Read Zach’s New Story: Fear and Corporate Loathing at a Dead and Co. Show in Las Vegas (2024)

SPHERE AND LOADING.

By Zach Selwyn June 26, 2024.

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1

We were somewhere around Barstow at the edge of the desert when my traveling companion had to pull over to take his blood pressure pills.

Also I had to pee. And the Mini Cooper we had taken on this for our journey into the desert was running low on gas. And the left windshield wiper didn’t work, so we needed to clean the bugs off.

Plus I needed to reapply my sunscreen, because my arm was getting a little red on the right side.

In the trunk of the car, we had an orthotic pillow, my knee brace in case we walked too far, a bunch of ibuprofen, a laptop with a broken screen, a pre-rolled joint in a plastic black container and some bananas and water in case I was hungover the following day. My toiletry kit was full of generic Propecia and cholesterol pills, Loreal Under Eye Cream and Trader Joe’s Green Juice alongside a single bottle of nine dollar red wine that had been left at my house four nights earlier.

Still, the Mini Cooper rolled along like an electric roller skate on the highway, carrying me and my new acquaintance Savage towards Sin City to see the last bastion of what was left of the mighty Grateful Dead in a $2 billion stadium known as the Sphere.

This was definitely not the same road trip I had taken 30 years earlier when I last saw the Grateful Dead in Las Vegas, carrying four ounces of dope and a three foot bong we had named “De La Soul” because it was “3 Feet High and Rising.” The times had changed. Life had arrived. My hair wasn’t to my back anymore, the hand-made leather sandals I wore every day had been replaced with Amazon flip-flops and I had two children at home.

Savage, yes that’s his real name, still looked very much the part of a true music lover and outlaw Dead Head. He sported long, full Sam Elliott-like hair and a handlebar mustache beneath a killer vintage flat brim beaver felt hat. A pack of Reds poked out from his shirt pocket and he was blasting some early 70’s New Riders of the Purple Sage over the radio. I barely know this character, but so far he seems like a good road trip buddy… He’s got the wheels, a beat up Epiphone acoustic in the trunk and seems to be drumming along rhythmically to the beat of the tunes he’s playing. Savage is not a close friend, but more of an acquaintance. We met at a school fundraiser. I liked his look. He came to my band gigs. And anyone who compliments me on my music normally passes my acid test for being a worthy road trip adversary.

Meanwhile, I had resuscitated my original 1995 Grateful Dead Las Vegas Silver Bowl T-shirt from the depths of my drawer, recalling the last time I had driven to Sin City to see what was then the dying embers of the Jerry Garcia Grateful Dead. At that time, I had traveled by van with 15 friends, including my college girlfriend, and we all split a huge suite at a Bally’s hotel. We got so stoned in the room that we missed half of Dave Matthews Band’s opening set, and Dave was the best group going at that time. Still, by the time we made it into the Silver Bowl parking lot, the drugs were everywhere, Shakedown Street was flying with multicolored human beings tripping, laughing, passing nitrous balloons around and speaking in a language I had never heard before. Miracles were desired, free hugs were offered and trunks of VW busses revealed simpler lifestyles that pre-dated the popular #VanLife trend that is going on these days on Instagram by nearly three decades. This was Burning Man before Burning Man. The festival life before Coachella.. This was the desert. It was 108° and workers hosed down the crowd from the sidelines and we danced on a dusty stadium floor kicking up more dirt than a Mad Max film. Medics tended to dehydrated druggies in trip tents and there were multiple overdose incidents all around us. As the night passed, we went back to Bally’s where my girlfriend and I tried to make love on a couch where four other guys were sleeping at the same time. That didn’t end well. We were too young to gamble, too old to have any money to afford our own hotel room and it was a beautiful snapshot of my youth awash in psychedelics, a few “kind beers” and more marijuana than the late Bill Walton’s carry-on suitcase.

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Now 29 years later, I was going to the desert again. This time as a man in his late 40’s who was thinking that by this time in my life, I should have been able to afford a nicer suite than the one that Savage and I had booked due to my financial limitations. It was called the Mardi Gras. It cost us $92 for the night (Including the $5.00 resort fees) and sits on the wrong side of Las Vegas. Judging by the images on the website, it looked like a three-story flop house with moderate New Orleans decorations and two separate happy hours. But more of that later.

It’s not that I haven’t had any success in my life, but this past year has been extremely rough, especially with the strikes and the death of Hollywood for actors, writers and filmmakers who exist on the same level I do. Whereas I once would make a very nice living hosting TV and doing voiceover jobs, the whole industry has dried up, leaving an entire generation in shambles struggling to pay mortgages and rent. Myself included. Luckily, my music has carried me through on many occasions but I never thought that I would be almost 50-years-old sitting on the passenger side of a 2012 Mini Cooper, driving to Vegas with a guy that I had only met a few times through our kids’ mutual schools… Yet here we were.

For the first hour into the ride, Savage had been delivering a master class in storytelling. His tales made me feel like I was listening to a live podcast from a man who lived a brilliant, adventure-fueled rogue life. From his days working for Bill Graham Presents in San Francisco setting up Grateful Dead shows to watching his friends have dalliances in bathroom stalls with pop stars of the 1980s to breaking his back and shoulder in competitive skateboarding tournaments while sponsored by Vector in the early Southern California pool scene… He claimed he helped Owsley build the Wall of Sound. He explained how his silk-screening business lead to his design being used on an official Dead tour shirt. He manned the bar at the legendary Powerhouse Bar next to a motorcycle club in Hollywood as a 28-year-old drifter, helping bikers defend the establishment from the rioters of 1992… He took acid and saw the Dead for the first time when he was 12-years-old. He watched Bay Area rock stars who were worldwide touring acts cruise his high school parking lot looking for “chicks.” I was traveling with history and I relished every crazy tale he told.

His brother had originally bought the Sphere tickets, but could not go. He offered them to Savage. Savage offered one to me. It was a fair exchange for becoming his sounding board for storytelling.

From being Eskimo Brothers with some of the biggest rock stars in the world to turning down Elite Models in the 90’s, story after story- mile after mile – Savage tore through his adventures like a pirate regaling his tales of the sea, replete with yarns of wenches, treasure, celebrities, criminal activities and money come and gone.

In comparison to his tall tales, mine seemed tame and boring.

“I used to smoke weed with Rob Thomas from Matchbox Twenty!” I bragged. “Nicest guy!”

He stared at me and laughed before telling me about riding Harleys with two motorcycle gang members and how they paid him with a bag of speed to be the getaway driver when they robbed a liquor store.

Here was Savage, a living legend doing time as a family man in Hollywood, sharing stories that nobody could ever imagine were true. I was lucky enough to be his wingman, rattling towards Las Vegas anticipating what would be his first Grateful Dead show since Jerry Garcia died in 1995. Savage once swore that he would never see the Dead again once Jerry passed in 1995, but this was the Sphere and this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see them play in what is supposedly the most mind-blowing and visually stimulating concert spectacle in the world today.

But first, we had to stop for blood pressure pills. Doctor’s orders. As his 60th birthday loomed in the distance, so did the threat of heart disease, high cholesterol and a lifetime of partying catching up with him. We popped into the gas station outside of Barstow, used the facilities, filled up the Mini Cooper and decided to get back on the road.

But first… he had to smoke a few cigarettes. I sat back in the passenger seat and sipped the kombucha I had brought along for the ride.

2

The actor Clark Gable supposedly waited out the news of his wife Carole Lombard’s tragic plane crash death at a small saloon 30 minutes outside of Las Vegas known as the Pioneer. It is a relic of a long lost mining town, and the Pioneer has been around for 111 years and has seen its share of brawls fist fights, gunfights, card games, confrontations and drunken min(e/o)rs. Both literal men coming from the underground after seeking precious metals… And minors – as in underage patrons. There are bullet holes in the walls and cigarette burns on the bar from where Gable extinguished his smokes while awaiting news on the fate of Lombard’s plane. Apparently, Gable sat and drank at the bar until he heard that there had been no survivors and then lost his mind once her death was confirmed.

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Savage casually informed me that we would be stopping by the Pioneer Saloon for some pre-Vegas beers because he knew the owner.

“He’s the guy who got me out of prison,” he said.

I didn’t press further on that one.

Apparently, his pal had recently purchased the saloon and the general store next-door for a fairly respectable fee, longing to keep the place – and its history – alive. Dubbing himself “Old Man Liver,” he marketed the bar the way it should be, classic, barely touched and unrestored. This is not a Jason Aldean Rooftop Kitchen or a Kid Rock Big Ass Honky Tonk in Nashville. This is the real deal.

“Figured we’d stop at my boy’s place before heading up to check-in” he said. “Maybe we can get your band to play out here for a bunch of aging meth heads and local bikers.”

“Yeah, I’m sure they buy a lot of merchandise,” I said.

The funny thing is in my musical career I have either played for two types of people: Aging meth heads and local bikers… And billionaires in towns like Jackson Hole, Wyoming. In my experience the billionaires spend more money on t-shirts.

We rolled into the Pioneer Saloon about an hour and a half later. The place runs on a septic system, and has no glassware or washable dishes so the beers come in plastic cups. The food was simple and hearty and served on paper plates and in Styrofoam containers. The bar was full of bikers, travelers and Dead Heads making their way to Las Vegas for the show. We saddled up for a couple of pints and a burger with a piece of nopales cactus on it before touring the local cemetery and paying our respects to the residents by playing a couple of songs to the deceased. A few of the graves were shocking… One featured a small hand carved wooden tombstone standing meekly over mis-packed earth flaunting the name PAT CASH. All I could think of was who this poor soul was and how he ended up in a pauper’s grave out here in Goodsprings, Nevada. Then again, there is a part of me that would rather spend eternity out here under a wooden tombstone in the desert rather than be forever interred in Forest Lawn or some monstrosity sitting on the Glendale border.

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We walked back to see if Savage’s buddy had arrived at the bar yet, but the bartender informed us that he wasn’t in town. I avoided buying a $10 sew-on patch that featured a cool skeleton dealing blackjack cards only because those types of things just weren’t in my budget at the moment. Besides, I was saving up for the bootleg merch on Shakedown Street outside of the venue.

Shakedown Street is what Dead Heads call the legendary parking lot scene that burns brightly before every Grateful Dead show. This is the place where bootleg t-shirts can be found for seven to ten dollars, veggie burritos whet your appetite and any drug on the planet can be negotiated or found with a proper wink, smile and a handshake. Shakedown Street, as anyone will tell you, is as much fun as the live shows. You meet unruly, crazy people selling vegan burritos to afford getting from town to town… Smoking everything under the sun and wishing each other, “a good show.” In my life, there have been many Grateful Dead shows where the Shakedown Street experience far outweighs the actual concert experience. I figured this would be my last chance to possibly find some pre-show mushroom chocolate and unique handmade Grateful Dead merchandise. That is why I avoided buying any Pioneer Saloon memorabilia.

After sipping a final Modelo in the bar and talking to the woman with a “Don’t Tread on Me” tattoo on her back thigh, we got back on the road. Savage spun a few more tales about drinking gallons of margaritas with the band Night Ranger and how they were close pals. That’s who this dude was. Savage could even make the band Night Ranger seem cooler than sh*t.

I told him about how I once pulled a 1/50 Luka Dončić cracked Ice Prizm sports card from a pack I bought at a WalMart.

“What the f*ck are you talking about?” He said. “Baseball cards?”

Maybe it was the two beers, but being in such a historical bar picked up my outlaw spirits. I bought a fresh pack of smokes, noting that I always smoked cigarettes at Dead shows, and I started getting really excited for the night. And I know a cigarette in 103 degree weather sounds disgusting, but when you come from Tucson, Arizona like I do, it just feels familiar sometimes.

45 minutes later, we arrived at our hotel, the Mardi Gras. This place… was disgusting. Our room was a decent size, but smelled like sewage. There was some sort of dried pool of dark liquid on the rug by the sink that vaguely resembled human blood and a three-legged dog was hobbling around the premises. There were no gaming tables onsite, but 15 or so desperate souls sat glued to slot machines begging for that one lucky spin that would change their lives. There were diapers on the floor in the hallway, bad tattoos everywhere and a woman yelling at her husband about not receiving a welfare check for her two young children who were willingly playing on a third story railing that had been partially dislodged from the wall.

Yes my friends, this was not the Wynn- This was the LOSS.

A quick stroll around the hotel balcony later and we finally came into visual contact with the dome of the Sphere. It looked unbelievable. The Steal Your Face logo floated over millions of LED screens, promising a night of mind expansion and adventure which in turn sparked memories of simpler times. That iconic logo was friendly and familiar and was inviting us to come dance in a ring around the sun with one of the greatest bands in the history of the world. I looked up at another large hotel down the way and saw my old friend Theo Von’s face on a 40-story billboard on the side of Resorts World Hotel advertising his upcoming residency. Years ago, Theo and I would play sh*tty clubs in Los Angeles discussing our mutual admiration for each other. Now he was selling out 10,000 person theaters on the same sacred ground where Elvis once stood… And I was preparing to clean dried blood out of the carpet at the Mardi Gras Hotel.

Savage and I went downstairs and got two $4 beers in the bar and headed for the pool where we met Owen, another Grateful Dead traveler from Canada who had come down to see all three shows for the weekend.

“Where are you from?” Savage asked.

“Vancouver man, how about you?”

“LA, by way of northern California,” Savage said. “This guy is from Arizona.”

This was a common interaction throughout the rest of the night. We asked everybody that we met where they had come from, because the chances of us meeting someone from Henderson, Nevada who lived locally, was zero to none. Owen came down hoping to meet some like-minded friends and take some LSD to watch the show.

“Well, let’s just all get over to Shakedown Street and make this psychedelic dream happen,” I said.

“Oh dude, there is no Shakedown Street at the Sphere,” Owen said.

We laughed at this preposterous statement.

“No, I’m serious,” he continued. “Vegas won’t let you sell anything in the parking lot or on the street so they moved it inside to the Tuscany Hotel – it’s in the ballroom about a mile away from the venue.”

What? NO SHAKEDOWN STREET AT THE SPHERE??

And it was inside a hotel? Hell no. Back in ’95 and I’m sure in ’75… Shakedown was where all the contraband was… Where teenage runaways living in buses braided their pubes into necklaces and sold them for five dollars. I was not going to a Shakedown Street inside a hotel ballroom. Could you imagine? The same place where the Schwartz Bar Mitzvah took place two weeks earlier is now the same place where you buy loose joints? Joints that were most likely curated and logo-stamped by the Dead themselves?

(For the record, even though the Grateful Dead have licensed their image and likeness to everything possible in the world, I don’t think they have a line of weed yet – even though there was a Jerry Garcia strain available for awhile).

It was also at this time that Owen informed us that James Perse had an entire high end Grateful Dead retail store in the Wynn dedicated to Grateful Dead everything. Including $250.00 pickleball paddles. #KILLMENOW.

We went to the room to change, crack the wine I had brought and head to the show and see if we could find anything to alter our state of mind.

But first we had to call our wives and let them know we’re OK.

Yeah, Savage and I are now committed family men with two kids each. We weren’t in Vegas to party. There would be no trips to Treasures, the new gentlemen’s club that had a $150 cover up the street. Plus, checking in with my lady is something I always do on the road – especially since I recently fractured my shoulder during a drunken Memorial Day fall down a steep driveway. Since that accident, I had slowed down my booze intake and I wasn’t planning on drinking too much that night… After all, nobody ever wants to be the drunk guy at the Grateful Dead show… But a few beers wouldn’t hurt and if we could make it to the Tuscany Hotel, perhaps some other mind-altering substances could be found as well.

I cracked the wine and quickly realized that keeping it in the trunk of a car for six hours through the 114 degree Mojave Desert was not a good idea. The cork was popping out and the sweet red liquid had oxidized making it undrinkable. I made a note to bring it back to Costco for a nine dollar refund once I was home. sh*t, they take back everything. (As I told you, it’s been a rough year).

We finally began making the .8 mile walk towards the Sphere. This was the most sober I had ever been in the hours leading up to a Grateful Dead show and I began to mildly panic. Luckily, we came across a dangerous looking corner 7-Eleven where an arrest was taking place outside and got some cheap canned beer. As we approached the Sphere, the lack of the Shakedown Street scene was suddenly imminent. In fact the lack of danger and adventure was imminent. There weren’t even any trip tents. Savage was frustrated and began calling out everything that had changed…

Where are the druggies?

Where is the scary guy in the top hat who made devil sticks out of human bones?

Where are the Lot Lizards?

Where are all the Sparkle Ponies?

“Wait – what’s a Sparkle Pony?” I asked.

“That’s what we used to call a beautiful hippie girl – bells on her fingers, rings on her toes… you know? Look at this crowd – this is like a bunch of rich lame white couples wearing brand new tie-dyes… These are more like sparkle donkeys!”

He was correct. This was the “Corporate Dead.” This was Vegas Dead. And not the 1995 Vegas Dead… This was, “Honey, do you want to buy some tie-dye shirts and go see John Mayer’s band the Grateful Dead? Maybe we can see Jersey Boys the next night!”

I would say 75% of the crowd was over 55 and looking way beyond their years. We half-heartedly asked folks for shrooms or better dope… and we scoured the outside of the show for hippies selling anything but made no connections. There was no food, no burritos, no fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches… No snacks. No kind beers. No acid. No mushrooms. No loose joints. No t-shirts. No buttons. No pins. No alcohol. And definitely no ‘Sparkle Ponies.’

It was at this point that I realized I had only eaten half of a hamburger the entire day. I was suddenly starving, three beers in and well aware that there was no food to be found within a mile or two of the Sphere. We considered going to Tuscany after all, but we were told it had just been shut down to get people over to the show. Luckily a guy with a box of pizza walked up and offered it to me like a hippie angel out of the blue. I reluctantly took the box from him and asked him if he had dosed it.

The guy laughed and said, “Yeah bro, like I’m gonna give you f*cking Acid Pizza…”

I dug in, enjoying every bite of this mediocre, crusty and flavorless pizza knowing it was going to save my ass especially if I would be forced to drink $21 beers inside since my mushroom journey was now officially over.

As I ate the acid pizza, sort of secretly hoping it was laced, I watched Savage approach a bevy of individuals and talk about his 30- year Grateful Dead hiatus, his years as a Bill Graham employee and how he may have made out with Mountain Girl as a teenager, but wasn’t sure. (Mountain Girl was one of Jerry Garcia’s early wives). People responded and laughed, the vibe was getting better and we smoked some of Savage’s homegrown weed known as “Los Feliz Loco.” It was a mild but effective strain that he grew himself after reading a recent article in the LA Times about how many pesticides, chemicals and other poisonous items had been recently found in dispensary-bought pre-rolls that had claimed to be “organic.” It was like when they did that undercover sushi expose and found that 90 percent of all sashimi in LA area sushi restaurants was actually tilapia tainted with food coloring.

Still I knew I had my secret pre-roll weapon in my pocket that I was going to save for the peak of the concert. As we puffed away at Savage’s joint, a security guard walked up and warned us to finish smoking outside because if they caught us inside… We would immediately be kicked out.

Excuse me? A Grateful Dead show without a joint or a cigarette being smoked? What have we come to ? What would Jerry Garcia say about that? My guess is that Jerry would’ve never agreed to play the Sphere in the first place.

I was beginning to think that the Dead agreeing to play the Sphere was the concert equivalent of licensing the song Touch of Grey to a Just for Men commercial…

3

After finishing our beers and finding our way inside, we began to notice that this venue resembled the Beverly Center or, as Savage more astutely put it, the newly re-designed LaGuardia Airport. Everything was modern and new, like that Star Wars ride at Disneyland… I half expected Kylo Ren to walk out of the 300 section and order a beer. Half airport, half space port, I thought to myself. Not a lot of charm. As we walked through the halls looking for our seats, I jokingly asked a security guard if he knew where the United Club was. He quizzically looked at me and said, “I don’t understand sir, you’re at the Sphere.”

Sometimes when you’re high you’re thinking just a little bit ahead of everybody else.

We got a couple of $23 beers to get through the set and went to our seats – We were in the 100 section. The lights went down, the stage opened up and I saw maybe two plumes of smoke puff throughout the crowd.

Before I go any further, I need to mention that before I came here, everybody told me that there is not a bad seat at the Sphere.

I wholeheartedly disagree.

The biggest design mistake they made in the Sphere is the overhang. This obstructs the view for close to 1/3 of the audience who are stuck underneath it, unable to see the ceiling. As luck would have it, we were stuck underneath it. And no amount of beer or weed would fix this. Especially because as the show started up, I quickly realized that the only visual I was seeing consistently was John Mayer’s bulging crotch and his $250,000 Audemars Piguet watch, which put a perfect statement on this entire corporate Dead situation. This guy was up there looking like Lil Wayne showing off his f*cking wrist to a bunch of aging hippies who grew up telling time by using sun dials. This motherf*cker was wearing an Audemars Piguet? Not only that, but all the crotch shot made me think of was poor Taylor Swift being forced to face that thing in a dark Four Seasons Hotel room when she was 22-years-old. Look, I am a huge fan of what John Mayer has brought to the Dead but this wasn’t what I came to Vegas for… I needed visuals. I need something real. John Mayer’s muscular sleeve tattoos and his “Oh Face” was terrifying and got worse as the weed and beer kicked in a little harder.

“We have to move seats,” I said to Savage. “I feel like Mayer’s gonna get me pregnant sitting here.”

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Even though the sound was good, we missed the cool San Francisco city visuals, and Savage, being from northern California, wasn’t happy about that at all. We crawled to the floor, puffed on the Los Feliz Loco and left to go head upstairs.

Once we got there the entire experience changed. The sky exploded with flowers and visuals rained down upon us. I finally saw what people had been talking about. If you get stuck under the overhang at the Sphere, do yourself a favor and move immediately. You need to be up top or on the floor.

As we danced in our new seats, happy to have found an open spot, I began taking videos and photos like everybody else and sending them to my friends. It’s kind of hard to capture the vibe on the phone, but I did the best I could and suddenly, nothing could go wrong… until an older couple flanked by a security guard came up and told us that we were in the wrong seats.

“It’s chill brother, we’ll just stay here for a while,” Savage said. “Back in the day, 25 people would crowd into one aisle and no one gave a sh*t!”

The woman, who I can only refer to as a “Grateful Karen,” piped up.

“Carl! Tell them we paid for these seats!” She yelled.

I had never seen a Grateful Karen before, but let me tell you… they definitely exist. I can only describe this one as being in her early-to-mid 60s, with short gray hair, long jorts and a T-shirt that read “GRAY-tful”. She was carrying a plastic bag with a brand new Dead and Company hoodie inside as well as a $100 rolled up poster. In her left hand she had a 32 ounce Diet co*ke with a straw. Her husband was wearing Birkenstocks with socks and had on a flowered shirt to complement his khaki shorts. These two smirked and chuckled as we were escorted from our seats.

“Thanks for calling the manager,” I said to her.

We went back outside to walk around La Guardia. We took a look at some of the posters that were intricately designed and even looked at the silent auction where a guitar was already being bid on at the $7900 level. This spoke volumes about the crowd and energy in that arena. Everything that could be for sale was for sale… I even paid an extra three dollars for a Dead and Co. collectors cup which I’m sure my wife will be throwing out in the next couple of weeks. Eventually we stumbled across a poster rolling station, far from what I’m sure was a joint rolling station 20 years ago.

“Roll Posters, not Joints” I yelled, getting a chuckle from a couple of cute girls nearby.

As I looked up to get a better look at them, the sky suddenly opened up with possibility. These girls were angelic. They were young and beautiful in that casual hippie way that I remembered from my 20’s… They flashed me back to memories of my girlfriend in 1995 playing “air piano” and dancing around in her 90’s babydoll flowered dress to songs like U.S. Blues. I stared at them in awe for a couple of seconds, running every Old Man Has Threesome With Two Hippie Chicks p*rnHub title through my mind over and over… Until Savage came over and knocked me out of my flesh fantasy.

“Hey bro, you DID find some Sparkle Ponies!” He said.

Staring at these two girls as they danced, suddenly made me extremely nostalgic. I began texting all of my friends who I had seen Grateful Dead shows with in the past, explaining how the world had changed and how there were very few moments that could ever replace what we experienced together back in the 90’s. Back then, we had a saying – It was either myself or my buddy J. Smooth who coined it, but it was simply this:

The 90’s Are Just the 60’s Upside Down.

That was the t-shirt I always wanted to make… But never had the bread to do. As I watched these two girls twirl around Like hippie nymphs inside a mundane corporate forest – it dawned on me that I was in fact… as guilty of being the old guy here as everybody else was…

4

My friend had told me the intermission was long so we made our way out to the center of the sphere to as many strangers as possible. This was the closest it came to a Shakedown experience and we spent 30 minutes or so talking to computer designers from Phoenix, truck drivers from New Jersey, Christmas tree farmers from Portland and accountants from the DC area. I have been told the first sets had been pretty slow for the other Sphere shows leading up to these and that the second set was going to be even better. So, after a couple of conversations we went back into the 200 section looking for any empty seats. And then the lights went down and China Cat Sunflower came up. I reached into my pocket for the pre-roll I’ve been saving for the second set. This was gonna be good.

A quick aside here… As an on-camera TV host and actor I am often forced to do my own makeup. I have been doing this for 20+ years and I keep a bunch of items in my toiletry kit in case a gig presents itself. One of the items is a black make up tube that fills in gray hairs in your beard. Full disclosure… I use it all the time and it comes in handy quite often. Unfortunately, the one place that I didn’t need it, was at this Grateful Dead show. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the little plastic black container holding the pre-roll… Only to find it was the f*cking beard pen.

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I uncapped it, looking down at the ink dabber, cursingmy recent luck.

Look, I may have not been as stoned as I would have liked, but damn… my beard was looking dark and full.

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Savage brought out the last of the Los Feliz Loco and we burned it openly in the crowd this time saying, screw the laws – if they kick us out they kick us out. The next 45 minutes were spectacular and everything made perfect sense. We danced and sang along, I thought about my beautiful wife, my kids, my friends, my girlfriend from the past and everything in life that made sense and it was magical and perfect. I even began screaming for every John Mayer guitar solo. His watch didn’t even bother me anymore. Savage and I talked about maybe going over to the after party at the Tuscany… We made plans to try and stay for the Friday show the next night… We were dreaming in that way you get at a Dead concert when all of your problems can be solved with the right note of a song. The band finished the set and we walked out of the Sphere with super Cheshire Cat grins on our faces awaiting the next party.

What we found was roughly a mile-and-a half-walk to the Venetian, where people could get Ubers and towncars. Walking through Vegas always kills a buzz, especially when the working girls start yelling out that they will, “Break yo dick off for 50 dollars.” Plus, even though you can drink on the streets, there was nowhere to buy anything. After a good 35 minutes, I suggested we pull the ripcord and just get an Uber back to Mardi Gras. At least they had a late night happy hour and maybe we could run into Owen in the lobby and see if he scored any harder party favors.

Our backs were hurting, our flip-flops were not exactly the most ideal concert choices and I wasn’t about to go for an $18 Miller light at a large casino bar. We got back to the Mardi Gras and walked into that familiar surrounding of despair and desperation, looking not unlike Nicolas Cage’s motel during his downfall in the film Leaving Las Vegas. Grizzled old drunken madmen hunched over slot machines. Middle-aged women at the bar nursed Miller Lites in orthotic shoes. An overweight family was eating slices of pizza out of a shopping bag… It made me very happy we had not found any psychedelics because I would have tripped out. Drinks hit the bar and Savage ordered a breakfast burrito to soak up the booze.

Read Zach’s New Story: Fear and Corporate Loathing at a Dead and Co. Show in Las Vegas (8)

And then it hit me. Savage had said he made out with Mountain Girl? The timing seemed off. By my calculations, she would have been a mother of two living in Oregon by the time he graduated high school. He defended a bar during the LA Riots? Biker clubs don’t let dudes in that easily. And what about him claiming he was there when the Wall of Sound was completed? He would have been in third grade. Suddenly I was thinking to myself, who actually was this Savage guy? This guy holding court in the bar of a fleabag Vegas hotel gulping down a bucket of well whiskey the size of a small bird bath? Did our kids even go to the same school? Suddenly, the 275 mile drive through 110 degree heat the next day seemed daunting… and to top of all that, the acid pizza was wearing off.

“I’m gonna go to bed,” I announced, now feeling somewhat paranoid about sleeping in a room with this guy.

“Nah, man! We’re in Vegas! Did I ever tell you about the time I partied here in the 90’s with the Chelsea Football Club?”

I had heard enough stories for one night. I was cooked. I looked at my phone and had a few Friday kid carpools to drive and an early dinner with a potential job offer. Real life awaited me back in L.A. I shut the lights off by 1:30 a.m. a far cry from my average 6 a.m. bedtime back in the 1990’s. Savage never made it back to the room. The next I saw him was behind the wheel in the morning, his roulette eyes signifying a night well wasted.

This is not the first story I have written about seeing the Grateful Dead or Phish as an older man, but this one felt different. Maybe it wasn’t my favorite show, but this was one of my favorite experiences.

On our way out of town, we passed through the Pioneer Saloon again and stopped in for one final beer before the road. This was about as outlaw as this trip would get… A beer at 11 AM in a bar where men had been shot over $10 card games. I started writing down some ideas and eventually realized that these experiences are always worth it – especially for the art that comes from it. Hell, I even began writing a song about Clark Gable and Carole Lombard on the way home.

If this was my one and only trip to the Sphere, I am glad that I got to see the remnants of the Grateful Dead. I will probably go back if Pink Floyd or Oasis reunited with original members or something ridiculous like that, but I’m not gonna count on it. Even if the Dead and Co. come back for another residency next year, I will most likely go, making sure that I am a little better prepared.

The only thing I can say for sure, is that next time, I won’t be staring at John Mayer’s crotch…

Check out Zach’s New Album “Country Linen” streaming everywhere now!

https://open.spotify.com/embed/album/39PZMOuSqUTiqLSnmO2FY5?utm_source=generator

Read Zach’s New Story: Fear and Corporate Loathing at a Dead and Co. Show in Las Vegas (9)

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Read Zach’s New Story: Fear and Corporate Loathing at a Dead and Co. Show in Las Vegas (10)

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Read Zach’s New Story: Fear and Corporate Loathing at a Dead and Co. Show in Las Vegas (2024)

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