Monday, August 01, 2005

Portland Article on Deadheads

Joel Lamer, the technical director of WMPG, tends the grill Sunday on a lawn at the University of Southern Maine in Portland. The free barbecue was part of the GarciaFest. Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead would have turned 63 today.

From the Portland Press Herald:

Patrick Babcock is a laid-back guy, comfortable in a Grateful Dead T-shirt and shorts, slowly exhaling smoke from his cigar.
Ask him about his first Dead show, he's serious as stone.
"1980," Babcock says without pause. "Halloween night, Radio City Music Hall."
Back then he was 14, wide-eyed and weaving through the crowd until he reached the front, right there in the noise and heat beneath Jerry Garcia's guitar as it reflected the stage lights.
To the kid from New York, it felt like another home.
"I decided at that point, that's where I wanted to be for a long, long time," he said. "Twenty-five years later, here I am."
On Sunday that meant hosting GarciaFest, an all-day celebration of one of the past century's most influential musicians and songwriters. Garcia, who died in August 1995, would have celebrated his 63rd birthday today.
Babcock, a part-time radio host on WMPG in Portland, is the mastermind responsible for the fourth annual festival. He actually began GarciaFest in Minneapolis, where he hosted a radio show in the mid-1990s. After Garcia's death, Babcock went on the air with 24 straight hours of Garcia's music, from the early Dead material to Garcia & Grisman.
Now the event includes 14 consecutive hours on WMPG, along with a free public barbecue outside Luther Bonney Hall at the University of Southern Maine campus in Portland.
For the radio marathon, Babcock arranged the full sets of soundboard-source recordings ahead of time. He interrupted the music only for his description of the sets, and to repeat his invitation to the festival.
A few hundred people showed up. Some were older fans, offering stories about legendary tour dates and the communal vibe of the 1960s. Some were young, having caught the secondary wave of Garcia's popularity.
More-dedicated fans generally stay home to record the 14-hour show, which included some music just released by the archivist who oversees the Dead's so-called "vault" of recordings. The event has become popular for fans worldwide who can tune into the WMPG streaming online Webcast.
"They know about it," said Dave Bunker, the station's program director. But the event is for local fans, first and foremost, Bunker said.
"It's right up our alley for the station," he said. "We try to put on a number of events each year that are community-oriented. This is a testament to volunteer energy."
On the lawn, Velvet Maxfield danced to a version of Bob Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece," recorded by the Dead several times at live shows. Maxfield, 37, got her introduction to the Dead as a teen in Wiscasset, driving with a friend to Bowdoin College to buy records favored by the college crowd.
Grateful Dead songs provided the backdrop at Maxfield's wedding in 1994, as she walked the aisle and then danced with her father. She counts Garcia, along with reggae legend Bob Marley, among her biggest influences.
"My daughter grew up calling him Uncle Jerry," said Maxfield, who now lives in Saco. Few artists have been able to create a sense of community, and bridge generations the way Garcia did, Maxfield said.
"He feels reachable," she said. "He wasn't afraid to make mistakes and let people know that's a part of life. He was just real."
Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at:


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