At Walsh Auditorium, Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ: The category is Shows I’ll Never Forget, and certain shows have a radioactive half-life, so what’s 37 years among friends? 37 years ago this week, in fact.
Here’s the brief actual truth, even if it didn’t happen: My girlfriend and I had gotten religion at our first Grateful Dead show, at Roosevelt Stadium on August 4, 1976, so we bought tickets to see the Garcia Band at Seton Hall. We were strong in the holy goof as we entered, and easily positioned in an ideal pair of seats on the floor. Standing on folding chairs in the front section, dead center, eye level with the stage, Garcia peered at us, over his dark glasses, as he probed our teenaged souls on the opener — “Sugaree.” He watched us watching him, first time up so close, and he was just watching us, not very far away, looking right into us, playing right to us, and rogering the almighty bejeezus out of our brand-new hipster minds.
The horrible tape in circulation does not fully correspond with the cortical records on file in our sensorium: We looked at each other after “Sugaree,” and both had wet cheeks — shining ecstatic wondrously wet cheeks: “What in the world was that?”
Here’s where it gets strange. At the end of the first set, he reprised “Sugaree” — that’s right, played the rave-up and conclusion again — and the climbing crescendo in Sugaree left us both overpowered, the impossibly emotional experience of his ascension of that towering peak, building and fanning and rebuilding, excruciating melodies, surfing a powerful rhythm wave that lifted him higher and higher — and then diminuendo to a hush. He was young then, and vital, and vigorous. His hair was black, mostly, and his eyes were bright, and he’d peek over his glasses and see you — compared with the creaking Persian years — and he would look out as his hands felt for the nodes, and he placed the sweet clean needles of JBL sound, with his eyes and hands, the acupunctural solos that would simply undo your doubts, and he seemed to see the responses that signaled the right notes, and he would milk them and linger, and then move up, (sweet rock ‘n’ roll kamasutra!) and up and up.
He used the white Travis Bean, wicker grille Boogie and McIntoshes and vertical cabinet — I think — here. The circulating tape is cut before this reprise, an unheard return to bracket the set, start and finish with “Sugaree.” The setlists are wrong if they omit this critical detail. And the world changed for me that night, and I’d never be here typing this alphabet soup in a phone booth amidst my Clark Kent life, nor wringing a C sharp to an E flat and wringing belltones from an old JBL in our own humble band at home — all in an effort to recreate that spell that he so deliberately cast on us that night.
Setlist for the Jerry Garcia Band, South Orange, New Jersey, September 17, 1976:
Set 1: Sugaree
Mission In The Rain
The Way You Do The Things You Do
That’s What Love Will Make You Do
Set 2: Don’t Let Go
Stop That Train
Tore Up Over You
Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
Ride Mighty High