Stone sober for the Grateful Dead 

Mayor of Ponce takes it one show at a time

A few years back at a Phil Lesh show I chatted with a guy who gave me a sticker that read, "One show at a time."

I was heavily influenced at the time and didn't realize till the next day what he was talking about. He was part of an organization that promoted clean living for burnt-out hippies.

While standing outside the Variety Playhouse in Little Five for a Dark Star Orchestra show, I decide to take the sticker's advice and go solo tonight for the full jam-band experience. It's a daring move.

Dark Star is a group of musicians who re-create entire Grateful Dead shows. Seems like a lot of effort. Why not re-create something worthwhile, like an episode of "Family Ties" – in and out in 22 minutes with a good life lesson in hand. To each his own, I suppose.

Euclid Avenue moves and shakes for the sold-out show, like a mini version of the Dead's "Shakedown Street." A clean-cut middle-aged man walks by in a really bad Cosby sweater. He would have to be on drugs to wear something that bad.

Inside the show, I start to feel guilty for being on the list. Outside, 50 to 60 people stand begging to get in, and I know within 10 minutes of the first 20-minute song I'll be begging to get out.

There are lots of cute, braless girls with root-beer bellies mixed with college types who probably drove to the show with Dead stickers on their oversized SUVs. And of course, there's the tie-dyed baby-boomer set reliving the past through the re-enactment.

Hippies will dance anywhere: the seats, the aisles, the bathroom stalls; they don't care. They love the music and the lifestyle. In many ways, it's hard not to, since hate isn't really part of their ideology.

I keep getting weird looks from people until it finally dawns on me. They must think I'm a narc. So I decide to get in where I fit in. I lay in the cut near the back with two ushers, Dave and Horace. My boy Horace keeps milling around, trying to bust people for smoking, "I have to," he says, "I'm a preacher, man."

"I don't really give a damn," Dave says, after Horace is on the move. "These people are just having fun."

Sure enough, after about 30 minutes I decide I've had enough free love. This time, this one show, I can appreciate the sticker's advice. It helped me understand and observe how goofy chemicals can affect us. Although being straight-headed certainly didn't help me tolerate 12-minute song breakdowns.

I'm not saying I wouldn't go see a jam band anymore. I'm just saying I'd need a beer. And a shower.


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