Ghosts of birthdays Past — 1974

It’s the stuff of legend…in my mind, anyway.

Don’t even ask me how I got there, or why, but on the eve of my 21st birthday I was living in San Jose, California with Dee and Dennis Costello, their daughter, Cindee, and my boyfriend.  Dennis was a drummer and and he had a gig that night over at a bar over somewhere.  The whole gang was there and the music was fine.  We closed the bar down at 3am, packed everything into the cars, and came back to Dee’s,  to wind down.  I was pulling some of the gear out of the car when I spotted a little flyer…almost missed it..  Grateful Dead were playing a 3-day show at Winterland up in San Francisco.

I was an avowed Dead Head, memorized all their records, playing all instruments…  I’d received the album Europe ’72 for my 20th birthday, so this was obviously a sign that I needed to see them Live for my 21st birthday…

Denny’s band was a kind of R&B horn-laced jazz fusion…Miles Davis was a friend, Billy Cobham was his idol and Tower of Power was a staple on the record player.  The guys were definitely Not dead heads, but they thought I was kind of country-cute in my blue suede boots and hip-hugger bell-bottoms, so they chipped in and gifted me enough money for tickets and some grub, Happy Birthday…!

One of the guys in the band drove us most of the way to SF (about 60 miles north) and we hitch-hiked the rest.  They were, inevitably, sold out.  But they had tickets for the next day!  We bought them, figuring we’d head home (get some sleep!!) and come back the next evening.

It was already a circus around Winterland that afternoon and we hung around until dusk before starting down to the freeway ramp to hitch a ride.  The couple that stopped to pick us up were headed to Berkeley for a party…we chatted…it just so happened that it was the woman’s birthday, too, her 29th!   We immediately bonded, what with the whole Pisces thing and all.  When she heard my story, that we had tickets for the next night’s concert, she insisted that we come with them to the party and spend the night at their apartment.

These people were obviously rich, well-dressed, educated…I was feeling pretty much like a dirty little hippie, but they acted as if we were just like them.  I choked down some Irish coffee at one of their friends’ house that had a wall that revolved…I’m not kidding, it was fabulous.  The place where the party was happening had 3 floors, belly dancers, hookahs, palm-readers, hippies and freaks…  The cover of the Doors Strange Days album?  Kind of like that…only with a smattering of academia types…

We crashed back with the couple whose name I don’t remember; the next morning they fixed us breakfast and sent us on our way…  I am so grateful for all the humans, like them, who helped me get down the road.

Anyway, we spent a beautiful day wandering around Golden Gate Park, strolling and lolling from one end to the next, stopping and sleeping for a couple of hours in the sun.

When it was time, we headed over to Winterland, where Bill Graham  introduced the Grateful Dead…  I remember dream-like Dancers, melting during  Candyman, psychedelic strobe, smoky apparitions, trippy music that played me…  I don’t know, maybe it was the roses…

!!!  Lo and behold, thanks to the Superlative Family of Dead Heads, that concert is available for our listening pleasure…I’ve been having flashbacks ever since I discovered it….  It lasts 3 hours 42 minutes and I’ve got it going on a loop…  Just in case you’re interested, this is the link (Melissa and Eric)…

Grateful Dead February 24, 1974 Winterland Ballroom

Here’s a couple of pictures from that week-end, courtesy of the archive at



When it was all over, we just kind of sat staring until we realized the cops were dragging out people who were just sitting staring.  They would prop them up against the wall outside the door, though, and we walked by a row of starers, unsure which way to go.  We walked for what seemed like a couple of hours, up and down hills, talking about the concert, singing, wondering if we were lost….  We wound our way back to Winterland and the place was pretty well emptied out.

Just across the street was an overhead camper truck, you know the kind?  As we discussed how to proceed, the guy driving the camper came up and said, hey, you need a ride?  Unbelievable.  His camper was laid, with a great stereo and all the amenities. We talked about the concert, we sang to more Dead, and finally crashed,  parked right there.  The next morning, he drove us back to our place in San Jose.  Don’t remember his name, either, but thanks, Buddy.

Everything was charmed on that birthday.  I enjoyed it while it lasted.  As I look back at all my birthdays, indeed, all 66 of my birthday-years, I shake my head in wonder…

Sometimes the Light’s all shinin’ on me,

Other times I can barely see.

Lately it occurs to me

what a Long Strange Trip it’s been…

It’s somebody else’s 74th birthday today, and I wonder if she ever remembers picking up those hitch-hikers on their way to a Dead concert…