Happy Birthday, Jerry!

It’s been nearly 16 years since Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead passed away, a loss that, as a longtime Deadhead, I felt acutely.

Every year since, around the time of Jerry’s August 1st birthday, I think of the guitar player, singer, and songwriter who meant so much to me, not just because of the music, but also because he was a symbol of hippie culture, a fondness for which I wrote about last week.

Most of the time, August 1st just summons his memory — his gentle smile, his brilliant musicianship, the sensitivity of his voice, the generosity with which he shared his music, his solidarity with his community of fans, his flawed humanity — all on its own. But this morning, it was a post on Facebook by my friend Leah that brought Jerry to mind, a happy birthday shout-out that included a clip of the Dead’s legendary performance of Viola Lee Blues at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival.

And as much as I love that old, primal Dead, and even though my favorite period of Dead music is from about 1972 to 1977, I went in search of a video for this post that captures something that approximates the experience I had when I was fortunate enough to attend Grateful Dead shows in the 80s, and since I have a particular fondness for outdoor summer shows, I chose this beautiful version of one of my favorite Garcia/Hunter songs, their loving tribute to Janis Joplin, Birdsong, from a 1987 show in Anaheim, California.

Happy Birthday, Jerry, wherever you! You are still loved and missed.

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