That Time in Golden Gate Park
So back when I was living in Los Angeles my group of friends and I got the sad news that legendary rock n roll promoter Bill Graham died in a helicopter crash. Bill Graham Presents had been at the forefront of putting on rock shows since the beginning it seemed and of course he was instrumental in the success of our collective favorite band, The Grateful Dead. Oh, the adventures we had following the DEAD around! Shortly after the news broke, word got out that all of the San Francisco musicians were putting together a free show in Golden Gate Park to celebrate Bill’s life and legacy. Holy Crap! We all thought. A free show? With all of the outstanding SF bands from the 60s, 70s and 80s? WE ARE THERE. What good fortune it was that we were all living in LA at the time, just a mere skip up the 101 to the gorgeous Bay Area. Who was going to play we all wondered? Well, the DEAD of course. Who else? Santana? He’s from the Bay. Jefferson Airplane/Starship? They’re from the Bay. Who else had he influenced? Who? Who? CSN? CCR? Journey? No way. Not Journey. I thought they weren’t together anymore? I thought they weren’t friends anymore? We all chimed in. There is no damn way that Journey is showing up for this. As we sat there debating, my lifelong pal Brian declared, “Journey is showing up.” “No way man,” my equally groovy friend Shea responded. “There’s just no way.” We went around and around and finally Brian presented his case and put an end to the discussion. “Mark. My. Words. They’re showing.” “Yeah, we’ll see dude…” Of course this was way before the Internet. There was no mass speculation portal. There was no searching for leaked information. Word came down through the scene. If you knew, you knew. If you didn’t, well you were going anyway because an instant classic free show was happening at the Polo Fields and everyone going wanted to rejoice in the words “We were there!!!”
So, as we were all freelancers in the business at the time, we packed up our stuff, packed up the car and hit the road to SF. As this was pre-internet, it was also pre-cell phone. Before I left I called my Bay Area bestie The Spaz (now my Bay Area angel watching down over me) to let her know that we were heading up. We pondered how we were going to connect once we got into the park and as always we left it up to the Universe and the Magic that it conducts in such settings. We make it to the city the night before and crash in this big old Victorian where several of our fellow Emersonians lived. The show was going to start at 9am Sunday morning. Wow, that’s early. And quite the change of pace from the Midnight Rider ethos we all embraced.
Morning breaks and we get to the park. It was early and it was packed! We find a spot and of course my antenna is up in search of The Spaz. Okay, I’m thinking, let’s get our spot, get the blanket down, get unpacked, get ready to rock then I’ll go look for her. I do all of this then take a look around to get my bearings and decide which direction I’m going to head off in. As I’m scanning the area I look over about 6 feet to my right and without taking one step, lo and behold, there she is! Stacy Raye of Sunshine! Oh! This is going to be a killer day. We jump, we hug, we whoop with joy, we put our dancing shoes on. The day of “Laughter, Love & Music” begins. Out pops the host. ROBIN f-ing WILLIAMS!!!! Not much more to say about that! Then, the music starts. That’s when the specialness of the moment hit me. I still feel it and revel in it to this day. It’s 9:30 on a Sunday morning in San Francisco and I’m standing in Golden Gate Park dancing my ass off to Santana. If this isn’t living, I don’t know what is!
With each passing act, the anticipation grew. Wow! This act! Wow! That act! Who was coming on next? When was the DEAD coming out? We saw Joan Baez. We saw Tracy Chapman. Crosby, Stills, Nash AND Young! Kris Kristofferson. John Fogerty. The list goes on. And then. Journey!!!! I couldn’t freakin’ believe it!!!!! JOURNEY!!!! We all instantly looked at Brian. He simply smiled and uttered a delighted “told you”.
The weather was great, the music sounded fantastic. We laughed, we danced, we hung big and we rejoiced with each other while honoring someone who really made the music happen. And then it was time. The Grateful Dead hit the stage! As they launched into their first tune, a small plane approached the field. In my head, I assumed it was flying a banner. Maybe something with Bill Graham’s name on it? But then, we all noticed it was dropping something. These small dark round spots were quickly approaching from way up high. They got bigger and bigger and bigger until lo and behold we quickly discovered what it was. Thousands and thousands of carnation buds came out of the sky. It was literally raining flowers. The collective awe and joy rose up from the crowd and I’ve never felt energy quite like that. It made such a mark on me I can still remember it vividly. “This is a once in a lifetime moment,” I thought. “You will never experience this again. Standing in a shower of flowers.” It was such a badass way to honor someone who brought joy through music to millions. And in doing so, Bill Graham’s friends created an indelible memory to last me a lifetime.