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The Grateful Dead at Red Rocks

March 7th, 2015 · 20 Comments · Grateful Dead, Hitchhiker's Guide to Jack Kerouac, Kerouac and The Beats, Music, Real-life Adventure Tales



With all the energy peaking over The Grateful Dead’s 50th anniversary shows, here’s a little excerpt from my upcoming book — “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac” — that shows part of why we keep coming back.

full_cover12 copy

These shows at Red Rocks in ’82 were part of the largest gathering of Beats ever assembled, before or since — and The Grateful Dead played the half-time show.

Here’s what it was like as we arrived . . .


And man — what a scene!  A Grateful Dead party on the top of a gorgeous red rock mountain with a natural amphitheater carved right into it!  And the colors immediately start to kick in — 10,000 tie-dyes, maybe more, tripping through nature’s brilliant rock masterpiece to nature’s brilliant rock band under a brilliant multi-hued sky at a giant family reunion.  Everyone’s infectiously smiling, and hugs are free n flowing.

There’s girls in short shorts and bikini tops, and guys in short shorts and no tops.  There’s colorful clown costumes complete with jester bell caps, and straight looking doctors and lawyers and such with close-cropped hair, ironed alligator shirts and expensive watches … coming to their 100th show.  There’s people walking around with giant backpacks like they just came down from the Himalayas, and unencumbered wide-eyed Coloradans at their first show, meandering in mouth-opened silence.

Moveable feasts surround every car, van, customized truck and psychedelic school bus — every one with a different state’s license plate — and you can just walk right up and start talking to anyone who looks interesting.  “Strangers stropping strangers just to shake their hand …”

Veterans could talk to veterans, but someone at their first show was absolutely golden and had an All Access Pass to everything.  Deadheads really make a fuss over show virgins — anyone who has the interest and the courage to make the trip is immediately embraced.  It can appear to the uninitiated like a most intimidating world that’s functioning on a very evolved party level — and if you haven’t been through the arc of a night even once, well, help’s on the way.

Which reminds me of a beautiful moment from the Dead’s Rainforest Benefit a few years later at Madison Square Garden — the ninth of a nine show run when they broke the Garden record for most sell-outs at the world’s most famous arena by anything other than a sports team.  All sorts of special guests joined them that night — Mick Taylor, Baba Olatunji, Jack Casady, Bruce Hornsby (who later became a member of the band for about a year and a half!), Hall & Oates (?!), and … The Muppets via satellite!!  And at one point Suzanne Vega came out, this petite fragile sensitive singer who I was hanging with on the bar stools at Folk City in the early ’80s when we were all regulars there and before she became famous.  So this now well-known tiny delicate flower walks out onto this giant dark and Deadly stage in this roaring arena full of the only unbroken chain of raging concert goers since the sixties, thinking, “We aren’t in Folk City anymore!”  But the beautiful part was — with this petrified little bird at center stage and all the spotlights on her, Jerry walks from his normal spot in the shadows by his amps to the front and center line and stands right beside her and looks to her and plays to her and smiles to her … and carries the whole room with him.  He gave her his 100% attention, and by so doing, he brought this whole crazy rock ‘n’ roll audience with him — and graciously handed them to her.  It was the most touching generous beautiful thing.

And that’s the spirit we DeadHeads show to everyone, especially the most fragile among us.

And on a whole other level — there’s countless tour-heads strolling the scene holding up gorgeous hand dyed, hand lived t-shirts for sale, and quickly flipping them around so you can see the back as well.  Asking 15, but they’ll take 10.  Some are printed with classic all-purpose Dead lines — “The bus came by and I got on” — and others are customized just for these shows with “Dead Rocks” or “Mountain Dew” along with the dates.

In between unicyclists and bike riders and girls twirling hula hoops are people hawking bumper-stickers like “Grate things happen to Good people” and “Who are The Grateful Dead and why do they keep following me?” or buttons with the original family motto “The Good ol’ Grateful Dead” which was first winked between the knowing as early as 1966, or carrying bags of gooey-gum-balls (basically, round pot brownies), or there’s a long-haired girl in a long-flowing summer dress with tinkling ankle bracelets passively carrying a small rack of homemade jewelry as she silently and blissfully wanders the rows of cars in the spiritual belief someone will just walk up and buy one.  And someone does.





You can order a copy of the book from CreateSpace here 

. . . or Amazon here.


For some performance videos of various excerpts with numerous different musical line-ups check this out.

For a bunch of readers’ reactions, check this out 

Or this second round of rave reviews from all over the world.

Or here’s a cool Red Rocks follow-up story about buried treasure.

For more excerpts from the book you can check out Meeting Your Heroes 101.

Or here’s where you can check out Who All Was There.

Or here’s another part about Jack’s wife Edie and his best pal Henri.

For a vivid account of being at the historic “On The Road” scroll auction — check out The Scroll Auction.

For my keynote essay from “The Rolling Stone Book of The Beats” on the decade that birthed the Beats — go here.

Or also from “The Rolling Stone Book of The Beats” — here’s my riff on The Power of The Collective.

For a story about the London “On The Road” premiere at Somerset House — check out this sex & drugs & jazz.

For a great story of the world premiere of the new shorter final version of “On The Road” — check out this Meeting Walter Salles Adventure.

For a complete overview of all the Kerouac / Beat film dramatizations including clips and reviews — check out the Beat Movie Guide.


by Brian Hassett


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20 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Alex Nantes // Mar 7, 2015 at 11:14 AM

    “Round, round, robin run around
    Gotta get back to where you belong!”
    Thanks for the reminder!
    Hope to see you at the shows this summer!

  • 2 Deb Reul // Mar 7, 2015 at 1:28 PM

    Wish I was one of those people you took to their first show. 🙂 But in a way you just did. 🙂 Thanks for taking me …. can’t wait for the whole book!

  • 3 Frank Petrelli // Mar 8, 2015 at 11:41 AM

    I was at that MSG Rainforest show. Jerry’s voice was shot by the end of that run, but yeah, that Suzanne Vega moment was special. God I miss those days. Thanks for the way-back machine!

  • 4 Sam Southworth // Mar 8, 2015 at 12:11 PM

    Stealthed in over that back ridge in maybe ’88 or so? The sound was good! After that I got tickets like a good fellow. Favorite Red Rocks moment? Wearing my “Seventh Peak” tee-shirt and having a freak say to me “Isn’t that a band in New Hampshire?” Because it was indeed, and my band, I was so pleased. This excerpt is cool–thank you!

  • 5 Brian // Mar 8, 2015 at 12:41 PM

    Sweet! And nice to know a fellow Red Rockser!
    Gotta be the most beautiful concert venue in North America.

  • 6 Sam Southworth // Mar 8, 2015 at 1:14 PM

    Just stunning…and compared to, oh, say the Lowell War Memorial Arena, or the aggressive police horses outside the Providence Civic Center, and other sketchy New England venues–hey, I was sold! Great history to that as well–someone had themselves a fine vision.

  • 7 Brian // Mar 8, 2015 at 2:31 PM

    Beautiful. Thanks, Dale.
    It’s nice (and important) to know there’s resonance. “Ripple in still water …”

  • 8 Dale Topham // Mar 8, 2015 at 3:45 PM

    So… I have a tribute album called Deadicated of incredible people doing beautiful covers of Dead material. Among the best are a pair of songs (side by each) by Suzanne Vega (who I knew little about), They are “China Doll” & “Cassidy”. They both sound close to spiritual.
    Reading your piece it is thrilling to find that she actually has a connection to Jerry and the band… and to you (you bastard) sitting on bar stools in the village. Reading about her appearance at MSG and Jerry’s special attention to her warmed my heart…and I can hear her delicate voice echoing around the back of my brain!
    Thank you Brian. Just wow!

  • 9 Carter Berking // Mar 8, 2015 at 7:19 PM

    Great article, thanks Brian!

  • 10 Rebecca Boyce // Mar 9, 2015 at 11:51 PM

    Rebecca Boyce Beautiful, Brian.

  • 11 Nicklas Millner // Mar 10, 2015 at 6:21 PM

    ’82 Red Rocks were my Pinacle shows ~ Top Ten! (of about 300)

  • 12 Brian // Mar 10, 2015 at 7:11 PM

    Nice! Wow! Boy — yer gonna *love* the book then! a very in-depth description of opening night … and the background on all the luminaries luminating this run. 😉

  • 13 Joe Myles // Mar 18, 2015 at 9:24 PM

    ’82 — first show — thanks to you!!

  • 14 Nathan Josephs // Apr 19, 2015 at 8:53 PM

    Red Rocks is why I moved to Colorado. Can’t wait to read the rest of this.

  • 15 Karen Nelson Mangold // Apr 19, 2015 at 10:55 PM

    I am so psyched for you. I hope someday soon to be published…can’t even imagine the feeling. Great job, Brian.

  • 16 Betsy Myers // Apr 20, 2015 at 6:21 PM

    Wonderful writing. Makes you feel like you are there. Can’t wait to read the book

  • 17 Brian // Apr 20, 2015 at 7:57 PM

    And thanks Betsy! That’s perfect. Makin you feel like you were there is the whole puckin goal … thanks for lettin me know the transportation device worked. 😉

  • 18 Shira Esther // Jun 15, 2015 at 10:55 AM

    Who ARE the Grateful Dead and why do they keep following me?!?

  • 19 The Regulars | The Story of Colorado's Red Rocks // Apr 8, 2016 at 3:16 PM

    […] 1982, the Grateful Dead returned, like clockwork, to Red Rocks for a three-day performance.  One article claims that “were part of the largest gathering of Beats ever assembled, before or […]

  • 20 Malik // May 27, 2024 at 10:15 AM

    Great Article

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