RatDog, The President, And The Party

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There’s an old bumper sticker that says, “Who are the Grateful Dead and why do they keep following me?”  Someone should stick one on the presidential motorcade, because it seems that Barack Obama and Bob Weir are constantly under the same roof.

Bob has visited the White House twice this year, played the inauguration, and — on Tuesday — he played a RatDog show literally on top of the President.

This time, it was pure coincidence.  Bobby and RatDog were playing the second of two shows at New York’s Grand Ballroom, a gorgeous 1,200 person venue that sits seven floors above the ground and right on top of the better know Hammerstein Ballroom.  It so happened that the Democratic National Committee rented out the Hammerstein on the same night for a fundraiser at which the Prez gave another impassioned speech about health care reform.

Imagine the look on the face of each head when they showed up and saw literally the most thorough concert security ever deployed at a RatDog show.   Snipers on the roof, metal detectors at the doors and the actual secret service making everyone empty their pockets on the way in.  I heard that a few fans were passing around a joint on the ticket holders’ line and an NYPD officer–probably showing off for the higher authorities–slapped cuffs on one poor guy and sent him to central booking.

This night also happened to be when HeadCount was hosting a private pre-show party for some of our friends and supporters.  We do these from time to time and it has become one of the more enjoyable aspects of the otherwise not-so-fun task called “fundraising”.  We’ve met a great group of people over the years who enjoy the Dead, like to get styled out, believe in what we’re going and have the means to help us keep doing it.

So we hosted a group of 60 of these new friends in a back room before the show, serving up an open bar, autographed photos of Bob and a nice dose of socializing with like-minded people.  A good time was had by all, but probably no one had a night quite like Barclay Shaw, a visual artist from Cape Cod, MA.  He drove down with a vintage Guild Starfire III, the same make and model that Jerry Garcia played during the early years of the Grateful Dead.  Barclay came with the intention of having Bob sign the guitar, which Bob did.  But Bob did more than sign it–he took one look at it and decided to play it, on stage, that night.  Sure enough, during “Walkin’ Blues” in the first set, Weir strapped on the old axe and took it for a ride.  Backstage after the show, he told Barclay that he also briefly played a Guild Starfire III, more than 40 years ago, at the Dead’s first-ever New York City shows.  The neck on his Gibson was broken in half by airline baggage handlers on the way to the East Coast, and he used one of Jerry’s spares.

October 20th, 2009 will go down as another memorable night for HeadCount (it was also the 25th anniversary of my Bar Mitzvah, which really has no relevance to this story).  We wish to thank everyone–Bob, his management, the folks at the Grand Ballroom and Bowery Presents, and most of all our guests and benefactors.  The Democratic Party raised tons of cash downstairs.  But we had the best party in the house.

To hear Bob Weir & RatDog play “Walkin’ Blues” on the Guild Starfire III, visit Archives.org.

Photo credit: Allison Murphy

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