I woke up the morning of the show, still recovering from the lack of sleep from the journey to, through, and from Nawlins. So tired, but so energized. I looked over on the night stand, the one from my childhood at my parents house, and saw those two free Panic tickets, and still couldn’t believe that I actually pulled that off. I’d been to enough Dead shows to understand the concept of a Miracle Ticket, and knew it was often a karmic gesture of kindness that, by design, intended to change the trajectory of someone’s life.
This was different. It was a kind gesture on the part of the radio station that had made me into a Radio Child to about 2500 people in a small theater that had not only been where I had seen the band several times as they were working their way across the USA, but also where I’d argue some of my favorite and most formative shows had occurred.
But to have been able to snag them in a challenging giveaway when I didn’t even know about the show the morning they were given away – we are talking a whole other level of miracle. The odds against have so many zeros it cannot feel anything less than perfect luck or destiny. It had to be.
I drove to the show from my parents house, which was only 15 minutes away. Enough time for me to catch the sweet spot of my favorite Dead show, 5/8/77 Cornell University, on the 20th anniversary of that show, no less. I found it amazing how the sound of that show stood up so well to the test of time.
As I walked from my parking spot on Belmont, I thought about the Sunday before, seeing Panic with Deb and Darren at Jazz Fest. I remembered how we danced so hard, and had so much fun. But, it was just to damned short. I wished I could have seen 3 shows in a row with her there. So many songs we wanted to hear, and only an afternoon slot to get in 10 songs. I wanted more, more, more.
But, most of all, I just wish she was there with me to see this one. I felt it was going to be so special. I heaved a heavy sigh thinking about why we were still so far apart. And, whether I had blowm my chance once and for all by not moving to Atlanta.
But I had fallen in love with Telluride, and Colorado, and the Mountains. I had never before felt so strongly about being in the right place at the right time. I just wished there was a way for her to join me, and then we could just run off and follow Panic.
Fantasy, I know. But, after the time we had, and the way this band made me feel, there was just this other voice in my head saying: “Why not?”
Little by little, the answers against where fading. I was no longer tied to my career as a Project Manager. I didn’t have obligations of any kind. The car was just paid off before I left on this trip. Anything and everything seemed possible.
Heavy thoughts to walk into a concert with, but this is how my mind works. And, I had just started to learn that sometimes when you let loose at a show, the solutions come to you if you open your heart and mind to listen to them. Maybe with all this miracle luck surrounding, there’d be a way for me to overcome what seemed impossible.
Because I had seen so many shows at the Vic, I happened to know a doorman who let me into the venue a little early, and I got into a conversation in the hallway that was extended, but I got to hear soundcheck. There was this slow song I had never heard, but it stuck in my head – Nobody’s Loss. I knew the next one, Aunt Avis, and hoped it was a sign it would be played.
The show opened with Rebirtha, which was my favorite off the new album, Bombs and Butterflies. Although they had played it for years before that, it was still “new”. It featured my favorite jam, which made me feel like I was flying when I closed my eyes. It also had a strong reference to baseball as the only thing really real.
But it was Mikey’s jams in that song that were just absolutely stunning to me. Electric. There was literally a buzz around his sound, and it just was the long sustained notes that went forever and slid into others taking you on this long journey in your mind, if you allowed. I had been following them for almost 7 years at this point, and had seen almost 20 shows. But there was something different than the two I had seen this year already – it was in my teeny theater, and I had this great spot where I could dance and see them all.
Out of the gate, I felt like this was a great omen. Like maybe this was going to be my Cornell University show that I’d be old and gray telling other people how great it was 20 years later.
Then, as Rebirtha is finishing up, I hear these notes drop, and my mouth was agape. Really, Low Spark? It was heat out of the gate, but Low Spark in the number two slot?
And, sure enough, those hints became melodies and rhythms as we seamlessly slipped into a Low Spark that I’d argue was better than the original. There’s something about a band that can cover a song better than the original, and I was quickly finding out Panic was one of these bands. They just owned this, and I started to get this feeling that ran up and down my spine that maybe this really was a show for the ages. Maybe it was a miracle in progress.
So, I’d better pay real close attention.
It felt so serious too. You could see it in the expressions of those next to you. Everyone was just jamming as hard as they could, singing at the top of their lungs, and jumping and pumping fists in the air, and everything you could imagine people in love with this music would do.
It felt so awesome and carefree, but it was a deep and meaningful song to so many. After a few years of working for and with people who in spite of the smiles they put on their faces were various shades of miserable, the line “the spirit is something no one destroys” just rang through my heart.
Whatever heaviness was brought on by Low Spark, it was immediately transformed into pure playful joy with the left-hand turn into Red Beans. If you don’t know the song, it’s pretty simple:
1. I got my red beans cookin
2. I’m cookin them for you
3. This makes me want to sing, dance, and jump for joy.
Panic is known to avoid obvious associations. Sometimes. We actually were wondering if they’d play this at Jazz Fest where it would be completely in context and appropriate. Chicago? OK, I guess, why not Chicago? Anything and everything is possible.
But all of a sudden, I felt Deb. A big sigh, again. She so needed to be here for this moment. These are the moments that, while awesome, are the ones I’d like to have memories WITH her, not to tell her stories about later. No matter how much she enjoys my stories, the ones where she’s in them are the best.
The band now had my full attention. There was a concept I had talked about with my Deadhead friends about how thousands of people could go to a show, all with completely different histories and lives, and how so many people could simultaneously claim the show had personal meaning for them – as though the members of the band got together before the show and said “You know, tonight this show is going to be a setlist for exactly what Mary Jane needs to hear tonight.”
But, over and over again, you hear people seasoned in this form of divining who say that they had shows that literally changed their lives because of what the band played, and it’s personal relevance to them.
I think what’s odd about my experience is that I felt like I knew it as it was happening. Not just something I realized years later after examination. I was at a literal and figurative crossroads, and I felt as if I had asked the universe: “What the fuck am I supposed to do?”
Trust me, the universe has a way of telling you exactly what the fuck you should do. And, some of us who hadn’t done well in our formative years of seeing the signs sometimes had to be clubbed by the universe to get even the most simple message.
The next song was Junior, which was an awesome rocking, blues jam song that I had loved. But, this time, it was different. The line “Love you, child” kept putting visions of Deb in my head. The repetitiveness of the line reminding me over and over that I was still in love with her – 10 years later, living 2000 miles apart heading in different directions. But, to have just held her in my arms a few days before, and hearing “hold you tighter” – I just couldn’t stop thinking about her. “I love you more and more and more”.
Then, Hope in a Hopeless World follows, and I start to think about my situation. Judged from the outside, and among those of my college friends on corporate paths, taking time off to go ski in Colorado and working in a bakery was career suicide. Oh, and making hemp jewelry on the side and picking my own sage in the desert to make smudge sticks. Got me across the country to where I was dancing. A future with Deb, after all we had been through, did seem hopeless. And, I was starting to think that maybe I’d just be one of those people nobody ever really wants to marry. I was starting to be OK with whatever happened either way. It was my hope, in a life ahead that was appearing hopeless.
Then, out walks this guy with a violin on stage, and everyone around me starts saying “Blackmon”. Wow, it was David Blackmon, who was on a few of the albums. I was now going from speculative to certain, this was a show for the ages. Eyes wide open, and my legs were twitching in anticipation.
Pieces. Pickin up the Pieces. I loved this song, and it immediately made my eyes well up. This is where I was in life. Pickin up the pieces of the past 10 years. So many thoughts ran through my head, but it felt like I was cleaning up my head, and putting away the chaos. I started to think, as the song flowed from verse to verse, about skiing down my favorite run on a bluebird powder day. I had found paradise, and found another way to live. I was letting go of things that no longer served a purpose in my life. So many things.
I’d learn a few years later the song is thought by many to be about the edge of suicide. Yet, to me, it’s a song of hope. Pure hope, which made it’s placement after Hope in a Hopeless World so perfect. And, Blackmon’s fiddle was simply sublime. It’s been my favorite version ever since.
The Universe’s clubbing well in progress, the next song opens with the line “Well tell me who do you belong to?” I was like, “Ser
And I heard for the first time clearly:
“Honey your on your own this time, the doctor said to the dying man,
Baby that’s just the way you make me feel every time I let go of your hand”
And, I realized it was literally true. I knew the feeling that went into those lyrics. And, my love of this band deepened 10 x over in an instant.
And, who, by the way, did I belong to? I knew the answer, and maybe was finally able to stop being afraid to admit it. I belonged to Deb. Well, that doesn’t sound right. With Deb. We belonged together.
But, how the heck was I to bridge the divide between us. She left Winter forever, and I fell in love with a mountain town 2000 miles away that has Winter 9 months a year. If you are lucky.
So, I danced harder. And harder. Just give me the answer!
The music then becomes this big long jam, with Blackmon intertwining with Mikey’s guitar. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. So much emotion, but yet, no words, no lyrics, at all. My thoughts drifted, but all in the direction of Deb. I was once again just wishing she was standing there with me to see this amazing music. It felt like something so incredible and special to see this violinist add these other textures and elements, but to see him weave a screaming lead with Mikey who could play notes that lasted almost literally forever – it was like watching two birds dueling in the sky.
I started to think. Maybe this was the time to just ask Deb to marry me. Maybe this was the point in life, when it seemed the most impossible idea, when it was actually the most perfect time to ask. Maybe everything led to this moment, and the ability to see these coincidences and connections as having meaning – maybe this was the skill set I needed to see that it truly was now or never.
I knew I loved her. I knew why we parted, and why we gravitated back. Over and over. I had no idea what she would do for work. Hell, I didn’t know what I’d be doing next season. But waiting for all these things to have perfect answers as some sort of prerequisite for sharing our lives together? That just seemed so insane to me now.
Why couldn’t we just be together first, and figure the rest out later?
Then all of a sudden, the band breaks into what I have argued is one of the most powerful rock and roll songs of all time, Chilly Water. This time, however, the music was simply overwhelming. Schools was playing the bass in such a distinct way. It was like a big guitar, not a “bass”. And it came out huge in this version.
But, it was the soaring solos with Mikey and Blackmon intertwining their screaming instruments again that lifted me out of my body. I’m almost not kidding. At setbreak, I ran into a girl I worked with in Telluride at the hotel in the afternoons and evenings. She told me that during Maggot Brain, and I stopped her. Maggot Brain? Yeah, Maggot Brain – Pfunk! I was clueless. That beautiful no-lyrics song was Maggot Brain? Sick.
But, I said, go on. And she told me how she had left her body during that song, and so had Mikey and Schools. They met in the air in the middle of the room. And Mikey and Schools said to her “You’re too high. You need to go back down into your body”. And she was like “Yeah, OK, I guess you’re right”.
But, I knew what she meant. I mean, I just felt like I could jump out of my body at some moments. The music was simply beyond words, and I felt like I could dance jumping 12 feet in the air without effort. I was drenched in sweat, unaware of the irony. But, it felt like my dreams when I was flying.
So, for the rest of the setbreak, I kept getting into discussions about dreams, lucid dreams, and flying.
After setbreak, Panic jumped right into Pigeons. Which is a song that talks about waking up in your dreams and flying. I was no longer surprised. Apparently, there was this flow, and I was kayaking down the rapids at the moment. By the end of the song, I felt like I had just run a 4-minute mile, as sweat poured from my body. It felt so good, and I was ready for more.
A good band realizes that not everyone is in marathon shape, so they will throw a bone out there with a slower song to catch your breath. But, Jack is one of those that you can go at many speeds to. My thoughts once again drifted to Deb, and how she was the Queen I had my one good eye on. I actually have one good eye, and one that is 20/1000.
I wondered if, maybe one day, Deb and I would go to a Panic Halloween together and dress up as a Jack and the Queen. Such a beautiful song, and I knew Deb would have loved to see it in this beautiful theater. A theater we had seen so many other shows together.
Then the band starts picking up the tempo, and it’s a song I don’t know. So, now I’ve got my hands cupped around my ears to make sure I pick up the lyrics. Pretty simple.
Let’s see. There was tie your shoes. Love your girl. Drive your car. Hmmm, that sounded like zen advice that maybe I should pay attention to. And, another curious message.
But, then the song slipped into another I didn’t recognize. Something about wrinkles in his suit, on his face. Oh, a sleepy monkey. Yeah, that would be me. I listened further, and fell in love with this playful song.
But then there was this, and I heard it loud and clear:
“Lately, it seems,
I’ve been having these dreams
Of laughin’ in African air.
It’ could be a deja vu,
Cognition coming true,
I’m living my life more aware.”
I was like, this is getting ridiculous. Do these guys know exactly what I need to hear right now. Why is this show so absolutely perfectly pointed right at my life?
Back into Tie Your Shoes, and at this point, I’m just screaming about tying my shoes, loving my girl, and driving my car. Better love that girl before someone else decides they are going to love my girl.
And, I had this sudden thought. I had to ask her to marry me. Soon. I could feel it slipping away.
Once again, the music slowed, and there was this piano interlude and an air of anticipation. I could hear people around me guessing what the next song was. Then the yelps, as one by one, people got it. I had, of course, never heard this song before.
And, Mikey was singing it. I had a clear view. “Almost 23, took a trip to the sea . . . “
The rhymes and slow lyrics seemed to be building, and then it opened into, once again, this most beautiful jam with Blackmon intertwining their screaming instruments. I’d describe it to a fan as a Dentist drilling through your ear into your brain, but that might scare off those who don’t understand this is pleasurable.
“With you by my side, I might get back alive, from my next Vacation”.
All my “vacations” of late had become adventures in the truest sense of the word, complete with flirtations with deadly situations. Once again, ironically perfectly fit to hit me straight over the head.
I needed Deb to be by my side. Vacations or otherwise. It was the resolution to the past 10 years.
But how? I literally had no money, was sleeping on the floor of a bedroom in a wood-heated house between two dogs in my sleeping bag (on a futon, so not exactly roughing it) in a tiny town in Western Colorado for $165 per month working bakery in the morning and a hotel in the evening. So I could ski a couple hours in the middle of the day.
Deb had a career in Atlanta, and was loving it there. And, plus, she was seeing plenty of Panic in the heart of the South. She had all these friends who loved Panic. And, she was never cold like Chicago. How could I ask her to leave?
I just was in love with Telluride and Colorado, and I could not imagine leaving yet. I had so many dreams I had dreamt that hadn’t yet come true there.
And, what they hell would I do for a ring? I had NO money. I can’t afford a diamond. How the heck am I supposed to propose without a diamond. This was just impossible.
All through Drums, the back and forth in my head.
Then, I hear Blackmon tuning back up with the band as we exit drums, and I recognize the opening part of Porch called The Take Out. I’m like, cool, Porch!
But, then, instead of Porch, JoJo starts playing another jumpy tune. I’m like, it’s similar to Red Beans, but what is this. As I’m jumping around, I can’t believe my ears:
“I’m just an old chunk of coal, I’m gonna be a diamond some day”.
Hope, for a hopeless guy who apparently can think of a diamonds and the band will suddenly start playing songs about me becoming a diamond some day, old chunk of coal that I am.
I surrendered at that moment. To the universe. To the band. And, to the fact that I had to, must absolutely, find a way to ask Deb to marry me. Where I was, where she was, at this moment, was completely unimportant. I knew it to be a truth, and I had no time to spare.
I got no coat, and got no money, and pair of sneakers to last through May. Having a good time. Living the moontime.
And, with that, I was committed. I bound myself to belief that I had no other choice than to find a way to truly live this Moon Time. With Deb, wherever that road may lead.
So what did they play for the encore?
She Caught The Katy.
“I love that baby, she’s so fine.
Wish she’d come to see me sometime.
She don’t believe I love her, look at the shape I’m in.
She don’t want to see me, look at the hole I’m in.
She caught the Katy, she left me on a mule to ride.
My baby caught the Katy, left me on a mule to ride.
She caught the train, she bought a ticket and ride,
And I rode off along beside.
I still love that hard-headed woman of mine.
I still love that hard-headed woman of mine.
I still love that hard-headed woman of mine.”
JB sent us off with a “That was a barrel of fun right there! Thank you very much!”
I walked out of the show, drenched in sweat, with a smile a mile wide. My head was spinning, and I realized I was not the person who walked in. I had been to a show that changed my life, and I would never forget. I’d tell the story 20 years later, and hoped it would be from our home in Colorado.
The next Sunday was Mother’s Day, and I woke up that morning early and talked to my Mom about marrying Deb. I knew she always loved her, from the earliest days we had started dating. They got along so well.
When I told her that I had made up my mind, but I had no money for a ring, she got up from her chair and went upstairs without a word. She came back down to the kitchen table with a ring box and handed it to me.
“This was your grandmother’s engagement ring, given by your Grandpa Hanna to her”.
Mother’s Day was always special, but this one was the one I’d remember the most.
Now, all I had to do was take the biggest leap of my life and ask a woman I wasn’t dating to marry me while we lived 2000 miles apart. And, for bonus points, to quit her job and live in a mountain town after she had forever disavowed seeing another winter.
Then I thought of the leap my parents took when they got engaged. It put it all in perspective.
It’s the day I realized there are miracles, and there is always hope when there is love.
I was ready.