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  • Writer's pictureChester B Simpson

Backstage with Jerry Garcia

"Have you ever smoked Thai weed?"

One Sunday morning I turned on my radio only to hear about a free concert in Golden Gate Park that was happening in a few hours. It was Sept. 28, 1975, and my friend Sherry and I decided to travel by bus down to this free concert. I wanted to take pictures of the show, but I knew I had no press pass.

I talked to some Dead Heads near the entrance to the stage and I was able to finagle my way backstage. With my one SLR camera and two rolls of black and white film, I was wandering around backstage. I smelled some strong marijuana coming from a grey van. Not knowing anyone and wanting to partake of some good herb, I knocked on the side door. It opened a little with a cloud of smoke exiting the van and a voice said, “Can I help you?”

I asked, "Could I have some of that smoke?", the door slid open, and the voice said, “Get in.”

I proceed to climb into the van shutting the door behind me. There in the back of the van were Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, and two Hell's Angeles. Jerry told me, "Don't take pictures of my friends the Hell's Angeles” as he handed me a skinny joint, he said was Thai weed.

I told them that had to be the skinnies joint I'd ever seen and from where I'm from, we always rolled big fat ones. He laughed and asked if I had ever smoked Thai weed before? No, but that didn’t stop me from taking a big hit. The joint circled the van a few times, so I was able to get a few more hits.

Eventually, someone knocked on the van door and told Jerry it was time to go on stage. Jerry opened the door and said let's go, inviting me to join them on stage. The Dead would always let their friends on stage behind the drums and speakers, allowing us to watch the show.

There I was four feet away from Jerry taking pictures while he tuned his guitar and drank some Courvoisier. The band started playing and I was clicking away on my camera when I started to feel funny and unbalanced. Being close to fainting, I grabbed a speaker to steady myself and started to fall off the back of the stage with the speaker. I had to scream for help, which I did. Ramrod and another stagehand grabbed me in the nick of time and saved me and the speaker. I thought, here I am backstage with Jerry and now they're going to kick my silly ass off this stage.

But they didn't. They said to watch the back of the stage and take all the pictures I wanted but to be careful. Jerry saw what had happened smiled and said that Thai weed was dipped in opium and to be careful. He never forgot and always smiled when I saw him through the years. That's how I meet Jerry Garcia.

Check out photographs from this story: Grateful Dead Gallery

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