Man of many names

Bob Konopka

Photo By Tom Angel

Bob Konopka has been told that his surname means “marijuana” in Serbo-Croatian, but he’s been known for years as “Chico Bob” and “Button Bob,” both names he picked up while following the Grateful Dead, a years-long adventure that he financed by selling bumper stickers and buttons. He parlayed his Dead touring into a regular gig doing concert security, ticket-taking, etc., and now attends concerts all over Northern California, three to six a week. He guesses he’s seen upward of 1,000 shows. For years he’s also voluntarily delivered various alternative newspapers, including the SF Bay Guardian, the East Bay Express and the News & Review papers, to friends and venues around Northern California, earning thereby another nickname: “The Free Man.” A tall, lanky fellow, he’s a cheerful ambassador of good will whose biggest wish is to put smiles on people’s faces.

How’s your hearing?

It’s OK. Sometimes I wear earplugs. And I always look out for small kids, to make sure they’re protected, especially babies. I can’t see bringing them to shows. It’s just not good for their ears.

What does your job entail?

It varies. Sometimes I do aisles, sometimes truck and buses, look out for gate crashers, take tickets.

It’s hard to imagine you as a security guy.

(Laughs.) I just give people a big smile, and they tend to mellow out when I come up.

How’d you get started?

I was volunteering at the Warfield, squeezing orange juice, making sandwiches downstairs. I got a good reputation for dependability, so they hired me.

What’s your favorite venue?

I like the Greek Theater, but it’s so cold there. Plus the sound is better indoors. I like the Kaiser Center [in Oakland] and the Berkeley Community Theater. I also like the [Sleep Train] amphitheater in Marysville—it’s an improvement on Shoreline—but the artists don’t like it. It’s too far from everything.

How many Dead shows did you see?

About 375. I have set lists from all of them. I kept them so people who couldn’t attend could know what the band played.

Which nickname do you like best?

Chico Bob. I always brag about being from this town.

You seem to have a nice word and a smile for everybody.

I’ve always wanted to be happy and make others happy. Why not be happy? (Laughs.)