Coasting Along: A love-in lands in Mizner Park as Dead Heads Furthur their cause

A huge crowd turned out for the Further concert

in Mizner Park. It was the biggest event there since

the city took over last fall. 

Photo provided

 

 

By Tim Norris

 

As darkness drapes Boca Raton’s Mizner Park on this mild dusk in early April, the moon might reflect the mood best. Above a crush of fans and ticket-seekers and a line of traffic pressing past the amphitheater, it shows an upturned crescent, the smile of Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire Cat.

A whole lot of others here are smiling, too, at fellow travelers and strangers alike, and in a way rarely seen since children of the ’60s counterculture slid flowers into the barrels of National Guard guns.

The cat may have disappeared; the smile stays. Keep on truckin’.

Two masters of a legendary band and their recruits are playing here, and they have brought with them a living signature of a generation: the Dead Heads.

This is the biggest event in the Mizner Park Amphitheater since city government took over its management last October, and the scene is, in Boca police officer Shawn Lyman’s words, “different for Boca, really different.” Just then, a young man with dragon tattoos and a handkerchief headband walks past, selling bongs made of coconuts and bamboo. No scent of dope, or even of cigarettes, follows him, though a cigar sends a pungent signal. No signs banning open containers show, either, though the city has outlawed them.

No hassles, man.

The band Furthur, formed in 2009 and named for the polychrome bus of writer Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, is a vigorous vestige of the Grateful Dead, with Dead members Bob Weir and Phil Lesh at its core. Their cohort includes Jeff Chimenti, Joe Russo, Sunshine Decker and Jeff Pehrson.

This concert is the last of a four-stop southern tour, down from Hampton, Va. Furthur plans to cross the country this summer, bringing the band to St. Augustine in July. 

Across lawns straight east of the Mizner Park Amphitheater, where Furthur is getting ready to play, a portable love-in-and-let-me-get-in has broken out.

The scene swirls with out-springing hair, curling locks of henna and Rasta, and with flowered cotton maxi-skirts, bare chests and feet, mix-and-max many-looks, and with tie-dye to, well, dye for. Among a crowded row of vendor stands, nobody clutches at lapels or launches into a sales pitch or tries to look needy or wanty, and a horde of lookers and buyers slides easily through.  

‘Long strange trip’

On what once was called the “long strange trip,” this choice of stop might rank among the strangest. Boca Raton? Home of the country club showcase, of spammers and organized crimers, of the upscale strip mall? 

Tonight, the amphitheater and its area are the draw.

A hirsute middle-aged man is busking pale ale. A rug-for-sale reads: Grateful Dead, 36,086 songs, 2,317 concerts, 298 cities, 30 years, 11 members, one band. One stand offers Jerry Rolls, vegetarian egg rolls. 

A man in cut-offs strolls nearby, wagging $5 glow candles. “Get ’em while they’re hot!” he calls.

A young woman he passes shows off “Feathers For Ya Hair,” arrayed on a netted lyre, and they trade the eye-to-eye, gentle-smile greeting common to vendors. 

She also displays a popular gesture: an index finger lifted in the air. Need one ticket! 

The event has sold out, leaving many fans calling, “Extra tickets? Got extra tickets? I need tickets!” One man cries, “Does anybody have the miracle ticket?”   

That shared mantra, though, carries little stress. Most here seem to understand that the band’s live music will reach everybody nearby, ticket or not. Even a large company of dogs seems peaceful. “You wanna say ‘hi’?” a bearded guy in dreadlocks asks his St. Bernard, which happily noses a nervous terrier.

Among the large crowd, the overwhelming presence might be called I’m-straight-and-lovin’-it: plenty of men with short hair, much of it graying and going, and women in makeup and designer jeans. Their most renegade act in the last 20 years might have been parking that night in a neighborhood to the east along a lot marked “for sale,” to save the fee charged by downtown garages.

For anyone who came of age in the late ’60s and early ’70s and even into ’80s and ’90s, when the Grateful Dead and central figure Jerry Garcia still roamed the land, the event might seem a celebration, a museum piece, a carnival of good feeling, of mellow vibes, of memory. 

This was the jam band, receptacle of styles, avatar of convivial, in-the-moment innovation.

Furthur is, well, furthering that approach and energy. It can inform a lifetime. Phil Lesh, who has come through a liver transplant and prostate cancer, is 71. He looks, and plays, younger.

For the event’s planners and the Boca Raton Police Department and some residents, at least, the appearance is a test of authority and decency and order. Some locals are worried, officers say. “Boca hasn’t seen anything like this in a while,” Lyman says. 

Dead Heads have, for years. One long-time fan from Chicago recalls Grateful Dead concerts at Alpine Valley north of Lake Geneva, Wis., and the worry of residents there over the “hippie invasion.” He remembers fragrant clouds of marijuana smoke and fields of candles lifted by a forest of hands. He remembers a few angry naysayers and, even more, a general and overwhelming good feeling. He remembers, too, the profit made by locals selling food and renting their yards and fields for parking. Here, a sign at the very edge of the vending lawn reads: Preferred Parking $20.

Getting along

Can’t we all just get along?

All involved in Boca appear to pass this test with flying colors, and the colors flying most often are polychromatic swirls of tie-dye, earth tones of cotton and burlap, and the dark blue of police uniforms.

Alongside and amid the swarm, their black-and-white vehicles part of the scenery, the officers move easily, answering, directing, guiding. Containers all around are wide open, bottles of beer, ale, soda and spring water, bobbing amid ice in coolers, offered by single sellers and held in a multitude of hands, caps off, lifted to mouths. 

On the grassy median, behind see-through barriers, clusters of fans lean back into a line of chairs and chaises, waiting as if for a display of fireworks. On the grass nearest the amphitheater, a man sells tour T-shirts, tastefully tie-dyed, from stacks on his shoulders. 

‘So helpful’

“Those people with [shirts saying] Support Staff, they really were supportive,” she says. “So helpful.” 

There is no urgency in her approach. In fact, there is no approach. She seems happy for any attention, and she responds with welcome. She has a card and a website, but visitors have to ask for them.   

No one within view is busted or rousted. Now and then, even the police officers allow themselves a smile. 

Darkness deepens past 7:30, and from the amphitheater a galaxy of stage lights leaps on and up, to a swelling cheer from the crowd, ticketed and otherwise. Music throbs and sings and spills over the top of the seats, across barriers, through the clustered police officers and out among diners and couples holding hands at curbside. 

What’s so bad, a man in a “Let It Be” T-shirt says, about feeling good? He has, in his hand, an open, low-calorie
beer.                                     Ú

In Coasting Along, our writers stop to reflect on life along the shore.    

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