(Handbill by George Hunter)
One notable day in January of 1968, while living in the isolated, un-hip town where I attempted to grow up, Yakima, WA, I found a Seattle newspaper in the employee lunchroom at my job. While I was scanning it, a blurb in the weekend section caught my eye. It was a preview of what sounded like a great Eagles Auditorium concert in Seattle, one which would happen in just a few days: San Francisco’s Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service would trade sets, while Jerry Abrams’ stunning Headlights presented an accompanying light show. I called my best friend Karl Baker, and we immediately agreed to go to this show. We had heard about both bands, but we weren’t familiar with their material. We just instinctively knew it would be the show, and we had to go. In those times, one could buy a ticket to a big show on the day-of. And that was our plan. Back then, there were no worries about ordering tickets months in advance.
(Karl, in front of his bus)
On the morning of the big show, Karl picked me up in his late-50’s VW bus, which we had spent months lovingly restoring. The bus, newly-painted fire engine red (we were very specific with the paint shop: fire engine red), sported a white top and bumpers. It was a rolling work of art. It stood out in Yakima like, well, two young guys with long hair. Considering the occasion, you could say it was a true Dead Sled. For we were taking to the road to see the Grateful Dead!
Blessed with good traveling weather for January, we had a wonderful drive through the Ellensburg Canyon, over the Cascade Mountains, and on into Seattle. We spied a hotel that looked promising, called The Mayflower, and got ourselves a room.
We then walked through the busy downtown Seattle streets to the Eagles, having to ask directions a couple of times, as we had never seen the Eagles. When we arrived at the beautiful old building, we were each given a handbill, designed by George Hunter, advertising the concert. (I kept that handbill for years and years, but sadly, before I came to realize that “all of this” was going to be of some significance in the future, I mindlessly tossed it one day.) We were happy, but not surprised, to see that tickets were still available, and we each scored one for under $5 apiece. Karl said, “Well, now we have to get some weed”. There just happened to be hippies everywhere (unlike in Yakima)! So after inquiring of four or so people, we wound up buying some weed, offered to us in an old cottage cheese container, for about $2. Karl had been introduced to marijuana smoking in 1967 at Shimer College in Illinois, and was used to getting stoned. I, on the other hand, had never been stoned. I had sampled some wild (roadside) Illinois weed Karl brought back from Shimer, but I had failed to achieve liftoff.
We took our purchase back to our hotel, stashed it and went to Ivar’s Acres Of Clams for dinner. There was no Ivar’s in Yakima. Walking down to the waterfront and ordering Ivar’s fish and chips was a super-rare event (my parents and Ivar were good friends in the 40’s, so it was ironic that I was deprived of his fare).
After our tasty Seattle feast, we returned to our hotel room. Re: The Mayflower, it was an aging but still beautiful hotel. This was pre-restoration; but it was to me, fabulous – nothing like anything I’d seen back home. We then did what any careful, small town kids would do: we plugged up the space between the door and the floor with Mayflower Hotel bath towels. Then Karl rolled a big fatty. — Never mind that his Illinois weed previously failed to get me high; this stuff worked. I was high, for the first time in my life. There was no doubt in my mind. There was a lot in my mind, but no doubt. And Karl was obviously feeling quite grand. We were set! So we proceeded to walk, or rather “float” from the hotel to the Eagles.
When we walked into the building, we had a trippy journey up the ramp that led to the auditorium. Somewhere along the ramp, perhaps at a landing, cool hippie people were selling incense for about ten cents a stick. The atmosphere was, as they say, that of a carnival. We walked in, found ourselves a place on the floor, and I tell you: we spent the next several hours in another world! The music– the lights — the people — the beautiful ballroom — the fragrance of ten varieties of incense being burned simultaneously: it was all too much. Overwhelming, mind-bending and life-changing. I’d never seen nor heard such a thing. The truly psychedelic guitar playing was the best ever. I mean ever. As for the light show? I had never experienced a light show, so to encounter Jerry Abrams’ Headlights was incredible. And remember: I was stoned for the first time in my life!
I danced with hippie girls under the strobe and black lights. The songs seemed to be a half-hour long. I alternated between dancing, and just lying on the floor, letting the entire scene soak into my little Yakima brain. As I say, the experience was transformational. But, after several hours, Karl and I looked at each other and said, “Let’s go”. Our cups were profoundly overflowing. More was not needed. More would be too much! So we left the crazy crowd, the lights, the pounding psychedelic music behind, and returned to our waiting room. Getting the key back from the desk clerk was difficult. (Yes, we were so naive that we turned in the key every time we came and went.) We were still so very high, and dealing with a figure of authority (the desk clerk) took great effort.
After a good night’s sleep, we checked out (making sure to return our key to the front desk!), and ravenously ate a huge breakfast at a downtown eatery. Then we traveled home to Eastern Washington, arriving as changed individuals.
Now, the kicker: Karl and I were so green, so new to the scene, so unfamiliar with both bands, that, while at the show, we never did know who was the Grateful Dead, and who was Quicksilver Messenger Service.