Celebrating the 4th with the Dead [by Neil]
What could possibly be better than hanging out with thousands of like-minded music fanatics on the 4th day of July at the Rothbury Music Festival?
Celebrating our nation’s adoption of the Declaration of Independence with the surviving members of the Grateful Dead, at least for this Deadhead, was an experience that couldn’t be topped.
With such a great lineup, Rothbury had something for everyone. I was sucked in by the lure of seeing Bobby, Phil, Mickey and Bill churn out some old classics.
Prior to the Dead’s show, a cameraman was scouring the crowd for the big monitors on both sides of the stage. In the true make-mama-proud tradition, dozens of girls let loose and gave the crowd great titty shots. But to be honest, the girl who didn’t flash gained my respect the most, although I don’t think the rest of the people agreed.
Then it was time to go see the boys. Not wanting to be stuck behind 40,000 people, I ran to the main stage and got my usual spot to the right of Bob Weir, the Dead’s rhythm guitarist. To be honest, I was tentative to think that this show was going to rock. After seeing the band six times on its spring tour, I was convinced they had lost the energy that used to flow easily from the band’s music.
After an hour of waiting and drinking, the lights dimmed and history strolled out on stage. After a spacey jam, the boys jumped into the rockin’ “Sugar Magnolia.” Warren Haynes, filling in on guitar for the late and great Jerry Garcia, owned this song. With his baby blue Fender Tornado, he fingered those strings like an 18-year-old would a hooker, ending the first jam with a crescendo that jump started the crowd.
“Eyes of the World,” one of the band’s most performed tunes, played into exactly what the crowd desired, which was a sing-a-long followed by a tight and put together jam that went from spacey to rockin’ and back to spacey. Deadheads don’t ask for much more.
After quite possibly the slowest “Estimated Prophet” ever performed, the Dead jumped into the seldom played “Loose Lucy.” This was the grab-the-girl-next-to-you-and-boogie-down song of the night. When Weir muttered the line “Thank you, for a real good time” this beautiful blonde southern bell grabbed my arm and we got down. So down that I forgot there were people around me and spilled a few beers. Oh well, at least I got to dance with some hotness.
“Help on the Way>Slipknot>Franklin’s Tower” was the highlight of the first set. Bassist Phil Lesh took his new axe to the extreme, leading the band through twisting and winding jams throughout the almost 30-minute segment. On top of all, the 70-year-old sang his raspy heart out, and the crowd responded with jubilation by singing every word with Phil.
The second set turned out to be another pleaser, as the band opened with a very fast-paced “One More Saturday Night.” Without missing a beat, the band strolled into “Shakedown Street,” and this was the highlight for me. With a small community gathered to see the band, this song could not have been more fitting. “Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart/’Cuz I can hear it beat out loud!” is the line that defined the festival. If it weren’t for the Grateful Dead, we wouldn’t have Rothbury, Bonnaroo or any music festival. “Shakedown” is the theme song for each one.
After a strong but slow “China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider,” the Dead did its patented “Drums>Space” segment. Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, the two drummers, took the crowd on a ride. With the use of a small drum circle, they led into a jam with the help of the rest of the band.
What gets me is that I have never enjoyed a “Drums>Space.” It’s the time when I leave to relieve myself, grab a beer and regroup for the rest of the show. Not this time. I listened as intently as I ever had, constantly being sucked into the ritualistic beats and swirling sounds.
After the traditional “Viola Lee Blues,” the Dead played a heartfelt “Morning Dew.” The set was finished with the politically charged “Throwing Stones,” followed by a “Sugar Magnolia” reprise.
What a show. I just celebrated a fun holiday with my favorite band and my closest friends. Oh wait, I forgot about the encore. Damn contact-high.
“U.S. Blues” kicked it off, complete with an amazing fireworks display. “Not Fade Away” closed out the epic show with the crowd taking the band off stage by repeating the closing line “You know our love will not fade away,” which had me choking back tears.
So that was it. Amazing. Hopefully, the Dead will stay together. And if the Rothbury show is any indication, then the band is back in full force.
I would totally write about the party after the show, but I think that is better left off this site. All I can say is that I woke up in a pile of dirt with sharpie marker all over me.
What a great weekend. See ya next year, Rothbury!