Jerry Garcia was the reluctant leader of a band that started as a small bay area group and evolved into a 60’s counterculture fixture and eventually catapulted to a group of musical icons of legendary stature. Though the band had its core members through the years as well as a revolving door of guest players, and several members who filled what proved to be the perilous position of keyboard player, none rose to a more iconic level than Jerry. Not many people can put their finger on the exact sound of the band, the exact genre, the exact style… they are hard to describe, and impossible to ignore. They are quite simply, “a band beyond description”.
Garcia was born on August 1, 1942 and left this realm on August 9, 1995. He was barely the ripe old age of 53. But the legacy he left behind was that of a hundred lifetimes. Legions of loyal fans, a breathtaking catalog of music and lyrics, friends, family, children, and a whole week of celebration created just for him. You need not look any further than the people that he touched most with his music to discover what Jerry’s life, work, and passing meant to them, and why a week may seem extreme to some, but barely scratches the surface for those who loved him.
In the days following his passing, many looked for ways to honor Jerry. Vigils, concerts, and memorial events popped up to honor him. In the first years that followed, for his birthday and to commemorate the day he passed, bands began playing tribute shows. Radio stations began playing marathons of his music. Concerts were held in his honor. It became clear that one day to honor the late, great, Garcia, would simply not be enough. And so the week between August 1st and August 9th, lovingly became ‘Jerry Week’. Since then it has grown to a time where Jerry festivals, concerts, and events, are held annually in his name. It is a week to remember the man, and the music. And we’ll be no exception here. All week we’ll talk to people who lived the life, shared the dream, worked behind he scenes and more…
And today some long time deadheads answered questions and shared some words about the band and their experiences. First we asked two friends, long time deadheads, some different questions, a way to share some of their experiences.
When was your first dead show?
April 06, 1985
What’s the farthest you’ve traveled to see them?
To Bonner Springs, Kansas…About 1200 miles.
What was the best dead show (your favorite) you ever saw?
My favorite was in Hampton, Virginia 3/27/88.
What was your favorite venue to see them?
Although I only saw 2 shows there, my favorite venue was Hampton, Va. Great sound and Small arena.
What were your first thoughts when Jerry died?
Extreme sadness for his family and the thought that the main source of everything in my life was now gone and what the hell am I gonna do for my physical outlet now? Where will I go for vacation now?
How did his death impact your life directly?
It left a huge void in my soul… I felt kind of like Robert Hunter did…”Now that the singer is gone, where will I go for the song?”
How did his life impact you directly?
His life and music impacted me by giving me the chance to enjoy the awesome music, also by making it possible to meet my long time companion and best friend for life. All the while gathering hundreds of other life long friends most of whom I would most likely never have known if not for loving Jerry and his music.
—Rob, Philadelphia, PA
When was your first dead show?
Saratoga PAC 6/28/88
What was your favorite thing about that show?
Wow. Everything. The people. The music. The vibe. The Scarlet > Fire was amazing. It was just everything I thought it would be live but like on steroids and times a million.
Did you know right away you wanted to go back?
Absolutely. I never wanted to leave. Actually that was supposed to be a one shot deal, a road trip with my brother. Then he had plans to mail order for Philly and MSG that fall and I was going to try to get in on one or two of those shows. We wound up in Maine a couple days later for the show.
How many shows did you see total?
106 from 1988-1995.
What was the last one you saw?
My last one was the last one. Soldier field 95.
So you saw Jerry just a couple weeks before he died. Did you feel like there was any indication that he wasn’t doing well?
I mean, that whole tour people could see there were real problems and that he wasn’t doing well health wise. Never imagined anything like what was going to come though.
Where were you when you got the news that Jerry had died?
Asleep in my bed. The phone rang and my brother said, “are you up?” I could tell something was wrong. He told me what happened and I must’ve just sat there in my bed for an hour and I don’t think I moved at all.
How did Jerry’s passing change your life?
Well, here’s someone who I idolized. Someone who made a real impact on me and made me think and feel all of these really incredibly deep and spiritual thoughts. So it was incredibly sad to start. But in the long-term, it changed everything. I stopped touring, went back to school. But this time I had a new perspective. I saw things differently. Being a deadhead, as well as Jerry’s passing, gave me a much more enlightened view of the world. It just made me a better, stronger person.
—Iris, Waltham, MA
And to cap off our first full day of Jerry week, some quotes, direct from deadheads all around the country!
What was your gut reaction the first time you saw the Grateful Dead or Jerry Garcia perform live?
“Wow. I’ve never seen anything like this!” — B.L.
“I never want to leave here.” –S.C.
“I’m home!” –D.F.
“When is the next show?” –M.S.
“This is where I was meant to be.” –D.A.
“Man there are a lot of beautifully hot guys here.” –D.C.
“Am I really high or is there actually balloons flying all around?” –J.L.
“I can’t believe I did not get here sooner.” –M.G.
“This is the most amazing thing I have ever seen or heard in my life.” –T.J.
What was your gut reaction when you heard that Jerry had passed away?
“This can’t be happening!” –N.O.
“What? There has to be some mistake!” –M.G.
“What are we going to do now?” –M.S.
“I knew it was getting bad, but I never saw this coming.” — A.K.
“Dammit.” — A.B.
“It’s over. I can’t believe it’s really over.” –A.C.
“I had no words. I just cried.” — L.E.W.
“I knew it was the end. The end of the most substantial part of my life.” –R.F.
“It was the end of an era.” –T.O.
“I wondered where all the deadheads would go. What will everyone do now?” –S.M.
“It was a moment of blackness. It was like losing a family member. A father really.” –M.G.
Dark days indeed would follow. But somehow we all pulled through. And the community of deadheads, although different, continued to roll along. People adjusted. Things changed. Some hopped off the bus. Some let the bus run them over. Some brought new life into the world, and into the deadhead community. Whatever happened in those days, most of us are better for having lived it. We made it through. And here we are, celebrating Jerry’s life, his memory, his legacy, together.
Welcome to Jerry week. So glad you made it!