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FUV Essentials: Laura Fedele & Friends on the Grateful...

Skull and Roses

Skull and Roses embroidery by Lynn Fedele


The relationship between the Grateful Dead and their fans is a hard one to describe. Many factors added up to the formation of the counterculture society of (mostly) traveling Deadheads, including unique setlists and performances that guaranteed no two shows would ever be the same; parking lot vendors peddling everything from tickets to clothing to drugs to burritos, which set up a 24-hour circus outside the venues; and a completely benevolent, embracing "vibe" (there really is no other word for it) that is as addictive as anything you could buy on the black market.

For some it's a respite from the regular working world, and a tempting alternative to moving to Canada if things get 'bad.' For some it's an all-encompassing life that formed a bridge to a completely off-the-grid existence.

Random moments in the life of a Deadhead:

  • "Sugar Magnolia" in a summer stadium, bare feet in the grass, about to burst with joy.
  • Bump into a dancing biker hippie who bows deeply and earnestly apologizes for being in your way, sister. In New York City.
  • Scarlet -> Fire! Scarlet -> Fire!
  • "They have two drummers because one of them drives the train, and the other one dances on top of the train."
  • Mama Tried to raise me better but her pleadin' I denied, I have only me to blame 'cause Mama Tried.
  • Breathe. Be and be-with, in effortless harmonious acceptance of the four existential givens without the inherent anxieties.
  • Selling hand-drawn cassette tape covers from a sheet in a gravel parking lot to make enough for the next show.
  • You put it where? Under your tongue?
  • Do you feel the building moving? I swear I feel the building moving.
  • Let Phil sing! Let Phil sing!
  • "Okay, AGLET... Alabama, Greatest story, Love each other, El Paso and T... um... Tennessee! Then what?"
  • Wait, is that... could it be? Yes, yes! They haven't played this in 17 years!
  • Ugh, "Casey Jones"? Time to pee.
  • The bus came by and I got on, That's when it all began...
  • Dance in your socks like a ballerina amid contagious smiling eyes and faces.
  • Embrace Slack. Create daily moments of peace.
  • Whoa, take a look at Brent. His eyes are moving independently.
  • Shhhhhhh! "Morning Dew."
  • Dance and swim through each other and bliss out on a large scale.
  • Listen to the river sing sweet songs to rock my soul.
  • Follow the guitar, up, up, around, to the keys, through the drums, back again, around and around, it's almost lost, it's slipping away, then BAM it's back and you're up on your feet.
  • "Wow, if states could be people? You would totally be California."
  • Transcend isolation.
  • Stand in the full heat of the sun at a stadium, crushing into the crowd because for once the lottery gave you GA tickets on the floor.
  • Listen intently to the meandering guitar noises traded between Jerry and Bobby. Try to prise out the next song before it fully began, then jump for joy when they really do break into "Eyes of the World."
  • Squelch in the mud at Alpine Valley.
  • Long paisley dresses, faded tie-dyes, Volkswagon buses, the smells of frying falafel and patchouli all around, a cold beer in one hand as—with a finger raised in the air, waiting for a miracle—you walk around and around the parking lot.
  • I'm gonna sing you a hundred verses in ragtime, I know this song it ain't never gonna end...
  • Those purple stage lights become dear friends, the most beautiful of spectacles.
  • Jump into the car or onto the train at the last minute, because even though you swear you're done with this tour, and even though you can't afford it, there's too much promised in one more show to resist.
  • Sing, loudly, with full throat, "Shall we go, you and I while we can/Through the transitive nightfall of diamonds?" and know that this was the only band in the world who could get you to do that, and to do it with such joy.
  • Silently bless yourself and everyone there with the spirit of "Wharf Rat" redemption.
  • Meet with friends in between sets to compile set lists, then revel in the highlights and compare them to every other show on the tour.
  • Terrapin Station Part 1: "Lady with a Fan"/"Terrapin Station"/"Terrapin"/"Terrapin Transit"/"At a Siding"/"Terrapin Flyer"/"Refrain" Yes! Yes! Yes!
  • Twirling, twirling, twirling, twirling.
  • Watch Jerry smile as Bobby hams it up, the crowd going wild.
  • Watch that beautiful young man collapse onto the grass, dying from an overdose of nitrous oxide.
  • Sharing smiles, sharing songs, sharing food, sharing drinks, sharing joy at being alive.

Thanks to Lynn Fedele and Jamie Gallagher for their contributions.
For more on the band and its history and influence: Overview of the Grateful Dead