My Summer Songs: Live Grateful Dead

Published on July 30th, 2008 in: Issues, Music, The Summer |

By Christian Lipski

Summer has come in, loud sing cuckoo.
MS Harley 978, British Library

Even in 1250 A.D. they associated summer with music. In the summertime you don’t need to worry about survival; you have time to relax and enjoy yourself. Summer is also the time when the weather is nice enough to allow outdoor gatherings like music festivals. There’s something about music in the open air that puts you in touch with your earthy side.

You know what I consider to be my “summer songs?” Live Grateful Dead. For those of you who may know me or have read my articles, this may seem odd. I do not smell of patchouli, nor do I make an income from selling braided bracelets, but as a result of my past experiences, I have developed a strange affection for live Dead. That’s the music that summer brings to my brain.

I can’t really pinpoint the association exactly. Maybe it’s from living in hippie-friendly Berkeley CA, and hanging out there in the summertime, walking past crowded craftsman-style houses with their windows open, hearing “Sugar Magnolia” floating out through the tie-dyed sheets that served as curtains. People in my neighborhood would just kick back in the sun-warmed breezes off the bay. That was a time when I was at peace, confident from having finished a year of college, and enjoying my vacation.

Maybe it’s from the year after college when I lived with friends in a small house in San Mateo, when the hot summer sun (and lack of air conditioning) would encourage us to open up the windows to catch a breeze, and Mike would play his Europe ’72 album as we sipped cold white wine. We all had our day jobs, and nothing but time on the weekends. I was out of school and on my own as an adult, and the future was flush with possibilities.

I did see the Dead once, at Shoreline Amphitheater in 1990, and although the show wasn’t the pinnacle of my outdoor music experience, the audience radiated a soothing sense of belonging. All around me, they were giving up their trivial problems and surrendering to the music. No one was in a rush to do anything. That feeling is what live Dead evokes in me. I associate it with freedom and confidence, with friends and community. It’s music that suggests a gathering of friendly people, a time of joy.

The jam-enriched songs of live Grateful Dead have that “stretch out and take your time” mood that I love to feel. The musicians are in no hurry to finish the song, or even to get to the verse; they’re just enjoying the moment and having fun, just reveling in the joy of making music together. They can do anything they like, but there’s no pressure to go anywhere in particular. That’s just the way I like my summers: free and relaxed.

My favorites: any show’s “Scarlet Begonias > Fire On the Mountain” or “Terrapin Station,” and “Beautiful Jam (1971-02-18).”

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