My Grateful Dead concert

By Carolyn Butler | Aug 04, 2010
Perry Butler, Carolyn Butler, Peter Cooley and Greg Voros

It is the summer of 1986 and I am standing in this enormous parking lot at Giant Stadium surrounded by "Dead Heads." I must be crazy! I am 45 years old, wearing ragged denim shorts, a tie-die T-shirt, and a purple bandanna wrapped around my head. And I am playing hacky-sac with a total stranger.

Four months earlier, my son Perry had announced that "The Dead" would be playing in New Jersey. Would I like to go with him? What a compliment! He actually wanted to be seen with me. Of course, I said yes. My excitement grew and I delighted in telling everyone I knew ... for shock value, if nothing else.

Pulling into the parking lot, it is evident that this crowd arrives early. The lots are already filling up, and we choose one with assorted cars, tents, trucks, campers, clothes lines and hot grills. These people have been here for days. The scene is peaceful, music playing on car radios and battery powered tape decks, dogs sleeping lazily in the shade of the cars, and people wandering around aimlessly. We settle right in.

Perry and his buddies are lighting our grill, greeting friends that happen by, and we relax on our lawn chairs as the long day begins to unfold. It is 11 a.m., and the concert doesn't begin until 6 p.m.

As the afternoon wears on, we eat our hot dogs, chill out, talk to our neighbors and learn about "tour heads" who travel all over the country following "The Dead." They live out of their vans, as they are now doing. There are clothes lines dangling from one van to another with today's laundry blowing in the breeze. Some of them are creating jewelry on their tailgates and quietly hawking their goods. Another group is decorating T-shirts, spray painting them on the hoods of their cars. Not only are the T-shirts loud and colorful, the car hoods are now adorned with flashes of pink, purple and green. The point of their ambitious work ethic is to sell their wares to passersby to support their travels. They are a grungy bunch, but very friendly, and they keep quite busy as show time approaches.

After several hours of eating and people watching, the crowd begins to head to the stadium. It is time for us to pack up our things and we follow the throng toward the gates. We travel light, mainly with bags full of orange slices, which will nourish and hydrate us through the long hours of the concert. Security is tight, but we pass with muster, and head for our seats. Or so I think. Apparently no one sits in their assigned seat at a Grateful Dead concert. In fact, Perry tells me we are going to "the field." After much resistance, I agree to follow him and the guys down toward the front and we wait patiently for the security guard to look the other way. At that point I am dragged down the steps toward the rail that overlooks the field. I whine and hesitate, but finally go for it. The folks sitting in the front row loudly encourage me. So over the wall I go, and the guys catch me as I drop 20 feet onto the field. Wow! I did it! I am exhilarated, joyful and free. We run out onto the field to stake out our claim for the next five hours and I feel like a teenager again.

The mood is mellow and peaceful. The crowd mills around and everyone is friendly and happy. It is nice to be one of them, to feel so free, uninhibited, for just a few hours. We sway and dance to the music and sing along with Bob Dylan and Jerry Garcia as the band plays on. I am so relaxed and loving it. At one point, one of Perry's buddies asks another: "Who's that girl with Perry?"

"That's his mom."

His mom? Hearing that makes my day. I have become one of them, and any time I want I can go back to this time and capture these memorable moments, these feelings. Whenever I hear "Touch of Gray," I am there. I am a Dead Head, and proud of it.




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