Experiencing the Grateful Dead through the eyes of a teenager.

Ryan Arnold recalls unexpected consequences of his first Grateful Dead show.

June 22, 2018

Jim Gensheimer/Bay Area News Group/TNS


The Grateful Dead's show at Cornell College on May 8, 1977 is considered by many Deadheads to be the band's finest live performance. I'll always be partial to their show at Rosemont Horizon on March 16, 1994. It was my first Dead show. Details on how I convinced my dad to take me and two of my high school freshman friends to see the Grateful Dead on a school night are still hazy. My pal Joe pulled into the train station where I, along with my friend Allison, waited in the ol' marooon Dodge Caravan while dad flipped through a book of CDs in the front seat. We made our way up River Road to the Rosemont Horizon and, even in the cold rain and snow, the parking lot scene was in full swing. I bought a lighter with the Grateful Dead Steal Your Face emblem which I would lose at a Grateful Dead concert a few months later.

As we made our way to our seats in section 102, Jimi Hendrix The Ultimate Experience was playing through the house. I got the album for Christmas and had memorized the track list so I feigned clarvoyance by predicting which song would play next. Instead of "Manic Depression" playing after "Red House", the house lights dimmed and the crowd erupted. After a few minutes of tuning, the band tore into "Jack Straw", "Friend of The Devil", "Minglewood Blues", and "So Many Roads" (which, at the final Grateful Dead concert the following summer, is one of the final songs Jerry would sing).  Phil Lesh did his best Dylan impersonation on "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" (I soon learned that's really Phil's voice) before Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia traded vocals on "Beat It On Down The Line" and "High Time". Vince Welnick sang "Easy Answers" - a song Bob Weir recorded with Neil Young a few years prior. The set break was worth the wait. Jerry sounded strong singing "Scarlet Begonias"  and "Fire On The Mountain". Bobby's soulful "Looks Like Rain" and back to Vince for "Way To Go Home" - one of the few songs he penned during his brief tenure with the band. When they teased the first verse of a long-abandoned favorite "Dark Star" before going into the drums and space jam it was like someone opened an ethereal floodgate. I took the opportunity to go to the bathroom and buy a t shirt. "Sweet! No lines!" The second set wrappped with "I Need A Miracle", "Standing On The Moon", and "Sugar Magnolia" before a true-to-Buddy Holly-form version of "I Fought The Law."  This song let to my introduction to  The Clash and cemented them, along with the Grateful Dead, as my two all time favorite bands.

What I thought was dad simply chaperoning me and a few friends turned out to be the beginning of a lifetime of experiencing live music together. None of the hundreds of concerts we've seen together will top our first Grateful Dead show together. Well, maybe when I surprised him with a ticket to the Fare Thee Well concert at Soldier Field in 2015 but that's only because dad said something to John Mayer which made Mayer give him a hug. But that's a story for another time.

Your pal,
- Ryan A.