Monday, August 7, 2017

Alpine Valley Revisited, 35th Anniversary

During the summer of 1982, a few weeks after seeing Jerry Garcia Band at Music Mountain, I met my friend Doug to shoot hoops at Tennyson Park, in my hometown of Nanuet, New York.  Doug was waiting for me, leaning against his yellow Caddy and spinning a red, white, and blue ABA basketball on his index finger. The windows were rolled down, and “Casey Jones” was cranking. He said, “Howie, I got a proposition for you. You’re gonna love this idea. It’s right up your alley. The Dead are in Wisconsin next weekend at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre. We can get tickets from Ticketron. Howie, picture this: We are outdoors with Jerry in the Midwest next Saturday night. I hear this place is amaaaaazing! Can you imagine how hot Garcia will be in the Midwest? It’s only a sixteen-hour drive. Let’s do it. Whattaya say?”

 I pulled up in front of the Doug’s house in my maroon Chevy Caprice Classic before noon on Friday, August 6. We wanted to tackle the bulk of our sixteen-hour-trip in one day and cruise into East Troy, Wisconsin, triumphantly on Saturday. Doug emerged from his house with a duffel bag slung across his torso and a box of Maxell cassettes carefully balanced in his right palm like a tray with Dom Perignon. Stepping into my car, he admired his precious cargo and said, “Howie, these tapes are bad news for Van Halen fans.” It was a smug remark—one that a Garcia junkie could appreciate. Comparing anybody to Jerry was comical to us. We understood Garcia’s virtuosity, and we had to let everybody else know. Despite the fact that the Dead’s latest studio efforts were lame, the legend of Garcia was growing, and his cult following was on the rise. 

I picked up two other cats and headed on to 80 West and claimed the fast lane and refused to budge—left hand steering, right hand juggling java, joints, Marlboros, and boots. Endless Pennsylvania seemed bleak—blue collar town followed blue collar town through Amish Country, insane amounts of highway construction and detours along the way. We ran into three thunder storms, or maybe it was the same one chasing after us. A couple of hours after the sun set, we crossed the Ohio border and stopped for food in Youngstown. This was as far west as I’d ever traveled in my life. Fueled by caffeine, and perhaps a bit of yayo, I managed to make it to a rest area just across the border of Indiana and slipped into a spot between tractor trailers for a nap around 4AM. Four Deadheads and 100 truckers were motionless beneath the stars, but they were still tearing down the road in their dreams. 

On Saturday morning, we blew by Chicago, purchased a road map, and found a quaint cabin in Lake Geneva by noon. We had stumbled upon a wonderful Wisconsin resort town, and the weather was perfect—ah-hoooo! Cotton-candy clouds in sapphire skies dangled over a crystal clear lake. This expedition turned up nothing but gold, and the impending jam was still a seed in Jerry’s mind. 

Our heroes opened with a Music Never Stopped -> Sugaree ->Music Never Stopped loop. The band had rewarded me for my dedication with a combination that was never played before and would never be played again. This alone validated the journey to Wisconsin. In the middle of the set they played the only version of “On the Road Again” that I would see. Garcia raged on, peppering away on the set ending “Let It Grow.” Weir shouted the lyrics at Jerry, begging him to deliver: “Let it grow, let it grow, greatly yield.” And yield, Garcia did. It’s a guitar lover’s feast offering three separate instrumental segments. The long, sophisticated middle jam contained three distinctive movements within—smoking hot and balanced like a complex mathematical equation. Over the past 35 years I’ve probably listened to this version 5,000 times. 

Set two opened with a robust Cat > Rider. After 1974, the best Cats are from the 81-82 period. After drums there was an extraordinary Wheel > Playin’ followed by a Dew that was incredibly exciting in the moment, but the big jam was unusually short. This was the tenth show of the 152 I’d see over the years, and the power of this music has proven to be eternal. What a great call it was to make the pilgrimage to Alpine Valley. I was only nineteen, and much wiser than I ever realized. 

 Check out my new book:  Dylan and the Grateful Dead: A Tale of Twisted Fate on Amazon 

Other books by Howard F, Weiner 


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