At the Grateful Dead meet-up

Taking a break from the news, I attended the first international edition of the so-called Grateful Dead Meet-Up at the suburban AMC multiplex in Eden Prairie, Minnesota last night. This year’s Meet-Up featured a showing of the Dead’s June 17, 1991 concert at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey (setlist here).

Arriving at the Eden Prairie mall an hour early to have dinner with my friend Mike Frost saved the night. We bought the last two tickets for the show before dinner and made it a sell-out. It was the best attended film playing last night.

The audience for the show had the highest median age in the multiplex’s 18 theaters by a wide, wide margin. The audience was not only the oldest but also the happiest, again by far. One enthusiastic lady took to the first row aisle immediately next to me so she could dance as the band played on during the second set.

This was the ninth annual Grateful Dead Meet-Up. I first discovered the annual Meet-Ups in 2017. Where have I been all these years? I’m trying to make up for lost time. I am a long-time fan of the band and frequent listener to the Grateful Dead channel on Sirius/XM. That’s how I caught Al Franken’s takeover of the channel on May 31, 2017. Now Franken himself has moved on. Time flies!

The previous two years’ Meet-Ups caught the Dead playing during an East Coast heat wave at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC on the sweltering evening of July 12, 1989 and at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia on the sweltering evening of August 1, 1989. The 2017 Meet-Up celebrated what would have been the 75th birthday of lead guitarist Jerry Garcia. Jerry died of a heart attack in 1995 at the age of 53 in rehab for his drug addiction. Yesterday was the anniversary of his birth; he would have turned 77,

Keyboard virtuoso Brent Mydland had joined the band in 1979. His playing and singing made for a good addition to the band. Indeed, Brent’s playing and singing were featured in the 1989 Philadelphia concert. He died of a drug overdose the following year at the age of 37.

Vince Welnick took Mydland’s place on keyboards and was in the band’s 1991 lineup on display in last night’s show. Having struggled with depression over a period of several years, Welnick committed suicide in 2006 at the age of 55.

In 1991 Bruce Hornsby was still lending the Dead a hand as a second on piano and accordion while Welnick got his bearings with the band. Hornsby’s playing in the 6/17/91 show is notably inventive and melodic.

The quality of the film is outstanding. It puts us onstage with the Dead and up close to their instruments. It gives us frequent close-ups of Phil Lesh’s highly active work on his six-string bass and Garcia’s on lead guitar. Seeing the film was probably better than being there among the crowd of 66,000. One advantage it surely had over a Dead concert: it started close to the scheduled time. Given the up-close view of the band in the film, however, I wish (as usual) they had dressed a little better.

I thought the concert featured in this year’s Meet-Up was just about all highlights. The audience in the theater applauded after every song, first to last. The playing was hot even if the singing was ragged, in the traditional Dead style.

The 6/17/91 show is one of only two shows in the Dead’s archive recorded to 48-track analog tape. I concur with the promotional claim that it provides spectacular audio quality. Promotional notes state that the audio was mixed by Jeffrey Norman in surround sound at Bob Weir’s TRI Studios, mastered by David Glasser at Airshow Mastering, with video from a five-camera (I think) live edit. The film gives us our first look at the Dead’s Hornsby/Welnick lineup on the big screen.

They opened the show with a spacey “Eyes of the World.” The video below was made available to promote last night’s Meet-Up.

Ditto for the video of “Truckin'” below that introduced the medley at the heart of the second set.

“Truckin'” led to “New Speedway Boogie” and “Uncle John’s Band” (video below).

I am grateful to the Grateful Dead. Jerry Garcia’s first musical love was traditional American folk and bluegrass music. He was crazy about it. 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. And the Dead were early adopters of what Gram Parsons called the Cosmic American Music. It came naturally to them and they honestly staked a claim to their corner of it.