So Many Roads To Shakedown Street – My First Grateful Dead Tour

“The bus came by and I got on. That’s when it all began.”
– Grateful Dead
Tour Bus

I have no idea. I had seen them twice before, but this is my first tour and my first exposure to life on the road. We don’t have a car, so Rick and I “straddle that Greyhound” in Toronto, bound for Alpine Valley – somewhere near Milwaukee. Traveler’s cheques seem like a safe option, but I never think about where I can use them. Luckily, Rick has cash.

We pass through the Detroit-Windsor tunnel and, at the immigration desk, are asked if we have return tickets. Our tickets only go to Milwaukee, and from there we’re getting a ride with friends. Apparently, that just won’t do – we need return tickets. So, back through the tunnel we go. After spending half our money on return tickets – Greyhound accepts traveler’s cheques – and waiting six hours for the next bus to Detroit, we are back at immigration.

“Grateful Dead?” Well, yes, actually. Did the tie-dyed t-shirts give it away? In hindsight, it seems miraculous that we weren’t strip-searched right then and there. “Return tickets?” Yes. “Have a good time. Next.” But, don’t you even want to see them? Oh well, we can always get a refund when we get back home, I hope.

The Grateful Dead play at the Memorial Stadium in Seattle

The Grateful Dead tour to Seattle’s Memorial Stadium

The night bus to Chicago isn’t full, so we each have two seats on which to stretch out. A fellow passenger asks, “Yo Deadheads, where y’all from?” Toronto. “Toronto, Michigan?” No. Toronto, Canada. “Can I borrow your Stone?” My what? “Your magazine?” Oh. Yeah, sure. Yo? Y’all? Stone? We really are in a different country. We reach Chicago before dawn, and just make our Milwaukee connection. East Troy is still a ways away, and there are no buses. So, we pull up to Alpine in a cab.

Shakedown Street

The scene on Grateful Dead tour is unlike anything I’d imagined. Massive parking lots jammed with cars, microbuses, tents, and 60,000 Deadheads. Vendors prowling the parking lots, and those manning stalls and booths, sell all manner of food, souvenirs, and drugs. Once we find somewhere to pitch our tent, we go in search of our friends. We actually find them, and we all go into the show together.

With the help of being “turned on”, for the first time I “tune in” to what the music of the Grateful Dead is capable of creating. Every song prompts a new understanding of what this was all about. Despite the show’s lackluster reviews, Candyman, Tennessee Jed, Let It Grow, Looks Like Rain, Stella Blue and Lovelight all send me reeling over a musical cascade. I’m starting to get an idea.

Between sets, the guy beside me is making out with a balloon. He’s a pretty heavy kisser, so eventually the balloon pops. But, a replacement is immediately provided by an onlooker intent on further entertainment.

Then someone is chased onto the lawn by a couple of security guards. Everyone around us stands up, then everyone sits down, and the fugitive is seated beside me. The only people left standing are the two security guards scanning the concert-goers for, most likely, someone with long hair wearing a tie-dye t-shirt.

The audience between sets at a Grateful Dead concert in Seattle

Stuck in the middle between sets

I spend the following day trying to piece together my experience from the night before. But, it is time for the next concert, and I approach this one more objectively, as I am still a bit hazy from the last one. I come out of the show with a bit better of an idea.

Flagged A Diesel Down

The next morning, it’s time to get back truckin on. Our friends’ cars are full, so we join the legions of Deadheads looking for a ride at Alpine Valley’s exit, and stick our thumbs out. A converted milk truck full of one-hitting hippies can take us as far as Indianapolis. Is that anywhere near Buckeye Lake? We have no idea.

Dusk finds us on the side of the highway, somewhere on the outskirts of Indianapolis. I think downtown is this way, but we have no idea. Fortunately, a kind gentleman pulls over and gives us a ride to the bus depot, pointing out Hoosier landmarks along the way. We join the other slow travel Deadheads waiting for the Columbus bus. Since there is no bus service from Columbus to Hebron, we hail another cab.

“Now, that’s the way to tour” greets us at Buckeye Lake. We pitch our tent in the dark, and fall asleep immediately. Since we are out of money, we HAVE to meet some of our other friends from Toronto.

So, we spend the day sitting against a cop car at the venue entrance, in 100’F heat, watching for Ontario plates. We have no idea that there is another entrance.

A tent holds our parking spot in Oregon while we camp on the beach

Reserving a parking spot in Oregon

An hour before the show, we resort to Plan B and a common meeting place on Grateful Dead tour – the will-call ticket window. Thankfully, they are there. They have a hotel room, so after the show, we try “to wash off some of that dusty dirt” from the Dust Bowl of Alpine Valley and the farmer’s field that is Buckeye Lake. We have run out of money, so we reluctantly sell our Pittsburgh tickets to a couple of overjoyed Deadheads, and accept a ride back home with our friends.

I’ll Get Up and Fly Away

We miss the Pittsburgh and Saratoga Springs concerts, but take the bus to continue our Grateful Dead tour at Rochester’s Silver Stadium. The atmosphere of the urban setting is vastly different than that of rural Wisconsin and Ohio. With the rain falling down, the band opens with Box Of Rain and Cold Rain And Snow. The setlist is lengthy and the second set opens with the only Green Onions they ever played followed by possibly the best China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider ever performed.

The Other One takes its time to emerge from Space, which further affects the strange vibe. Someone climbs the baseball stadium’s light tower during Wharf Rat, and I half expect him to jump when Jerry Garcia sings “I’ll get up and fly away”. The hired security viciously manhandles him after he climbs back down. Crossing the border after the show, one poor young man is having a hard time with the situation. To make his matter worse, he is handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car. We leave him screaming from the back seat as the bus pulls away.

Deadheads at a Grateful Dead show in Portland, Oregon

Deadheads in Portland, Oregon

So Many Roads

Amazingly, despite our overwhelming naiveté and inexperience, we met with no theft or foul play of any kind. We relied on the kindness of strangers, and were rewarded accordingly. I continue going on Grateful Dead Tour for seven more summers, but the new-born amazement and wide-eyed innocence of that first tour would never be repeated. It was a good idea.


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