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Last lonely eagle.

Expanded, somewhat, from a pair of tweets.

The takings haven’t been quite so rich in Grateful Deadland since the death of Jerry Garcia.

That goes not just for the surviving members of the Dead, but for all the supporting musicians in the band’s orbit. Last fall, you might remember, I saw longtime Dead lyricist Robert Hunter half-fill a small orchestra hall in Allentown.

Or, take the New Riders of the Purple Sage, the country-rock band spun out of the Dead circa 1970, which included Garcia and Dead drummer Mickey Hart as (long-departed) founding members.

Once upon a time, New Year’s Eve was a big night for the band. The New Riders opened no fewer than five of the Dead’s legendary San Francisco New Year’s shows in the 1970s — including the mammoth production that closed Winterland on NYE 1978.

I learned earlier tonight that the current incarnation of the New Riders spent New Year’s Eve 2013 playing a Holiday Inn here in the suburbs of Allentown.

(The New Year was apparently rung in with a medley of “Auld Lang Syne” and “Honky Tonk Women.” You don’t hear that every day.)

The bill also featured opening bands and guest artists — including keyboardist Melvin Seals, formerly of the Jerry Garcia Band and another refugee from the Dead’s umbrella. So those Deadheads who are partial to the New Riders (I’m not) got a full night of music, and probably had themselves a good time.

I’ve said before that acts that continue touring after the spotlight stops shining shouldn’t be pitied or ridiculed. They’re musicians. Touring is what they know, and what they do.

They’d probably rather be on stage — or offstage, meeting those fans who still keep the faith — than punching a time clock or driving a truck.

Still, it’s a long way from Winterland to the Lehigh Valley Holiday Inn and Conference Center in Breinigsville.

And New Year’s Eve, a holiday that by its nature makes you think about time passing, must be at least a little bittersweet to those who don’t mark it in quite the same style as they used to.

I wonder if David Nelson and Buddy Cage — the two current New Riders who trace their careers back to the Seventies — flashed back to the old days when New Year’s Eve meant acid and balloons and lines of people around the block.

And I wonder if they asked themselves, in the waning moments of 2013, how many more times they want to be onstage, counting an old year down to extinction.

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2 responses »

  1. I once asked Larry Hoppen of Orleans if they imagined, back in the 70s, that they’d still be playing some of those same songs 30 years later. He told me no, but said when “Still the One” became such a big hit, it gave them enough momentum to stay with it. He said that his parents played music until all their lives, to age 75 and 81, and that they’d probably do the same thing. And he did, until he passed in 2012.

    Reply
    • Yeah … if you’re 50 or 60 and you’ve played music all your life, you’re not going to chuck it in and go get your law degree.

      I doubt any ’70s band foresaw a future when they could tour forever and ever and ever. Wasn’t it assumed back in the day that bands broke up?

      Reply

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