N. Y. Eve 1972
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Stories about the Grateful Dead

A New Years Eve Story 
© 2005 Evan S. Hunt


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Stories about the Grateful Dead

In 1972 I was working with a friend doing painting and remodeling. Around the end of the year we got this job for these rich folks. The housewife was a friendly person named Diana, 16 years my senior and desperately in need of being hip. Over the next few weeks I got very chummy with her and when she asked me how I was celebrating New Years I replied that I was doing the usual--going to see the Grateful Dead at Winterland. She expressed interest and asked if she could tag along. I was certain that the concert was sold out and told her, but she insisted on going along anyway. She volunteered to let us use her station wagon and promised that she would not leave without us if she were not able to get in. I hesitantly and skeptically gave in to her proposal, but at the last minute, I decided we needed a backup plan and convinced one of our group with an ample chunk of Nepalese Temple Balls hashish to drive my car--just in case.

On the 31st we all piled into her car and, with me driving Diana's station wagon and my buddy following us in my car, zoomed over to the city. Diana kept assuring me that she would find a ticket and brought along over $200.00 in cash for a scalper's pleasure.

When we walked up to the building there was no line. I was shocked. This was the first year that Bill Graham had instituted stringent rules for concertgoers to enter the confines. The cops out on the sidewalk were yelling "ticket holders only, this show is all sold out" and they so quickly herded us in that all I could do was reach back and give Diana her car keys and yell at her "Meet us back here at around 3:00 am!" She screamed back at me, "Don't worry, I'll get in somehow!" Seconds later we ticket holders were sucked inside.

Once inside, I huddled everybody in our party and we all agreed we were going to go out onto the floor, forty feet from stage, dead center. I let them go and turned back to see how Diana was doing. I stood just inside the doors looking out the windows toward the sidewalk. The cops kept telling me I couldn't stand there, but I just kept stalling them.

I felt somewhat responsible for Diana, but there wasn't anything I could do except walk out of Winterland to be with her, but no way was I going to give up my position. Good thing I gave into my selfish desires for, once out, I might not have been able to get back in. I stood there trying to hide my immensity, watching in futility. Time sledged by as if I was on a TV game show being asked the 64,000-dollar question.

Just then Bill Graham walked up, clipboard and all, and started talking to Diana. Meanwhile, I'm trying to shrink in the shadows of the foyer and I'm seeing them chatting for about five minutes. All of a sudden, Bill Graham smiles and, with arm around her shoulder, escorts her to the front doors and lets her walk in!

I scooted to meet her as she's walking in. I have this most incredulous expression on my face, I'm sure, because I had heard all the stories about Graham being such an asshole that he would not even let his mother in without a ticket. Diana was as surprised to see me as I her. I blubbered, "Blup blup duhp how...wha…what did you say to him?" She replied, "Oh, nothing much really, I just told him I wasn't going to leave until I got in." Bill Graham had let her in for free.

With that we were sternly told to leave where we were standing and so I grabbed Diana and we walked into the swirling mass of New Years Eve Dead show Winterland's floor. Somehow we found our friends and settled in for a delicious evening of Grateful Dead.

It was a pretty good show, but the music wasn't as memorable as what was yet to come. Sometime around 3 am while the Dead were thoroughly steeped in their eerie snake music, I got sort of tired and started looking around. For some reason, I started rolling my head around to stretch it and, looking ceiling ward, noticed this guy standing on this thin little beam way up above the stage. He's just teetering there hanging on for dear life.

I thought he was part of the lighting crew and thought no more about it, but then I just kept looking back up there and, after awhile, I realized he was not part of the crew. Suddenly I grokked at the fact that that guy had somehow slipped in through the vents in the ceiling.

Minutes later I could see that on both ends of the beam there were techies motioning to him to come toward them, but the guy was frozen in place. They were trying to throw a rope to him, but they couldn't get him to grab it--so tenuous was his hold on life. He had gotten himself into a fix from which he could not extract himself.

Eventually, Bob Weir stops the music and says, "We gotta get outta here on account of we're having some problems up above." The Dead leave the stage. Winterland becomes deathly quiet and Bill Graham walks out on stage to the center microphone and calmly says to the guy above:

"Just hold it for a second please. Just one second please. If you can just try to find your way back from where you came, there, please."

Someone from the audience shouts, "Jump!"

Graham snaps at the shouter, "Why don't you shut your hole, boy, okay?"

Then back to the guy above, "Just for one moment try that."

Someone else yells "Happy New Year" and Graham adds, "Why don't you just wait, just take your time out there, y'know. Some people wait for you, just take your time."

Then to the audience Graham implores, "If you love the guy, just let him feel you love him, okay?"

Someone yells, "We love you, brother!"

Graham utters to the guy on the light beam as the crew lowers a rope to him from the roof vent, "Take it easy, we're going to try to find the way you came up there, try to find the same way out."

Then to the audience Graham orders, "If there's anyone out there in a hurry, do us a favor...go home. None of the other people here are in a hurry, okay? Good. When the situation is like this, you gotta work at his pace, you understand that?"

It's obvious by now the guy is not going to go back the way he came. Someone on stage says to the guy, "Tie that rope around your waste."

Graham says to lighting, "Can we put a spotlight on the top of this rope please? Is there a schmuck...?"

Just then Graham grabs the rope that a techie has dropped to the stage, and with the crew above holding another rope around the guy, the guy lowers himself down the rope to the stage hand-over-hand, feet-gripping-rope gym class style with Bill Graham directly underneath him holding that rope like he's hanging onto a sinking ship. If the guy would have fallen, it's for certain Graham would have caught him midair.

The guy gets down on the stage and Graham asks him why he did it and the guy says, "I couldn't afford the ticket!" The audience bursts into tumultuous applause.

Moments later the Dead arrive back on stage to finish their set and Weir quips, "Next week we're gonna have trained seals!"

This, my friends, is a true story. To disprove and lay to rest all the negative comments about Bill Graham here and now forever, at least two people got into one of his shows for free.

Stories about the Grateful Dead

 

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