As tribute to the late Jerry Garcia, I have established August as a month to celebrate his musical achievements here on the blog. This article explains some of the details associated with the final months of his life and, on a more positive note, shares a link to one of the more fun Grateful Dead shows going way back in the time machine to summer of 1972.
Shortly before Jerry Garcia died in 1995, the band continued to tour under a cloud of unpleasantness. Many of the people in attendance were not the true Deadheads, but a new breed of followers who came to cause trouble. Garcia’s health was clearly failing from a combination of diabetes and drug addiction. There were problems with equipment, security issues due to rowdy crowds crashing the gate without tickets and worse yet was the fact that the music had lost its spark.
Thirty years of fun music and festivals was about to hit a brick wall. Early in the band’s career the music was raw, powerful and new. The scene at live shows was laid-back and the crowd was in tune with a warm sense of harmony. Most everyone got a long just fine. The shows were all about enjoying the music and having a good time. One of the best examples of an easy crowd enjoying the sunshine daydream, in Ken Kesey’s stomping grounds (Veneta, Oregon 8/27/72) with many members of the Merry Pranksters in attendance. If you ever have a chance to view the video from this show you will see how it epitomizes the scene; no rules, no cops, no heavies, plenty of great music, sunshine and dancing. Some of the best shows that I attended were in Oregon.
As the band grew more popular the venues in which they performed got bigger, and even then, things were still pretty loose. Yes, sometimes there were people who got out of control and did some really stupid shit, but generally throughout the years the shows remained peaceful and fun. But near the end of their long touring career, Grateful Dead was falling apart and the scene was turning uglier with each show.
Members of the group had tried an intervention with Jerry, to no avail. He was overweight by about 40 pounds, was suffering some sort of physiological problem with his right hand, he would frequently forget the lyrics to songs and he would not heed the warnings that all addicts eventually receive….give it up or die. To members of the inner circle it became known as the “tour from hell”. Finally, Garcia checked into a rehabilitation clinic and shortly thereafter he died from heart failure. It was a tremendous loss for those of us who loved the music. Follow this link to read the Salon magazine account of the “Tour from Hell.”
In the aftermath of Garcia’s death, there were several attempts at different re-incarnations of the band, but for me, nothing could replace the driving force that was Jerry Garcia. I have many fond memories of attending shows in about 10 different states and all kinds of venues from small and intimate to stadium size arenas. Nothing lasts forever, so enjoy it while you can.
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