at our local suburban multiplex last night. The Meet-Up featured a showing of the Dead’s previously unreleased July 12, 1989 concert at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. The film preview and setlist are posted here.

I think it was the best attended film playing at the theater last night. That’s a guess. The audience for the show had the highest median age in the multiplex’s 16 theaters by a wide, wide margin. Of that much I am almost certain. The audience for the Meet-Up was not only the oldest but also the happiest, again by far.

A few more things I learned along the way:

This was the seventh annual Grateful Dead Meet-Up. Where have I been all these years? I hope to be back for more next year.

The occasion for this year’s Meet-Up was what would have been the 75th birthday of lead guitarist Jerry Garcia. Jerry died in 1995 at the age of 53 in rehab for his drug addictions. What a waste.

Keyboard virtuoso Brent Mydland had joined the band in 1979. His playing and singing made for a good addition. Mydland died of a drug overdose in 1990 at the age of 37, a year after the concert featured in the film. What a waste.

The quality of the concert film was first-rate. It looked and sounded like it had been filmed with the latest twenty-first century technology. It provided an uncomfortably close look at the band in performance on what must have been a sweltering night in Washington. Seeing the film was probably better than being there. One advantage it surely had over a Dead concert: it started punctually at the scheduled time.

Given the close-up view of the band on display in the film, I wish they had dressed better. They were not pleasant to look at. They all looked bad, but Bob Weir in particular seemed to go out of his way to achieve the effect in jean cutoffs.

The highlight of the show was the band’s performance of the number “Man Smart (Woman Smarter)” with Bruce Hornsby sitting in on accordion and piano. The song was originally popularized by Harry Belafonte on his 1956 album Calypso. The Dead sounded like they were burning to put it over. The audience around me last night burst out spontaneously in applause at the conclusion. Total fun.

Garcia’s first musical love was traditional American folk and bluegrass music. You can hear it coming through on the Dead albums Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. My appreciation of the Dead led me back in that direction. For that I am grateful.

Garcia took a timeout from the Dead in 1973 to play banjo in the bluegrass band Old & In the Way. The band had Jerry’s once and future folk/bluegrass buddy David Grisman on mandolin, Peter Rowan on guitar, Vassar Clements on fiddle and John Kahn on bass. In the video below they do their thing on “I Ain’t Broke, But I’m Badly Bent.” This is heavy metal, bluegrass style.


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