Twenty years ago this fall I fell in love with the Grateful Dead. It was my first semester of college and their music was an indispensable part of every party, roadtrip, and study break in the library. But of all the hundreds of shows I listened to, one stood out to me far and above the rest: my first love, a show with wailing guitars, wailing vocals and an ordinary set list. The show was burnt onto a CD-R, and labeled in illegible and smeared handwriting. When a friend asked to borrow my collection of shows, I didn’t hesitate, but perhaps I should have, because the CD-R with my favorite show vanished, never to be heard again.
As the years passed, my longing for my missing show waxed and waned. I would joke with my fellow dead head friends about the impossible task of finding this show. All I remembered for sure was a Brown Eyed Women, and an exquisite Scarlet Begonias into Fire on the Mountain; the equivalent of telling people the missing needle in the hay stack was long, silver, and sharp. Not very helpful, or so I thought. This missing show even became something of an inside joke among my friends. “Found your show yet, Dazey?” or “Hey, Dazey, this Scarlet -> Fire sound familiar?” To which I always just laughed and said “no.”
Twenty years later, and I couldn’t quite let go, or hold onto the lost show. It haunted me in the same way that memorable aromas can conjure bittersweet nostalgia. But the wheel of time kept on turning, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was ever there at all.
Then the pandemic happened, and the quarantine, and suddenly time slowed. My dead-head friends started a group chat and we uncovered some clues, which narrowed down the window of opportunity to a particularly good tour: Spring 1977. Then last week one of my friends unearthed a digital treasure trove: an electronic archive of my old collection of dead shows, and with it a tantalizing prospect a May 25, 1977, show from Richmond, VA. The Brown Eyed Women sounded about right with Jerry perfectly nailing the bridge, and I had one of those flashes I’d been there before. It could be an illusion, I thought, but I might as well try the Scarlet -> Fire. And there it was, those unmistakably buoyant first notes struck and suddenly I was 18 years old again, walking around William Jewell square, not a chill to the winter but a nip to the air; an auditory reminder that once in a while you can get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right.
The wheel is turning and you can’t slow down
You can’t let go and you can’t hold on,
You can’t go back and you can’t stand still
But by the grace of god
May we find the strength to hold on and let go
And perhaps find something that was once missing
Here's the link.