Three old friends met on a cool and cloudy Wisconsin Friday night to hear once again the band that had drawn them, and others, together long years before.
Brion is famous at the Blue Moon Tavern in Seattle for inaugurating Sunday Night Dead Night (what we Deadheads sometimes called “church”), although he insists it was Sheelah, who insists it was Brion, and so forth and so on. He’s a big guy with a big grin who loves baseball. He moved back to his hometown of Milwaukee several years ago to take care of his mother (he’s that kind of guy), and when she was gone, he stayed on, working with kids and bartending in a music club on the weekends. I remember walking out of a Dead show in Sacramento with him and some other folks. Jerry had just gotten a new toy that allowed his guitar to mimic other instruments and during one of the warm-ups, could be heard playing “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” using the organ option. “Jerry’s going baroque,” Brion said to me. “Oh, I don’t know,” I replied, with an attempt at après show humor. “Sounds to me like he’s doing all right.”
Brender, when I first met him, was proprietor of a production company named Crabby Goat, which produced and promoted, among other things, Robert Hunter (guitarist and lyricist for The Grateful Dead) and The Gyuto Monks, Tibetan throat singers. I was privileged to be asked to assist in minor ways in a few of these productions. We became good friends through our mutual affection for the Dead and for his significant other, Caroline, whose death from cancer served only to bring those of us who knew and loved her closer together.
Barbara is older than both of them by at least 10 years. She lived in Seattle for 32 years, and still misses it, so spending quality time with the next generation of our favorite band, not to mention the next few generations of Deadheads, with old friends was an unexpected blessing. Barbara’s knees do not work so well anymore, so dancing on that steep grade of a grassy hillside was out, toe and finger dancing while sitting on the ground, looking up at a waxing gibbous moon ducking in and out of cloud cover, was in. Nevertheless. China Doll.
The Next Gen seems to be doing it right, too. As we stood in the crowd waiting to be admitted, a woman near us went down – maybe heat exhaustion from the day, maybe lack of good hydration – and a circle immediately formed around her, giving her room to just sit and breathe. When official rescue arrived, the crowd made certain that her “family” was allowed room to go through with her. The assumption was that she was taken to a med tent, and then they were all likely released to go into the show. It was a good feeling with which to start the night.
And maybe we’ll do it again next year. Maybe we won’t. It doesn’t matter at this point. We had this night, not to relive an old experience, although there was some of that, but to get a glimpse of what the future might hold. Both for our music and for our people.