Furthur in Portland, Maine

categories: Cocktail Hour / Reading Under the Influence


Friday night, Juliet and I and a lot of other people from Farmington (we saw friends and familiar faces on the highway, we saw them in line, we saw them at the concert, we saw them in the parking garage after) drove down to Portland (our Portland, the one in Maine) to see the remnants of the Grateful Dead perform in their latest incarnation.  Juliet’s been following Furthur for a few years now.  She collects tour posters, downloads concert recordings, buys t-shirts and tie-dyed trousers, travels all over the country making the “shows,” as they’re universally called, the focal point and excuse, really, for visits with friends and family.


I’d never been.  My worry was that I’d miss Jerry too much.  I’ve been told (by Juliet) to get over it.  This is a new band.  But they play the old songs!  Is my argument.  I was never quite a deadhead, though I liked them a lot.  I was, though, and remain, a Jerry head.  He was a true genius in several guises, and whatever he touched turned to genius, too, including the Dead.  He was also very funny and lighthearted and a drug addict who died young of exhaustion and diabetes.

We got to Portland early and found there was no line, just a few bleary guys sitting in sleeping bags, surprised to find themselves alone on the pavement.  No one wanted to wait out in the cold, and most must have known the venue was forgiving, open floor, general admission.  This made me happy, as rather than sit out in the cold we crossed the street to a sports bar that could have been in any city in America, especially Denver, but not really Portland.  Sports were on the TVs, but Jerry was on the sound system.  And among the happy-hour crowd were plenty of pony-tailed relics like me, also the new crowd, tie dye bridging the generations.

I never understood how anyone could trip in public.  LSD, I mean.  Forty years ago, the last time I was interested, I’d plan such adventures meticulously so as not to run into parents or cops or any kind of trouble at all.  At the bar beside us was a young couple from Canada, he said.  They just kept gazing.  “You okay?” I said.  “Where is this?” the fellow said.

Both of them could have been at any bar in Ithaca in 1971.  But then again, where was that?

Juliet had made burritos for us, and we had a bite or two at the bar in case they were confiscated at the Civic Center doors.

They were indeed confiscated, an efficient little cop feeling Juliet’s big coat till every trace of food was gone.

Inside, the place was empty.  Cumberland County Civic Center, to use the full name.  We walked up to the stage, put our hands on it, could have stayed there.  The floor was entirely empty.  We picked seats at the back of the hall behind the sound board, where Juliet has learned the sound is best.  The place began to fill up.

The Civic Center is a cement shell, one of those buildings built on a tight, tight budget, no frills, no extra cement, even the restrooms packed tight with urinals (and not enough of them), the passageways too small, a claustrophobic feel altogether, architects erasing all but the last necessary lines with each budget squeeze.

And the food, disastrously terrible.  You could not make worse pizza if you tried.  Okay, maybe dogshit and plaster would make a worse pizza.  But not by much.  And that was my dinner in that beautiful town with some of the greatest restaurants in the country.  How did food get to be such an afterthought in this country of plenty?  Actually, I think I know the answer (radical corporatism), but that’s a discussion for later.  Next show, if Juliet can get me to go, we’re doing what it seems everyone else did–eat dinner somewhere nice, relax, not worry about being first in the doors.

Our friend Jan arrived beaming and found us.  Let’s go look at the stage, he said.  He’s been to dozens of shows and he really followed the Dead and he’s full of facts and memories about them.  We were both at Watkins Glen, 1973.  We talked about that and made our way onto the covered ice rink and maybe three quarters of the way down the floor, the crowd thickening as we went, Juliet in the lady’s room.

forgot my glasses

Then the lights dimmed.  The crowd pressed in, but not too tight, not yet, no patchouli, mostly Shalimar.  Everyone friendly.  Ages diverse: I wasn’t the oldest, I wasn’t the youngest.  The mean was probably mid-thirties, and that’s what I found when I looked inside myself, mid-thirties and getting younger.

I texted Jules.  She texted back.  She’d try to find us.  She was 20 when we met in 1982.  Jan had a white hat.  I was 29.  No one else had a white hat, but rainbows and Cat in the Hat hats.  Pot smoke filled the air.  Cigarette smoke, too.  But pot smoke, thick.

I felt kind of good.

Phil came out at a satisfied saunter.  He’s the other genius of the old Dead.  He wrote a terrific memoir called Searching for the Sound that I listened to him read on tape.  He has a pleasing speaking voice.  The book ends just after his liver transplant.  It’s the most unflinching of celebrity memoirs.  Things were not always peaceful with the Dead.  He tells it all.  It’s the history of an era, and there he is, living history.  He was trumpet player in the high-school band and Jerry befriended him and they hung out and Jerry told him he was going to be their bass player, and that’s what he became, fairly simple guy suddenly an acid-head then a rock star, a guy with a level head and a nerd’s interest in getting everything out of his equipment, inventing a new bass, six strings and a range down into the sub-basements of rock.

He looks peaceful now.  The whole band is clean now.  Chem free.

Bob Weir strode out off balance like his mustache was going slightly faster than he was and he had to struggle to keep up.  A truly prodigious huge mustache, capable of great speed.  A guy behind me said Bob looked like a Hindu mystic, and it was true.  He looked, in fact, very much like a guy I’d seen a photo of that morning, a 100-year-old Hindu man who’d just finished a marathon and got himself in the Guinness Book of Records.  That is to say, Bob Weir looked like a 100-year-old Hindu man who’d just finished a marathon.


The music was good.  I enjoyed being up close.  I watched JK, the new guitarist, minutely.  He was the guitarist in Dark Star, which is the best of the many Dead tribute bands out there, playing whole Dead shows nearly note for note and certainly song for song.  JK was so good at being Jerry that Furthur hired him to play the part, more or less.  He has a bouncy presence and plucks upward at his axe to get those chords out, rising on his toes.

He’s very good, but he’s not Jerry.

And I did feel sad.

I’m someone who cried when Jerry died, and I can’t seem to let go.

I liked the light show.  Pot wafted past, and more pot, forest fires of smoke.  I felt sad but kind of good and danced and looked around me at all the people.  A pretty girl grinned at me, not as of yore, but as she no doubt grins when her grandpa sings out “Riding that train!  High on cocaine!  Anyway, she grinned and I felt even sadder and even kind of gooder and the pot smoke was dense and I grinned and doubled my dance step.  Maybe she was grinning at someone behind me.  I felt very self-conscious, and very much like I’d like to be onstage.  The crowd grew denser.  A sweaty man too high to dance danced into the space in front of me, once my space, and smelled bad and danced.

Jan swayed beside me, very content.  At one point he turned to me and offered gum, which I took.  Gum tastes really good, I thought.  And I kept thinking that.  “Save the wrapper for later when you want to spit it out,” he said helpfully.  We’ve both got kids.

Juliet never found us, so before the last song of the set I worked my way all the way back and found her in our seats.  She’d worked her way up probably past us and got close to the stage but never saw us, gave up and retreated.  Phil’s low-low notes thump her chest disagreeably.  I like that thump, like fireworks finales all in a row.

Second set Juliet and I sat together, a proper date, and watched from way back in the back.  It did sound good back there.  I was happy to sit.  I liked the light show.  I couldn’t see much but the colored beams limned in smoke, as I’d forgotten my long-distance glasses.

Furthur!  They played a whole suite of songs from the seventies, lots of the material from the album Live Dead, c. 1969.  I had never cared for the Dead till I found that album in 1971, a new freshman in college.  I tried not to like the album at first–the Dead just did not fit into my eighteen year old’s narrow world view–but I was in a band that learned and performed the whole St. Stephen, The Eleven, Love Light sequence, and in the learning had come respect.  Respect for Jerry mostly.

And Europe 72!  That’s a great album, a tour de force.  The boys at their peak, I think.

But back to 2011.  I liked the concert, hated the venue, and felt sad but also kind of good.  My wife and I were the old couple who sat and swayed and held hands.  I felt a little like I’d been forced to move back into a house I’d lived in forty years before.  The place had been remodeled on a budget, and though much was familiar, the neighborhood just wasn’t the same, the girlfriend dead, my own body in decline; also, I’ve had better houses since, but being back in the old one, even if just for a little while, seems to have put a fresh experience on top of memory and the fresh experience is shielding me from memory and maybe I’m a notch less sad.  The last encore of the evening was “Touch of Gray.”

Next morning a walk on the beach and cliffs in bright November sun slanted low across the swells and making a road of sparkles you could walk on, just as if it has always been that way, and I guess in fact it has….







Set list for 11/4 Furthur show, Cumberland County Civic Center, Portland, Maine.

I: Passenger > Cosmic Charlie, Born Cross-Eyed > Crazy Fingers > Come Together, Deal, Feel Like a Stranger, Brown-Eyed Women

II: China Cat Sunflower > The Mountain Song > St. Stephen > Dark Star > St. Stephen > The Eleven > The Other One > Unbroken Chain, Stella Blue > I Know You Rider
Encore: Touch of Grey

  1. Peter Peteet writes:

    Flowers on your own grave,that’s somebody else’s job-or perhaps it’s what we all should be doing;easy?-sure,as long you get your mind right.Waiting,I applied for that job but wound up washing dishes till I could not stand it anymore and cursed the manager in rhyming ribald verse …skunk cabbages are flowers too,ya know.Bloom and die and let the seeds make the flowers,and vice-versa,same as it ever was.

  2. beautiful piece (the story, not you. well, you too.)

    wish i was there.

    nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile. (is that trite?)


  3. J. Bebe K. writes:

    Hi Bill. Is it a coincidence that my initials are JK? (meaning that they are the same as those of Furthur’s guitar player, John Kadlecik). You know, I certainly understand your grief and sadness over the loss of Jerry Garcia. Thousands of people feel the same way still. Jerry was, as you said, a genius, a light of the universe. When your wife Juliette told you to “get over it” I bet she was referring to the process of grief. Feeling your feelings is an important step with grief (and everything else, eh?). And then, once we are done (however long it takes), isn’t it time to recognize and appreciate what we have left? You know, it’s not like after the patriarch or matriarch of a family dies you stop seeing the rest of the family even though you might feel like you don’t want to, that it’s too painful. The show must go on. We form and adjust to new cosmologies. I think that’s what we all aim for in a perfect world. I told this analogy to a friend of mine talking about Furthur and how some people had trouble seeing Furthur because Jerry wasn’t there. He said to me, “You know, for some people the Grateful Dead was family, for others they were just a rock band.” Maybe you fall into that category, Bill. Maybe you can work with your grief. I know for me that I feel SO thankful to have John Kadlecik in the picture – the son Jerry never had (or knew he had…….), a talented soul who clearly reveres Jerry and is the catalyst for sparking Bob and Phil’s energy and giving the whole scene one more time around. It won’t last long. A speedy Jerry grieving period would be most practical at this point in time. John K. must be a special guy for Bob and Phil to trust him the way they do and let him step into Jerry’s shoes. They are playing songs Jerry wouldn’t let the band play for the last 15 years or so they toured. I love the music of the Dead, and although I thought Jerry was the soul and sparkling gem on the crown, I am way more drawn to the music of the Dead than say of The Jerry Garcia Band, or of Grateful Dawg (his work with Dave Grisman), or of Jerry and Merl Saunders collaborations (though I adore them ALL and think they are fabulous). But for me there was something that happened with the music/philosophies/collaborations in the music of The Grateful Dead that just sends me in a way nothing else does. I love seeing Furthur, seeing and hearing Bob and Phil out there. Senior citizens, with that wonderful spirit of JK and the others (including some strong back up singers helping to fill in all the vocal gaps….and there are plenty. I am not deaf to that….). Feeling how we are all older. Together. With lots of young people enjoying the music, too. On the planet sharing a brief time together. Feeling our youth inside us as our souls, spirits and bodies stay the same and get older. We are one, man. Peace out.

    • Bill writes:

      thanks, JBK! I still haven’t gotten over Pig Pen’s death, so Jerry might take a while… He’s very much onstage as the band plays on…

  4. Ginger writes:

    Hey Bill! I got this link from the Furthur site, someone read your review and put up a link. It was so poignant in some parts, and in other parts I laughed so hard I was crying as I read it aloud to my husband, thanks for that! “Where is this?” “Gum tastes really good.”

    I feel you on the Jerry situation. I took off many years from the scene and the music after we lost Jerry. It was too sad for me to allow myself to feel that spirit of music and know I’d never hear Jerry play again. But I went to a few Dead shows in the early 2000’s and I’ve seen Furthur quite a lot. I enjoy the show, hell, it’s as close as we can get to a real GOGD show nowadays. Sometimes I cry a little, like during a tune that Jerry did particularly well. But there is something healthy and youthful about being able to dance at a show when one is in their middle years. I have so many friends who never do anything “fun” anymore. So I relish the fact that I can still go to shows, and with a partner who enjoys them no less!

    Sometimes feeling sadder and feeling gooder is a good thing…

    peace, love & jerry

    • Bill writes:

      This is really nice, Ginger, thanks. I’m finding as the days go by I’m thinking more and more fondly of the show and the evening, and remembering songs they played by finding them playing in my head as I go about other stuff… wonderful…

  5. kitchel writes:

    Furthur is great – enjoy the music – seeing my second show at MSG in 2 days. “If all you’ve got to live for is what you left behind, get yourself a powder charge and seal that silver mine” or something like that.

    • Bill writes:

      I had a gate over the entrance to my silver mine, I guess–couldn’t go in, but could look. I’ve ordered a powder keg on Amazon and will blow it up now, per suggestion… I’m mean, I ‘m not that old!

  6. Ralph writes:

    The summer Garcia died was the saddest ever.Never will there ever be another Jerry! I get a little sad,missing Jerry when I see Furthur.I think Furthur does a wonderful job doing Grateful Dead songs.I even sway my 53 year old body.Its good for the soul! Thanks to Bob and Phil bringing the love!

    • Bill writes:

      I can’t get some of the songs out of my head… Crazy fingers all day… I’m with you–they do a great job… And Bob and Phil are older than we are! Someone at the show said she went to every show in the summer tour and intended to do every show this fall. She was young and maybe had some money, cuz it can’t be cheap. I said the only way I’d do that kind of travel at my age is if I were onstage playing. Thanks, Ralph.

  7. Richard Gilbert writes:

    I shouldn’t use a stale word like bittersweet, but this sure is poignant. Felt I was there. Kind wish I had been, probably wouldn’t have been. Thing is, it took more than a wee dram of courage for you to go, Bill, given your history, passions, the loss of Jerry. And I admire that, the courage, that is. It’s hard to feel appropriate anywhere once we are past youth, or at least it is for me, and I wonder why that is. Glad for us you got out anyway.

    • Bill writes:

      bittersweet doesn’t seem stale to me… And really, that’s what it was… Didn’t take much courage, just a little Jack.

  8. Peter Peteet writes:

    The fresh experiences do shield us from memory,remove the scabs so the scars can toughen.Like Jackson Brown’s line in “I looked into a house I once lived in”age brings a desire to see where “our beginnings have gone”;that “the walls and the windows are still standing,and the music could be heard at the door”is reassuring in that it proves real our memories even if that touch brings pain from what is lost- because that pain is less sharp with each touch;the analogy of the therapy for phantom limbs comes to mind-they have you use mirror tricks to see what isn’t there as if it were.”Scatter your flowers on the grave and move on”says Mary Oliver,but I’m sure she doesn’t hurry,and neither should we.

    • Bill writes:

      I want to learn how to scatter flowers on my own grave… probably it’s easy, but I’ll have to wait to find out…