Further Festival
at the Star Pavilion, Hershey, PA
(12 July 1997)

Frankie Winger saw the Grateful Dead eight times.

That's fairly impressive, considering that Dead frontman Jerry Garcia died in 1995, and Frankie is only 4 years old. But that doesn't phase Frankie, who owes his very existence to the Dead. His father, Frank Winger of Allentown, said the Dead brought him and his wife, Gina, together.

For them, the seven-hour Further Festival at Hersheypark's packed Star Pavilion was a trip down memory lane. "We've been fans since 1981," Winger said. "I went to a Grateful Dead show and that was it. I've been following them since 1982, and I was to 108 shows before the band kicked off."

The Further Festival, which reunites a handful of Dead members through their post-Dead projects, is a great way to keep the spirit of the band alive, Winger said. "They're doing a great job," he said. "And it's nice to meet old friends."

Frankie didn't have much to say, except to ask his dad for a seat on his shoulders to get a better view of the stage.

With members dead and others splintered off into new music endeavors, the Grateful Dead still refuses to die. The sounds and sentimentality of the performances in Hershey captured the devotion of the world's most diehard fans.

The pavilion was already packed when the festival kicked off shortly after 4 p.m. with bluesy singer/fiddler Sherri Jackson. Under a hot afternoon sun, the crowd was a flowing sea of tie-dye, batik and bare skin. The scents of sweat, suntan lotion, incense and other burning herbs filled the air. There were hordes of people of every age -- graybeards from Jerry's day mixing with youngsters born since John Lennon died -- following their bliss.

"I'm just chillin', enjoying the sun," said 18-year-old Kristin Wilkerson of Mechanicsburg, Pa. Decked out in glitter and beads, the teen said she's a recent convert to the loyal Dead following. "I don't listen to the radio at all," she said. "I don't like the music of today. It's so full of negative energy."

Ryan Null, 22, of Lancaster, said he's a Deadhead from way back. "Ever since I was little, my mom liked classic rock, the blues, stuff like this. I started getting into it with her," he said. "It's cool, a new generation is into this older style of music."

When Planet Drum, led by Dead veteran Mickey Hart, took the stage, the audience was transformed into a field of moving, grooving, whirling dervishes. Dancers multiplied to the percussive melee, writhing and swaying to the heavy beat of an hour-long freestyle jam. It was like the perfect perpetual motion machine: So long as Planet Drum played, the crowd would not sit down or stand still. Doc Martens danced next to Birkenstocks, cracked and faded canvas sneakers kept rhythm beside shiny new Nikes, and bare feet pounded the ground on burning tarmac. A few helpful, instantly popular security guards sprayed the steaming crowd with water, the mist rising to blend with scattered clouds of smoke.

Rebecca O'Neill, a 17-year-old disciple from Milwaukee, was a tireless figure among the frantic gyrations, hops and swirls. "I love to dance and I love to travel," she said during a brief water break. "The music's beautiful, the people are beautiful." A fan since seeing the Jerry Garcia Band several years ago, O'Neill said she spends a few months each year on the road following her favorite musicians. This year, she followed the Further Festival from Florida to Toronto, Canada.

Besides Planet Drum, Hornsby and Jackson, the Hershey performance featured Ratdog, led by ex-Dead member Bob Weir, the Black Crowes, Moe, and Jefferson Airplane's Jorma Kaukonen with Michael Falzarano. Arlo Guthrie -- who emceed the show, celebrated his 50th birthday the previous day and just recently became a grandfather -- played a few tunes between acts. The biggest crowd-pleaser was his 32-year-old anthem, "Alice's Restaurant." "A lot of time's gone by, but not a lot has changed," he said.

There was a carnival atmosphere in the pavilion, with a village of merchants hawking goods and services from hemp-made clothes to sun-drenched massages. In the background, people played with Hacky Sacks and juggle sticks, bathed in the sun or napped in patches of shade.

[ by Tom Knapp ]