If you have been reading the DownHome columns on music you know by now that it is as much a thrill to hear live music as it is to be in your quiet space listening to your favorite MP3 or CD. I love the concert venue. Crowds, sounds, and pure energy are hard to replicate in a living room. I do have one least-favorite venue. Ever since an ill-fated night a decade ago, I came to hate the Dallas Starplex (fill in corporate sponsor of the year here). The night of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon from section 101 the acoustics were so bad and the heat so oppressive I nearly walked out. I vowed I was done with Coca-Cola, Dos Equis, Smirnoff, Gexa and whoever else plastered their name on the hot tin can amphitheater and its lawn. Fair Park was a forbidden concert area.
As luck would have it, July 2, 2019 marked the date Dead and Co. would make their only concert appearance in the 800-mile radius of Dallas/Ft. Worth. Worse yet, you guessed it; they picked the Fair Park Pavilion. Texas in July with a tin roof, really Bob Weir, what were you thinking? John Mayer you will wilt away and fry your fingers on the 20 minute impromptu jam during Friend of the Devil. The crowd will melt into the concrete during Sugaree. Anywhere but there!
I vacillated long and hard on this ticket purchase. I’d look at the long term weather forecast and debate. If the temperature was below 85 degrees at 7:30 then I’d bite the bullet. But how do you overcome terrible acoustics (Hint: it’s all about location and sound engineering). Family obligations would push the decision out even further in that I had to be in Oklahoma City the weekend before the concert to celebrate my son-in-law’s graduation from medical residency. My fate was in the hands of Richard Ward my concert buddy from 200+ shows. He got to make the call. On Saturday, June 29th, the text came, “We’re in, weather looks plausible, and tickets still reasonable. How much you want to spend?” My text back, “Keep it under $200 and Momma won’t kill me, Sushi’s on me.” Side bar here, whoever buys the concert tickets the other guy gets to pick dinner, drive, and pick up the nightly adult beverage tab. Trust me you want to buy the tickets whenever possible.
Section 100, Row G, seats 23 AND 24. (Reminder to self: Anytime you go to the pavilion, get these seats) In true confession mode, the Grateful Dead were on my bucket list but not a must see band. I had listened to several albums back in the 70’s including “Blues for Allah” and “Shakedown Street” plus being exposed to numerous underground recordings made on cassettes and bootlegged to “Deadheads.” The jam sessions with Jerry Garcia were legendary, but I could never get into the 35-minute marathon sessions of improvisation that was the hallmark of the band. I could never figure out where they were trying to go with each riff.
The night of July 2nd proved to be magical. Our seats were literally the first row of swats while the Pit in front of us was filled with dancing tie dyed “deadheads.” I was transformed to 1969 and my very youth. The real secret of the night was created by the bands’ stagehands. For whatever reason, the sound guys had pointed the speakers directly out toward the mass of humanity on the lawn. By doing this, the reflective sound was not altered by the cement columns on metal found on the outer walls of the Pavilion. We were directly in front of the right column of speakers and felt every John Mayer note and strum on the guitar. Magic at last from a venue I had hated, loathed and cussed a million times. Bob Weir’s vocals, Oteil Burbridge’s bass, Mickey Hart’s Percussion, Jeff Chimenti’s keyboard/piano, Bill Kreutzmann’s oversized drum set and John Mayer’s acoustic and electric guitars filled the airwaves with magic.
To watch these musicians wander through a 17-song playlist, cover The Young Rascal’s 1960’s hit Good Lovin and finish off the night with the Grateful Dead classic Black Muddy Water left me wondering why I didn’t see these guys 30 years ago. They defined the term “Jam Band” with each song having guitar, drum and percussion solos interspersed by the musicians’ desire to take center stage and twist the audience’s ears into directions only the band could figure out. It was amazing to watch Weir simply sit back and let John Mayer rip cord after chord on his 3-bridge guitar and then to simply nod his head and take the audience on another magical 5 minute wandering as he slid fingers up and down the neck of his 6 different guitars. I left the venue with a simple question to Richard, “How did they know who was going to take lead?” Richard’s response was equally short, “That’s why they are the DEAD.”
So you’ve heard my honest thoughts on the “Tin Can,” what do you think about that venue? What do you think about Dead and Company’s music?