Dancing (gasp) the dance that never ends | SummitDaily.com
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Dancing (gasp) the dance that never ends

Jane Stebbins

What a long strange trip it’s been. It was 15 years ago I straggled into this county, straight off Grateful Dead tour and a little weary of dancing the dance that never ends. In those 15 years – and much to the relief of my parents – I got a job, bought a home, got married, had a kid and now tend to such mundane things as lawns, gardens, broken furnaces and roof repairs.

So, after a multi-year reprieve, it was with great delight that I bought a ticket to the Dark Star Orchestra concert in Breckenridge last month. I pulled out all my tie-dyes from storage, found my silver anklet adorned with a half-pound of little bells, spritzed on a bit of patchouli and put a flower behind my ear for good measure.

“Is that what you looked like on Dead tour, mama?” my daughter asked, her nose wrinkled in uncertainty.

“Yes, but younger. And dirtier.”

“Did you … smell like that, too?”

It was all coming back to me: The swirling, spinning dances, the brightly colored T-shirts, the bumper stickers, the batik skirts, peasant blouses, rings on our fingers and bells on our toes. Those of us who were lucky enough to own vehicles picked up hapless hitchhikers en route to the next show. Those who were lucky enough to have extra tickets gave them away to those less fortunate. People shared their good will, their hotel rooms, their food – and quite a few other things I don’t want to mention because I’m not sure when the statute of limitations runs out.

I’m not sure what I expected when I entered the Riverwalk. Sure, the tie-dyed shirts were in abundance, as were the broomstick skirts, dreadlocks and the seemingly ever-present pungency of marijuana mixed with patchouli.

Amidst all that, though, I couldn’t help but notice a few changes – starting in the parking lot.

My truck on Dead tour was a 1977 Toyota, which at last count was adorned with ’87 bumper stickers on the outside of the camper shell, and another 100 or so inside. It did multi-duty as a living room, sleeping quarters, kitchen, den and transport between cities.

There was one VW van parked outside the Riverwalk the night of the DSO show. But surrounding it were a plethora of cars we never would have seen on tour: Explorers, Saabs, Volvos, Tauruses and, of course, Subarus like mine. There were a few Dead-oriented bumper stickers on windows, but they were discreet, like a tattoo acquired in youth and covered up in older years.

On Dead tour, we often killed what little downtime we had making jewelry from ceramic Peruvian beads, wooden seeds and hemp. Now my fellow dancers – or at least the ones in my age bracket – wore fine hand-blown glass-beaded necklaces from Fine Line Studios.

On tour, my friends and I wore Earth shoes or high-topped leather moccasins – if we wore shoes at all. The Deadheads of this century, myself included, were adorned with Tevas or Chacos.

The Chilean bags we slung around our necks – filled with important things like medicine bags, phone numbers and maybe a shiny trinket that caught our eye – have been replaced with purses from, well, let’s just say they’re not from South America. And they’re filled with the important things of the 21st century: cell phones, Revo sunglasses and American Express platinum cards.

We’ve traded in our baggy, striped cotton shorts from Brazil for form-fitting duds from Gramicci and Patagonia. Today, we exchange cash for fine wines and margaritas, unlike the days when we bartered for cheap American beer.

Years ago, friends with “taper tickets” that enabled them to tape the show straight off the soundboard were admired – and sought after. Now, high-quality CDs are sold at a table near you.

Yet, the music was, eerily enough, the same – as was the strutting Bob Weir lookalike who played lead guitar. But “Sugaree,” “Uncle John’s Band,” “Brother Esau” – they all brought me to my feet to swirl and twist and sway with others in front of the stage.

The fervor, the energy, the glowing and smiling faces, reminded me why I took those two years off from life to jump on the bus and dance the dance that never ends to the music that never stops.

It’s been a long, strange trip. And boy, am I pooped.


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