Sunday, January 6, 2013

Alive and well in Haight Ashbury

My brother Jan turned 60 in November 2012 and as a birthday present to himself he decided he wanted to see the remnants of the Grateful Dead, called Furthur, play 3 nights including New Years Eve at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco.  Well of course I had to go too!

I hadn't seen the Dead since 1981 and Furthur since 1997 but Jan had a few times since Jerry Garcia's death in 1995 and remained as keen a Deadhead as ever.  He found a B&B in Haight Ashbury that he said sounded 'weird' so of course I booked there as well.  It is called the Red Victoria and each room has a specific artistic theme to it.  I chose the Posters Room.  Do check the place out on their website as it was great fun.

The Red Victoria, 1665 Haight Street

The flight connections from Bermuda were just amazing -- 45 minutes between each leg via Miami and Dallas, Fort Worth, a huge airport incidentally about the size of Bermuda.  I was glad I just had a single carry on bag as any checked luggage wouldn't have had a chance of arriving with me.

It has been more than 10 years since I last visited San Francisco and there's been a lot of changes.  I don't think Silicon Valley was around at that time, but maybe I'm wrong about that.  However it only took 30 minutes to reach the hotel, check in and find that when the website said "washing facilities" for each room, it actually meant a wash basin and that the loo and shower/bath facilities would be all shared.  The hotel was 1904 vintage after all and while it had been upgraded since, there were limits.  As it turned out, everything worked out fine because it attracted pretty laid back clientele who were more than happy to 'go with the flow'.

The Poster Room plus 'facilities'.  Yes, that's me in the mirror.  Oops!!
One of the many posters.

The plan was for me to stay 3 nights and on the final night, New Years Eve/Day, head straight to the airport after the final show as Furthur would likely play until 2 or 3 am.  Jan arrived a day before me and was staying a couple of days after I left so it was to be a focused trip, as it were.

One of the other rooms!!

First stop though was a pilgrimage to Jerry Garcia's house at 710 Ashbury.  These days it is a beautiful and plaque free residential home.  And I don't blame the owners at all for gating the front steps to prevent the hordes of pilgrims like me having their photograph taken on Jerry's steps!

710 Ashbury -- Jerry's house.

Downtown San Francisco is quite a decent walking city.  We grabbed maps and headed for Chinatown and a nearby bar frequented by Jack Kerouac and other artsy people in the 1950's and 1960's called Vesuvio.  Jan had never eaten dim sum so it was something new for him to chow down on lots of little plates of things following which a cool cleansing ale or two at Vesuvio was quite an experience.  On the bar itself was an absinthe dispenser, you don't often see those so it was likely quite a serious drinking hole.

Jan in front of Vesuvio on Broadway.  Lots of pictures inside of SF bands of the 1960's including of course the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.

Viv had waxed lyrical about the joys of San Francisco crab and in particular crab in an omelette and so I had told Jan that the only other box I had to tick was Fisherman's Wharf and a crab omelette, so we took the rickety old street car (they are just wonderful) down to Pier 39 for a quick bite to eat prior to the show.  We just about had enough time, actually we hadn't.  We or rather I had forgotten just how touristy this would be and the crowds were immense so we had to rush around looking for a restaurant where the crab fix was resolved but then realised in horror that we and 100,000 others were looking at a 1930's renovated street car seating 35 to get back downtown to the show in time for a 7.30 start.

Fortunately a bus came by and for $2 each he dropped us pretty near to the auditorium and having collected the tickets for all 3 nights piled into the show.  Amazingly these 70+ year old geezers had started on time bang on 8 pm (they would be even earlier on the subsequent shows) and we missed the opening few bars to "The Golden Road" from their first album.  Great start and indeed a great show.  You can check out the set list and see photos on the website

They played until midnight just about with a short break and both of us agreed that not drinking throughout the show was a good idea, thereby avoiding the inevitable bathroom breaks.  One thing amazed me was the age of the audience.  I expected grey hairs like Jan and I but not the 20-something year olds and all ages up.  Why on earth would a 20 year old force fed on rap, hip hop and Beyonce want to watch a bunch of 70 year olds play really, really long songs?  Jan of couse said "Why wouldn't they?  The music is fantastic."  OK granted but really that's not an answer.  So I asked a 20 year old (it was his 20th birthday he told me).  Apparently it is the tribute bands that are on tour endlessly around the country and in particular the campuses that created the spark.  So when the originals decided to play, of course why wouldn't you want to see the masters at work?

One thing that bugged me is my camera.  I've carried it around with me for several years now and realise its OK for snaps and not much else.  I'd hoped for some nice shots with Jan and of the show and pretty much they are dire (sorry about that and the fact that that means I snagged some stock photos off the internet).  But there were people all around using their smartphones of all types to take photos and they looked great.  People were also recording the shows either in industrial means in the dedicated taper area or again from the smartphones and the quality looked amazing.  Given smartphone technology advances, who needs a camera any more just for snaps?

See what I mean?  Fantastic quality.

The following day was interesting.  The Red Victoria on Sundays hosts a "Peace Conversation".  The hosts grab a bunch of residents and sundry visitors to discuss peaceful issues and initiatives and included Jan and I, which came as something of a shock.  However everyone was really nice, earnest and suitably peaceful so it was a pleasant experience.  One thing made me chuckle though was a nice young couple who we ran into every day of the trip in various locations including this conversation.  The young man was a Marine aviator officer.  Part of the conversation was about what people bring to the world as their unique skill and this young man decided on his mentoring abilities for younger recruits (he was a mere 27, same as my son Indy).  Later on we ran into him and he'd forgotten his car keys (he'd actually left them at his parents' house in Oregon, one state away) and as he couldn't return to base in Florida via Oregon again, his parents made the sacrifice of driving umpteen hours down to SF to return his keys!  You never stop being a child to your parents even if you're a US Marine officer.

We of course managed a cable car experience -- why not?  And it was of course great.  I just love the way that many cities maintain their older public transport systems -- cable cars, street cars, etc.  In England we dug all that lot up years ago.  I wonder why.

And of course there was Neiman Marcus (or 'Needless Markups' as I have heard it described) with their high priced array of fancy stuff.  When Viv and I came to SF years ago we were enthralled with the biggest Christmas tree we'd ever seen.

2012 version of the Neiman Marcus tree
I took Jan to a steak house for lunch -- John's Steak House, apparently the best in SF.  Dashiel Hammett, the author, used to eat there frequently as did Sam Spade his detective in the Maltese Falcon book and movie.  It was great too and took us nicely up to showtime.

The second night's show surprised us even more as they started even earlier so we again missed the start of the show.  I bought the CD of the show by waiting half an hour after the show and checked -- we in fact didn't miss more than a few minutes.  What a great show though -- again!  These guys are amazing, playing for another 4+ hours with only a short break in the middle.  Highlight for me was the "Dark Star --> St Stephen --> The Eleven" combo.

We met Jan's friends on New Year's Eve at a bar in another part of town -- a guy called John being the organiser whose job it is to sell Grateful Dead merchandise.  We hung out with him after and got a ride to the show with some other friends of his that were taking an array of food and drink to the show as they'd organised upstairs seating -- which would be a change for us as we'd been downstairs in the auditorium thus far.

Did I say "organised"?  What was I thinking?  Chaos, more like.  The entire Dead follower fraternity don't take life too seriously and organisation and planning is never on any to do list.  They also have a traveling camp outside where you can buy Dead stuff (and whatever else you can imagine too) called 'Shakedown Street' -- there's a song about it too.  Mind you it all worked out and we took our balcony seats for the final hurrah.

Balloons at midnight!

And of course it was a great show -- on at 7.30 pm, finally off stage around 1.30 am!!  Just the 6 hours less brief breaks between sets.  The highlight for me was the "Dear Mr Fantasy --> The Wheel".

Straight to the airport afterwards and collapse on the plane!!  Thanks SF, I had a great time.

No comments:

Post a Comment