Monday, February 22, 2010


Chinese New Year 1991

2/19-21/91 Grateful Dead @ Oakland Coliseum - Oakland, CA

As much fun as the New Years Eve runs were, I wanted to try something a little different, so I headed out to the '91 Chinese New Years shows in Oakland. While still a big deal, there wasn't nearly as much hype for these annual February runs. I figured it would be a nice, low-key way to spend some time with the Dead in their home environment.

We stayed with Jeff - a friend of my co-worker's up in Larkspur, just north of San Francisco. Jeff was renting a beautiful house up in the hills. Jeff would pop in and out of my Dead experiences in California over the next couple years. Great guy and a very gracious host.

The shows were a blast. Bruce Hornsby wasn't there, but that was fine with me. I wanted to hear Vince on his own for a change. These were the first shows of the year - a time when it's not uncommon for them to pull out a surprise or two. This time was no different.

On the first night, after a fun, solid opening set, they wound down with a nice "Cassidy" that rolled nicely into a completely unexpected "New Speedway Boogie." Holy crap. "Unexpected" doesn't even come close. They hadn't played that one in over 20 years. The crowd went apeshit. Jerry belted it out like they had never stopped playing it. The "One way or another..." part was a giant sing-a-long. One of my all-time favorite Dead moments. For the rest of the night we kept hearing this guy in the crowd yelling "BBBBBBBBOOOOGIEEEEEEE!!!! between every song. In fact - we heard him the next 2 nights, too. Funny. Annoying. Mostly funny. The rest of night #1 was a treat, but this night was all about NSB.

Night #2 was fun, but uneventful, with the exception of the Drums segment, which featured the legendary Babatunde Olatunji and Sikiru Adepoju sitting in. Good lord. Talk about masters. These guys are amazing. They had the crowd mesmerized. Fantastic.

Night #3 was the big Chinese New Years celebration. My co-worker/travel companion headed off to visit family for the day. We'd meet up later at the show. I called-up a tape-trading buddy of mine, Matt, who flew down from Seattle for the show. We had never actually met, but since I was carless, he volunteered to come pick me up and give me a ride to the show. I know it sounds cheesy, but I miss those days when I was less cynical and more trusting of people. I did some things I'd never do now (like let complete strangers stay in my apartment for a few days), but I was also repaid in kindness many times over. Ah, to be young, fool-hardy and happy.


We got there pretty early, getting a good spot on the floor, about 1/3 of the way back. The show was great. The Chinese Symphony Orchestra opened. No - really. It was awesome. The Dead were terrific, as well, pulling out a lot of the big guns - "Help->Slip->Franklin's", "Playin' ", "Terrapin", "Eyes", etc. Very nice. The highlight was during Drums when they had the Chinese New Year parade. I don't remember too much about what was going on, other than the giant dragon running around the floor of the coliseum and this HUGE orange bird on a stick that was swooping around. It was kind of like a kite, I guess, but the guy was swinging it around like crazy. Somehow he managed to keep it swooping down over us - coming seemingly inches from our heads, then having it soar back up and around in circles. All while Mickey, Billy and Airto were drumming like crazy. Another magical Grateful Dead moment when everything seems completely insane, yet perfect at the same time. The world needs more of that.

I had a blast at this run. It was nice to experience a regular west coast run without the insanity of New Years Eve surrounding you. I decided that this was going to be an annual trip.

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