Rais­ing the Dead across the Bay Area

50 years on, the legacy of Jerry & Co. rip­ples well be­yond Haight-Ash­bury

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - AN­DREA SACHS

I needed a mir­a­cle. Specif­i­cally, I needed con­struc­tion on the Golden Gate Bridge to halt so that I could make Grate­ful Dead Funk Night at Ter­rapin Cross­roads, the San Rafael res­tau­rant and mu­sic venue owned by Phil Lesh, a found­ing mem­ber of the leg­endary band.

Bless Saint Christo­pher, be­cause I dis­cov­ered an al­ter­nate route and ar­rived well be­fore the mu­si­cians strummed the open­ing chords to “Althea.”

Un­less you’re liv­ing in “1989,” you know that 2015 is the Year of the Dead. Twenty years ago this month, the Bay Area group per­formed its last con­cert, at Soldier Field in Chicago. Over Fourth of July week­end, the four re­main­ing mem­bers re­turned to the Mid­west stage for three “Fare Thee Well: Cel­e­brat­ing 50 Years of Grate­ful Dead” shows. The half­cen­tury an­niver­sary marks the band’s cre­ation in Palo Alto, Calif., but its timeline is crowded with other sig­nif­i­cant dates. For ex­am­ple: Jerry Gar­cia’s birth­day, on Aug. 1, 1942, and his death, on Aug. 9, 1995.

The band dis­man­tled af­ter the loss, and its mem­bers pur­sued other projects. North­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s de­vo­tion to the Grate­ful Dead, how­ever, will not fade away.

“Their foot­prints are ev­ery­where. They are part of the land­scape and the soil,” said Scott Un­ter­berg, who doc­u­ments some of the band’s sem­i­nal sites on his blog, Dark Star Palace. “San Fran­cisco is def­i­nitely the Land of the

Dead.” Most devo­tees start and end their pil­grim­age in Haight-Ash bury, the rain­bow-bright cen­ter of the 1960s coun­ter­cul­tural move­ment. The neigh­bor­hood and its squat­ters, many fogged in by a cloud of patchouli and pot, seem per­ma­nently stuck in the Never-End­ing Sum­mer of Love.

The Dead’s jour­ney, how­ever, ex­tended be­yond Haight. They per­formed their first gig at a pizza shop in Menlo Park, about 30 miles south of San Fran­cisco; Gar­cia died of a heart at­tack at a re­hab cen­ter in For­est Knolls, about the same dis­tance north. Gui­tarist Bob Weir and Lesh, the bassist, re­side in Marin County and run live mu­sic and din­ing es­tab­lish­ments that are less than 10 miles apart. Un­ter­berg, who lives in Mill Val­ley, said Weir has ap­peared in the lo­cal Me­mo­rial Day pa­rade. My No Cal friend bumps into Lesh when she’s run­ning er­rands.

Clearly, the Dead are still walk­ing.

For my groupie tour, I con­tacted Scott, who started com­pil­ing the lo­ca­tions dur­ing sleep­less hours with twin new­borns. The vet­eran con­cert­goer (more than 50 Dead shows on his twirl card) pulled to­gether a list that in­cluded nearly 20 stops in seven Marin towns, plus San Fran­cisco. Squeezed for time, I had to sac­ri­fice a few, such as two re­hearsal spa­ces (the heliport in Sausal­ito and the Stinson Beach Com­mu­nity Cen­ter); the for­mer Girl Scout camp in La­gu­ni­tas, the group’s liv­ing quar­ters in 1966; and the ticket sales of­fice and Gar­cia’s house in Stinson Beach, where he also recorded a solo al­bum.

Be­fore I set out, how­ever, I planned a pri­vate mo­ment with Jerry. Our ren­dezvous spot: Suite 220 at Ho­tel Tri­ton.

In Septem­ber 1994, Gar­cia de­signed a guest room at the whim­si­cal San Fran­cisco prop­erty steps from Chi­na­town. (Kathy Grif­fin and Häa­gen-Dazs also have theme suites.) The room feels like a pri­vate art gallery. The artist’s sim­ple char­ac­ter draw­ings and psy­che­delic prints adorn the walls, and one frame con­tains sev­eral of his Escher­like ties. A trippy pat­tern re­peats on the throw pil­lows and head­board. A swirling blue pais­ley de­sign on the car­pet cre­ates a wave sen­sa­tion un­der­foot.

The pièce de ré­sis­tance is his loop­ing sig­na­ture on the wall paired with a pho­to­graph of the bearded one loung­ing on a bed. The ul­ti­mate fan-boast: I slept in the same bed that Jerry Gar­cia sat on.

Back to the Dead’s ori­gins

That was then and this is now. Then: Con­cert pro­moter Bill Graham opens Fill­more West in 1968 and books bands, in­clud­ing the Dead and Jef­fer­son Air­plane, that help de­fine an era.

Now: Cus­tomers shop for cars at the Honda deal­er­ship that took over the build­ing.

Yet, in many cases, then is still now — only with some up­dates.

In 1980, the Dead played 15 sold-out shows at the Warfield Theatre, a down­town fa­cil­ity that dates to the 1920s vaude­ville age. It con­tin­ues to host acts, although the style of mu­sic has changed. In early July, the large mar­quee an­nounced Lilly Singh, the Cana­dian co­me­dian and rap­per, and a smaller bill­board pro­moted per­for­mances by Mo­tor­head, Snarky Puppy and “Amer­i­can Idol Live.”

While I was snap­ping pic­tures of the Warfield’s ex­te­rior, an em­ployee cracked opened the door and looked at me cu­ri­ously. I ex­plained my quest to visit the Grate­ful Dead’s con­cert sites.

“This was the main one,” she said with a sense of pro­pri­etor­ship.

The names as­so­ci­ated with the orig­i­nal Fill­more, which Graham had aban­doned to open the Fill­more West, could make a tape head pop off: Jimi Hen­drix, Otis Red­ding, Cream, Muddy Wa­ters and the Dead, who were barely above bar-band sta­tus when they played here.

I walked by the brick build­ing sev­eral times be­fore fi­nally look­ing up and notic­ing “The Fill­more” sign high above the Western Union store. I found the en­trance and peered through a pad­locked me­tal gate at a mar­ble foyer with a ta­ble, chair and black tele­phone, the an­techam­ber to the unof­fi­cial Mu­sic Le­gends Hall of Fame.

At Golden Gate Park, the grassy stag­ing ground of many free Dead shows, I dis­cov­ered sev­eral mu­si­cians noodling around on gui­tars by the Con­ser­va­tory of Flow­ers. A man in a fold­ing chair started singing freestyle. I ain’t got no dough To get a bur­rito I’ve got a bad, bad case of the


The song segued into ral­ly­ing slo­gans: “Live in peace.” “Throw your guns away.” “Don’t smoke crack.” He then stood up, col­lapsed his chair and, with­out say­ing good­night, drove away, the Mex­i­can food an­them re­ver­ber­at­ing in his wake.

Trekkin’ across Haight

The Haight Ash­bury Flower Power Walk­ing Tour met in the most un­likely spot: by the McDon­ald’s park­ing lot and near Whole Foods. Like Dy­lan said . . . .

Ex­cept for a few mod­i­fi­ca­tions, how­ever, the neigh­bor­hood has kept a san­daled foot in the past.

“On Hip­pie Hill, you can al­ways find some­one on a sunny day pound­ing on a drum and say­ing, ‘ Wow, man, far out,’ ” our guide, Stan­nous Flouride, said of the car­ni­val-like gath­er­ing place in Golden Gate Park.

Ur­ban plan­ners cre­ated the dis­trict in the late 1800s for tourists vis­it­ing San Fran­cisco’s 1,017acre park, which borders Haight-Ash­bury. The city was bar­ren of trees un­til Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev com­mented on the lack of veg­e­ta­tion dur­ing a visit, spurring of­fi­cials to start spruc­ing up busi­ness dis­tricts. Hip­pies also stepped in with seeds and shov­els to beau­tify the non­com­mer­cial ar­eas. Friends of the Ur­ban For­est later took up the green cause, and have planted 59,000 trees since 1981.

“That is the legacy of the ’ 60s,” he said. “If you saw a prob­lem, you get your friends to­gether and fix it.”

Stan car­ried a stack of pic­tures to il­lus­trate his points. He showed us an old-timey photo of a veg­e­ta­tion-less Haight Street and, for his dis­cus­sion on the lo­cal fire depart­ment, a graphic im­age of the Grate­ful Dead’s Steal Your Face skull sur­rounded by Sta­tion 12 let­ter­ing, a fire hy­drant and a lad­der. The logo, he said, ap­pears on the com­pany’s trucks and uni­forms. As if on cue, a firetruck rum­bled by. I raced to the scene to gog­gle at the cab, not the ac­ci­dent.

Stan cov­ered a broad sweep of top­ics (history, ar­chi­tec­ture, drugs, psy­chos), and the Dead seemed to nudge their way into many of his sto­ries. For ex­am­ple, he pointed up a hill to the Spreck­els Man­sion, which was built by a nephew of a 19th-cen­tury sugar mag­nate. The re­volv­ing door of later oc­cu­pants in­cluded Jack Lon­don, who wrote “White Fang” in the posh crib, and ac­tor Danny Glover, pre-di­vorce. In the ’60s, Gene Estri­bou built Buena Vista Stu­dio in a fifth-floor ball­room and in­vited such mu­si­cians as Steve Miller, It’s a Beau­ti­ful Day and the Dead to record tracks there.

On Belvedere Street, a smoky gray Vic­to­rian that had con­tained a record­ing stu­dio made the news in 1967 when po­lice raided a mar­i­juana party and busted Royal Bal­let dancers Ru­dolf Nureyev and Mar­got Fonteyn. In 1996, Stan had an op­por­tu­nity to peek in­side the build­ing. He found egg car­tons sta­pled to the ceil­ing and Fill­more posters plas­tered on the walls like a coat of paint.

The big­gest fan at­trac­tion in San Fran­cisco is the Grate­ful Dead House on Ash­bury Street. The home barely hints at its for­mer ten­ants: a sten­cil of Gar­cia play­ing guitar on the side­walk, a skull-and-roses em­blem on a curb, stick­ers on the next-door-neigh­bor’s util­ity box. Af­ter Gar­cia’s death, the own­ers erected a gate to pre­vent pil­grims from leav­ing flammable me­men­tos on the wooden steps. But they welcome visi­tors to pose out­side the pur­ple Vic­to­rian.

Stan crouched down to snap shots of our group. Peo­ple started to show up to pay trib­ute, and he of­fered to take their pic­tures as well. Two older guys— one with a dark mus­tache and long pony­tail, the other with a flow­ing beard and yards of lemony hair — flashed the peace sign, tak­ing us all back to 1967.

Jerry’s last stop: Seren­ity

Olom­pali State His­toric Park’s nar­ra­tive be­gan 8,000 years ago, with the Coast Mi­wok In­di­ans. But be­cause my time ma­chine was stuck in the 1960s, I headed straight for the last dis­play in the visi­tors cen­ter, the one ti­tled “Rad­i­cal Changes.”

In 1966, Jerry & Co. moved to the se­cluded area in north­ern Marin and in­vited friends over for al fresco jam ses­sions. A photo in the small ex­hibit shows skin­bar­ing beau­ties (men and women) re­clin­ing on the lawn while the band plays in the back­ground. Months later, a house­boat busi­ness­man moved into the es­tate’s 26-room man­sion and formed a com­mune called the Cho­sen Fam­ily. They all lived hap­pily ever af­ter un­til 1969, when an elec­tri­cal fire in­cin­er­ated the home and scat­tered the in­hab­i­tants. In 2002, arche­ol­o­gists re­trieved charred items from the de­bris, The Grate­ful Dead “are part of the land­scape and the soil” of the San Fran­cisco area, one blog­ger-ar­chiv­ist of the iconic band says. From top: From left, Bruce Hornsby, Jeff Chi­menti, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Trey Anas­ta­sio, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutz­mann at the “Fare Thee Well” show in Santa Clara, Calif.; fans pose at the Ash­bury Street house where the band lived; a tie-dye store in Haight-Ash­bury. in­clud­ing a record, beaded bracelets, a shoe and a cof­fee can used to bake bread for Sum­mer of Love revel­ers.

The stucco man­sion still stands. I peered through dirty win­dows at the sham­bles in­side. Crum­bling walls. Black­ened bricks. A pur­ple door ly­ing on its side. A utopia lost.

Seren­ity Knolls, in the town of For­est Knolls, wasn’t my last stop, but it was Jerry’s. The no­ta­tion from Scott, my tour ad­viser, was sim­ply “where Jerry passed.” Based on its ethe­real name, I imag­ined a fairy-tale set­ting with song­birds chirp­ing on piney boughs, wa­ter trick­ling over pearles­cent rocks and res­i­dents play­ing harps or paint­ing on easels.

In­side the wooded re­treat, I drove by birds, trees and wa­ter (in the form of a pool) and also cab­ins and fa­cil­i­ties that cater to pa­tients bat­tling drug ad­dic­tions. I tried to tip­toe away with­out no­tice, but the road dead-ended. Then I backed up onto a grassy bank while two on­look­ers watched from a pic­nic ta­ble.

“Can I help you?” an ami­able man asked me through my car win­dow. “Are you look­ing for some­one?”

I couldn’t ad­mit the truth, so I gave a semi-co­her­ent an­swer and waved good­bye. On my way out, how­ever, I re­spect­fully slowed down at the Seren­ity Knolls sign, the fi­nal mile­post on Jerry’s long, strange trip.

More than one kind of trib­ute

At Ter­rapin Crosss-roads, Lesh isn’t shy about his Grate­ful Dead con­nec­tion. Asmall gift shop sells sou­venirs that riff on the band’s discog­ra­phy and im­agery. Framed photos of the mu­si­cians ring the pe­riph­ery of the res­tau­rant. The bassist’s son, Gra­hame, of­ten per­forms here with the Ter­rapin All Stars, and Papa Lesh oc­ca­sion­ally plays sold-out shows. For Gar­cia’s birth­day, the Dead trib­ute band Stu Allen & Mars Ho­tel will take the main stage in the Grate Room.

For Grate­ful Dead Funk Night: Vol. 7, the crowd was am­ple and ap­pre­cia­tive. Guests danced in pock­ets around the bar and be­tween ta­bles. The band fea­tured a ro­tat­ing cast of singers each chan­nel­ing a dif­fer­ent leg­end: Joe (Cocker), Aretha, Ja­nis, Jerry.

The group played sev­eral Dead songs, amp­ing up the energy level like a shot of Red Bull. From my front-row stool, I watched the mat­ing dance of two mid­dle-aged hip­pies. A guy named Cliff, who sported a 50th an­niver­sary Tshirt, a Steal Your Face neck­lace and lanky locks, sat next to me. I said hello, and he re­sponded with a tor­rent of com­men­tary.

“I just got back from Chicago, man,” he said, with­out com­ing up for air. “I haven’t slept in days.”

From what I could dis­cern, Cliff ’s friend had ab­sconded with the Soldier Field tick­ets and the se­cu­rity guard wouldn’t let him in­side. I wanted to as­sure Cliff that although the band had said good­bye July 5, the Bay Area would never say fare thee well to the Grate­ful Dead. But Cliff drifted off to dance be­fore I could get the words out.



Grate­ful Dead fans gather in the Levi’s Sta­dium park­ing lot be­fore a show on the band’s mini-tour in Santa Clara, Calif.




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