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The Loop

Published: 2018/02/14
by George Ochel

Revisiting The Grateful Dead on Valentine’s Day 1986

I’m feeling really good when I first see the band members walk out on stage. Jerry starts warming up with some wawa notes that I identify right off as “Feel Like a Stranger”. I tell the crew around me and sure enough it comes to be. Everybody begins moving fast when “Cold Rain and Snow” kicks in. This killer version confirms to me that weather can play a roll in set list development. The windowpane is doing its thing on me. “Mama Tried” encourages me to think they’re telling the story of my day. “Big River” stops that thinking, then into a trippy “West LA Fadaway”. Weir continues with his most romantic song, “Looks Like Rain”, which starts to make me sad I’m by myself. That is until Garcia’s fluid lead at the end picks me back up to the point of weightlessness. “Brown Eyed Women” is next and has an awesome bite. Then onto a bright and clean “Let it Grow” to end the first set.

They come out for the second set and do a quick unfamiliar tune up then launch into “Keep on Growing”. The song is intense. Obviously, they’re trying to put together more interesting set lists, but most of us are looking for “Box of Rain” or “Cosmic Charlie”, not another cover. Weir slows things down next with a clear as glass “Lost Sailor”. Brent’s jingly keyboard rides the song along nicely into “Saint of Circumstance”, which electrifies the crowd. I leave the group at the top of “Terrapin Station” to get closer. I’m amazed at how easy it is to walk right up to what would be considered the 3rd row center in a seated arena. I have feet of room on either side of me and I’m close enough to see Bob’s spit flying freely from his mouth as he sings. I get through Terrapin giggling myself mad, thinking how wonderful tonight’s been. I stay for drums and tune in bigtime to Bill. After space they go back to my storyline with a heartfelt “Wharf Rat” that gets my arms flapping in an attempt to get up and fly away. “Throwing Stones” is next, then it’s time for “Turn on your Lovelight” featuring that spinning disco ball that lights up the whole place with tiny white spots. It’s a really neat effect with a fitting tune to match the occasion.

After the encore that keeps following me, “Brokedown Palace”, I walk back to my original location to see if the group is still around and sure enough, they’re waiting for me. Everyone’s thrilled, including me. Being in no rush, we mill about for bit. I focus in on the soundboard. That’s where I notice this cool looking hippie go up to the dead’s sound engineer Dan Healy and open his backpack. In goes what must have been the night’s soundboard cassette tapes, which turns out to be a very well mixed tapes. A short time later my new buddy Zappa comes over and asks me if I’m interested in going to one of the girl’s house’s in San Francisco to party some more. Not wanting to face my parents, I respond with a quick yes and we head outside. The high winds and rain have subsided and I find myself mystified by this swaying palm tree that sits next to Zappa’s friend’s car, which is parked near a pond. With no Shakedown Street in site, we leave a short time later. When we arrive at the house, I ask to use a phone and call dad to say I’m staying with friends for the night. He’s relieved that I’m safe and sound. After the call I join the conversation in the kitchen and learn that girl’s mom who owns the house is a well-known television local news anchor. The house is nice too, four stories right on the bay near the Golden Gate Bridge. I have a nutty time with them there for the next few of hours, until I’m escorted to an upstairs office room where I’ll sleep on the floor for the night. But before I close my eyes, I pick up the office phone and dial Christina’s number at her dorm room in southern Jersey to wish her a happy Valentine’s Day and to apologize again for leaving her stranded in New York City. She replied with an “I’m sorry for ditching you”, and we go on to have our best talk in months. At the end she tells me she wants to go to another Dead concert with me when they come to Philadelphia. To which I say, great! They’re at the Spectrum in March on a Sunday night, we’ll go. My heart is once again filled with hope, even though, I know, I should know better than to think we’re ever going to be a couple. Yet the heart wants what the heart wants, so I persist.

The next morning, I thank Zappa and his friends for a very memorable night, before being picked up by the family. When I get in the car my mom Maureen, who sells real estate can’t help but comment on the impressive location. Colin gives me a smile and Kevin just an up and down nod. I’m then asked by my father, “Where should we go?” I’ve come down considerably and have that peaceful internal buzz going, so I suggest nearby Muir Woods, on the other side of Golden Gate Bridge to see the redwoods, and we’re off. The ski trip becomes a bust though because of a foggy mountain bottom with avalanche conditions on top. We ultimately check out three days early because the hotel casino that we’re staying at only has limited power. My mom’s comment about the vacation whenever it comes up is, “George Michael was the only one that had any fun on that trip.” I sure did Mom, I sure did…

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