Jerry Day is an annual celebration of Jerry Garcia’s birthday. His real birthday is August 1, but the celebration is held on the next day, Sunday. It’s a free event held in McClaren Park. McClaren is a big park with hills and wooded gullies and some sweeping views. You can see the Bay at certain points. Compared to Golden Gate Park, McClaren is remote. Usually it’s only the locals that know and use McClaren Park. I’d played softball at nearby Crocker Amazon, and have gone to some of my nephew Daniel’s soccer games at the new fields there, but I’ve never seen the amphitheater. It was named The Jerry Garcia Memorial Amphitheater a few years ago. It’s near The Excelsior, the neighborhood Garcia grew up in. It was a blue collar, working class part of San Francisco.
We took the right exit from 101 South and soon spotted some cars, vans and small trucks parked by the roadway. Bumper stickers for ecology and peace told us this must be the place. We heard an earnest young woman warning others that, “No glass is allowed.” We took heed of her righteous warning. We found out they were serious about the no glass thing. There weren’t many people heading down the road, but there wasn’t much doubt about which way to go. Just follow the tie-dye.
It was a steep walk to the Amphitheater. Then we went through a wooded area with pines. We missed the first act, Loco Bloco. They are a youth development organization trying to get youth involved in music and theater and give them an alternative to the gang life. The Hendrix tune “The Wind Cries Mary” drifted up. The terrain leveled off. A young security guard was on the trail to the Amphitheater. She searched our bag. I’m glad we didn’t gamble. It’s a steep walk back to the car. There was another bag check before entering the amphitheater area. They really are serious about keeping glass out.
The stage is concrete with some risers in the back. It’s in the middle of a natural bowl. There is some seating on concrete bleachers, but they’ve been all been taken. There were tie-dye backdrops onstage and a painting of the whimsical Jerry. Two official looking San Francisco Street signs were onstage: Excelsior, and Jerry Garcia.
Check Engine Light were playing as we arrived. The Jerry Day web site says they are “an acoustic band from Marin” that plays “Geezer Rock.” I heard someone say Garcia’s brother Tiff is in the band.
We went up the hill and around to the other side, stage right. The crowd was laid back. It wasn’t a huge crowd like a Dead show of old. This was a free local event that wouldn’t have the intensity of an actual Grateful Dead appearance. I wondered how many fans would show up if a single surviving member of the band showed up.
The hill was dry and dusty. Most of the grass had been burned away. We spread a blanket. Search Engine Light did a humorous number. “Mothers Don’t Let Your Children to Grow Up and dance Disco.” Then “Sunshine Superman” with a little of the “Put the lime in the coconut and stir it all up” song. There were five musicians onstage and a kid banging on a small drum set. He couldn’t have been more than five.
The crowd really does have a Sixties attitude. There are grizzled veterans in long gray hair, reliving the old days, at least for today. It was scary to see how old some people looked. People seem to be aging with each event. There were some younger people. Some were part of the gypsy caravan that lives on Haight Street. There are family groups making a day of it. Mom and Dad taking the kids to the Rock Show. There are young clean cut couples with babies. They struggle up and down the hill with strollers. There are a lot of dreads. Kathy later remarked that one age group that was missing were teenagers. Maybe they’re waiting for Outside Lands. There were enough younger people there that it certainly looks like the Beat will go on. Many people brought their dogs.
There was that odd cross section of Deadhead types. I’m sure there are computer programmers in this crowd next to other fans that look like they’re either living on the street or a step away. There were old aging biker types. People set up around the edges of the hill, using what little shade there was. There were familiar faces from other free shows, but no one we really know. Many obviously knew each other and there were joyous reunions during the day.
Onstage Check Engine Light wonders what song to do next. Did they forget what song they were going to do next? “It’s an older guy thing,” the singer tells us. They play “Dee Dee.” “Dee Dee thinks she’s Jesus Christ.” Then they play “Mister Charley.” Load up the shotgun!
Check Engine Light is good. Maybe they’re a little too laid back. The sound is great. There is a natural bowl, but it sounded like they really worked on the sound. It is great all day.
Two young women are walking around the crowd with a ripped cardboard sign saying, “Phish” and “We Also Need Ride” in Magic Marker. I assume they’re trying to find tickets. One of them has her legs completely covered in tattoos. It’s something you’d only see in the circus years ago.
A guy sets up to our right. He’s sixty, I’ll guess. Gray hair, beard. He takes off his shirt so everybody can see the electrode things on his beer belly and chest. He still has a hospital ID on his wrist. Did he just escape to get to Jerry Day? He’s wearing a Yankee hat and taunts anyone with a rival baseball hat. He holds his we’re number one finger up.
Vendors wander the crowd. Pinwheels. Ganga cookies. A black guy in dreads and Rasta clothing is selling “The best brownies in San Francisco.” There is quite a variety of bongs, roach clips and other trinkets. Some just lay out their wares on a blanket in front of their spot. There is much smoking, but I don’t see open selling until later. I only saw two San Francisco cops all day. There are private security guards. I do see a guy wandering around later offering buds in his outstretched hands.
A young couple settles in near us. The guy has long dreads. They lay out some small art objects for sale. Most have already set up camp, but some people are still coming in.
A grizzled biker type sets up next to them. He wore a Harley-Davidson of Merced tee shirt, “The Gateway to Yosemite.” It looked like the colors of a biker gang with a picture of Yosemite Falls. (What are the odds? Kathy grew up in Merced.) He sits on a small cooler. Later, he tells war stories of epic Dead shows he’s gone to in the past. Sounds like he’s talking about Watkins Glen. The Biblical epic of a show that had about a billion people at it. “I live four blocks away,” he told the youngsters.
“We live in our van. So, we live right here too.”
During the break there’s a spiel from Rock and Dog Rescue. They tell us of their fine dogitarian work. There are a lot more abandoned pets these days. There were other calls for support and funds for other causes. Help is needed in these dark times. It wasn’t too bad. It reminded me of the endless political diatribes we had to listen to during equipment changes in the old days.
Stu Allen and Friends are warming up onstage and do a version of “CC Rider.” It’s an admitted sound check while they wait for Stu Allen to arrive from the airport. Allen will have a full day playing here with two bands and then he’ll play the After Party that night at The Boom Boom Room. He makes it just in time.
I have to depend on Kathy for many of the song titles. She’s the real Grateful Dead fan. There is the inevitable Google.
“Mississippi Half Step Uptown Toodeloo” Across the Rio Grandio.
Stu Allen’s guitar playing and voice sound like Garcia. OK relax, I know he’s not Jerry, but he does sound like him. He’s played in other Grateful Dead related bands including Working Man’s Ed. I think he’s the founder of Working Man’s Ed.
“That Lucky Old Sun.”
Kathy says the next one is from Blues for Allah, “I Will Stay One More Day.”
“Roll Away the Dew”
“Trucking” and “Good Loving.” There’s a great band of “friends” onstage with Allen. Again, the sound is crystal clear. The keyboards, a Roland 700 and a Hammond B3, sound great. The music is much better than I expected. A growing number of people are dancing in an area in front of the stage.
I wondered how long it would be before this event will be posted on YouTube. When would pictures appear on Flickr?
Event security in black jackets wandered around. They didn’t have much to do today. They looked like professional wrestlers with shaved heads and big biceps. What security staff does NOT look like pro wrestlers now?
Sandy Rothman is paged to the stage. He and another guest (A guy in a straw hat that played guitar. I never did catch his name.) will join for the encore.
“Friend of the Devil.” A long version, each song has a lot of jamming.
A guy wandered around with those protective wraparound shades. He had a cane and it looked like he was legally blind. I had spotted him earlier. He kept wandering around the crowd. Maybe he was looking for someone. He stumbled around bumping into people in that “It’s not my fault, I’m blind” kind of way. Another guy stopped near us. Maybe he really was an acid casualty of some kind. He seemed to have a hard time walking. Like he had either forgot how to walk or there was some kind of brain motion disconnect. Maybe he was just old. Why don’t these guys just get a spot and settle down?
An attractive young woman was looking for a place to put on her hula hoop display. It wasn’t that crowded, but there wasn’t enough room for a whirling hula hoop. She did find a spot later when things started rocking more.
Most of the tee shirts today were from old Dead or other shows from the past. Some of the shirts were getting pretty old. There were many from Dead tours in the post Jerry era. Phish was well represented.
There’s a delay and some equipment changes. Melvin Seals and the Jerry Garcia Band take the stage. Melvin is a big man and sits behind the keyboards. Two large black women sing backup. Stu Allen returns to guitar after “rehydrating.” The first song sounds like “Long Way from Home.” They do a great, interesting cover of The Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There.” It’s a crowd favorite. Everyone knows this one.
Yankee Electrode guy is waving his drivers license and some other form of ID back and forth in the air. It’s some kind of celebration of survival, or persistence.
They do the Chuck Berry song: “You Never Can Tell.” It’s the one Travolta and Uma dance to in Pulp Fiction. It’s another great cover version. Don’t hear too many Chuck Berry covers nowadays.
“That’s What Love Will Make You Do”
“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” I see a young guy fervently singing along. He couldn’t have been born when that song came out. Still, he’s into it. The torch is passed.
Sitting on the side of the hill is OK, but it is getting dusty. It’s steep enough that there is that slow, gradual slide down the hill. We make a move to get a different perspective and to make sure we’re on the side of the crowd where we entered before the end. We estimate 2,000 in this crowd. (The San Francisco Chronicle also estimates 2,000 in an article the next day.)
At the top of the hill kids have congregated, climbing the trees. As people reach the top a young guy leans over and in the hushed conspiratorial tone of the street dealer offers “Doses.”
We listen to a couple of songs at the top of the hill. The stage isn’t that far away. People have started to leave and we find an empty spot near the bleacher area. It’s closer to the stage than our hillside perch. We get a good view of the finale.
The dance area in front of the stage is getting jammed. “After Midnight” brings more people into the relatively polite Hippie mosh pit. People flail their arms. Many are spinning. I see a guy I’ve seen at other shows. His white hair is pulled back in a bun. He looks very serious as he spins and spins, barely in control.
They do another great Beatles’ cover, “Dear Prudence.” The two female back up singers sound great. They slow it down a bit with a “male torch song,” “Tore Up Over You.” Then it’s another Dead song, their version of the Charlie Poole song “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down Blues.” Just about everybody is rocking now.
We start back to the car during “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You.” It’s been a great little event. As we go up the hill we hear the crowd sing Happy Birthday to Jerry.
I check Flickr and YouTube after a couple of days. There are a few photos. There is a short clip from this year already and clips from Jerry Days from the past. The Jerry Day web site is at http://www.jerryday.org/