What did I do on my summer vacation? Among other things, I saw Dead & Company, and it was during that show, on a sweltering July evening at Dodger Stadium, that I discovered the true meaning of cannabis community.
I have to admit I was a somewhat reluctant concertgoer. Who in their right mind goes to an open-air concert in 100-degree weather? As one of the Deadheads put it: “I didn’t know what to expect when I stepped outside into the atrocious Los Angeles heatwave to bravely head over to Dodger Stadium for a guaranteed EXPERIENCE. Only Deadheads understand the struggle … When I walked up to the line to get into the stadium, the wait was excruciating.”
I am NOT a Deadhead, but I am a fan of Jack Herer, which kept the atrocious heat and excruciating wait from overwhelming my trouper spirit (captured in photo above).
When it comes to the Grateful Dead (Dead & Company boasts GD members Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann and John Mayer filling in for Jerry Garcia), I’m a bit of a late bloomer. I’d heard some of their songs but didn’t really listen to their music until I was 28, when my then-boyfriend, now-husband, Simon, introduced me to them, playing one of his brilliant mixes loud through the living room window of his campus rental while we ― I shit you not ― tie-dyed T-shirts on the lawn.
I didn’t own a Dead album until our music collections flowed into each other when we shacked up in 1994. I never saw the Dead and certainly never twirled my way through a parking-lot scene. When confronted by one of the unenlightened who think the Grateful Dead is merely dirty hippies space-dancing to an endless jam, I’ve cited the astonishing consistency of their songwriting and the musicianship of Garcia, who could play the guitar like ringin’ a bell.
So your average Deadhead would likely consider me a fair-weather fan in that foul weather nearly kept me indoors that day. But there I was. Because I do get it. Their sound ― instantly recognizable but virtually uncategorizable ― never fails to lift my mood and, when I’m actually listening (particularly to the songs Garcia wrote with lyricist Robert Hunter), fill my heart. The band was plugged into something eternal, which helps to explain the devotion of Deadheads.
What also helps explain it is the fellowship of freak-flag fliers. Hallucinogens are frequently involved. For most, though, a little herbal enhancement is all you need to optimize the Grateful Dead experience. A reliable sativa-dominant hybrid like the aforementioned Jack Herer is also good for keeping you engaged during the extended jams (which ― again, not a Deadhead ― can be challenging).
Despite having indulged in said refreshment a couple of times before making our way into the throng that evening, the mismanagement of the venue made me cranky (they do better on Dodger days). The computers went down at Will Call; crowd control was nil. I couldn’t wait to sit down and vape up.
Finally, we arrived at the metal detectors. I’m generally the one holding. But this time, it was Simon who had the Jack. He is so accustomed to legal cannabis culture that he dropped the vaporizer into the tray along with his wallet and keys (further emboldened by the fact that this was a Dead show, after all), which I didn’t realize until I spotted one of the venue staff tossing the vape in the trash.
That killed whatever buzz I had ― or would have. Much moping ensued. Sometime during the one-two punch of “Bertha” and “Jack Straw,” my mood got about as good as I could expect it to. Which isn’t to say I wasn’t horribly distracted by the people in front of us passing joints up and down the row.
No matter how much I wanted to, though, for the life of me I couldn’t tap one on the shoulder and say, “Can I get a drag?”
Clearly reading my mind, Simon got up, walked down the row and started talking to a guy on the other side of the aisle. When he returned, he was holding a PAX flower vaporizer, a device that retails for hundreds of dollars. Simon had seen this guy hitting it and said something along the lines of, “Can I smoke out my wife with your vape.”
And the guy gave it to him. Now Simon does look like a solid citizen, who would, in fact, bring the vape back along with most of its expensive contents (tasted like some top-shelf Lemon Haze). Nonetheless, just like that, the guy handed it over. I took a few puffs, and Simon walked back down the aisle and returned it. I waved and mouthed “thank you” when the guy looked my way.
His was a gesture the likes of which you would not expect in polite society. But at a Dead show, it is apparently a given ― if someone asks you to elevate them and you can, you do. It’s a code, a signifier of community I’ve not seen in other settings.
This doesn’t just happen at Dead shows, of course. But the way it happened at a Dead show that night epitomized the phenomenon because I was its grateful beneficiary.
A woman in the row in front of us, meanwhile, had seen what had transpired between Simon and the generous Pax man and turned to offer me her joint. No one had asked; she just offered.
The second set kicked off with back-to-back favorites “Sugar Magnolia” and “Scarlet Begonias,” after which we were seated in a box by one of Simon’s business associates. A couple smoking a joint therein asked if we minded. When we replied that we did not, the man said, “Do you want to hit this?”
In some ways I mourn the inevitability of fully legal, fully accepted cannabis use. The kindness of strangers I depended on that night was also the high sign of a secret society, an echo of the counterculture in which we acknowledge our membership in a group existing outside the mainstream. My inclusion in this (for me, anyway) benign demimonde has long formed a pillar of my identity as “one of the cool kids.”
(I’m sure this played a role in my decision to enter the music industry earlier in my career. It hardly seemed a coincidence my first week on the job when I found myself smoking pot out of a dented, pierced soda can with the president of the label and some other colleagues.)
I’m sincerely glad everyone will be able to join the club, but that doesn’t mean I won’t miss the exclusivity that embraced me that night when we found our little corner of the cannabis community. Together, we were “having a high time, living the good life.”