Concert of the week in Grateful Dead history: June 17, 1975 (Listen Now)

Gone are the days we stopped to decide where we should go, we just ride.

By The Deadhead Cyclist

For Week


It was a “slam dunk” picking T.W.I.G.D.H. for the week of June 15th, since one of the most incomparable nights in the band’s history took place on June 17, 1975 at Winterland. The show was billed as the Bob Fried Memorial Boogie, and it was one of only four times the Dead performed during the year of their interminable hiatus. Bob Fried was an artist who died of a stroke earlier that same year, but not until he had designed dozens of signature ’60s and ’70s rock posters – most with a decidedly psychedelic influence.

On top of the uniqueness of a ’75 show and the memorial theme, there was plenty of mystery to this unforgettable evening. Clearly the most glaring question mark surrounded the headline act of the show: Jerry Garcia + Friends, which was rumored to be the Grateful Dead. As the evening unfolded, the some-5000 of us who had decided to take a chance on what we’d heard through the grapevine weren’t sure what to expect, but the clues were liberally sprinkled throughout the evening.

After terrific opening sets by Keith and Donna (with Jerry Garcia on lead guitar and Bill Kreutzmann on drums) and Kingfish with Bob Weir, we knew the chances were good that the Dead would be closing the show. But it wasn’t until Phil Lesh stepped out on stage as the lights went down for the final act that our hopes were confirmed. But would this be the “Good Old” Grateful Dead or a retooled version with new material? The answer was revealed in the first two songs.

After promoter Bill Graham introduced, “Jerry, Bob, Mickey, Bill, Phil and Keith for you,” the band eased into a tune the audience had never heard before, so sweet and mesmerizing that we were completely spellbound. As Jerry’s gentle voice articulated some of the deepest poetry ever penned by Robert Hunter, you could literally hear a pin drop in the hall, despite the boisterous enthusiasm of the crowd just moments prior. This was not the Good Old Grateful Dead, but an even better New Grateful Dead, as unlikely a proposition as that was when the evening began. There wasn’t a soul in the hall who wasn’t completely captivated.

The quality of our lives is in no small part a function of how we reconcile our desire for stability and control with the fundamental insecurity and powerlessness we continually confront.

After that first-ever Crazy Fingers, the Good Old Grateful Dead showed up with versions of Beat It On Down the Line, Deal, Big River, Peggy-O and Me and My Uncle, before returning to new, previously unheard material, including a completely instrumental version (sans lyrics) of Help on the Way that was as rare and precious as the 1955 doubled die penny.

The second set continued with most of the rest of the Blues for Allah album, followed by Sugar Magnolia and U.S. Blues encores. But it was the initial Crazy Fingers that left a permanent doubled die impression on me, and as a cyclist who has reached a certain age, I am singularly drawn to a phrase from that tune: “We just ride.”

The unpredictable nature of the human experience is a reality we all must come to terms with. The quality of our lives is in no small part a function of how we reconcile our desire for stability and control with the fundamental insecurity and powerlessness we continually confront. Like it or not, the notion that we can create a life that is totally (or even minimally) within our control is an illusion. The only thing we can control is our attitude.

The most unpredictable part of life is the time and place of our ultimate departure. Being able to contemplate this is what separates us from the non-human beings with whom we share the planet. As we age, and our time here grows thinner, we owe it to ourselves to temper our desire for control and replace it with an acceptance of our limited lifetime that enables us to be  more spontaneous, more adventurous, and more open to new experiences. Sadly, the opposite is true for many of us, who become increasingly rigid and fearful as we reel in the years. This leads to an increasingly strangulated view of life at exactly the moment when expansion is called for and more accessible than ever.

As someone who’s spent more than 1500 hours on two wheels during the past five years, I’ve come to adore the metaphor of life as a ride. It can be smooth or bumpy, pleasant or frustrating, windy or calm, uphill or downhill. Sometimes we fall and get hurt, often it’s unclear how to get from “Point A” to “Point B” (or even what the real destination is), and occasionally the will to even begin is elusive. Life and its metaphors (and any metaphor will do) requires courage, tenacity, patience and perseverance.

At certain points along the way – during a ride as in life – we reach a crossroads where a choice must be made between two paths. There are two ways to make such a decision: analytically and intuitively. Experience teaches us that while there’s a place for both methods, we’re more likely to choose the wrong path when we “stop to decide” and overthink our decisions. Think back over the best decisions you’ve made in your life. I’m betting you’ll see that when you “just ride” the journey is more enjoyable and richer, even if it takes you a little longer or further outside of your comfort zone.

Among all of the cycling goals I have achieved, there was one that eluded me until recently: to ride every single day of a single month. It sounds like a simple aspiration: Pick a nice summer month when weather is not a factor and carve out an hour or two each day to get out on two wheels. What could be easler? But with work responsibilities, two or three (or even four) baseball games a week, plus the inevitable weather obstacles, the closest I had ever come was 27, during the month of August. But when the COVID-19 lockdown began in April of 2020, and the start of baseball season was postponed, I saw the opportunity to “just ride” during the upcoming month.

If I had “stopped to decide,” I would have quickly recalled that the month of May at 5500-plus feet of elevation is unpredictable. If I had stopped to decide, it would have occurred to me that the “merry month of May” is the wettest month of the year in Boulder, CO, where I was sheltering in place. If I had stopped to decide I might have been dissuaded by the fact that on average it snows twice during May, with 7.4 inches of accumulation. 

Instead I committed to “just ride,” and at the end of May I had added 31 rides, 454 miles, and 42,086 feet of elevation to my Strava stats. While the weather was true to form, with a myriad of conditions to contend with, there were two occasions when I suited up and braved the cold temperatures and pouring rain to fulfill my commitment. I recall vividly that on one of those rides I returned to my home base absolutely soaked, dirty and exhausted.

What is most noteworthy about achieving this elusive goal, is that out of the 31 rides I did during that month, the two that involved the greatest amount of adversity were the most memorable. Because I chose to “just ride,” I was able to shift my attitude from being soaked, cold and miserable, to having the time of my life. This comes down to a matter of perception: Instead of seeing a cold, rainy, unrideable day, I identified a challenge to meet on the way to fulfilling my commitment to myself.

Spending time trying to create a life that’s always smooth, pleasant and calm – in which we’re always riding downhill on a perfect, sunny day – inevitably leads to suffering and disappointment. Remember: “Beneath the sweet, calm face of the sea” there is “swift undertow.” Be ready for that powerful current, embrace it, “ride” through it. Life will be sweeter for it. And besides, the downhill section is just around the bend.

Concert of the week in Grateful Dead history: June 17, 1975 (Listen Now)

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