This was my first Dead show. I would see the band several times over the next few years but this was the first one. I don’t consider myself a Deadhead by any means. But this show was interesting in that it was an opportunity to see a legendary band that I knew very little about. And you never forget your first Grateful Dead show.
The opportunity came because one of my best friends, Dan Connolly @dconnolly17 had an extra ticket. Now if you’ve been to a Dead show or similar artists you will notice those seeking “extras”. Dan knew that I had not been nor really had a big desire to see the Dead but he convinced me to go.
I arrived at Dan’s place in Vienna and we travelled to the show with 2 of his college buddies, Eddie from Syracuse and “Crazy Sammy” from JMU. The trip from Vienna to Landover Maryland is not a pretty one to say the least and after about 45 minutes we found ourselves in the Capital Centre parking lot.
It was a beautiful Spring afternoon. Warm and sunny and the vibe was relaxed. This was the first night of 2 shows. Deadheads were conversing about the previous shows at Hampton Coliseum and what songs were played. I was oblivious to the whole culture. This experience was very different than hanging out at a heavy metal or new wave shows that I had seen in the past. Yes people were partying at both events but this scene was totally different.
The Capital Centre parking lot was a real dump. Not much of it was paved and it was out in the middle of nowhere. The building always reminded me of Dorton Arena with it hyperbole shape, the center of the the roof being the lowest point. At that time it was where the major acts played Washington, DC market. This would also be the first of several Dead shows in DC and the Cap Centre. The venue is no longer as it was demolished in 2002 to make way for a mall.
We tailgated a bit and strolled some of the parking lot. I’ve never seen so much crap for sale before a show. I have to admit at first it just seemed a bit odd and out of place. After I had been to a few shows it becomes part of the scene that you get used to and participate in. But at this point I was fine just observing. Not sure what to expect.
I had a great seat, stage right, lower level, about 12 rows up. High enough to see over the floor seats. And that’s a good thing when seeing the Dead. The floor can be a huge party. People are dancing, beach balls pop up, maybe a ballon or two! I was sitting with a friend of another co-worker who was about 8 years older than me and had seen the Dead since the 70s.
One of the coolest things about the Dead is that they allowed tapers to “bootleg” the show. So near the soundboard I spotted the microphone stands and knew that was the tapers section, something I had never seen at a rock concert before. Thanks to the community of tapers you can stream this show and many others on archive.org. Here’s the link: https://archive.org/details/gd92-03-08.sbd.fink.14083.sbeok.shnf. This is the first show I’ve had the chance to review and have a recording to revisit the music.
The band came out and I have to admit it was cool to actually see Jerry Garcia live in person, the beard, the glasses, the grey hair and his guitar. He had such an iconic look to him. The rest of the band looked similar to how they looked since the late 80s. Bob Weir wearing jeans and a Polo shirt, Phil in khakis and tie die shirt, the two drummers, Micky Hart and Bill Kreutzmann behind them on the two drum kits. And to the right of Jerry was Vince Welnick who had previously played with The Tubes, on keyboards. And as a bonus Bruce Hornsby sat in the entire show playing piano and accordion.
The band opened a mellow version of Let the Good Times Roll, an old Sam Cooke song. They then went into Touch of Grey, which I was familiar with. The song was their biggest US hit and I remember when they released that album. I had read the Rolling Stone covers story about their rebirth in 87 after Jerry’s diabetic coma and other band drama.
After Touch of Grey I was pumped a bit. And then they played New Minglewood Blues keeping the crowd dancing just along with the beat. The band sounded good and it was refreshing to go to a show where the PA was not turned up too loud. The Dead was into the quality of the music experience for their fans. I would learn during future shows that the sounds was a big part of the experience.
I’m also not a huge Dylan fan and did not recognize Desolation Row was a Dylan cover. This was one of three Dylan songs I wold hear that evening. The other two being All Along the Watchtower and The Mighty Quinn. Both of these songs I was more familiar with, especially Watchtower since it was covered by Jimi Hendrix.
The first set closed out with Big Railroad Blues and The Music Never Stopped. On both of these songs the Dead was hittin the note, crowd was dancing, I found myself getting into the groove with their sound!
After intermission the band began their second set. I have to admit that this was probably the first rock show I had been to that had an intermission and it’s nice. Gives the fan and the band a chance to come up for air.
For the majority of the show it was a bit weird as I was not familiar with the songs. The second set had a few songs that I’m not a fan of like Wave to the Wind, a Phil Lesh song. So Many Roads, a newer mellow, Jerry song is OK but not one of his best. I found myself enjoying more of the upbeat songs in their repertoire and enjoyed the newly added Long Way to Go Home.
The second set also brings Drums and Space, I’ve always wanted to see the experimental aspect of the Grateful Dead’s performance. But I found it to be a bit long and tedious. After a nice Not Fade Away complete with audience hand clapping, The Dead performed the third Dylan cover, The Mighty Quinn. It was a nice end to the show.
After the show we hung out in the parking lot and had some beers. The sound of Nitrous tanks going off in the distance mixed in with the Capital Centre’s parking lot PA announcing that the show was over and please leave, made for interesting conversation. I watched Dan and Eddie review the setlist that Eddie scrolled during the show and discuss the different aspects of each song and the bands performance.
All in all it was an interesting show. Not the best Dead show that I would see but interesting enough that I wanted to see another show and compare. It was not life changing experience and I still did not understand why everyone was so into Jerry Garcia. But the vibe was different and special and inviting to go to the next show to see what would happen next. I want to thank my Irish Brother From Another Mother (IBFAM) Dan for getting me a ticket and asking me to go!
Earlier in the evening Crazy Sammy commented on the baseball cap I was wearing. It was a Screaming Trees black cap. His comment was, “This ain’t no Screaming Trees show you’re going to!” You’re right Sammy,wherever you may be, it was more than that!