The Jambar Column: What a long, strange trip it’s been

By Henry Shorr

I have been told my taste in music is very eclectic. On any given day, I may be listening to the Wu-Tang Clan, Oasis, Nora Jones, Fall Out Boy, Keri Hilson or any other number of bands and artists I have fallen for through the years.

The Grateful Dead is the one band that has pervaded everything else in my life and has stuck with me through it all.

The Grateful Dead is mostly known for their live shows, hour-long jams, over two-minute songs and the music history they have created. Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir and friends have written songs that, even if you’ve never sought out their music, I’m sure you’ve heard.

I first heard the Dead when I was at a Jewish summer camp in Indiana. My counselors were Deadheads and we would listen to their music while we cleaned the cabin every morning. I will never forget the first time I heard the lyric, “Bertha, don’t you come around here anymore.”

It started me on a lifelong path of great music, good vibes and wonderful people.

Committing to the Dead is on a higher plane than following any other band.

There are die-hard fans who never miss a show in their city or even follow the band around the country. There are fans who catch a show when they can but are content to listen to them in the car or at home.

Some people are fans because their parents loved them, some are fans because their parents hated them but everyone who has created a place for the Grateful Dead in their hearts shares a bond that transcends generations and genres.

One beautiful thing about the Dead’s music is they never boxed themselves in. If you asked me what genre the band falls into, I wouldn’t be able to answer that question.

From their groovy beginnings in the late ‘60s to their disco era in the ‘70s, all the way to the straighter rock and roll they played in the ‘80s onward, they kept moving with music trends. 

Their concerts are a wholly unique experience. They’re usually all-day affairs, starting with rows of vendors that follow the band and set up in the parking lot to sell their merch, hoping to score enough cash for gas and maybe a ticket to the show. These “Shakedown Streets,” create an economic ecosystem around the band and shows.

Once the music starts at these shows, it’s truly an experience. No two shows are alike, as even shows with the same setlists have different jams or transitions from one song to the next. It’s a huge reason why fans keep coming back for more.

If I had to recommend some jumping-off points, I would offer “Europe ‘72” as my favorite live album and “Terrapin Station” as my favorite studio album, but you can’t go wrong with any of them.

They’re playing their last tour with John Mayer filling Jerry Garcia’s shoes this summer and there is a show in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, where you’ll find me.

As this is my last column of the semester, I’ll leave you all with my favorite Grateful Dead lyric and I hope all of you Penguins have a fantastic summer. 

“Fare you well, fare you well, I love you more than words can tell; listen to the river sing sweet songs to rock my soul.”