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Grateful Dead
Oakland Coliseum - "Wizard's Pulpit" 12 Year Anniversary


The week I was born in August of 1972, the fat Oregon sun swelled like a blood orange. Little did I know the former House Band of Kesey's Acid Tests, the Grateful Dead, played a Kesey-family benefit at the Springfield Creamery. While I sucked my pacifier, the boys let loose with a now legendary 31-minute Dark Star into El Paso>Sing Me Back Home.

Twenty years later, they planned to mark the anniversary with shows known as 'Kesey's Farm', and the full-grown Rider packed up the VW ready to blow out the birthday candles GD style. Hearts of summer held in trust, still tender, young, and green. Sauntering by a newspaper machine, I read the headline that made my stomach plunge like a stone from a slingshot on Mars: "Garcia Cancels Shows due to Exhaustion".

Later that year, like a Phoenix from the flame, Jerry triumphantly blazed back onto the scene, announcing an impromptu West Coast Winter Mini-Tour that would conclude in Oakland, California. While high-stepping through Denver and Tempe, the boys surprised us with a crystalline breakout of the Beatles 'Rain', and dusted off the sacred 'Here Comes Sunshine' for the first time in over 1200(!) shows.

Naturally, I skipped all of my final exams for the final shows of the run at Oakland Coliseum, affectionately dubbed 'The Wizard's Pulpit', as more Grateful Dead shows have been played there than at any other venue in history. The set-up: 3 nights, a Day Off, and then the final 2 shows of the tour. Although we were lucky to get these "come back" shows, since the beloved Bill Graham was no longer with us, it was only appropriate that this mini-Winter tour would be the last shows of 1992 with no traditional New Years Eve run - a clear nod of respect to Uncle Bill.

It's safe to say my friends and I had clearly cut our teeth on East Coast Dead. But now the time had come to make the pilgrimage to the West. With our shiny new AMEX cards in hand we ordered our plane tickets. A close friend of ours already living in San Francisco had secured the necessary concert tickets for us. We were on our way to the Promised Land!

Our clan arrived in perfect synchronicity at the Oakland airport. We then converged at the "farm": a friend's hotel room at the local Sleazy 8 crowded with about 30-plus Tour Rats. After a night of feverish "partying" and few hours of sleep we were ready to earn our stripes at some of our fledgling West Coast Grateful Dead shows.

The day of 12/16/92 was like the first moments of a morning dream that lasted until dawn. It began with meeting our friend in the Embarcadero to pick up our tickets and some party favorites. We arrived looking like your typical band of sketchy deadheads in the heart of the Financial District. Our friend, in full business dress, glided down a long escalator to greet us with a Nordstrom bag full of MAGIC. With a smile, hug, and quick hand off we were on our way to the Coliseum.

As show time grew closer, and we began to march towards the entrance, my friend reminded me we couldn't witness our first West Coast Dead without a little "help". Right at that moment, in my peripheral vision I saw a man in a full PIG costume run by us.

* Well you know it's gonna get stranger - So let's get on with the show *

Anyone who was in the building for 12/16/92 show will surely remember it as one of the nights polished like a golden bow, the finest ever seen. The parking lot was flowing with something we can only describe as The Pigs, diminutive little sows wreaking havoc wherever they roamed.

Set One: "…Gone are the days when the ox fall down, he'd take up the yoke and plow the fields around…"

The haunting liquid intro backed by Bobby's staccato riffs to FEEL LIKE A STRANGER kicked over a mason jar full of butterflies in my stomach, and BROWN EYED WOMEN was like sticking a wet finger in a wall socket. The boys were divinely inspired, and our tribal dance came as natural and as effortless as breathing.

SAME THING slowed things down to a pin drop, which seemed only to amplify Jerry's rollicking rendition of LOOSE LUCY. We were collectively two feet off the ground, birds on a hot wire wailing our Thank You's for a Real Good Time, even though the night hadn't even really begun.

Bobby's cerebral version of MEMPHIS BLUES smoked my eyelids and punched my cigarette, and I thanked the higher power that gave Jerry the inkling to downshift into ROW JIMMY, stretching my mind out like strings of taffy swirled with Hunter's cryptic phrasings: "Come back step, like to walk on air".

"When the Grateful Dead is happening", Phil said, "I can't put my finger in the wrong place". It happened during LET IT GROW, and we were all angels dancing on a pin listening to the thunder shout.

During set break, I realized that what I thought was a leisurely couch I was comfortably spread out on was in fact the center of the stairs. I was sitting calmly with no shirt, smiling and gazing starry eyed at the beautiful West Coast hippie Goddesses surrounding me. The flow of white California dresses and the jingle of ankle bracelets tranced me into a Zen state. Was there a volleyball game going on down on the floor? How come the security guards were letting me sit in the middle of the stairs? Were there even any security guards here or was in fact everyone part of the "family"?

As the lights went down and I melted further into that stair case, I knew we were in the Oz of Deadland.

Set Two: "…The bottle stands as empty as it was filled before, time there was and plenty but from that cup no more…"

At the risk of sounding trite, what made 12/16/92 really special happened in the second set. A downright nasty, electric SHAKEDOWN STREET kicked things off. Phil's bass pulsated like I'd never heard it before, dropping persistent bombs that were fat and dripping like campfire marshmallows on the brink of flame. It was at this moment that the "Wizard's Pulpit" became fully activated and we knew what went on inside the Oakland Coliseum was something special. The ceiling made a loud noise and began to activate with its octopus-like arms spinning outward like a fractal or UFO about to take off.

Perhaps no other song personified what can only be described as 'The Wizard's Pulpit' than SAMSON and DELILAH. Literally spinning the roof of Oakland Coliseum like a top, Jerry did what we jokingly referred to a stroking wind - holding a note and shredding it three times the speed of light. Even though we were in the most cosmic of all churches, we pronounced in unison, "…if I had my way, I would tear this whole building down!"

SHIP OF FOOLS couldn't have been more poignant, and Jerry even switched the lyrics to mark his recent 50th birthday: "…with 50 years upon my head, to have you call me child". A melty PLAYIN' IN THE BAND drifted into Mickey and Bill's playground of DRUMS, and as Deadhead Mike Dolgushkin who witnessed it described:

"We found ourselves in an ancient underground temple. Lava was flowing, a volcano was nearby. So were large fault lines; much seismic scraping was taking place. Here were steam vents and - what's this? Pterodactyl calls! We were in THE LOST WORLD! We stayed there into Space, and then started hearing over ground sounds. Horns. Sirens. A waterfall. Birds chirping in unison. So nice to be back in the sunshine! An unlikely place for Dark Star to reappear, but that's exactly what happened".

DARK STAR trickled out, the second verse to tie up the one they started three nights earlier. Confession: while the mirror shattered in formless reflections of matter, I had my only true blue out-of-body experience. I was hovering above the crowd as two entities: my body and myself. I hated it, but sometime during WATCHTOWER I got my wits about me. We awoke from the dream to STELLA BLUE. Hunter's lyrics encapsulated all our trials: "I've stayed in every blue light cheap hotel; can't win for tryin'…" GOOD LOVIN' was like some divine medicine, and we shook off any of the psychedelic cobwebs which were on us like a second skin.

A treat for the California faithful came in the form of the West Coast breakout of CASEY JONES for the first time in 12 years. My friend and I witnessed all four chugging versions that year -- RFK, Deer Creek, Knickerbocker, and the Wizard's Pulpit - but this one was like tasting the honey right out of the hive. However, what happened in the next 48 hours may have been even sweeter…


The Rolling Rider

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6.27.04 - The Dead in Sacramento, CA

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