Bill Walton: We Are Here, We Were There, We Are Everywhere

July 5, 2015

Photo by Jay Blakesberg

Here is Bill Walton’s essay from the Saturday Fare Thee Well program created by Relix and…

Welcome to Chicago, and thank you for coming to this intergalactic celebration of peace, freedom, love, independence and the first 50 years of the Grateful Dead.

It is most appropriate that we are here in Chicago now, a city and community that epitomizes everything that the Grateful Dead has come to be over this half-century.

Chicago is our history, our evolution, our core. So much has transpired—right here, within sight and reach. And now it serves as our launching pad to what is next.

It is with incredible anticipation and hope that I land gently on this burning shore at Grant Park, on the edge of The Lake, fully aware to what this sacred ground has meant to all who have been in this game for so long.

I am coming to gather strength and to be healed. You will have your own reasons.

I have been coming for 48 of these 50 years, and while I’m always excited to come on tour and to the show, I can’t remember ever being this ready, or more in need.

From the very beginning, the Grateful Dead have always made me proud, confident and bold. They give purpose and meaning to my life. And they give me a reason to believe in the essential beauty, humanity, courtesy and goodness in and of this world.

The Grateful Dead have provided me with a living, thriving, breathing, surging culture of curiosity, exploration and experimentation that has led to the spirit of generosity that I know will engulf all of us while we’re here, and beyond.

I am privileged, honored and humbled to have gone to the shows last weekend at Levi’s in the Bay Area—no tuxedos there. It was all better than perfect. From the jammed airports and planes—nobody was willing to give up their seat in the oversold situation—to the hotels, restaurants and clubs swarming with Deadheads. From the standing room only light rail Valley Transit System to people riding their bikes and walking in. I’m sure spaceships were involved too. From the awesome crowd—80,000 each day—to the flags waving high and wide. On one end, California…The United States…Our Rainbow Flag of inclusiveness…On the other, The Grateful Dead.

I am grateful that Candace came out of retirement to do the lights. That Derek continues to do the sound like no other—where every instrument and note is as clear as the desert night sky. That John and Helen Meyer and their team at Meyer Sound are still there at every show dazzling us with their quality, clarity, innovation and professionalism. That the long time crew that still includes Robbie Taylor, Mike Fisher, AJ, Charucki, Matt Busch and Howard Cohen always make sure that there are never any problems. And that the master match-and-deal-maker, Peter Shapiro is able to pull everything seamlessly together.

As with every Grateful Dead show ever, at Levi’s there were incalculable numbers of remarkable happenings. From the artistic displays of our culture and new merchandise to the phenomenal outpouring of love to the natural manifestation of the glory of our Golden State—it was the totality of everything Grateful Dead. The rainbow smiling down, the multi-colored sunset, the ascending moon while we waited in the dark, and the sprinkle of raindrops—which sure seemed like tears of joy, happiness and pride from the heavens above.

The guys who actually play in the band even had something to say. Phil—awed and overwhelmed by the fantastic display of love and support—effusive in his appreciation, gratitude and respect. Bob—asking for, and getting, a powerful moment of silence for those who are no longer here, and could not make it. Bill—pointing out for all to see how cosmically synergistic this magnificent harmonic convergence was turning out. And then Mickey—with a final call to action– to take this love and do something good with it—with an ultimate admonition to be kind along the way.

The next day brought the mass exodus—the exact reversal of our confluence. Were we ever there at all? But we were better now, changed, emboldened and healed—once again. Hotels, roads, airports and planes—all full of happy, satiated and fulfilled souls.

When our jam-packed, oversold Southwest Airlines jet touched down in our hometown of San Diego, the flight crew blasted “Truckin” over the PA during the entire deplaning process. Reminding us of our good fortune, and that it was time to get going again.

Which brings us all back home, one more time. And as we get ready for blastoff, after immersing ourselves in all that will be going on here, and there will be a lot, please—do it all. Turn on your light. Let it shine. It’s the 4th of July weekend. We’re in Chicago. And we’re with the Grateful Dead.

Please take a reflective moment to thank all the people who keep the dream alive. With particular homage paid to Sirius XM Satellite Radio. But never forget that this is really all about you and this most special tribe. We are all in this together. And nobody makes it here, or leaves, alone.

Remember and learn from the past. Celebrate today. Anticipate the future.

How lucky we are. We get some more—of everything.

Enjoy the ride. Roll on forever.

And let’s make sure that the next 50 years are even better.