September 6, 1980
Part 1: Come On Along Or Go Alone
At the show in Philadelphia (8/30/80), some guy in the parking lot started telling me about the last show on the east coast summer tour. It would be in Lewiston Maine in one week. "Don't miss it, man. It's gonna be great. There are rumors something special will be played." Well, yeah, that would be nice, except I was starting my freshman year at Boston University the next week, and there was no way I could get to Maine. Besides, who would I go with? Whatever happens up there, I'll have to miss it.
That was before the show. Afterwards, I thought, "If there was only a way..."
I arrived at BU on September 2nd, a Tuesday. After settling in for a few days, I was at the campus bookstore picking up some study materials, when I noticed a small ad posted to a bulletin board: "Wanted: Riders to Lewiston Dead Concert. Have Room for 2." I had completely forgotten! Could I get tickets? Were the spots still open in this guy's car? I scribbled down the phone number and ran back to my dorm to make the call. Sure enough, the guy still had room. "Got no tickets, though. Try the ticket place in Kenmore or Store 24. They probably still got 'em . We're leavin' Friday night, after class. Show's Saturday." I was in! I bought a ticket at a place in Kenmore Square (Out-of Town Tickets, I think). A miracle! I hooked up with a ride, tickets, and......no explaining to do, I was ON MY OWN!
It's Friday evening, 5pm, and I'm waiting by the curb at the student union for my ride to show up. I had packed a sleeping bag and a gym bag with some very basic essentials: tooth brush, clean t-shirt and underwear, beach towel, and a nice assortment of junk food. I wondered what these guys would be bringing. Did they have camping gear? Were they staying somewhere close by? I was sure they'd have no problem sharing. After all, they knew I was coming alone.
A car pulls up, and this guy hops out. He looked like Bob and Doug MacKenzie's other brother. "You Drew?" Yeah, sure am guys, let's go! We had barely gotten on Storrow Drive, and the driver says "All I want is gas money, $5 will do it." Sounded fair to me. Before long, we were out of Boston and heading north. Strangely, very little was said. The other passenger in the front seat said nothing. Time to break the ice. "So, you guys been to any other shows this tour? I just got back from Philly, and man, they closed the first set with the most rippin' Jack Straw, it was just..." "Whoa, buddy, we'yah not goin' to the Dead show. Nope, we live up north, and commute back home from Bahston when we can. Figahed some Deadhead like yaself would need a ride and could help us out with gas money..."
That was one long fucking ride, trapped in a car for God knows how many hours with two downeasters. Whenever they said anything, which was rare, it was usually about: a. the weather, b. hunting, or c. good hunting weather. Plus, we were barrell-assing up 95N towards the great unknown.
See, in New England, there are two types of towns. You've got your historic, quaint, charming, colonial villages with a white church in the town center, bed and breakfasts lining the streets, and scenery that makes you think Ed McMahon will be leading a wagon pulled by Clydesdales down main street while Christmas bells jangle and snow falls. Towns like Stockbridge, Stowe, and Sturbridge.
Then there is the other type of New England town: A filthy remnant of industrial prosperity. The town silhouette isn't marked by steeples, but instead by smokestacks jutting out of broken down mills. Old men hang around corner bars with flickering Narragansett signs in their grimy windows. For the most part, these aren't real nice places, and although they've surely got some nice residential sections, they are your garden-variety shitholes. Dirty towns. Towns to be avoided. Towns like Lowell, Manchester,....and Lewiston.
Upon arrival in Lewiston, I ask the driver (who is more and more reminding me of that old Johnny Carson character Floyd Turbo) what he knows about Lewiston. "Well, Ali fought somebody heyah, that's all everyone talks 'bout." That had to be in the 60's. I suppose every city is entitled to a few dull decades. After driving through a rather nice area around Bates College, the car stops near a field. "Well, I'm gonna let ya off heyah. Ayyy-yup, this is a good spot." Sure enough, it was the back of the racetrack (or fairgrounds, I never knew what it was), and crews were setting up the stage. I ask the driver about the return trip to Boston, and where I can meet them. "Ohh, didn't I tell ya? We're not goin' back for a few days...this here's a one-way deal. I'm sure you'll find a ride back." With that, he hops in the car and roars off, spinning gravel in his haste.
The good news is that I made it to Lewiston! I had a ticket, I had my sleeping bag and some meager supplies. The bad news? Well, first I needed to find a place to sleep. It was late, I was tired, and also pretty thirsty since those cheap-bastard downeasters refused to stop for anything on the way up. I also noticed that while Floyd thought he was doing me a favor, he had actually dropped me off on the wrong side of the racetrack. I could now see that there was a lot of activity around one building in the distance, way on the far side of the track. In a sea of darkness, this building took on the likeness of the manger in Bethlehem, a beacon to all wise (and clueless) men who wandered near. I began my trek towards this outpost of civilization.
It was, of course, the only open liquor store in town. What a zoo - it reminded me of the bar scene in Star Wars. I went in, grabbed some beer and something quasi-nutritious (as opposed to those 3 packs of Suzie-Qs I had for dinner on the way up...damn those bastards for not stopping!). I was quickly reminded this wasn't New Jersey where I was grandfathered under the old 18 year-old drinking age. This was Maine, and up here the New Jersey drinking age meant nothing. "Nope, gotta be 21 heyah, no beer for you." I settled for 2 glass bottles of Pepsi. As I left the store, I asked the woman behind the counter if folks who arrived for the concert were camping anywhere nearby. She pointed across the street, saying most folks were setting up over in a field.
It was at this point that I had a very important revelation. I noticed it was noisy, and there seemed to be a rather inordinate number of bikes, even for a Dead show. Outside the liquor store, legions of bikes passed by. They were also parked all over the place. Then it hit me: Grateful Dead Concert + Remote Outdoor Location + End of Summer = BIKERS!!!. I had never seen so many bikes, and now I knew why. It all fit perfectly. These guys were taking their end of summer runs to the Lewiston Dead show. Now understand, I read Hunter S, Thompson's "Hells Angels". At eighteen years old, I considered myself to be somewhat of an authority on the topic of biker gangs. I knew what happened at Altamont, dammit! From that point on, I made it a number one priority not to get chain-whipped or gang-stomped. As long as it was only the local biker gangs and not the ruthless, hard core Hells Angels or Pagans, there'd be little to worry about.
I woke up the next morning in the field across from the fairgrounds. How's this for a wake-up call?: A Harley came dangerously close to running over my head. Time to get going. Having nothing better to do, I walked over to the racetrack gate and sat in line to get in. There couldn't have been more than 20 people in front of me. The tickets said 12pm, but no one knew when the gates would actually open. One guy next to me was playing a tape of 8/30 on his boom box. I immediately began singing the praises of this show, and related to a girl how the band really jammed during the Jack Straw. "Jammed?" said her companion incredulously. "They don't JAM in Jack Straw, dude." Well, he set me straight in his best Deader Than Thou tone... This would not be the last asshole I'd encounter in Lewiston.