by: Alyssa Ruffolo
As I looked out into the bright, shining city of Chicago, I saw the moving rainbow speckles of a thousand tie-dyed shirts. It was the summer of 2015. My hair was short and blonde and up in a ponytail, wrapped with a bandana. I was sporting a homemade tie-dye shirt, ripped jean shorts, and flip-flops. It was my first time in the city of Chicago, and the excitement was apparent on my tan, smiling face. I felt the sun tan my moist skin as my boyfriend and I hiked through the large city, our destination not much further at this point. As we crossed a large bridge, the Soldier Field Stadium gleamed in the distance. We began to pass groups of musicians and vendors, and the waves of tie-dyed shirts now became a sea flowing around us.
“Come on, I think Shakedown is this way,” my boyfriend said. He led the way down a winding path located just outside the stadium until we reached a large, crowded parking lot like I had never seen before. This was Shakedown Street. Crowds of diverse and interesting people flooded the gate entrance into the parking lot. As we entered, the smell of various foods being fried and grilled mixed with the hot summer air. In the line to the Porta Potties, I saw a woman wearing a long, flowing, multi-colored shirt and rainbow dreadlocks which just skimmed the ground. To my right I saw an old man with a beard past his belly button, no shirt, jean shorts, and sandals. All around me people were selling hand-made objects out of their cars (Volkswagon vans in every color of the rainbow) such as jewelry, glass pieces, artwork/paintings, clothing, food, drinks, flags, beer, and more. I could hear live guitar music being played, mixed with speakers blasting funk music, mixed with the screams of eager vendors shouting things such as, “grilled cheese two for six!”, “tie-dyes two for twenty” and “cold beer two bucks!” Up ahead, someone wearing a Jerry Garcia costume, complete with a large mascot-style head was strolling around shaking hands and posing for pictures. I stood amazed by the light-hearted, friendly energy I was surrounded by. I had never felt anything like it in my life. People were coming up and saying “Nice shirt” and “Have a good show tonight!” to complete strangers. After weaving through the crowded parking lot for what might have been an hour, we came to the bus. This was a two-story travel bus which housed a religious group who called themselves the “Peacemakers”. They were allowing visitors to walk through, so we decided to check it out. The inside of the bus smelled strongly of patchouli and there was slow, peaceful music drifting through as we looked around. The living space seemed tight in my opinion, but it was a pretty fascinating sight.
After browsing around Shakedown Street for a bit longer, we decided to head into the stadium and find our seats. We walked the winding path of vendors and tailgaters until we finally reached security and soon after, our seats. As the start of concert grew nearer, Soldier Field was flooded with thousands and thousands of tie-dyes. We later learned that the stadium reached its maximum at around 70,000 people that night. Just when I thought I had seen it all, the band came out on stage. As Bob Weir strummed the first note on his guitar, the crowd went wild. The upbeat rhythm of Box of Rain floated through the stadium, and everyone stood up to dance and sway to the mellow tune. The pure bliss of reminiscence washed over older fans’ faces as they were brought back to a different time. People swayed, twirled, jumped, cried, and sang to the sky as the band soulfully jammed to tune after tune.
As the sky grew dimmer, the multi-colored, psychedelic stage lights matched the mood in the air as they swirled and reflected onto the sea of dancers below. The immense stadium felt peaceful and safe. There was a feeling in the air that everyone was accepted here. People of all ages, colors, sizes and shapes shared a common a passion for the music as they swayed in sync under the clear night’s sky. It was pretty amazing to be in a crowd so diverse and yet so connected. As the end of the first set grew nearer, the catchy beat of “Not Fade Away” filled the stadium. As the music faded out and the band prepared for set break, the crowd began to sing in sync the lyrics, “you know our love will not fade away” followed by a rhythmic clapping that matched the notes of the song. The entire stadium sang and clapped together again and again, “you know our love will not fade away”. The sound of so many thousands of people chanting this still rings in my ears as I reflect back on it. The chorus continued for about ten minutes before finally softening into murmurs, mixed conversation, and the hustle and bustle of set break.
When I look back on that summer trip to Chicago, I feel thankful that I got to experience these things. For people who have never attended a concert like this, you may have a completely different idea of what it is like. The Grateful Dead 50th anniversary tour was a life-changing experience that caused me to develop a new appreciation for this community and this type of music. Although the band no longer plays together, the individual musicians play and various cover bands exist all over the country as well. If you have never taken an interest to this kind of music as I did not prior to this concert, you might want to give it a listen sometime.
originally posted: 2/19