Forcing Deadheads to vax might not end well!

The Grateful Dead and their fans are known for their anti-authoritarian ethos.  Now the music venue owned by the bass player will require proof of vaccination for entry into all events.

Today I read an article about a COVID "super-spreader" event that may have originated at a music event in Santa Cruz, California, featuring a Grateful Dead cover band named Grateful Shred.  I was invited by a friend to attend that event but didn't end up going.  But I am going to an event scheduled for August 1 (Jerry Garcia's birthday) at Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael, California, which is a music venue owned by the Grateful Dead's bass player, Phil Lesh.  After reading the Grateful Shred article, I visited the Terrapin Crossroads website and, to my amazement, saw a headline saying proof of vaccination will be required for entry into all events.  Since I'm fully vaccinated, that's not a problem for me, but if you know anything about the Grateful Dead and their fans, you'll understand my reaction to the headline.

Grateful Dead fans (AKA "Deadheads") are a notoriously free-spirited bunch.  They will listen politely to people in authority, then go on their merry way doing whatever they want.  I saw the Grateful Dead many times when Garcia was still alive, and there were a few rules that the band asked Deadheads to follow: 1) don't come to the show unless you have a ticket; 2) no camping; 3) no vending.  These rules, especially the no vending rule, were ignored.  The parking lot at a Grateful Dead show resembled a Moroccan bazaar, with all manner of things being sold, from tie-dye shirts to food to beer to whatever handmade craft item you could imagine.  I personally know a guy who followed the band from town to town and in one year made $90,000 in profit selling grilled cheese sandwiches in the parking lot.

Ignoring the rules was not a big problem when the band was touring because Deadheads, while free-spirited, are also a very peaceful bunch.  The point is that everyone, including the band and the venue operators, knew that the Deadheads would ignore the rules.  It was very much a wink-wink, nudge-nudge thing.  My take is that the band put the rules in place to satisfy the venue operators, never quite expecting the Deadheads to follow them, and the venue operators tolerated the non-compliance because every single show would sell out, and the shows were always peaceful.

I've been to Terrapin Crossroads several times since it re-opened after the worst of the pandemic.  The first few shows featured social distancing and masking, which tamped down the intensity of the concert experience quite a bit.  Then, a few weeks ago, they dropped those requirements, and it was great!  Back to normal!  Whoo-hoo!  There was also no proof of vaccination requirement.

So it's interesting that this has come up now, and I'm not sure why, but I have a few guesses: 1) the Grateful Shred incident freaked them out, and they want to avoid a repeat at their venue; 2) they are genuinely concerned about the health and safety of staff and audience members; 3) they are using the proof of vaccination requirement to pressure reluctant Deadheads to get the shots.  I'm going to cross off number two — not because I don't believe that they are genuinely concerned about health and safety, but because they'd already had several shows without proof of vaccination required.  It's worth noting that the shows have all been outdoors in what's called the "Beach Park" part of the venue.  Also, Phil Lesh is an octogenarian and had liver replacement surgery several years ago.  But, again, if health and safety were the reason, well, I saw Phil play at Terrapin Crossroads a few weeks ago, sans proof of vaccination.

The fact that this is taking in place in San Rafael, which is in Marin County, adds another layer of "what's going on" to the picture because Marin County was an anti-vaxxer hotspot before the pandemic.  There are a lot of Deadheads in Marin County, and I'm sure a subset of them were part of the pre-pandemic anti-vaxxer contingent.  So this is going to be a very big deal for some of them.

I wonder what Jerry Garcia would think of all this.

Image: Tom Woodward via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

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