It’s not the same as being able to head up to the Village A rooftops, but Georgetown Day at home doesn’t need to be the worst day ever. Hopefully there’s nice weather and you can find yourself a spot to sit with a cold drink if you’re of age and just take it easy. Treat it like Memorial Day came a month early and have a little barbecue all for yourself. Well, saying it like that doesn’t make it sound like the most exhilarating day, but hey, you don’t have to do it by yourself. Your parents can join you for your Georgetown Day festivities! Doesn’t that sound like fun?
But will they want to listen to the Georgetown Day playlist you’ve been curating since Homecoming at the earth shaking levels that make GUPD concerned about the structural integrity of Village A? Probably not. And they probably won’t want you starting so early in the morning, either.
So now you need to soundtrack a chill afternoon with your folks.
1. “Uncle John’s Band” – Grateful Dead
The sweet acoustic guitar melody sounds like summer, you think to yourself. Wearing the fun tie dye shirt you had planned as your Georgetown Day outfit, you set up some chairs in the sun with your speaker tucked under your arm. Yes, this is the right kind of mellow and warm to loll away the afternoon. With the chairs in place and your armpit no longer muffling Jerry Garcia’s singing you go back inside and get a beer from the fridge.
2. “Casey Jones” – Grateful Dead
“More Grateful Dead?” you wonder. “Well, if that’s what Spotify will prescribe. This Casey Jones guy sure seems to be better at partying than me.” You hold your coozied beer up by your face for a selfie that you’re going to send to your friends with “loving georgetown day at home :(” attached to it.
You certainly did pick a good spot, feeling the sun hit you just right as you scroll through the sad assortment of Instagram stories bemoaning not being on campus on such a lovely day. You hear the screen door slam and see your dad coming. He sits down with the heavy sigh of a dad sitting down, only to realize you didn’t get a beer for him too and have to grumble his way back up out of his chair and to the house again.
3. “Friend of the Devil” – Grateful Dead
“Another one?” you ask as you check Spotify again. You hit the radio station for the Grateful Dead by accident on your phone. “Who even uses that?” Ah well. The last two were nice enough, and besides, dads love the Grateful Dead.
“More Grateful Dead, huh?” dad asks as he settles in his chair once again. “You’ve got the shirt to match and everything. What are you? Some kinda Deadhead?”
You think Jerry got a bad deal from the devil. Only $20? And for what? And only to have the devil take it back? You wouldn’t settle for anything less from the devil than your Senior Week back.
4. “Truckin” – Grateful Dead
Four in a row? Could be worse though. They all seem to just mesh right into the afternoon. You take up your phone and decide the next one will be intentional.
“I had a friend back in school who was big into the Dead,” your dad says. “Used to smoke and make quesadillas at three in the morning while jamming along.”
A 3 a.m. Epi quesadilla would certainly hit the spot. How weird is it that we essentially use the hospital cafeteria as a late night hang out. You lament the zoning of the neighborhood and the lack of late night eats. What a long strange trip indeed. These Grateful Dead guys seem to be onto something.
5. “Dark Star” Live/Dead Version
Seemed like a cool name for a song so you queued it up. The lyrics are pretty bizarre and feel like a big nothing-burger. Your stomach rumbles. How about a something burger instead. That sounds pretty nice
You get up to stretch and dad asks if you’ll start the grill. “Read my mind,” you remark.
As the grill strats to get hot, so does the band. The guitars are kind of wild. You’ve never heard anything quite like it. Wasn’t this supposed to be some hippie band that sang about flowers and stuff? Because this is damn spacey. You check the album title. Live/Dead. They are famous for playing a ton of concerts, right? Either way, maybe we can let this keep going you decide.
6. “St. Stephen > The Eleven” Live/Dead Version
Who would have thought that a song about a first century Christian martyr could rock so hard. Not you, clearly, but you thought wrong. The riff was really good. Perhaps they deserve a bit more credit than just being some stoner band.
“William Tell is here? What the hell is this band?” you think aloud as you search for more. You want St. Stephen again, but all the other versions on Spotify are live too. The abundance of choice was almost paralyzing, so you gave up and googled “best St. Stephen.”
7. “Dark Star > St. Stephen” 1970-06-24
Your search had brought you to some page that looked like it hadn’t been updated since 2006, but the show that was first wasn’t on Spotify. You go back to look at the webpage and click the link on the first one thinking it would open a youtube video. Instead it brought you to a page on the Internet Archive with a recording of the whole concert. That’s pretty cool, you think, but why are there three “Dark Stars?” You liked the one before, so you decide to start with the one right before St. Stephen.
The audio sounds atrocious. There’s too much audience noise and the instruments sound like their being played through sand. But dad asks you to go turn the burgers so you have to walk away for a moment.
Who is this audience guy saying “oh no” over and over into the shitty tape recorder that someone recorded this on? But “St. Stephen” is starting up and the audience seems to be losing its mind as Jerry plays through the little intro. And when the band drops into the big riff, you lose your mind too. The audience and the bad audio seem to be making something kind of perfect as they clap along to the song. There is a groove here that wasn’t there before. This is awesome.
Let’s try another live one. Maybe “Dark Star” this time.
8. “Dark Star > That’s It for the Other One > Turn on Your Lovelight” 1970-02-13
The second one on the list stuck out to you for some reason. Maybe because the date was the day before Valentine’s Day. Either way you got another Internet Archive link and hit play as your dad called to come sit down for dinner.
Sitting outside as the breeze turned a bit cool, you dug into a hamburger way better than anything you could’ve made on campus. What would you do, fry it on your electric Village A stove and have to take it off every 20 seconds to avoid setting off the hair trigger smoke detector? Or have it taste like charcoal and make a joke about carcinogens when you take your first bite?
Jerry’s solos were as tasty as the burger. He played lightly, coming out of your speaker and floating through the trees in your backyard. It was still going as you cleared your plate and came back out from the kitchen with another beer. You sat down to listen more closely and it just kept on going.
Eventually they weren’t even playing “Dark Star” anymore, having gone straight into “That’s It for the Other One,” but you weren’t going to stop listening. This was too good. The band was going places you didn’t expect, and they were improvising almost every note of it.
The sun kept going down but you didn’t move. You were enrapt in the beautiful noise coming from the little speaker by your chair.
9. “And We Bid You Goodnight” 1970-02-13
The jam ends, and you notice the sun is almost entirely set. You get up and head inside, pleasantly surprised with how nice your afternoon had been given the circumstances. About to cross the threshold from the patio, dad steps back outside with a lighter and some marshmallows. “Wanna help get the fire pit started?”
You go inside just to get a sweatshirt instead. As you step back outside, you’re looking for another show to play. After searching “best Grateful Dead show,” there seems to be a consensus.
22. “Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain” 1977-05-08
The fire is blazing and the marshmallows golden brown, and the sounds coming from your speaker are just as crisp and pretty. These lucky kids at Cornell. This is a return from the spacey improvisation of before, but there is still something in the jams that makes them fill the air and lick up to the sky with flames. How did you miss this for so long?
30. “Althea” 1980-05-16
Dad went to bed a while ago, but you’ve kept feeding the fire. The Barton Hall show ended and you wanted to find more Dead to listen to. This one had another funny name and you hadn’t heard it yet despite it being amongst the band’s most played on Spotify.
This must be the funkiest song written for people who only dance in place, you think. But with another beer in your hand you put your feet up on the edge of the fire pit, close your eyes, and nod along with the groove.
?. “Dark Star > Wharf Rat > Dark Star” 1971-02-18
You wake up on the ground. Your chair is gone. The fire is gone. Your assorted empty bottles are gone. Your sweatshirt is gone. Your whole backyard is gone, replaced by trees and heavy underbrush. Two figures approach, cautiously.
“Piglet,” said Pooh.
“Yes, Pooh,” replied Piglet.
“Do you know what that thing is?” asked Pooh.
“No,” said Piglet. Piglet pauses, observing you as you sit up. “You don’t think it’s a heffalump do you?”
“No,” said Pooh. “No, heffalumps are much larger.” Pooh contemplates you for another moment. “In fact, Piglet,” Pooh continues, “I can’t quite put my finger on what that thing is.” Pooh plops himself down on the ground across from you and closes his eyes hard shut. “Think, think, think.”
“Pooh,” said Piglet.
“Yes, Piglet,” replied Pooh, still thinking very hard.
“If it’s not a heffalump, it could be a woozle, couldn’t it?”
Piglet was entering a state of extreme consternation at the thought that you might indeed be a woozle. To try and reassure him that you are neither a heffalump nor a woozle you finally go to speak up. But no words come out. Only music.
Now you are just as startled as Piglet. You try to speak again but only more music comes out. Pooh and Piglet both stare at you, transfixed by the sounds coming out of your mouth.
The music flows out of you uncontrollably, seeming to emanate from everywhere around you and filling you with sound. Twenty or so minutes later it subsides. Pooh and Piglet are still sitting across from you in the underbrush.
“Oh lovely,” exclaimed Pooh. He struggles his way back to standing. “You see, Piglet, this thing couldn’t possibly be a heffalump or a woozle. Neither of those things could make sounds quite so lovely as that.” He makes his way over to you and shakes your hand. “In fact, before this thing started making that music, I had come to the conclusion that it probably was not a woozle because it looks quite a bit like Christopher Robin, only with all these colors on his shirt.”
“Pooh,” whispered Piglet.
Pooh doesn’t hear and continues. “And since this thing looks quite a lot like Christopher Robin, I wonder if it might be one of his relations. Do you remember that time one of Rabbit’s cousins came to visit? They did look quite like Rabbit.” Pooh is very close to your face, looking closely at your features. But the memory of the visit from Rabbit’s cousin distracts him. “You know, I can’t seem to remember the name of Rabbit’s relation, do you remember Piglet?”
“Pooh,” whispered Piglet, still staring intently at you.
“No, not my name Piglet, the name of Rabbit’s cousin.”
Piglet finally breaks their gaze. “No, Pooh, not that.”
“What, Piglet,” said Pooh.
Piglet pauses for a moment and turns to look at you again. “That was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard,” said Piglet.
“Oh, yes,” said Pooh. “Wasn’t it lovely.”
“It was perfect,” said Piglet.
“Perfect?” asked Pooh. “Oh, I don’t know about perfect, Piglet, but it was quite lovely. And to think we were just walking along doing nothing in particular when we found this creature and he shared that lovely music with us.” Pooh’s stomach rumbles.
“No, Pooh,” insisted Piglet. “I think that was perfect.”
“Well, Piglet,” replied Pooh. “Can anything really be perfect? Does anything need to be?” Pooh’s stomach rumbles again. “It seems the rumblies in my tumbly agree.”
“No, Piglet,” Pooh continued. “I wouldn’t say that was perfect. But certainly a lovely surprise. What would be perfect, however, would be some honey, and then, I think, a nap.” Pooh turns to look at you once more. “And then maybe when I wake up I shall remember this lovely surprise and smile about how nice it was, and perhaps see if I can find Christopher Robin and ask if he has a strange musical relation who might’ve been coming to visit.”
Pooh turns and starts to walk off. Piglet stands still for another moment, and then comes and nervously shakes your hand before running to catch up with Pooh. You lay back and look up at the sky through the trees. The wind rustles the leaves and kisses your arms while the sunlight warms your faces. You can still hear the echoes of the music reverberating through your body. You close your eyes and listen again.
Phil Lesh cried when he heard this piece of music for the second time. Phil Lesh was playing bass for this particular passage when he heard it the first time. He did not remember it amongst the thousands of concerts he played. But he went on a radio show and asked the host, David Gans, to turn him onto some Grateful Dead music, and he cried.
“Yeah, that’s just gorgeous.” Lesh said. “Is it longer than that? I mean, is there more of it?”
“No,” Gans replied. “That’s pretty much it.”
Deadheads call the first few minutes of the transition back into “Dark Star” “The Beautiful Jam.”
“Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain” 1980-11-30
You wake up again. You’re back in your chair. The fire is low. What time is it? Is it still even Georgetown Day? It doesn’t matter. The night is cool but not cold, and your chair feels impossible to get out of. One more. You put more wood on the fire and cue up another show.
“Scarlet Begonias” seems like it will never turn into “Fire on the Mountain.” But it always does. And for a brief instant there’s another moment of zen from Jerry’s guitar, a bend so deep that you can feel it in your soul as it pierces the speakers upper limits and shrieks out into the night and goes on forever.
But that’s pretty much it, and they make it to “Fire on the Mountain,” like they always would. And that remarkable moment is gone, left to echo in your head as the show keeps moving. And even though it was fleeting, it will always be there to go back to.
“Uncle John’s Band” 1980-11-30
The sun is coming up and you’re back where you started. It feels different this time, and not just from the exhaustion starting to set in. You close your eyes and breath in the cool air while you listen. The Grateful Dead aren’t strangers anymore, and yet there is still so much more to hear and hold and bask in their glow as they fade away. It was certainly far from the perfect Georgetown Day, but it was still a nice something to come from doing nothing in particular.
Image Credits: Jacob Bilich