Smoke another bowl

Picture this: It’s mid-August 1991. I’m heading into my senior year of high school—a rural school where it’s cool to be either: A) a cowboy, B) “progressive” or C) “alternative.”

Hippies are ridiculously uncool; bell-bottoms are anathema.

So why do I find myself in the parking lot of a Grateful Dead show at Cal Expo? Because that’s where the drugs are. Everyone knows that, and my two equally naive friends and I have decided to buy a summer’s worth of acidhowever much that’s supposed to be.

We poke around, marveling at the filth and weirdness, until we hear an emaciated hippie mutter “doses” as he walks by. We buy a three-by-three sheet for $40, giddily imagining how much fun it will be to drop it and drive the country roads at night, blasting the Twin Peaks soundtrack.

A few days later, we swallow one tab each and wait. I stare at a Persian rug and think I see the pattern start to crawl. An hour later, however, we realize we’ve been had. The acid is bunk.

Now, almost exactly 21 years later, I’m on my way to Jerry Day, an annual celebration of Jerry Garcia’s birthday at (where else?) the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater in San Francisco’s Excelsior District. This is the 10th annual event—one that’s particularly significant because Garcia would have turned 70 this year, if he hadn’t given himself a heart attack due to copious drug use.

Everywhere you look there are dogs, dirty dreads, and yards and yards of tie-dye. A warm-up band is on, but soon, the real draw takes the stage: Stu Allen and Mars Hotel. Of all the fake Jerrys in music (and there are many), Allen is the king. He looks like a young Garcia (if you squint) and has mastered the original’s spacey solo jam style. The band starts strong with the Dead’s only radio hit, “Touch of Grey,” and the crowd goes crazy, exploding with spastic arrhythmic dancing.

I weave through the jumpers, the spinners, the hand swirlers, the hula hoopers, and a few real nut jobs up front to check out the merch table. The corporate arm of the band is famously litigious about unauthorized products, and the stuff here is pretty boring. A comparison can be drawn to the hippie movement in general, if you think about it. It’s all free and easy until the lawyers get involved. I do manage to score a sweet bootleg poster, featuring Jerry drawn as the Quaker Oats guy, smoking a joint. If you can’t see why that’s funny, smoke another bowl and get back to me.

As Stu Allen plays the classic “China Cat Sunflower” segue into “I Know You Rider,” I feel pulled toward the stage. My feet start to shuffle, my hips move, and I’m sure I look the absolute opposite of cool, but I can’t stop smiling. My uptight 17-year-old self would be appalled at my behavior, my 38-year-old self feels right.