It started back in December with a tweet from @unclecrappy that Furthur was coming to Pittsburgh. I have a tendency to see that a concert or a play or a musical is coming to town, think yeah, I’d like to go to that, then go on to either forget all about it until it’s sold out, or decide to be “responsible” and not spend the money. I can’t tell you how many things I have missed this way (and regretted it afterward). I’m sure if @unclecrappy had left it at that, I would have done the same as always, skipping it and kicking myself after the fact. But he didn’t leave it at that. Instead, he sent me a message that he wanted me to come along with him and @mrscrappy and offered to get the tickets. And for the first time in a long time, I thought, the hell with it, I’m going. And I am so glad I did.
These days, not a lot of people know that I’m a Deadhead – I dress for work, and don’t generally blare my music at my desk. I have to fight for radio time in the car with three stubborn people. I don’t have the time or freedom of my late teens and early twenties to take off to parts unknown to see a show (or in some cases, camp out for tickets). But those who knew me “then” had no doubt – I was a Deadhead. It’s not just a love for a band and their music (although for me, that’s how it started), but it’s a way of life.
I liked the music when I was still in high school, but I didn’t know anyone else that did. And lord knows if there’s ever a time when you want to “fit in”, it’s high school. Sadly, for most of us, no matter how badly you want to and try to fit in, sometimes you just don’t. So imagine my delight when I went away to college and found my people. What a difference a year made for me. In high school, I had friends, but the majority of them weren’t real friends – they were the kind of friends that you have to actively work to keep – always watching what you say and do and wear. Always watching who else you befriend. And anyone who knows me knows that this is simply not the way I live my life. I have never been dazzled by an in crowd. I have never held back my feelings or actions for fear of someone liking me. To keep from hurting someone – sure – we have all done that. But to impress someone into being my friend? No thanks. Needless to say, by the time I graduated. I had a lot of acquaintances, but probably 3 or 4 true friends.
But then I went to college & met a deadhead and we became friends. And slowly but surely, I met more and more. And I knew I had found my tribe. Never in my life, had I come across a less assuming bunch of people. They cared about each other. They loved each other – and me – without judgment. Their doors were always open to whomever wanted to come in. They weren’t impressed by money or clothes or status, but by kindness and compassion. I was home. The next 10 years of my life, I moved around, changed schools (twice), had relationships, and lost and gained jobs. But one thing was always constant – the Deadhead friends I made in each place.
I grew up being criticized a lot, and that made me a pretty self-conscious person. I was comfortable enough with myself to not let it show – to not care what anyone thought of me, but even if I didn’t care about being judged, I still felt self-conscious much of the time. but around my deadhead friends, that part of me would disappear. And it wasn’t just my friends, it was that community in general. The community of Deadheads was like that – you didn’t need to be self-conscious about anything. I went on vacation by myself to visit my aunt and looked in the paper for something to do. I found a band called New Potato Caboose (a Dead song), and went with my aunt to see them. Before the night was over, I met some folks who invited me to hang out with them that weekend. By the next day, I had extended my vacation, changed my flights, and had a great time with my new friends.
I moved to a new city and heard about Dead night at a local bar. I headed there alone, but by the end of the night, I had made friends that I had for many years afterward. I once got separated from friends at a show and within five minutes of looking lost and alone, I was asked to join a group of folks sitting nearby and I spent the entire evening with them and had a great time. This – this – was what being a Deadhead was to me. I even found myself a more tolerant person in that environment. And another concert, people bumping into me and squeezing through the row of seats where I sat would irritate me. Not there. At any other concert, people standing up and dancing the entire time would frustrate me. Not there. There, it was expected, encouraged. I joined them.
But then Jerry died and the shows came to an end. They regrouped and started back up again, but by then I had had my first baby and then my second. Suddenly finding time or money for a concert was hard. By the time, I could finally go again, I always seemed to be on vacation or broke, or something, and I never managed to make it. And I lost touch with most of my Deadhead friends. And the old self-conscious me took hold again. I am constantly down on myself – I am too fat, my face is breaking out, my clothes are out of style, I’m out of shape, my hair is a mess. I miss out on doing things because of it. The thought of wearing a bathing suit in public makes me feel queasy (though I push through that one for The Plunge), I rarely appear in photos, though I happily take them of everyone else. I don’t dance unless I (or maybe everyone else) have ample alcohol to forget about my lack of rhythm and how awful I must look.
So last night, as I was walking into the venue with @unclecrappy, @mrscrappy and @cjyohe, surrounded by people – young, old, thin, fat, black, white and everything in-between, I suddenly realized I was feeling…I don’t know…weird. And then I realized that it wasn’t what I was feeling, but what I wasn’t feeling. Not one of those people cared about my hair looking bad. No one was offended that my t-shirt was a little clingy, showing off my belly. No one even noticed the ripped hem of my jeans. No one looked me up and down (except the one old guy who did and liked what he saw, as evidenced from his somehow inoffensive, “ooo, mama, you look good) And no one gave a damn whether I could dance or not. And dance I did. For the first time in a long, long time, I danced like no one was watching.