Englishtown (9-3-77) was my first bootleg tape. The first time I heard that Half Step I got IT! I instantly understood why people followed this band around and collected tapes. And I finally understood why people thought Jerry was the greatest musician and said things like, "Garcia is God." The Englishtown Half Step is that majestic. It’s mind-boggling to think that forty-years after this Half Step changed my perception of music, I’m writing my sixth book involving the musical output of Jerry Garcia, twenty-four years after his death. I’m currently researching the evolution of Mississippi Half Step live, and I discovered a startling fact that I never thought about before. It took me seventy-five shows before I saw my first “Half Step.”
My first Dead show was 3-9-81 Madison Square Garden, The Boys played a Half Step > Franklin’s Tower opener the following night in MSG. My next show was 5-8-81 Nassau Coliseum. I was a half step behind again, they played Mississippi > Franklin’s the following night. The next East Coast spring tour in 1982 I saw five shows, and inexplicably missed the Nassau shows. Mississippi was played there on 4-11-82. There were no Half Steps out east in the fall.
Help > Slipknot! > Franklin’s was returned to the rotation in 1983. As a result, Half Step > Franklin’s was split, and the band forgot about Half Step, or just decided not to play it in ’83 or ’84. When the Dead opened 3-27 85 Nassau Coliseum with a standalone Half Step, I was there. It only took me seventy-five tries to come face-to-face with my beloved Hunter/Garcia creation. I was probably elated at first, but when the band skipped on the entire pre Rio Grande jam I was deflated. Three’s a decent outro jam from that version, but it was a shell of what Half Step used to be. I remember many great highlights from that tour, but my first Half Step wasn’t one of them. It wasn’t until I researched this project that I was able to even recall my Half Step debut.
The Half Steps from 85 through 87 were speed dashes lacking Garcia highlights. Apparently the goal of these exercises was to finish the song in under eight minutes, making Half Step shorter than Row Jimmy or It’s All Over Now. Any Deadhead could still revel in the pleasure of the tune, but it was no longer a major highlight. It wasn’t until 3-24-88 The Omni, Atlanta, that I saw a brilliant Half Step jam—my 126th show. It was as if Jerry heard a tape of a 77 Half Step and had a revelation, “Yeah, that’s what we us to do!” There’s a searing tone to the outdo jam as Jerry and Brent dig in with all they have for as long as they can. Finally, I had my magical Mississippi moment.
Using landmark shows, 4-23-84 New Haven was my 50th, and 3-23-86 Philly was my 100th, I was able to identify the number of the shows that I wrote about in this piece. I saw Mississippi Half Step eight times out of 152 shows. The last time I saw it was on April Fool’s Day 1988 in the Brendan Byrne Arena. Jerry’s voice was ragged, but the outro solo packed a solid punch as it did in Atlanta.
In no particular order, here’s some exceptional Mississippi Half Steps that I’ll be writing about in my new book which should be released by May 2021:
9-23-72 Philly Spectrum
3-10-81 Madison Square Garden
5-7-77 Boston Garden