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Columns > John Zinkand - Improvise

Published: 2009/05/26
by John Zinkand

Gorgin on The Dead

It was fun to read the setlists and reviews each night as The Deads tour progressed. I love how the audience recordings of the shows were available almost immediately after they were played at Ive seen at least one or two shows from every version of the post-Jerry band, and every single time Ive seen them Ive had fun. No, its not the same band without Jerry, and luckily it doesnt try to be. If someone goes into the show expecting the same experience as when Jerry was with the band, they will be disappointed because, to put it simply, hes gone. But for those who wanted to hear tunes from the vast Grateful Dead song book played by the remaining members of The Grateful Dead along with Warren Haynes and Jeff Chimenti, this tour was great. The band had a bit of a sluggish start but built up steam and momentum quickly.

The only show I was able to catch was the final show of the tour up at The Gorge in Quincy, WA. I watched the entire tour unfold as I kept checking long term weather forecasts for The Gorge and made the necessary preparations for the big weekend. Since it was impossible for me to get Friday off from work, I did the next best thing and switched shifts with an early shifter. Exchanging my comfy 11am-8pm shift for the harsh early morning light of the 7am-4pm shift was painful, but necessary. This would enable my crew to hit the road for The Gorge around 5pm on Friday night instead of making the 4.5 hour drive on Saturday, the day of the show.

After fighting traffic to get home from work on Friday afternoon, I finally made it. My friends were already there so we loaded up the car and got ready to go. Another group of friends showed up a few minutes later, and we started trucking down the highway caravan style. It was a perfect evening for a drive and we rolled through the incredibly scenic Oregon Gorge on I-84 with sunroof open. The views of forested, craggy cliffs, waterfalls, and the Columbia River certainly helped make the long drive go by quickly. Eventually we made it to 97 N where we crossed the river and headed north into the state of Washington. As we were driving up the initial hill, we noticed a Stonehenge replica perched on the edge of a cliff. Interesting, I guess, but not interesting enough to slow us down on our way to The Gorge.

We made it past Yakima and through Ellensburg and eventually made it into the parking lot of the Gorge. After forking over the 50.00 camping fee, we followed the traffic and slowly meandered down the bumpy hill to what would be our home away from home for the next two nights. They had us park our cars pretty close together, but it didnt matter. We quickly set up our tents then enjoyed a chilly evening of drinking, chatting, and listening to tunes before turning in for the evening. Since we were in the furthest possible camping area away from the venue, it never really filled up that much and we actually had plenty of room to spread out. The next morning we pulled one of our cars forward a little and made room for nice large hang out spot where we erected our shade canopy. Another bonus for being so far on the outskirts of Dead City was that our Honey Buckets stayed amazingly clean all weekendeven late in the night and early in the morning.

Morning came along with much anticipation for the evenings show. Of course, it was scheduled to be a very long day with The Doobie Brothers up first, followed by The Allman Brothers, then finally two sets by The Dead. The weather was just perfect at about 80 degrees and sunny with a gentle breeze blowing all day long. During the day we walked around and explored the campgrounds, but mostly stayed at our campsite and drank in the views, the vibe, and a few alcoholic beverages. The Shakedown Street was in full effect as there was no shortage of tie-dyes, crystals, shirts and other various sundries to be purchased or gained in barter. The security was there in their yellow shirts, but mostly to ensure everything was safe. I heard a few stories of them hassling people, but I also witnessed a few of them walking right down the main vending area not giving anyone any trouble. I was never given any guff in regards to my open container, thats for sure. And there were interesting sights and smells all over the lot. All the heads were in a great mood and the vibe was very relaxed and super high. We chatted with our neighbors and various passers by as the day sped by all too quickly. The obligatory campground jam session even took place with folks from nearby camp sites singing along.

By about 3:30pm, we decided it was time to get some food in our bellies and hike our asses down to the venue. We prepared some tasty meat-snax on the propane grill and chowed them down along with some delicious spinach salad for strength! The Doobies were scheduled to start at 3:30pm, so we were resigned to missing their set in lieu of more hang time in the lot. By 4:30pm or so, we were finally fed and ready to meander a mile or so down the twisty path to the actual venue. In the middle of summer, this walk can be somewhat torturous as there is not a single lick of shade for the entire journey. In May when its 80 degrees and breezy the walk is very pleasant, but in August when the mercury hits 105 degrees its a different experience altogether (thats right, get ready Phish-heads!). It was nice to stretch the legs and get a little exercise and, in what seemed like no time, we were at the entrance to the venue. After a very minor security check, we were through the doors and on the way to the GA lawn.

The Allmans set was just beginning as we walked up the hill into the venue proper and I was amazed at how packed the place was already. Everyone was trying to get their moneys worth, I suppose. We turned left once at the top of the hill and started scouting out the hill for a place to settle in. This turned out to be a somewhat trying experience since the venue was already so packed. But we eventually found a spot where we could lay down our blankets, grab a seat, and enjoy the show. While we were pretty far away and the sound was a little light, our view more than made up for it.

The Allmans played a high energy set that lasted almost 2 hours and everyone around us seemed very pleased. They definitely rocked hard and jammed away the early afternoon for us all. It was nice to enjoy the beauty of the place as the sun slowly set over the amazing venue. And the pictures dont do this place justice. It is jaw-droppingly beautiful here. The spaces are huge and vast, and the river rolls out to the horizon among sculpted cliffs and mesas as far as the eye can see. A person can feel incredibly small and inconsequential in this setting, which is a great setting for live music. Its easy to lose your ego here and let the music and good vibes flow freely.

After much anticipation, The Dead finally took the stage. I felt the show was solid, if not quite reaching the peaks of some of the earlier shows on the tour. It must be an awesome feeling to play music in such an incredibly beautiful locale. How a band can concentrate on playing music in the midst of such a crazy setting is beyond me, but more power to them! The first set was the longer of the two and had quite a bit of variation. They kicked things off very nicely with a good version of The Music Never Stopped complete with additional vocal jam section at the end. Loose Lucy was next and while a fun tune, it was certainly nothing special. One of the highlights of the shows was up next as the band played a lovely Crazy Fingers that bled into Darkstar. The playing was nice with some lilting beautiful jams and great guitar work. No one can complain about a first set Darkstar either. Tasty!! The transition from Darkstar to Dire Wolf was a little odd, but what the Hell? Unfortunately, Bob fudged a few of the lines, but it was still played well and was a fun tune to hear the band play. Phils vocals were strong on the Tom Thumbs Blues that followed. Next up was one of my personal favorites of the show, Into the Mystic. Warren belted out a soulful version just as the sun was setting over the Gorge and we were gazing from high on the hill out into the mystical beauty of nature. Women are Smarter was the set closer and the Bo-Diddly beat was a nice way to bop us all into the break.

The second set got off to a rocking start with a high-energy version of Passenger. This was a tune the Grateful Dead had already retired by the time I was seeing the band in the late 80s and early 90s, so I really enjoyed hearing it played live. Bob played a nice version of Hell in a Bucket next. His vocals were very strong during all the verses and the jams were interesting. Instead of a straight ahead rocker version, they broke the jams down to a slower, almost bluesy feel. A mellow Althea was next and it was pretty standardbut it was followed by another highlight of the show, Eyes of the World. The bouncy, happy tune suited the vibe of this west coast crowd perfectly. People were up and shuffling to the lilting jams, peaks, and valleys of this beloved tune. It slowly fizzled and veered off into a lengthy drums and space segment. These were both excellent to hear in this great outdoor setting. The drums became quite intense and the space got pretty weird! Out of space emerged a long, mellow version of Days Between sung by Bobby. While it was a very nice rendition, the song selection kept the vibe pretty mellow. The band returned to the second portion of Darkstar next, keeping the mellow and psychedelic vibe going. Closing the set out with One More Saturday Night was almost expected, and it delivered. It was a nice, fast-paced version and even contained a triple reprise at the end with Bobby screeching just a little louder with each ending. One more Saturday night indeed!! After the donor rap by Phil, the band dropped into Box of Rain to end the show, set and tour – a fitting choice with the final lyrics Such a long, long time to be gone, and a short time to be there! The band was telling us all to live in the now, to live for the moment. Agreed.

The post-show festivities were pretty out of hand. Fireworks went off, bands played, music blared, and the people partied like crazy at their sites but especially over at Shakedown. After the long day of partying in the sun, rocking out to the show, and walking to and from the venue, I could barely keep my eyes open. We trudged back to our site and plopped down in the chairs. I managed to swill down a beer before exhaustion overtook me. I crawled into the tent, zipped up the bag, and crashed like a dead man. I think I woke up in the exact same position in which I fell asleep. In the morning we awoke, shook the off the sleepiness, ate a quick breakfast and hit the road. It was yet another beautiful day in Eastern Washington, and we enjoyed the lovely drive through the barren hills very much. As we got closer to Oregon and home, we soaked in all the beautiful views the area had to offer. While the music was good if not great, the vibe and weather could not have been more perfect. If The Dead play the Gorge again, I will be along for the ride. My only request would be to make it really worth the long trip out into the middle of nowhere by playing two nights. And if this was the very last long, strange, trip I would still be pleased. It was a great one.

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