I Go Backstage With The Grateful Dead

Fillmore East When It Was Cooking

Fillmore East When It Was Cooking

By Cecil Hoge

Accomplishments are relative to the perceiver. A business friend of mine was a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. At the age of 22, on September 16th, 1965, he pitched a no-hitter in Fenway Park against the Cleveland Indians. That record was held by him for 36 years, unbroken. Only in 2001 was his original record broken by another Red Sox pitcher, Hideo Nomo. In addition, he pitched relief in two games in the 1967 World Series. That must have been a pretty heady thing for a young man in his early 20s. His name is Dave Morehead. In later life, he became a buyer for Gemco, a California chain of sporting goods and discount stores. After about 15 years with Gemco, Dave founded his own independent sales representative agency to sell sporting goods and related products. And about 25 years ago, he came to represent our company and sell our Panther Martin lures, among other products.

For those of you who do not know how an independent sporting goods rep works, essentially, he, or sometimes she, represents ten or fifteen companies selling different kinds of sporting goods. In the case of Dave’s company, Pacific Crest Marketing, he represented our products in California and Arizona. His company is composed of him and three other representatives that work for him. The idea is to represent different companies in different fields so you never end up representing two direct competitors. This does not always work out in this age of corporate buyouts and changing company structures. Anyway, Dave and his guys have represented our products for the last 25 years and over time, I came to know him quite well.

Dave is the modest type, so he never really tells anyone that once upon a time he was a famous pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. Over the years I have talked to him and asked him what it felt like to pitch a no-hitter and be in the World Series. Dave is reticent on the subject, but he admits that it was a hard adjustment to go from a young and successful baseball player to working in the business world selling sporting goods. It happens that Dave has also had a very successful business career.

Thinking about what Dave did got me thinking about what I did as a young man around his age. The only thing that I could come up with is going backstage with the Grateful Dead. Now, as I said at the beginning of this story, accomplishments are relative to the perceiver and I am not sure that anyone but me would consider going backstage with the Grateful Dead on a par with pitching a no-hitter or pitching in the World Series. And while I admit that my accomplishment is not the same as Dave’s, it is really the only thing that I can think of that comes close.

I have to say that the story of going backstage is more complicated than you might think. It happened I was attending a debutante party on a winter evening in 1969. I do not remember what young lady was being introduced to society, but I do remember the event was being held at the Pierre Hotel. The Pierre Hotel, in my opinion at the time, was the second best hotel in the city for debutante parties, with the Plaza taking the cake in that department. Both hotels were very impressive, but the Plaza’s ballroom had the Pierre beat. Not to say that the Pierre was shabby. As I said, it was the second best hotel for debutante parties in New York and it also had a pretty dazzling ballroom.

This is Not Me, But it is what I Wore

This is not me, but it was what I was wearing

Anyway, on the night in question, I was dressed as is required – that is, I was wearing tails. Tails makes a young man look good whether he be emaciated, fat, ugly or tipsy. On the night in question I was tipsy. It also happens that I had and still do have a bunch of pretty female cousins. One of them, my cousin Cynthia, appeared at the Pierre out of nowhere. Appropriately dressed in an evening gown, I thought nothing was a amiss when she grabbed my arm and said in a whisper, “Come on, we have to get out of here.”

“Where?” I asked innocently.

“Downtown,” she said just as I found myself being led to a cab. She said something to the cabby and before I could protest, I found myself kidnapped, headed downtown on the East Side.

“Where are we going,” I asked again.

“You’ll see,” and then after a looking at me she added these words of advice, “Lose the tie.”

Obediently I pulled my white bow tie off and stuffed it in a pocket. I was cool with going wherever Cinny had in mind. I had several glasses of the bubbly, was feeling quite on top of things and I was guessing she was taking off to meet some of her more bohemian friends. I was right in more ways than I knew.

In the meantime, I was watching where the cab was going and realizing we were going further and further downtown. We must be going to the East Village I surmised. I was very close, because we stopped at 6th street on Second Avenue and got out of the cab. I, being the elder relative and male, I paid for cab. So, here we were, Cynthia in her long evening gown and me in tails without a white bow tie.

The first thing that I noticed was that there were swarms of young people hanging around a really banged up steel door and they all were wearing green Army jackets and jeans. Normally in that period I was never bothered by Green army coats and jeans. In fact, at the time owned several of each, along with some government issue bell bottom trousers, a dress must of the period. That evening, with me in Tails and Cinny in an evening dress I felt somewhat out of place. As a matter of fact, I was quickly becoming concerned for my safety. If I had sniffed the wind a little more closely I probably would have realized that these young people in army jackets were not going to harm anyone. Simply put, they were too stoned to do anything harmful to humans. Of course, I did not know that.

Anyway, Cynthia took me by the hand and led me past legions of young people waiting in what appeared to be a line to the banged up steel door. Now these young people all sported the required freak long hair and that meant that it was impossible to tell who were male and who were female. Now some of the people also sported beards so I knew they were guys. I am guessing the only sure way to tell the sex of the others would be to open some of the green army coats and look for lovely lady lumps. But that would have been bad taste and unappreciated by the green coated folks.

Pretty soon Cynthia whisked by everyone on the line and came up to some kind of hippy doorman. Cynthia shouted a name in his ear and suddenly I found myself and Cinny being let in. The crowd of people in green coats did not like this. Well dressed people were being let in ahead of them and I could see really see their point. Nevertheless, I was happy when the door shut and hoots and howls of disapproval subsided.

Cynthia, still leading me by the hand, was like a woman astronaut. She had been trained for this job and she was going to get us there. There turned out to be backstage. We whisked past a bunch of seats, mostly filled with green coated and long-haired folks, the flagrant and distinct smell of marijuana everywhere, the very air and light cloudy with hanging smoke, we went down different aisles, up to the front of the stage and then around to the right and up some stairs and towards the back of the stage. Cynthia leading me like she had done this mission many times before. That turned out to be true. The band, who were on stage, not all there, but with some members in place, we’re kind of tuning up, with guitars and symbols and harmonicas and drums whining, twanging and banging. They looked pretty scraggly, in jeans, wearing tie-dye Tshirts. Some were playing little riffs while others were picking absent mindedly on guitars. “Pigpen” was setting up on an electric organ. After a while, they began to play, with some Grateful Dead members playing and others taking their time getting on stage.

We went further backstage and sat on a wooden ledge that made a nifty bench. There were about 50 other people seated on the same ledge. It was pretty cozy. Most were not in evening clothes, although strangely, there were several others in something other than green army jackets and jeans. There were a few business types, some casual but quite well dressed types, 5 ladies in long flowing tie-dye dresses who looked like they had just flown in from the late, great city of Babylon, 20 or so stoners and us. You might call it an eclectic crowd.

The audience was like a sea of green, black and brown. The green was the aforementioned green Army coats, the brown and black were leather coats. It was, after all, winter and these folks had to come in coats. The Filmore East was not the best condition. It seemed kind of dingy. Everything had a second hand feeling. The seats, the aisles leading to the stage, the stairs…all had a dirty, unkempt, over-used feel. But no one seemed to mind. The place was packed with teen to thirty somethings, all cleverly hidden in clouds of marijuana smoke hanging over the audience.

This was going to prove to be one very long evening. It was already around 10:30 pm when we arrived. The seats were only now beginning to fill up with all the people who had hissed and howled when we were being let in free of charge. I can tell you if I had been in a green army jacket, I would have been one of the persons hissing and howling.

Backstage it was quite a scene as Grateful Dead members moved back and forth, sporadically tuning up, playing some side tunes, clinking symbols, some discordant noises from stray harmonicas and organ sounds, twangy guitars and then, gradually, the whole group started playing together launching into some of their better known songs. Some were from their recently released album, American Beauty. “A Friend of the Devil” came on to the approval of almost all and was shortly followed by”Sugar Magnolia”. They played five or six more songs, some slow and bluesy, some hard and driving and then some of the band members took a short break while Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir played some acoustic songs.

“See hear how this thing lead up to this thing and it is just like any other day,” Jerry was singing.

The Dead Get Going

The Dead Get Going

Backstage, big things were happening. People were passing around plates of funny looking cigarettes and little white pills and pieces of paper with little purple dots. I could see this was going in a bad direction for me. I admit to taking an occasional pull on those funny little cigarettes – of course, I did not inhale. Fortunately, I was able to score a beer. That might have looked a little out of place. A guy in tails drinking a beer. So much for style.

The heavy smoke was particularly dense backstage and was probably contributing to an uptick in my mood, perhaps, augmented by an occasional direct pull on one of those little cigarettes. Cynthia seemed to be having a good time, chatting up some of the local backstage buddies and smiling sweetly as the Dead began to start up. She was a girl of the time. She had straight long blonde hair and a calm, complacent and ice cool look on her face that said there is nothing on planet earth that surprises me.

After acoustic songs of Garcia and Weir ended, they walked off and the stage went dark for few minutes. I guess in the music trade they call that a pause for the cause. Shortly thereafter the Grateful Dead slowly began to come back on, Pigpen, Bill Kreutzmann, Jerry Garcia, Mickey Hart, Phil Lesh and Bob Weir, each member came back, in slow and sporadic order, almost as if each member had just realized they had a show to put on.

Then they began to play, this time long, winding psychedelic music, starting off with St. Stephen, with Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir singing. The music kind of rose and fell, starting off in one place, fading away and then going on to something else and then coming back, almost as if the band members momentarily forgotten where they were and then remembered that they had started one song and had to get back to it. At one point, there was a long period of drums and an occasional symbol, which was then enlivened by guitars weaving in and weaving out. This section went on and on, some of it very interesting, some of it, kind of boring. It was, after all a Dead Show.

Everyone back stage and every on stage and everyone in the audience kind of swayed and nodded. In particular, the five Babylonian ladies, just recently in from 1300 bc, seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the progress of the last three thousand years. They was swaying and nodding, arms waving in air, looking like five mysterious Mona Lisa’s dancing along to the music of some ancient  Babylonian god. Everyone was having a good time. Speaking of time, it was running forward fast and pretty soon I noticed it was around 1 pm. But the night was young Dead Wise, as I was about to find out.

After the long and winding psychedelic set, which had some actual songs, but mostly was instrumental, went on for over an hour, the band again took another pause for the cause. At that moment, a whole bunch of people arrived on the set with cowboy hats and long scraggy hair. They set up a sign and it said New Riders of the Purple Sage and they began to sing country music, sort of. It was and it was not country music. It had some banjos, a sitar and symbols, a few acoustic guitars and a mess of electric guitars.

The New Riders of Purple Sage led off with few songs and then some of the members of the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir, joined them and began to play along with them. The music was more country, more acoustic, less psychedelic, but it had a fun, more modern feel with odd elements. It definitely was not your father’s country music.

After a set of ten or so songs, the New Riders folded their tents, so to speak and left the stage. After a few minutes, other members of the Grateful Dead came back. It was now about two in the morning and the trays of little cigarettes and pills and powders were still going around. In the meantime, I was having a hard time scoring beers. Two guys, who had brought a big white cooler full of beers, had moseyed on and I was left beerless.

In the meantime, the Grateful Dead started up for what seemed like the hundredth time and starting playing some hard driving, fast moving rock. Cynthia was still sitting next me, taking in the scene, giggling every now and then, swaying back and forth. She was not alone in the swaying department, the 5 Babylonian babes were swaying and dancing like they were in the gardens of Babylon. Eyes closed, faces with Mona Lisa smiles, undulating and swaying, arms raised to gods before my time.

During the psychedelic section the girls from the ancient city of Babylon were kind of a group of spirit ladies, dancing around in a cabalistic circle in their long free flowing tie-dye skirts, eyes to the skies, occasionally raising their hands to the darkened ceiling of the Fillmore East, kind of chanting, kind of singing, I kind of expected that they would vanish in a puff of smoke. Certainly, there was enough smoke was to vanish in.

Just about 3pm, after the Dead were a good three songs into their latest set, the highlight of the evening occurred. It happened to be a particularly hopping Grateful Dead song, like Truckin’. In fact, it may have been Truckin’. In any case, Jerry Garcia came over, hopping up and down with a guitar, playing with his back to the audience. For those of you who have never seen Jerry up close, he was not a very tall dude, 5′ 6″ or 5′ 8″ I would guess. It was kind of hard to tell, because as I said, he was hopping up and down. His face bore a wide open grin that could not go wider.

Not only was he hopping up and down, he was hopping up and down next to Cinny. To my surprise, he started talking, that is, if a guy playing guitar hopping and down can talk. It was more like shouting and I could tell he was in a good mood.

“Cinny,” he said bouncing up and down, “Cinny, we are going to play all night. Until dawn, man. You got to hang with us.”

Well, this led to two discoveries. One, my cousin was on a first name basis with the famous Jerry Garcia. Two, the Grateful Dead, or at least Jerry Garcia, planned to play until dawn.

Well, I don’t know what Jerry was smoking or ingesting or inbibing. Whatever it was, it kept him bouncing up and down and I must say he was in a good mood. I could tell by the giant grin on his face. Then he bounced about 50 feet towards the front of the stage and started singing to the crowd. Now this was a young Jerry. Not the chubby, cherubic looking gnome with gray long hair he came to be. No, this was the young, dark haired Jerry Garcia. Thin, trim and I am guessing, without too much cause for doubt, substantially stoned. Hey, man, it was that time.

After three or four more songs, I pleaded mercy to my cousin. She was not impressed with my feeble excuse about having to go to work at 9am the next morning, but I kept whining about the hour. With great disgust and some reluctance, Cynthia got up to go around a quarter to four and we made our way off the stage, past the thousand in green coats and out on to Second Avenue. I had been worried that it might be a problem to catch a cab at that time of night, but when we came out into the cold winter air there must have been a dozen or so cabs waiting. It seems that word had gotten out that there was a Grateful Dead Show going on at the Fillmore East and there might be a few customers needing a ride late that evening.

In the cab, Cynthia whispered that, yes, she had known Jerry for about year and had met him and the whole band at Billy Hitchcock’s farm in Millbrook, along with a few other notables, such as Ken Kesey and Tim Leary. They all were friends. Who knew? Yeah man, it was that time.

And it certainly was a memorable evening.

Now I know you are probably still convinced that going backstage with the Grateful Dead really is not as great as pitching a no hitter in Fenway Park, but I think it was kind of cool.

About Cecil Hoge

Paddler/Scribbler
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