Phil Lesh and Bob Weir, stop unpacking. Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, put your instruments back on the truck. Cease counting the millions you made from your supposedly final Grateful Dead shows in Chicago this past weekend. You have one more concert to play. And, this time, I will most definitely be dancing among the faithful. I think.
For years I dreamed of experiencing one of your shows. I'd don the tie dye shirt, the colorful headband and the sandals. I'd play bongos in the parking lot despite my unfamiliarity with the instrument (you just hit them, correct?). It's just -- well, you know -- life always seemed to get in the way. A friend's wedding here, an unexpected business trip there. Even when the band announced its Fare Thee Well tour dates in Chicago -- July 3-5 -- I knew that, once again, luck wasn't on my side.
For starters, July 3 is my mother-in-law's birthday. I nixed that date immediately rather than risk an argument with my wife.
"After all she's done for us, you'd rather be there than with the family?" she'd say.
Well, yes but... no.
I'm a bit angry at the Dead for scheduling the second concert on our nation's birthday. That put every suburban dad -- myself included -- in a quandary: Skip our neighborhood parades and fireworks displays that we anticipate all year? Forego the backyard barbecues responsible for our "Dad Bod" physiques? I would have invited all the Dead members (even the replacements) to my backyard for my succulent ribs and chicken had they chosen to take that day off. But no. They played and I stayed home.
These day planner conflicts and near misses are part of a pattern stretching back to 1976. I was 14, living in the Chicago suburbs, and anxious to make the Dead my first concert. The band played four June shows that year at the Auditorium Theatre. I missed them all for one simple reason: My mom refused to provide transportation.
"You're not going to spend five hours hanging out with a bunch of pot-smoking flower children," she said.
"How come you and Dad don't have tickets?" I asked, an off-the-cuff remark that nearly got me grounded.
I was of legal driving age during the Dead's December 1979 stop at the Uptown Theater, but the parents wouldn't surrender the car keys. Then again, anyone familiar with the neighborhood surrounding the Uptown would understand. The following year, instead of choosing a different (and safer) venue, the Dead returned to the Uptown for three more shows. At that point I was zero for 10.
Free from family constraints when I entered Northwestern University, I figured a Dead show was finally in my immediate future. The band tried to help by playing the nearby Rosemont Horizon on December 6, 1981.
"Really?" I thought when I saw the date. "The night before final exams begin?" Lord only knows what unfortunate turn my career might have taken had I blown off chemistry for acid and mushrooms, despite the similarities. I elected to hit the books, not the bong.
Over the years, I never crossed paths with the Dead's long, strange trip. While they barnstormed across the country, I moved to Florida, got a job, returned to Chicago and got married. The Dead's July 1995 Soldier Field dates were hardly feasible; my wife and I had just bought our first house and my "honey-do" list that weekend was, figuratively speaking, longer than a Jerry Garcia guitar solo.
Then Jerry died. And until the Fare Thee Well tour announcement, the Dead succumbed with him.
I awoke on July 5 with no ticket but a clear schedule. I headed to Soldier Field, hoping a peaceful, loving Deadhead would take pity on me and sell me one. Maybe even for face value! I mingled with Deadheads like Detroit resident David Saperstein, 47, and a veteran of more than 30 Dead shows. His 11-year-old son was about to see his second. That's right, a middle-schooler had seen twice as many Dead shows as me.
"Be ready to dance. And be ready for the stadium to dance with you," Saperstein said, assuming I would eventually get inside.
But I never did. Nobody had tickets to part with and, hours before showtime, online ticket brokers were still hawking obstructed view seats for more than $700. "Why see the Dead when I can't actually SEE the Dead?" I thought.
I headed home, retreated to my patio and listened to a stream of the concert on the SiriusXM's Grateful Dead channel. Incidentally, Dead members, my backyard could easily accommodate a stage for the concert you owe me. I'll even supply the chicken.
Just check my schedule first. I may have car pool duty that evening.