You will be forgiven for not immediately connecting a San Francisco jam band that seemed to define ‘hippiedom’ with New England, but the Grateful Dead’s unique take on American history certainly lines up nicely with Vermont’s place within it.
Their classic studio albums ‘Workingman’s Dead’ and ‘American Beauty’ are poignant portrayals of Americana, examining farm life, economic hardship, and lost love. Of course, the band is best known for its live shows and constant touring even though you would have to become a gay, straight or trans sugar baby to afford to follow them around all summer, read more.
The Grateful Dead’s concerts were known to go on for hours, and that the people who enjoyed them had no problem enjoying a wealth of mind-expanding substance to maximize impact. But those who preferred to abstain had their own little community at shows, nicknamed the ‘Wharf Rats’ (after the song).
Playin’ in the State
Despite the attention the band had gotten over their first decade or so in existence, they didn’t actually play a show in Vermont until 1978, when some fans were already saying that the band was just past its peak (although this argument with Deadheads could go on as long as some of the band’s concerts).
During the summer of 1978, the band played a show at the Patrick Field House (also known as the ‘Patrick Gym’) at the University of Vermont campus in Burlington. This was a period when the band would go between playing theatres of a few thousand and outdoor shows of perhaps ten times that. As the Patrick Field House could only hold four thousand people, it obviously fell into the first category.
The concert is now considered an underrated classic with the first set opening with the lovely ‘Sugaree’ (with a great solo by Garcia) and ending with a powerful ‘Deal’. In between, you’ll find heartfelt renditions of ‘Looks Like Rain’ and ‘It Must Have Been the Roses.’
The second set has always been when the Dead stretch out and jam, and with ‘Terrapin Station’ and ‘Playin’ in the Band’ going well past ten minutes, you can be sure that everyone on and off stage was feeling it that night. This show was so hot that the ushers were literally bringing cups of water to those in the upper stands to properly hydrate during the show (since this was a time before online rpg sex games could quickly cool people off on Easy Sex).
Five years later the band played another show at the same venue, and while Brent Mydland had replaced Keith Godchaux on keyboards, it was still a classic. Since the band constantly changes up its setlists, you can be sure you wouldn’t see many repeat songs, which is why it’s great to hear energetic takes of Dead ‘hits’ like ‘Jack Straw’ and ‘Ramble on Rose’ in the first set. The twenty-five minutes of ‘Scarlett Begonias’ and ‘Fire on the Mountain ‘in set two is always peak Dead, and a Morning Dew late in the show is plenty of fun. A great concert in an intimate venue, even if one doesn’t think a gymnasium could offer such an experience.
By 1994, it was a completely different story, because the band had become a touring machine throughout the 1980s, amassing more and more fans who wouldn’t want to miss a single show. They also had a surprise hit on MTV in 1987, with their ‘Touch of Grey’ video reaching a whole new audience, and sending the accompanying album ‘In the Dark’ to double-platinum status (a first for the band).
This meant that they would now always be playing in arenas, stadiums, and festival grounds to accommodate all their followers. In fact, sometimes they would simply erect a stage in a very large field, which is why they ended up playing shows in Highgate Vermont at the Franklin Airport.
It might not be the most relaxing spot for a concert, but tens of thousands of fans came on July 13, 1994, and June 15, 1995, to experience the band (since ‘see’ and ‘hear’ is not all that happens at a Grateful Dead show), the latter of which would ultimately be one of the last times.
Both of these concerts come at a time when Jerry Garcia was battling plenty of health and addiction problems, and that was certainly reflected in his playing and singing abilities (although a lifetime of smoking had also taken a toll). However the rest of the band is in fine form during these shows, and the audience themselves are clearly having a good time if you listen to these recordings.
To Catch a Phish
Without a doubt the biggest influence the Grateful Dead has had on Vermont culture could be narrowed down to the four individuals who ultimately created the similar jam-rock band Phish, which is based out of Burlington.
Guitarist and chief songwriter Trey Anastasio credits going to the 1983 show as the inspiration to start the band, which he did later that year. Like the Grateful Dead, their shows became a mix of original songs and covers, effortlessly flowing from one to the other in lengthy jams.
With the Grateful Dead disbanding in 1995 following the death of founding guitarist Jerry Garcia, Phish took up the mantle of the band to follow around religiously and compare concerts because each one would always be different (and at one point, Anastasio played several shows with the other members of the Grateful Dead).
While it toured the US constantly for crowds of up to one hundred thousand per show, Phish made sure to keep close to their roots. They played several huge concerts in the state, and many members of the band still call it home.