The Grateful Dead are celebrating their 50th anniversary and playing their final shows ever at Chicago’s Soldier Field this weekend. But before their last blowout, they returned to their roots for a pair of hometown Bay Area shows in Santa Clara, California. On hand were “five generations” of Deadheads, as estimated by one young fan, who were happy to just listen to the music out in the parking lot. Rolling Stone visited the parking lot to survey the scene.
“I’ve never been around so many people with so much love and so little to not worry about,” one tie-dyed attendee said while holding her young son. The crowd showcased an assortment of people with ranges of experiences with the Dead; some had been going to shows for decades, while others were about to experience a truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“Coming here was just a fluke,” said an older, longtime fan of the band. “I said, ‘I’m gonna get out of what I’m doing. If I have to go in the parking lot and hear the music outside, I’m happy.’ Even though Jerry [Garcia] ain’t here, it’s the music, man.”
For some, Garcia’s absence made them wary, but they still sat outside, influenced by the open minds of their friends and fellow fans who were curious about what Phish’s Trey Anastasio would bring. Still, Garcia’s memory and impact was felt amongst the California fans.
“It’s probably the most ridiculous-looking sight in the world,” one Garcia lookalike said about the scene in the parking lot. “In reality, there’s more manners displayed [and] more consideration displayed than any other place with any other mass of people gathering than I’ve ever been.”
In the lot, fans offered strangers grilled cheese sandwiches and braided hair, while others gave away their tickets to those who were already just happy enough to be on the premises. That type of communal kindness is what attracts many to the scene. “The attraction you get towards this band is like no other,” one fan offers. “It’s a relationship you have with the music, beyond the music. That’s why I’m here: the scene, the people, the overall energy here.”