Thursday, July 17, 2008

the Hart of the matter

I've written about The Buff's "Thursday in the Park" concert series before when Yonder Mountain String Band performed. The concerts are free, the beer is Canadian (Labatts) and the crowd is perfect for people watching. Jakob Dylan was great a few weeks ago and Jimmie Vaughn had the house a' rockin last week. Tonight? Mickey Hart. I'm already wearing tie-dye.

My first Dead show was in 1989, and my "generation" of fans are referred to by Deadheads of the first wave as "Touch-heads" because our fandom crested when The Dead threw the video for "Touch of Grey" into high-rotation on MYV in 1987. These are the ways of the world. What could I have done about this apparently blatant smack in the face to Generation Baby Boom as they watched The Dead directly confront (and win over) Generation X? Even at 16, I gauged the situation, saw what the deal was, and wore a tie-dye dress for my high school graduation. Showtime!

That first Dead show for me was at Rich Stadium (now Ralph Wilson Stadium), home to the Buff Bills and any large event that needs 76,000 seats to pull off. The show was astounding to me: the people, the atmosphere, how great the tunes sounded (many of which I had just recently come to know), the whole deal. Here's where it gets interesting, to the point where when I tell this story, I get good laughs (and I'm frequently told my jokes are not funny but this is no joke).

A-hem. I am not a big drug user. Present me with a cooler full of Bud Lite and you have me forever. But growing up in the 'burbs of The Buff offered its share of whatever drug was out there. Mushrooms? Whenever friends took them, they immediately threw up. No thanks. Blow? I don't need any more stimulants in this lil' body, thank you. CRACK? No drug should be in that much demand if named after a body part that is always covered. Acid? I create alternate universes for myself pretty regularly anyway. Heroin? Um, no. And, any pot--even "good stuff" makes me dopey and sleepy. For real. So, beer is my drug of choice, and was on my first Dead show day.

NOW, my father is an Eagle Scout and his buddies volunteered at a food stand in the stadium for EVERY event for, like, a decade. The proceeds benefited Boy Scout troop stuff. He drove me and a bunch of slightly buzzed friends to the gate and dropped us like a swirly, giggly pancake into the parking lot. My dad had already figured out that I was generally a "good kid" who liked a cold, frosty beverage (or 10) every once in awhile, and even at 18, he didn't give me much flak about it. That day, I became the "beer runner" for my friends and I, and often made them giddy by returning to our spot in the Dead world that day with trays of beers and snacks from my dad.

Right before the second set, my friend Marc warbled, "we're out of munitions." So, off I went. I wasn't bombed by any means because the show was fun and I had sort of became the de facto leader of this crazy Brady Bunch of friends. This is the conversation that ensued with my pops:

Me: Hey Dad. Six beers stat. Any maybe some pizza.

Dad (with his frown/raised-eyebrow combo accompanied by laughter from my two Uncles, one Aunt, and several other adults I'd known since birth): Are you sure?

Me: Of course I'm sure. Why not?

Dad: (still frowning). Ok. Wait here.

Dad (coming back with gifts but still frowning): How's the show?

Me: Awesome! Are you going to check out a song or two?

Dad (still frowning): Maybe as we close up here at the end.

Me: Cool. Why are you frowning like that?

Dad: Oh, shit. I don't know. Our sales are down and no one can figure out why. The beer's going like mad, but the pizza's sitting here getting cold. It's a sell-out show, for chrissakes. (more frowning, people watching)

Me (in all serious): What's on the pizza?

Dad: Cheese and friggin' pepperoni, what the hell else would be on a friggin' pizza?

Me (pausing, thinking): Dad, the vast majority of this crowd wouldn't eat a pepperoni even if it had Acid on it. Pull the pepperoni off before you put it in the oven and get Uncle John to start yelling "Veggie Pizza, Veggie Pizza!!" and see what happens?!?!?!

Dad (dramatic pause): HOLY SHIT! (turns to my Unlce) John, start pulling that goddamn pepperoni off. Now. This isn't a goddamn football game for chrissakes. Holy shit!

Me: Yahoo!!!! Gotta go. I'll meet you here after for a ride home.

Dad: Thanks Jude! Do you want a concert shirt or something?

Me: Sure! Pick out a cool one for me. See ya!

And I traipsed my way back to the pack. Two hours later, I met my dad back the stand with several severely altered friends. The pizza had sold out, and Deadheads of all ages had been "digging" the veggie style. My family was in stitches. NOW, I was bombed, but happy in my drunkenness that my dad had a good night AND had bought me a killer concert-T with spiral dancing bears on it. Family effort, I guess.

That shirt is in my T-shirt drawer right now, and that's what I'm wearing to see Mickey Hart tonight. With a stick of pepperoni in my bag, of course.

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