I don’t get out much, so when I’m at a music concert and the family next to me passes a joint around, well, Toto, I get a feeling I’m not in Kansas anymore.
I saw people smoke dope a time or two in college when I’d travel from Brookings to the Twin Cities to see my future spouse. That was half a century ago in a quirky little college bar called the Triangle. It wasn’t something I often saw back home, not in 1965.
The family thing was in Colorado, at a place called Red Rocks near Denver. To be honest, the family smoking the weed next to me seemed to be having a good time at the show. I pegged them for a dad and mom, an adult daughter and maybe the mom’s big brother. They grooved in a low-keyed away to the music as they shared the smoke. They weren’t drawing attention to themselves.
At least they weren’t drawing attention from most of the crowd. I watched them pretty closely at first. Coming from the middle of South Dakota and being 75 years old and not a regular of the concert scene, I don’t often hang out with folks who are smoking dope. I seldom hung out with the weed crowd even in college. It didn’t bother me to see people using the stuff back then, but it didn’t particularly interest me, either; seeing it as kind of an “All in the Family” thing did interest me.
Nancy and I made what is becoming our annual pilgrimage to see the Dark Star Orchestra at the outdoor amphitheater at Red Rocks. In the last eight years, Dark Star has become one of my favorite bands. We first saw them in 2011 at the Minnesota Zoo. We saw them last year at Red Rocks, their first time at the storied Colorado music site.
Dark Star Orchestra is a group of fantastic musicians who recreate shows done years and years ago by The Grateful Dead. They choose a particular Dead show and do the same set of songs Jerry Garcia and his mates did back in their day. The show we saw last Sunday evening was from a Grateful Dead gig at Red Rocks on Sept. 8, 1983, in case you’re a Deadhead. Pretty enjoyable music -- at least I thought so.
Dark Star had played shows the previous two nights, but those were indoors somewhere in Boulder. Outdoors is the way to really experience their music. That’s how I saw them the first time at the zoo’s amphitheater in Minnesota. What struck me first at that initial show was how happy everybody in the audience seemed. As soon as the band hit a note, people stood and moved to the music. I confess I sat for a couple of minutes, thinking the others would wear down and sit down. When it became clear that wasn’t going to happen, I got to my feet and did, you know, an old guy’s version of getting down.
At Red Rocks, I saw a fair number of folks who appeared to be smoking marijuana. It’s legal in Colorado, I’m told, although several signs around the Red Rocks amphitheater said it was illegal to smoke anything in the venue. Despite that, I also saw a fair number of people firing up cigarettes. The young woman directly in front of me was smoking what seemed to be a thin, dark cigar or cigarillo. Here and there, folks were vaping.
Now vaping is something that intrigues me. To me, it appears the object is to inhale deeply and let out massive clouds of smoke through the mouth and nostrils. Cigarette smokers seem to be all about the inhale. Vapers appear to be all about the exhale.
As I watched the family next to me share a joint, I remembered the time my big sister, at a John Denver concert in St. Paul with a room full of pot smoke, whispered to her husband, “Somebody’s coat is on fire.”
I thought of saying that to the dad next to me, but then the band swung into “Deal” and I just had to get up and boogie.