Quantcast

The Grateful Dead's Grateful Dads

Daniel Shapiro

Outside the Dead and Company's two-night run at Madison Square Garden, we interviewed the ultimate Deadheads: Dads.

When I got my first guitar, I left the store with a pack of strings and a Jerry Garcia sticker. There was something about his face that felt mysterious and kind, and I wanted to know everything I could about the man. My formal intro to Garcia’s music came in the form of the Pizza Tapes (an album by Jerry Garcia, David Grisman, and Tony Rice), played for me by one of my many disappointed teachers. It was then that I threw myself right into all things Grateful Dead.

Since the death of Garcia in 1995, there have been countless albums released and iterations of the Grateful Dead lineup. I was too young to see any of it until after high school, when I caught The Dead performing at the Bonnaroo Music Festival. Unlike the Phish scene that was so familiar to me, these different versions of the Grateful Dead, not unlike the original, felt like they belonged to a generation of which I was not a part. It seemed reserved for the dads I would see in my neighborhood wearing Dead T-shirts and talking about shows while trying to keep their skinny joints out of view.

Now that I’m a dad and Dead and Company has kicked off their fall tour with two shows at Madison Square Garden, I wanted to talk to some older and possibly wiser Dead dads to get their thoughts on the tour life, John Mayer’s role as lead guitarist, and their love for the music that never stops.

Matthew, 44, New Jersey

Noisey: Have you ever seen the Grateful Dead live?
Matthew: Oh yes.

How may shows and when was your first one?
223 shows and the first was 10-8-89

What was your favorite song to hear live when Jerry Garcia was alive?
Attics of My Life or Morning Dew

How do you balance your current tour life with your dad life?
My younger one says all the songs sound the same and they’re all 20 minutes so why bother spending time going to all these concerts. I tell her this is what dad does, this is dads fun, his “vacation”, so now it’s more about balancing work than family.

What do you make of John Mayer in his role with Dead and Company?
At first I was really skeptical, but with some knowledge of some people who have spoken to him directly, I think he feels really tickled and blessed to be a part of this. He’s really enveloped in the spirit of all this music. He’s taking it to a whole other realm and it just keeps getting better.

Wow. Tell me about your shirt?
I dug this out doing some spring cleaning in the fall. It’s a shirt I bought 23 years and a month ago when the Dead played their last run at MSG, so I decided how apropos to wear it.

What’s the most memorable thing you’ve seen on tour?
I saw a mini orgy inside of a show in Miami, on 10-26-89. And there was a four-foot bong involved.

Dave, 48, Long Island

Noisey: How many kids do you have?
Dave: Just one.

Do you ever bring them to Dead and Company shows?
No, I do not.

Have you ever seen the Grateful Dead live and how many times?
Yes I have, I’ve seen them 142 times.

And Dead and Company?
14

What’s the best song that you have ever heard at a Dead and Company show?
"Estimated Prophet"

How do you balance your tour life with your dad life?
Our daughter is 19 so it’s not like we need to bring her or hire a sitter. She can take of herself and when the Dead are in town, my wife and I see what shows we can see.

What do you make of John Mayer in this context?
I like him. I mean, no one’s gonna replace Jerry but he’s a close second.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen happen at any Dead show.
Probably me being interviewed, of all people.

Ronald 70, Utica, NY and Billy, 43, Binghamton, NY

Noisey: How many kids do you have?
Ronald: Two, male.
Billy: I have three boys.

Have you ever seen the Grateful Dead live or Dead and Company?
Ronald: Two Grateful Dead shows at least and 20 Dead and Company shows.
Billy: The Dead in the early 90s, around 20 shows.

What’s your favorite song to hear live?
Billy: "So Many Roads"

How do you balance your tour life with your dad life?
Ronald: I’m a grandfather so my son watches everybody.
Billy: The kids stay at home.

What do you think about John Mayer?
Ronald: I think he’s good.

Any advice for Dead dads who go on tour?
Billy: Don’t get wasted and drive your car after the show, that’s for sure.
Ronald: It’s not all about the drugs.

Is it sometimes about the drugs?
Ronald: Nah, not really.
Billy: Well you’re just speaking from your perspective.
Ronald: Yea, that’s true.

Ray, 51, New Jersey

Noisey: How many kids do you have, dad?
Ray: I have two kids.

Do you take them to shows?
I do, my one daughter, my oldest.

Have you ever seen the Grateful Dead live and how many times?
I’ve seen well over 100 shows from when I was 14 years old right on through till Jerry passed away.

What’s your favorite song to hear the Dead or Dead and Company play?
Terrapin Station and Terrapin Station

How do you manage to tour and be a dad?
It’s not too difficult. I set the priority as dad and bring the kid with me during tours.

What do you make of John Mayer’s playing with Dead and Company?
He takes Jerry’s music to another level, night after night.

What’s the strangest memory you have from a Dead show?
My daughter’s right here so I can’t say.

Come on.
Ok, it was people having sex in the lot before a show in the 90s.

And you didn’t join in?
No, no I did not.

Ok, so that’s not how your daughter came to be?
HA! Oh no. No.

Phillip, 52, Pennsylvania

Noisey: How many kids do you have?
Phillip: Three kids and two grandkids.

Are any of them into the Dead or Dead and Company?
They’re getting there. They’re getting there.

Ever see the Grateful Dead live?
About 75 times.

What was the best show you ever saw?
I’d say it was probably Ohio the day Jerry had heat stroke.

And Dead and Company?
Virginia was the first time in June of last year.

How do you balance your Dead life with your dad life?
They’re combined. I listen to the Dead 24/7 and the kids know that I’m a passionate fan and they support me.

John Mayer: What do you think about that?
I think…I know… and don’t tell other Deadheads this, but he’s a better guitarist than Jerry, but Jerry was a better musician.

Fighting words in some circles, no?
Nah, it’s cut and dry. I’ve seen Jerry plenty of times and I’ve seen John a couple of times, so, ya know.

Craziest thing you’ve ever seen on tour?
The amount of LSD that some people take.

Shaggy, 52, San Diego

Noisey: How many kids do you have?
Shaggy: Just one daughter.

What does she think of you going on tour?
She hates me for it.

Have you ever see the Grateful Dead live?
Yea.

How many shows in total?
All of them.

And Dead and Company?
Four.

Best song you like to hear live?
"Help on The Way / Slipknot / Franklin’s Tower"

How do you balance your tour life with your dad life?
Just like my checkbook.

Do you sell merchandise at all the shows?
Yea, I’m Shaggy with the tie-dye socks. Write that in the google line and my picture comes up.

What’s the story with the cowboy hat?
I’m a cowboy. On a steel horse I ride.

So what do you do when you’re not touring?
This is the Dead. We’re never not touring.

Larry, 53, New Jersey and Quincy, 38, New Jersey

Noisey: How many kids do you have, Dead dads?
Larry: I have this one son.
Quincy: I have a 16 year old daughter and an 11 year old son.

How many times have you seen the Grateful Dead live?
Larry: Since 1979, probably 50 to 60 times.

What’s the best Dead and Company show you ever saw?
Quincy: "That Help on The Way / Slipknot / Franklin’s Tower" in Camden was fire.

How do you balance your tour lives with your dad lives?
Larry: We go once a year.
Quincy: There is no balance. Somebody’s gotta go to work every day.

Quincy, what do you think about going to shows with your dad?
Quincy: I wouldn’t have it any other way and my son is going to be coming for Spring tour, 2018. My wife doesn’t let him come now because we drink too much.

What do you think about the Bob Weir / John Mayer dynamic?
Larry: I think Mayer’s music is great and what he’s doing with Bobby is beautiful.

What’s your advice for any new Dead dad who wants to take their kid to a show?
Quincy: Do whatever it takes to make it happen and enjoy the ride.

Dean, 47, New Jersey

Noisey: You’re a dad right?
Dean: Two kids, six and eight.

How does your family feel about you going to these shows?
My wife loves it and is very supportive of it. The whole family is going to Mexico for Dead and Company’s Playing in the Sand.

You ever see the Grateful Dead?
My first show was 32 years ago on November 11. I’ve see over 350 shows. I was full time for quite a while. Mostly between 88 and 93.

How do you balance your tour life with your home life?
I’m very grateful at this point Dead and Co. does limited runs. Summer and now this fall thing. My family knows that for the next month I’m going to be a bit preoccupied, but I’m not doing the whole tour. I don’t balance. I think balance is something you pass by on your way to the next extreme.

What’s your most memorable memory from touring with the Grateful Dead?
I was able to meet Jerry Garcia in the bar at the Desmond Americana in Albany, in the spring of ’90 I believe. I asked him if he’d sign something for me. He said no, but he looked me right in the eye and it was as kind of a no as you could have. As a young spun kid after a show, just to have a little bit of interaction with him at the bar was just a great moment.

What did you love so much about seeing the Dead?
It’s hard to quantify in a short statement, but it’s everything. It community, it’s insight, it’s wisdom. You know, the music, and the experience is so much more than a concert. It’s just some deep shit in there. If you’re one of those folks who are lucky enough to have been able to open that door, It’s all there. Everything you could need is in there.

Vernon, 50, Connecticut

Noisey: What do your kids thing of dad going to Dead and Company shows?
Vernon: They’ve accepted it. They even listen to the Dead.

They ever come with you?
They haven’t, but I’m gonna take them to the Hartford show.

You’ve seen the Grateful Dead live?
A bunch of times back in the 80s.

What’s the best song you’ve heard Dead and Company perform?
Has to be Bertha.

I’ve got a Bertha tattoo. Love that song.
Ha! Nice.

Do you tour a lot?
I just do the shows on the East Coast. And, of course I’m going to see Dead and Co. in Mexico.

How do you feel about John Mayer playing with this band?
He’s phenomenal and he’s from Connecticut, so what else can I say.

What do you think about there being no true shakedown scene in Manhattan?
Oh, they’re here, you just gotta snoop around, ya know? American Beauty, some of the garages and stuff.

Any advice to new Deadhead dads?
Roll with it. Enjoy the ride, ya know.

Wayne, 52, New York

Noisey: How many kids do you have and do you ever go to shows with them?
Wayne: One kid, she’s 26. She went to one show with me.

Ever seen the Grateful Dead?
I’ve seen the Grateful Dead about 150 times.

What was the most memorable show?
*Red Rocks, Colorado in 1989.

Best song you’ve heard live?
Definitely have to say "St. Stephen."

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done while on tour?
Tripped. Yea.

Hard?
Very hard.

*There were no Red Rocks shows in 1989

Larry, 50, New Jersey

Noisey: How many kids do you have?
Larry: Two boys.

How were you first introduced to the Grateful Dead live?
My uncle was a hippie and he came to visit us at my parent’s house. He went to see The Dead at the Englishtown Raceway. I said it was the most unbelievable thing, I gotta do this with you. He told me that my parents wouldn’t let him take me. So when I turned 19, I went to the city and he took me to a Madison Square Garden show.

How many shows have you seen since then?
From 19 till right now, 390 shows. I’ve got all the stubs.

Which show was THE show for you?
Branford Marsalis with the Dead when they played Eyes of the World.

Did your tour life and family life mix?
When Jerry died, I didn’t have the Dead to follow and that’s when I started my family. Now, being a dad, you don’t get to go sleep at a hotel on the weekends, get stoned in the morning and have brunch and a nap before going to a show. Sundays are now for soccer games.

You ever take your kids to shows?
Two years ago, Phil Lesh played Summer Stage in Central Park. I told my wife that I really wanted our boys to see what dad loves. And I always wished for both of them, I tell them all the time, If you could find anything in your life...

…That you love as much as I love this?
That you love as much as I love this, you know, you’re going to be a lucky person. I took them to Central Park and there was an area sectioned off with bleachers. They were amazed by all the people. The sound was terrible. But I felt really good that I was able to bring them there.

Were you skeptical when John Mayer came on board?
My wife and my song was ‘Your Body is a Wonderland.” At the time that was the hot song. I was a big fan. If you’ve seen Mayer by himself it’s amazing, he puts on a great show. I was never skeptical.

Mordechai, 42, Brooklyn

Noisey: Are you a dad?
Mordechai: I’m a dad, of six weeks.

How many Dead and Company shows have you seen?
Zero, tonight will be my first.

How did you get into this band in the first place?
I was going to take pictures outside of a Phil Lesh show in Brooklyn. I couldn’t believe it was basically in my own backyard. People on line told me about this six-part Dead documentary and that was it. I still don’t know the music too well. I know the songs that my wife has played for me and I’m about to experience it live.

What draws you to photograph this scene in particular?
I walk the streets looking for how people wear their clothes. I know the Deadhead styles, be it tie-dye, hats, patched cords, pins, or anything they’ve worn that’s been a part of them for a long time and It’s just special. You can’t imitate that.

Any thoughts on John Mayer playing with these guys?
Some of the people that brought me tonight are big fans of his and have said such nice things about him. I’ve read some articles too, about how he’s not here to fill anyone’s shoes and how he praises Jerry Garcia. I understand that he’s a master musician and I’m looking forward to hearing him play.

Evan, 41, New York

Noisey: How did you first discover the music of the Grateful Dead?
Evan: At the age of 17 I was working on a cross-country trip through all the national parks and landscapes of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and California. Our tour driver was a complete Deadhead. He kept hundreds of taped shows in the dash. There was no better time to be exposed to it all. It touched and changed my soul forever and I have been a fan ever since.

What's your favorite Dead song and member of the current Dead and Company lineup?
Cannot get enough of "Stella Blue" and "China Cat Sunflower." The history of Bob Weir puts him at the front of the line-up for me. But their choice of John Mayer truly resonates with a younger generation (mine included). You can feel that mentorship nightly.

How many Dead and Company shows have you seen?
Four. NY and LA.

Would you ever take your kids?
Absolutely. We cruise around in my old 1965 Porsche 356 SC and, without fail, stream Dead shows for my kids. Next stop, live at the Garden! It’s so wonderful to be two dads in a modern relationship, with kids, and to be able to expose them to such incredible experiences.

How do you incorporate the Dead into your life?
The sounds, words, and wisdoms derived from the lyrics are innately a piece of my daily life, becoming part of my goals for betterment. They are also close by, during times that turn challenging. My walks and morning/evening commute from and to the Upper West Side allow time for listening and observing, with a respect that goes beyond description. From “hang it up and see what tomorrow brings” to “once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right” to “The grass ain’t greener, the wine ain’t sweeter, either side of the hill,” there is something for everyone to take with them.

As a doctor, would you recommend Dead and Company for everyday use?
Without a doubt, if I could e-prescribe daily doses of the Dead, it would be a done deal.

Ted, 51, Long Island

Noisey: You’re a Dead dad, right? How many kids.
Ted: I’m a Dead dad. One daughter. I raised her on the music of the Dead. She goes to shows with me now and does a lot of festivals.

When was your first show?
March 6, 1985.

How many with Jerry Garcia and how many total?
60, maybe a little bit more. But over the past 22 years maybe 100 and some change. I’d go where it was convenient, but I wasn’t one of these guys that lived in my car.

What do you make of the current Dead and Company lineup?
There might have been other guitarists that have jumped in and sort of played Jerry. What John Mayer is doing is impressive because he’s interpreting it in his own voice but still paying tribute to it. I’ve seen all three tours before this one. I love Oteil Burbridge. I love the fact that Bob Weir has a whole new life with this group. So this is really an exciting time for most of us. There’s a few grumpy deadheads around, but fuck ‘em.

How do you separate your tour life from your day to day life?
I remember doing nine nights at Madison Square Garden once. You suffer through that. I don’t drink or do drugs anymore so it’s a little easier for me. These days we’ll plan to hit three or four shows in a Summer. I don’t get nuts and start driving cross country. I have a business. I have a wife. She’s very patient and wonderful. Sometimes I even try not listening to The Dead for a while, as a sort of palate cleanser.

Tell me about some of the work you do and what you’ve done with the Garcia family?
We did a big event for Jerry’s birthday over the summer in San Francisco. The Jerry Garcia foundation sent a band with so many wonderful musicians. We blew it out for Jerry’s birthday, at Macy’s of all places. We had hundreds of people there. It was just amazing.

Any parting thought on the Dead?
How does anyone explain to someone that a guy who’s 54 years old, caught up on and off with addiction, and has affected so many people? And he was just a little older than me when he passed, you know? What is it about Garcia? And what is it about Garcia that brings Bob Weir to such joy, or affects John Mayer like this? I think this body of work is as American as it gets and it hasn’t even begun to receive the kind of respect that it eventually will. This music is our Great American Songbook. I really believe that.

Daniel Shapiro is a photographer based in Brooklyn. Find more about his work on his website.