The moment I had been waiting for finally arrived. A sizzling sunset cast shadows and silhouettes across the field as The Dead waltzed onstage. The sextet kicked things off with "Sugar Magnolia" as a boyish smile graced the lips of Phil Lesh during "Eyes of the World" -- a poignant and misty-eyed tune on such a hazy‚ lazy day of summer. The sun and moon traded places during the first set ("Friend of the Devil‚" "Into The Mystic‚" "Franklin's Tower") and before people knew what hit them‚ all was quiet and serene in anticipation of their conclusion.
"One More Saturday Night" commenced the latter half of the evening to the twinkling eyes and carefree movements of any and all. Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann's percussion masterpiece‚ "Drums‚" included the contributions of Jason Hann and members of Toubab Krewe. "Shakedown Street" > "China Cat Sunflower" peeled away the years on my driver's license and the well-earned wrinkles on my face as my inner child was released from the depths.
It was a surreal moment to stand on that grassy knoll‚ amid tens of thousands‚ and realize everyone (everything) here is a result of the magic created by a band formed some 44 years ago. The angst and beauty associated with traveling to catch that perfect show‚ the effort to drive dozens of hours in hopes of a correctly guessed opening melody‚ the lifestyle and reality‚ the entire goddamn reason I‚ and all in attendance‚ conduct our lives grew out of our unrelenting love for the Grateful Dead. Before I knew it‚ a handful of teardrops rolled down my cheeks during "US Blues‚" as fireworks exploded over the stage‚ celebrating not only the independence of this great land‚ but the independence and progressive nature of those surrounding me. "Wave that flag‚ wave it wide and high‚ summertime done‚ come and gone…"
It was 80 degrees in the sun‚ but I had goosebumps on my arms during Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band. The folklore mystic of the northern woods and southwestern prairie‚ Rowan is true road warrior in every sense of the word. He bleeds the circulatory system that is the open road through each melancholic number ("Land of the Navajo")‚ carefully constructing a musical picture of broken hearts and desperate loves‚ empty beer bottles and far-off horizon lines‚ forgotten faces and unforgettable sunsets. I found myself dusting off my own memories‚ for good or ill‚ as his patriarchal presence and reassuring vocals ("Midnight Moonlight") conjured names and moments not thought of in years.
Hitting the ground running‚ Grace Potter and the Nocturnals tore up the afternoon sunshine with a dose of dirty water rock and spit-in-your-eye blues. It was my initial viewing of the new lineup‚ and I was quite impressed with the gelling of guitarist Benny Yurco and bassist Catherine Popper. After respectfully closing the chapter on the original formation‚ the next phase of the group is intriguing. Adorned in a blue sequin designer dress‚ Ms. Potter wailed over the cat-and-mouse guitar antics ("Some Kind of Ride‚" "Ah Mary‚" "Stop The Bus‚" "If I Was From Paris") of Scott Tournet and Yurco. The group is no longer scrambling to make a name for themselves (as was evident by the crowd); they are finally taking what is rightfully theirs.
Culminating the weekend‚ Willie Nelson and Family and Bob Dylan and His Band sparked curiosity and wonder as to if these two elder statesmen of music "still got it." Knowing damn well he plans to die touring‚ Nelson brings forth this renegade‚ vigilante outlaw cowboy persona ("Jambalaya" and "Hey Good Lookin'" in true Hank Williams fashion) that is all his own. Lying on the grass‚ I began to reminisce of evenings spent as a child‚ driving down back roads with my father as Willie came over the dial. The tunes are timeless and never lacking in purpose or showmanship. His gentle touch ("On the Road Again‚" "Always on My Mind‚" "Georgia on My Mind") calmed the listener as reflection of the last three days drifted through tired minds not wanting to venture head to wherever it was they came from; they were already home.
As I rested in the shade‚ I noticed (could it be?) Dylan was standing and plucking his guitar to the surprise of many. He seemed livelier than in past experiences of mine. Walking around the stage‚ chugging on his harmonica‚ pounding away on the keyboard ("Tangled Up in Blue")‚ the trademark smirk appeared on more than one occasion. Any rumors of Dylan faltering as a live performer were tossed out the window during the blockbuster set ("Highway 61 Revisited‚" "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again‚" "Like a Rolling Stone"). A serene sense of inner peace radiated throughout my body as I ventured from the stage and through Sherwood Forest for the last time.
Sitting in Sherwood‚ ready to drink and wander the lot‚ word came across the wire: "There's a surprise Umphrey's show in 20 minutes!" Trekking through the woods‚ the spine-snapping tempo changes and broad strokes of composition of Umphrey's McGee bounced off trees and into the ears of any lucky enough to catch wind of the breaking news. Though for many the festival was over‚ this utter rock bombshell rearranged any thought of what the highlight of Sunday was. These guys had grown up‚ and it was a mesmerizing feeling to watch the transformation of one of the hardest working and most promising acts on the jam scene.
"You guys don't want to go home do you?" the band asked‚ with a deafening roar soon following.
Weaving through their catalog‚ the group also treated the multitude to a mind-blowing cover of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb." Jamming onstage for nearly three hours‚ security was called in to kick the musicians off the platform -- they simply did not want to stop playing; we simply did not want Rothbury to end.
Back at the campsite‚ remaining fireworks were launched into the joyous sky as a couple of hundred diehards raged the nearby Michael Jackson dance party until the wee hours of Monday morning. As I sat in my lawn chair‚ "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" spilled out of the speakers to the howls of fire dancers‚ glow stick gyrators and weekend warriors. Cracking the last of my warm Milwaukee's Best‚ I chatted with passing strangers and smiled over comparisons of who played what and "where to next?"
Rothbury was over‚ for this year at least. I promised myself I wouldn't miss another opportunity to find myself in western Michigan. I fulfilled that promise and a smile of pure delight crept across my face in the morning as I drove under the exit sign‚ which stated in bright colorful letters‚ "Happy Trails" -- one more adventure in the books‚ countless more to go as the summer rolls on.

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