The rain suddenly stops and the sun peaks through just as the band takes the stage. After what seems like a 10-minute tune-up they turn to the audience and slip into Martha and the Vandalia’s “Dancing in the Streets”, and with the lyric “Summers here and the time is right” everything is in motion. The music is much louder and clearer than I’d expected and the crowd is moving feverishly. Nothing like I’d imagined. Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir (the only one’s I know) and the rest of the band look right at home down there in their woodsy surroundings.
Next I look up twenty feet to my left and notice this striking beauty dancing fluidly on one of the bridges without anyone near her. She’s in an unforgettably sexy 60’s style sundress and the sun’s rays are shining through her long blond hair in such a way that it somehow transports me to a peaceful place I’d only daydreamed existed. Like discovering a world time forgot. Seconds later the hard rain starts up again. I can tell we’re beginning to feel the hits by the way my friends and I are cracking up with laughter for little or no reason. Beamen is wearing an out of place looking red, white and blue floppy beach hat that’s keeping his head dry and we can easily see that he’s grown attached to it by the way he keeps tugging on it with both hands. Kevin Cunningham picks up on his love for this groovy-less lid-shelter and says something like, “That hat looks ridicules” and exuberantly liberates it off KB’s skull and wings it high and far in the air. Locating it would be like trying the find a needle in a haystack. Needless to say, KB is not happy with KC.
With the band well into Dire Wolf, Tom, Beamen and I decided to go exploring. It gets a bit blurry from here. I remember joking about the line in the song “Don’t murder me,” “I beg of you, don’t murder me”, then I would throw in a “Yeah because that would really suck” as we climb over people and tents on the way up to the rim of the lawn. Once on level ground I see more luscious grass that’s lined with grand old trees and deadheads that reach as far back as the dusky sky will allow. The three of us start walking there. We’re amazed at what we see. People are dancing madly everywhere, up in trees and even in the very, very back of the place. I think to myself, “This is nothing like that Billy Squire-Def Leppard concert I saw at the Nassau Coliseum last year.”
I have never seen so many hippies in one place. It’s as if they’d come out of the woodwork of society to dance like they were extras in the movie “Hair”. It seems really peculiar to me and not real. “These people couldn’t be serious,” I keep telling myself. With darkness upon us, Tom and I find ourselves standing on a high traffic path with quaint park benches and wrought iron lamp posts. Beamen keeps hiding in the moving crowd with a hooded sweatshirt tucked over his head before jumping out at us every few minutes trying to scare us. We are having a great time, I think? After a while Kevin decides he’s going to go off on his own. Tom won’t hear of it, thinking there is safety in numbers or something. After a desperate plea that includes a lot of shirttail grabbing, Beamen vanishes into the night. Kevin would ultimately wind in the balcony where he dried off and had the best time of his young life.
Tom and I will take another path. We first walk onto one of the four bridges that arch over the lawn and attach to the balcony. I just sit there holding onto the hand railing for dear life looking down at the crowd below, not feeling like I could fly. I’m so out of it I think the band is cranking away until Tom tells me it’s just the intermission music. Darkness sets in completely for the second set opener “I Need a Miracle,” a familiar favorite from the “Shakedown Street” cassette I had in 8th grade. By the songs end we’re getting ushered off the bridge and back onto the mud. It starts pouring when the next song begins. Sick and and tired of getting soaked with Tom just drifting, I decide to take the lead and seek shelter.
We make our way towards the back of somewhere. It’s a blur. We pass a few rows of pine trees, down some hill to an oasis of Porto-Sans. That’s right an oasis of Porto Johns. They are very far out of the way and basically unused. It isn’t as bad as you might think.
With the first chords of “Sugar Magnolia” I spring up and out of the plastic box then attempt to dance under the florescent light provided. They go into the Rolling Stones, “Satisfaction” next which rocks the box. Then into “The Last Time” no wait a second, it was “The Last Time,”now its Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue”?
Following the song and final cheers of the audience, someone asks us, “Are you going to the next show in Maryland?” We answer maybe, but I knew we’d never make it right after this one. I needed time to digest what just happened. Too bad though, because Garcia would open the show with a rare “Casey Jones”, then tuck it away for the better part of a decade.
In the confusion of the crowd leaving, Tom and I just start following the flow towards the nearest exit. This will prove to be a big mistake. We wind up on a walking bridge 50 ft. over a stream that brings us into the main parking lot area by the box office. Everyone on the bridge seems to be murmuring at the same volume like a séance and it’s creeping me out. I feel way out of place. None of this looks recognizable either. We’re clueless, beside ourselves. “Where do we begin to look?” I say to Tom. There are just woods, cars and zany people everywhere. We walk down one paved path with a small downgrade into a dark forest. Tom thinks we’re going to hell and we’d never find our way back. We quickly turn around. We come across a dry blue wool blanket back near the box office and sit down on it for a long time, hopeless. Although I’m feeling super high, it’s hard to describe the feeling. Judging by the insane looking people around me I’m figuring they’re probably higher though. This is reassuring but “Who’s all driving here?” By 2:00 AM we’re cold, wet and I’m concerned because I need to be at my job in Bayonne at 7:00 AM, as the quality inspector for a major bottle manufacturer, on the Hellmann’s Mayonnaise filling line. I begin whining to Tom that I’m going to have to call my Dad on a payphone in the middle of the night to tell him I took too much LSD and can’t find the car. I really feel like I have no choice, since he’s my boss as well.
After Tom diverts my attention from calling home we start another walk around the emptied lot. Finally a break, I make out a taxicab way off in the distance. I start running towards it. Tom follows slowly, but can’t understand what I’m doing. I yell, “The car is warm and dry and can take us around, let’s go.” We catch up, jump in and tell the driver to go to some lots in the area. He says there are at least 40. I don’t care and tell him to just go. We make a right out of the lot onto a two-lane county highway. Less than a half mile up, out of the corner of my right eye I notice the top of a familiar looking tree then have a daylight flash of the same tree. It computes to be the oak we played Frisbee underneath earlier. I have the cabbie halt on a dime. We pay the shocked driver well for the brief trip, tell him to wait then run through thick bush, over a creek and right to our cars. Thank God it wasn’t just a desperate vision. We waive the driver on and leap for joy as if we’d just made it out of the Congo alive, after being lost for months. But wait, no one else is here. “Could they be lost too?” I exclaim. Thankfully it doesn’t take long before everyone shows, including Beamen whose wearing that floppy beach hat. Everyone had problems finding the cars, but made it back hours before we did. We briefly tell our war stories then get on the road.
During the drive home we catch up to the trucks that are carrying the band’s equipment going southbound on the New York State Thruway. On the backdoor of one of the trailers is this wild image of space that blows us away. We pass by the driver’s side door and see what looks like a “Fucker Brothers Trucking Company” logo painted on it. Wow I think, “These guys are serious.” “This is no joke.”“The 60’s spirit is still alive and well, with The Grateful Dead firmly at the wheel.” Suddenly all those new wave bands like Men at Work, Duran Duran and Flock of Seagulls seem fly by night to me, with no real depth.
I’m dropped off with just enough time to put my head underneath the downstairs bathroom sink, brush my teeth, say hi to Dad and jump in my car to get to the Hellmann’s line by seven. It’s a rougher day than usual staring at those white jars whizzing past me and I can’t stop trying to sort out the timeline of events from the night before. It’s an historic mess in my mind that I need to untangle. At the end of the day, after talking with the guys, it’s clear that Saratoga’s impact on the six tripping kids will last our lifetimes…