This was my favorite dead show, hands down. I drove up with the infamous Lowe brothers and this other guy Rob Kohnfelder. A couple years later, I would grow to truly despise two of them. So much for the peace and love theory. We spent some time on the Southside of Chicago buying tons of beer at a distributor. Tom and John bought about a dozen cases which really weighed the car down. The suspension was bad enough on my little Charger 024 Omni. I miss that car - it was the original Saf mobile or as my father referred to it "the fucking jalopy and eyesore to the neighborhood." We arrived at the parking lot around noon and the place was filling up rapidly. I parked near these college kids who were dispensing 8 nitrous tanks. As the day wore on and the lines grew, I got to know them pretty well. They explained how they were from Cornell University, snagged a bunch of tanks and decided to hit the show. There were 4 of them - all business majors, go figure. They had given the security cops $100 a piece with a promise of another $100 each at the end of the night. Probably a good idea, since the lines were 20 people deep and the swooshing noise form the tanks was loud. At one time, they actually had two lines formed. This pissed off Tom at first since he was trying to sell imports and these guys were making a mint selling hippie crack. He eventually would sell all his beer anyway. The Cornell foursome probably netted about $16,000. Not bad for a days work. Not sure if they went into the show or not. I never even found out if they were Dead fans.
I had an interesting run-in with this Asian kid in the middle of the afternoon. We were standing by the car and we noticed this one hippie riding his bicycle while simultaneously hitting a nitrous balloon. I look to the Asian kid and said "that doesn't look like such a good idea." Before I could finish the sentence, the hippie slammed into a parked car and hit the pavement. The balloon went flying and he was pretty skinned up. Fortunately, he didn't crack his head. After a couple of minutes, the banged-up hippie managed to get to his feet and ride off. I started talking with the Asian kid - he told me his name was James. James and I started walking the lot talking about a variety of topics - where you from, you got a ticket for the show, the usual stuff. He then said that his band was playing tonight and told me "We should go check them out. I'm not going into the show tonight. I've got to play, but I wanted to come down here in the afternoon and check out the scene." I told him I was going to the concert and I doubted my traveling companions would be interested in seeing his show since we were heading to Kansas for another Dead show (that's another story). He mentioned that they were about to embark on a tour and said they'd be playing in Pittsburgh in a few weeks. I asked where and he said the Metropol. I was impressed and mentioned that the place holds almost 1,500. "Are you guys really that big?" He repsonded, "Oh yeah, there's about 4,000 people coming to our gig tonight. We're from Chicago and we're starting a tour to support our national release." I was a little blown away. We ended up hanging out for a couple hours. Right before we split to go into the show, I asked him, "Hey, what's the name of your band anyway?" He looked at me and quietly responded "The Smashing Pumpkins." A year or so later, it dawned on me that it was James Iha - guitarist of the Smashing Pumpkins. I always like that story.
Before the show, there was much speculation of the opener. Lots of people wanted to hear Shakedown Street which hadn't been played all tour. I explained that there's no way because it was Bob's night to open. They'll probably open the second set with it. On the way in, I noticed 2 great personalized license plates - one said "BUCKET", the other "SHKDWN." I wished I'd had my camera on me since I used to take pics of dead plates, but I had left it in the car. We walked by this group of crazed hippie/college kids and they were smashing beer bottles on the lot. Just for the hell of it, I guess. Laughing up a storm and probably tripping their brains out.
We made it into the stadium right after the opening act. The weather was crisp and really windy. The sky was filled with a ton of colors and constant lightning strikes, but it never rained. They hit the stage and the place went nuts. Bob opened with Hell in a Bucket and Jerry would follow with Shakedown Street. This would be my all-time favorite dead opener. I couldn't have written a better setlist. I loved this whole show. Just had a tremendous vibe. A one-night stand at Soldier Field. Now I get it. They closed out the second set with One More Saturday Night and encored with The Weight. Quite simply, my favorite dead show out of about 50. Like I said, now I get it.