Remembering The Grateful Dead’s Alpine Valley ’86 concert
Margie was Libby’s friend. When I moved to Chicago, some friends had friends for me to meet. But Libby, a best friend for two decades, said that Margie, her friend working in Chicago, was so much fun that she would rather be with her than on a date.
Having met Margie once, she asked if I wanted to see the Dead at Alpine Valley; that she’d get tickets. The timing was perfect. I’d just finished my busy network upfront sales season. The Dead were a good chance to blow off steam. The Saturday June 29, 1986 show was called for late afternoon. I rented a car. Margie met me at the Ambassador West, where ABC put me up, at about 11am. She said our tickets were at Alpine Valley’s Will Call. She directed me to the highway. The plan was going off without a hitch. But when we passed Sox Park, even I knew Wisconsin was the other way. No biggie for Margie.
When, finally, we got making hay in the right direction it was soon that this city boy never saw rural. I knew Vermont. Rural Vermont is no rural Wisconsin. This was my first experience driving through that many miles of nothingness. We were surely having a laugh because I suddenly had to slam on the breaks. Traffic was stopped. I thought that we might be close. It wasn’t so late that we’d miss the opening if the traffic moved reasonably when we got to the entrance. After a few miles of crawling on this one lane highway, I thought to be smart and drive in the oncoming lane. Good thing I didn’t. The State Police pulled tens of cars over for doing just that. It was there that two hitchhikers asked us for a ride to the show. I was wary. Margie found them affable. While pulling a well-filled plastic bag full of them from his pocket, the guy asked me if I’ve ever done mushrooms. I said, “No. They’re gross.” He put a jaw full in his mouth like chewing tobacco, but swallowed. His girlfriend ate them, too. I told Margie that “her friends” had better not start doing it in the back seat. After miles of crawling traffic, they wanted out. The car and its pace had burst their mellows.
Margie and I stayed the course until, finally, we got to Alpine Valley. It’s reputation as a better place to see the Dead was clear. The music had started. There were tons more people there just to hang out than, say, at the Garden. Margie hatched a plan, “Meet me at Will Call. I’ll get the tickets. By the time you park we’ll be cool.” I don’t remember having a hard time finding a spot, but it was far from Will Call. Once there, none of the ticket windows were open. There was no Will Call. There were no tickets for Margie. There were no tickets anyone. Yet it was packed with angry people. Others, too, got burned. Margie was fiercely upset, apologizing to me for making the trip. I took it in stride, somehow, but people mocked Margie’s outpourings. I’d never met mean spirited Deadheads before. We walked outside to catch a few songs but the sound sucked and we were steaming. While walking her to the car, we happened into a group of Fighting Irish. They had a well of Bud cans in their car trunk. I asked one if I could grab a beer for me and my friend. He said, “We don’t have any beer for you.” They had tons of Buds. I thought he was busting my ass. I grabbed two cans. He snatched them back and said, “I told you! Get your own beers!” Margie was reeling from this cock-up of a day. She shouted, “You dick!” Never had seven hours seemed like a day and a half. I told her that if we stayed and found people that offered us beer, we’d probably end up in a fight.
We hit the road for a short stint and, ultimately, pulled off the highway for fuel and a rest stop. The gas attendant pointed us to where we could get food and beers. The restaurant’s bar was against the wall on our left-hand side as we walked in. There were tables on our right. A TV was at the far end of the bar. We sat at the far end of the bar. Why? Jeopardy was on. While we were drinking and playing, an older fellow sitting a few stools further from the TV than we were, kept wondering aloud, “What izzz?” “Where izzz?” “Who izzz?” without finishing a question. When Final Jeopardy was over and Wheel of Fortune was coming on, Margie, who, with me, was finally feeling good, turned to the guy while we were walking out. Shocking me, she asked him, “What izzz… your fucking problem?”
I realized what Libby saw in Margie. But, it would have been nice had Libby told me going in that, if I go drinking with Margie, I might be run out.