So, when Donna and I first met we discovered that we had both been to Grateful Dead concerts and I asked if she wanted to go to the next concert with me. It was to be our first official date at a concert in Richfield, Ohio over Labor Day weekend.
When that weekend approached, we went ahead and packed up the car with camping gear and all the wonderful things that we would need for the trip. Donna‘s car was a Chrysler LeBaron convertible with turbo overdrive, cruise control, and a crystal hood ornament. As we headed out on the highway with the top down we decided to really get this trip rolling.
As we blasted down the highway I sat up high on the driver’s seat looking over the windshield with Chuck Berry blasting on the cassette deck. I can guarantee Hunter Thompson had nothing on us. Somewhere along the line, the turbo started losing power in the car and began to smoke but we made it. When we arrived in the morning the parking lot was already filling up with deadheads, campers and Shakedown Street was rocking.
A Secret Camping Spot
We saw a house across the street from the venue’s parking lot and we figured we would ask them if we could camp in their backyard. They said no but since we looked like nice folks they could do us better and showed us a secret family camping spot back in the woods next to a stream and said we could camp there if we didn’t let others share the place. We set up the tent and then left to take care of the car. We drove it into town and left it in the garage to repair.
Balloons and Hitchhiking
It seemed there were Deadheads and hippies everywhere you looked! We figured getting a ride back wouldn’t be too hard. We saw a van in the side parking at a Mcdonald’s and went back to ask them. Maybe we could get a ride back to the venue? They were struggling to open a tall tank of medical-grade nitrous oxide so naturally, I jumped in to help them. I managed to get the valve unstuck. They thanked us and soon they were filling up a balloon to pass around the small group. As far as driving to the venue… they weren’t going anywhere for a while. We took a turn and stepped back out to hitchhike back.
Donna had never hitchhiked so I taught her to stick out their thumb, smile, and hope for the best. Not many concertgoers were on the road and most of the cars were locals that weren’t very willing to pick up a couple of tye-dye-wearing hippies. Eventually, a van pulling a trailer pulled over and said “Jump on in!” This is when we met “Falafel Louie” and his wife. They followed Dead Tour selling some of the best falafels we ever had! They were sweet people. (Another adventure in 1993, we ran into them again in Key West)
Soon we pulled back into the parking and as they set up we wandered around the parking scene taking it all in. If you’ve never been on “Skakedown Street” it is a bit difficult to explain, but I’ll try. Tye dye everywhere and blankets with groups of people talking, laughing, playing guitar, eating, smoking. People wandered around holding up their index finger proclaiming, “I need a miracle!” in hopes someone had a spare ticket for the shows.
We also needed tickets, but apparently, the shows were sold out! So we also needed a “miracle”. Vans opened to reveal items for sale. Grateful Dead music wafting through the air mixed with the sweet aroma of “the kind”, a carnival atmosphere. Many of the vans were decorated in vibrant, psychedelic colors but one van caught our eye with its paintings and plastic toys glued onto the dash. This was a true work of art! We commended the owner for his lovely van.
He was a tye-dye artist and was ‘in’ enough that he regularly dyed for the band members themselves! Phil Lesh wore his shirts regularly! I told him that we needed a miracle and he pulled out a psychedelic sign that said “I need a miracle!” and said this sign has never failed him to find tickets. He handed it to me and asked that I return it when finished with it. I agreed and off we went holding up the sign and walking through the parking lot joining the other wanderers in search of “a miracle”
As we walked along I felt a sudden gentle pull from the sign much like you would imagine a divining rod would do. It was pulling me away from the center of the parking and out towards the road! We followed it anyway trusting that it was bringing me to the tickets we searched. The pulling was getting stronger! It didn’t seem to make sense to me as we were leaving the parking but I followed.
Now out on the road, up ahead I saw a tree with a few people sitting under it. I noticed people were not staying there long. The sign pulled me that direction and soon I found myself approaching the tree. A man motioned me to sit next to him. “How many for tonight?” “Two” “There you go, thirty dollars” I handed him the cash and he handed me the tickets. Wow! Fifteen each?! That was cheap!
Multiples and a Plan
I got up just after two other people had left and caught up to them as we walked back together. The tickets looked good. They had the foil and everything. That was when one of the guys said, “Hey! Our tickets have the same seat number!” I looked at mine and sure enough, they all had the same number!
When I got back to Donna who had let me walk the road to the tree alone to be more discrete, I told her about the tickets having the same seat number to which she said, “I guess we better be first in line to get in!” We walked back and found our friend that loaned us the sign and returned it. “I told you it always worked, never failed me!” He said.
We went back to our miracle campsite with our miracle tickets and rested up before going to the show. It was so nice to be able to leave the ‘carnival’ atmosphere and sit by a stream in a forest, and to think it was basically only across the street! We couldn’t hear anything from the venue or the parking. It was like a completely different world.
Time for the show! We walked out the path, crossed the street and were back into the party scene that was now much more vibrant and wild than before. We made our way straight to the entrance and waited for the doors to open. There couldn’t have been more than twenty people in front of us. It didn’t seem all that long before the doors did open and the crowd pushed forward.
Donna and I went to different ticket takers and as they took my ticket my taker passed my ticket under ultraviolet light. I held my breath and saw the image revealed by the light appear on the ticket. “Okay,” he said as he handed me back my stub. Donna had gotten through, too! As we passed through the entrance and into the hallway, I heard some of the ticket takers exclaim that “some of these tickets have the same seat numbers!” We kept on walking!
We wandered around looking at the various merchandise booths and figured we’d let the crowds gather in its confusion before finding a place to land. There is nothing like the feeling of a venue just before the show! The low, colorful lights on the stage. The crew making last-minute checks. The electric feeling of anticipation. Then the auditorium lights go down and the crowd cheer as the mighty heroes of the evening take the stage! They kicked it off with “Cold Rain and Snow” as the sea of people became a unified mass of dancing motion.
Here is a link to a taping of the show so you can hear it for yourself!
What a lovely night!
Afterwards, we wandered around Shakedown for a little while before making it back to our secret camping spot and snuggled into our little tent by the stream. That night it rained over 3 inches.
The next morning we climbed out of our tent and started hanging things out to dry and got a fire going. We had also come prepared to start the day with mimosas! A great first date!
We managed to buy some tickets for the next evening’s show for a much higher price but it was well worth it!
And of course, the adventure continues after all these years! What a long strange trip it’s been!