Grateful Dead

This undated file photo shows members of the Grateful Dead band, from left to right, Mickey Hart, Phil Lesh, Jerry Garcia, Brent Mydland, Bill Kreutzmann, and Bob Weir.

File, AP

I just got done watching the new four-hour documentary on the Grateful Dead entitled "Long Strange Trip."

I loved every minute of it, and as a Deadhead, wished it would have gone even deeper into the story of this incredible band and the equally incredible scene that sprang up around it.

I first saw the band play near Chicago in 1981 as a senior in high school. I had already been to many different rock concerts by that age, but was totally unprepared for what I experienced that night.

The flow of the concert was unlike anything I had ever seen. I couldn't immediately grasp the music, which danced along in so many different forms and just out of reach. All I knew for sure is that I wanted more.

I returned many times, following the band around the center of the country on each of its tours for more than a decade. I even took a solo trip out to their turf to see a string of three Mardi Gras shows in Oakland, California, in addition to seeing many solo shows by members Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir and Mickey Hart.

The notorious parking lot scene and crowd at the band's shows was also an unfamiliar and sometimes bewildering sight, but I felt right at home. I have always been a curious person who if everyone else is using doors A or B, wanted to know what was going on behind that locked Door C.

Well, a Grateful Dead show offered the key to door C, at least before the final few years when immense popularity altered the intimacy between the band and audience, and even among the audience members. 

Why I write about all this is because it occurred to me recently how my experience with the Grateful Dead and fellow Deadheads helped fertilize and shape who I have become.

This includes me becoming a vegetarian and vegan. Where else was a kid from a big agricultural state like Indiana in the early 1980s going to be exposed to such radical ideas as loving all animals enough not to eat, wear or otherwise exploit them?

I am not alone in this transformation. Gene Baur, of the well-known Farm Sanctuary, "began his activist career selling veggie hotdogs out of a VW van at Grateful Dead concerts to fund farm animal rescues," according to the group's website.

The film and all this reminiscing has left me nostalgic and reflecting on the final few lines of one of the band's beloved ballads:

"There's nothing you can hold

"For very long

"And when you hear that song

"Come crying like the wind

"It seems like all this life

"Was just a dream." 

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Bob is a 22-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.