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Was It All A Dream?

by Aaron Von Cello

When I was a teenager, a couple of guys from my high school rented a bus and set up a trip from Brooklyn, New York, to RFK stadium in Washington, D.C. to see the Grateful Dead. I believe the year was 1973. This outdoor concert had three acts. A band that has faded into obscurity started the show. Was it Doug Shaum? The Dead were second, playing for most of the afternoon. Then, at night, the Allman Brothers played. They were later joined by some members of the Dead for a jam. We had a school bus full of kids, and a bus driver who was perfect for the trip. The bus became a non stop moving party, with the Dead's music constantly playing in the background, and the sound of laughter never-ending. We drove through the night, but I don't think anyone got any sleep. The driver just drove on, smiling, getting a great kick out of us. When we arrived at the stadium it was already a typical pre-concert zoo, with all kinds of people walking and gawking at each other, but there was a good vibe, and people were friendly and positive. Suddenly the gates opened and I made a mad dash to the front of the stage. I ended up in the front center, about as close as you could get to the stage in the field below. When the Dead finally came out, I was impressed by how big all of their pupils were. They looked like cartoon characters with big black eyes. They seemed to just stare at the crowd while they played. It seemed, when they jammed, that they were actually talking to people in the crowd. Jerry Garcia would lock eyes with someone and start to play as though he were communicating through mental telepathy to that person. The person would start to move trance-like to Jerry's notes, and smile from ear to ear. All the crowd at the front would notice this and clap for the guy. The people next to him would pat him on the back or shake his hand, I guess for the honor of being chosen by Jerry and going with the flow. I became aware that this was not going to be an ordinary concert. The audience was entertaining the band as much as they were entertaining us. In fact, in a deeper way, it was as if the music came from elsewhere and it didn't really matter who was playing it or who was listening to it. We were all being moved by it. I suppose it was the phenomenon that the Dead describe in the lyric, "The music played the band". At one point Bob Weir locked eyes with a very attractive young lady. I noticed that her eyes were as big and black as his. She had those "kaleidoscope eyes" that the Beatles sung about in Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. Next thing I knew she approached the stage as if drawn by a magnet. As she got within a few inches of it, people moved out of her way and a few of the band's security guys smoothly reached out their hands and pulled her up. She seemed to float up to the stage and then disappear into the blackness of the backstage area. Bob Weir smiled with pride and the crowd went wild. Meanwhile, "all hell" was breaking loose in the stadium. It seemed like the whole place was taking off into outer space. Balloons and frisbees were flying everywhere. Large water melons were being passed around like peace pipes. Everyone just took a bite and passed it on. As far as the eye could see there were endless little scenes of people dancing and partying, like a triptych by Bosch. There was a couple dancing near me who were getting more and more personal. After a while they had their hands all over each other. Next thing you know, they were on the floor and the guy started taking off the girl's halter top. It looked like they were about to attack each other in wild abandon. Instantly, a group of people surrounded them...but they surrounded them with their backs to them! It was amazing, but this group of people just seemed to be drawn together to create a screen to give this couple privacy. I, like everyone else, tried not to look, but I kept glancing over every once in a while, and saw this group of human screens just watching the Dead, completely ignoring what was going on behind them. Suddenly the group broke up, just as they had come together, and there was the couple sitting up, getting dressed. It was clear that something had been going on, but soon they were dressed and back to dancing and watching the show as if nothing happened. I wondered if they even knew each other. Just then I remembered seeing bumper stickers that read, "There is nothing like a Grateful Dead show", and I thought to myself that this must be what they were talking about. The whole crowd was forming a type of group mind. And the group mind was about nothing but pleasure and good times. At one point I was drawn to look behind me, all the way to the back of the stadium. I could see head after head turning back to look. No one knew why we were turning, but it was like an energy wave just swept through the stadium like a strong wind that turned us all around. There was one guy all the way in the back who suddenly realized that the whole stadium was looking at him. He screamed a blood curling cry of joy and the wave snapped back to the front. The Dead seemed to feel it too, and they started playing with double the energy. Then the energy wave went sideways. It was as if the energy was being whipped around by a gigantic windmill with the Dead no more able to direct it or stop it than anyone else. And that's the way it went for hour after endless hour. "The sky was yellow and the sun was blue"; even the clouds seemed to be dancing along with the music. I remembered another Dead lyric: "What do you want me to do? To do for you? To see you through? It's all a dream we did one afternoon long ago". I knew even then that that lyric would only get more meaningful to me as the years went by and I looked back at that "afternoon long ago" to wonder...did that really happen, or was it "all a dream"? ​

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