Gotta Take Advantage
by Ken Babbs
going to get this opportunity forever. Furthur band in town playing at
and Kit at the Springfield Creamery get me a pass, an all access sticker, just what I need.
heavy rains stop. The music starts. Shit, too late, I wanted to get
catch Bobby and
Phil walking to the stage, say hello, not gonna be many more chances.
knocks. They take a break and I work through the layers of security,
stick on pass, they have to compare what I’ve got with what’s on their charts, go ahead on, you even
are cleared for the buffet after the show.
huge tour bus is just inside the backstage gate. Bobby’s I bet. Door
a guy comes up
and I say, can I go in and talk to Bobby. He looks me over, skypilotclub ball cap, prankster jacket, bus
pin on the lapel. “What’s your name?” I tell him and he goes inside, shit I shoulda watched the numbers
in punched in the keycard, but no need, he opens the door and says, “Come on in.”
sitting alongside a small table with his tech gear on top. He’s grey
sandals on his feet. Big hug and handshake and we settle in to a comfortable talk, me filling him in on
the milk cow, he tells me he worked on a ranch when he was a boy, both agreeing the kind of background
lets you know you can handle pretty much anything.
bell beeps and Bobby gets up. Time to go back to work. What about Phil,
to know. “Come
on,” Bobby tells me, “we’ll see him.”
walk behind the stage, come to narrow stairs going up to an alcove,
up, I hang back,
figuring I’ll see Phil when he gets here. Bobby waves at me, come on up. The rest of the band is there and
we meet and greet. Bobby tells them about the time at the Fillmore Acid test when the cops were closing
everything down and Bobby climbed up on a ladder we had put up in the middle of the hall and a fat cop
told Bobby to come down from there, they are clearing the hall and Bobby said I’m part of the crew and
the cop said if you don’t come down you’re in big trouble and Bobby said now I’m really not coming down.
watching the stairs for Phil but he appears from my right, having
from the stage.
Another hug and handshake and me saying I had to take advantage of this, got to say hello, who knows
how many more chances we’ll get and Phil says, “Oh, you’ve got a lot of years left,” and I say, “I’m
shooting for ninety,” and Phil says, “What, only ninety,” and I say, “Okay, you’ve convinced me, I’m
gong for ninety-five.”
standing in a circle, everybody listening and I say, “Reminds me of the
was on the
bridge of the battleship Wisconsin, surrounded by Admirals and Captains and other brass hats and
me a mere midshipman, lower than even an enlisted man, my job is to keep an eye on the radar screen
shows all the ships in the battle group, make sure they are keeping the right distance, not converging
and I say out loud, “Something going on here, the destroyer’s on a heading gonna meet up with ours,”
and everyone turned and looked and a Lieutenant came over and took a gander at the screen and said,
“He’s right,” and picked up a radiophone and told the destroyer to alter course and everyone turned
away and I tried to disappear into the radar screen, was my face red.
“What’s the point?” Phil said.
I said, “like points of a compass like this is the bridge of the
you guys are the brass or at least keyboards, drums, guitar bass and voices and I’m the lowly middie
shy as a timid mouse scared to speak up but the point is to keep to your course with no collisions in sight.”
Phil looked at me. “All of them,” he said.
“Oh shit,” I said, “I don’t have the wind. I’d pass out on the stage.”
converged on me in a tight circle, arms around each others waists. Phil
the left and Bobby from the right and with heads bowed everyone started coming on, bop to the top,
groove to the loose, spirit’s arising, let it go, no boundaries, all free, praise the celestials, hail the heroes,
the voices singing, humming chanting, rising in volume, louder, to a crescendo roar faces raised arms
in the air a final primal howl and it’s off to their stations, grasping their brazen magic wand instruments,
striding to the microphones and burst into song to the roar of the crowd filling the amphitheater from
the edge of the stage to the top of the far hill.
sidled on down the stairs and cut behind the stage and out the security
“Hey,” the lady in
charge yelled. “I thought you were staying for the after show buffet.”
gave her a wave. “Five thirty reveille, gotta git some shuteye.”
Babbs was the emcee for The
Field Day in August of 1972 – the man at the mic, keeping his cool
amongst the heat and craziness, combining cowboy good looks with R. Crumb-character moves and
a rubbery grin.
These days, Ken Babbs
Prankster spirit alive with his Skypilot Club while continuing
to lead the sort of back-to-the-land lifestyle that he has long advocated. We’ve enjoyed our visits in the
past; the release of Sunshine Daydream seemed like a perfect time to get out the shortwave and dial in
Kap’n Ken at Skypilot Headquarters …
Someone came up with the idea to approach the Dead about a benefit concert …
They were talking at the Creamery about what to do and there was
employee – Benny
The Benevolent Benefactor – who said, “Why don’t you guys get the Grateful Dead to do a concert
and raise some money?” They talked about it and sent this other woman who worked there,
Carolyn Hannah, down to talk to them.
The Dead were interested, but they weren’t real
about it until Ramrod [the late Larry
“Ramrod” Shurtliff, head Dead roadie and spiritual mainstay] spoke up.
Ramrod – who came to the Dead through the
Pranksters – said,
“Wait a minute – these are our people.
We’re all in the same family; we’ve got to help out here.”
And that’s when the Dead said, “Okay – we’ll do
Ramrod was the real hero of things.
Yeah, and Maria, too – Carolyn Hannah’s Prankster name was Black
The two of
them … plus Benny The Benevolent Benefactor. (laughter)
FOR THE REST OF THE INTERVIEW GO TO:
SING ME BACK HOME
By Ken Babbs
Religious forces are needed to overcome the egotism that divides men. The common celebration of the great sacrificial feasts and sacred rites, which gave expression simultaneoously to the interrelation and social articulation of family and state was the means employed to unite men. (women too) The sacred music and the splendor of the ceremonies arroused a strong tiede of emotion that was shared by all hearts in unison, and that awakened a consciousness of the common origin of all creatures. In this way disunity was overcome and rigidity dissolved.
"They'll be fucking on the ground in front of us," Phil said gleefully, looking out at the bare assed beauties bodies sweat glistening in the torrid sun. Yeah, dream on, Phil, this is not a lascivious crowd, they are opening up to the day, the gathering, the music, save that screwing shit for after.
Chuck and Sue Kesey were in a quandry. The Christiansen brothers, their creamery competitors, had convinced the Springfield Creamery's milk supplier not to renew the contract which, so the Christiansens hoped, would force Chuck and Sue out of business and the Christiansens could swoop in and buy out the Springfield Creamery and take over the business.
Too confoosing? And certainly not amoosing. Chuck and Sue had built up the Springfield Creamery from close to nothing to close to continual success. What are we going to do? What are we going to do?
One of the employees, Benny the Benevolent Benefactor said let's get the Grateful Dead to play for a benefit. What a notion. Only one way to see if it would fly and that was to fly Chuck's small airplane to G.D. H.Q. so they followed the path of the migrating birds in the fall although this was in late spring early summer and the path was the 5, four bright lanes beneath them, not to lose sight of.
plan was a go and the 1972 Springfield Creamery Benefit Field Trip,
small plane, took off, but with no freeway to follow, what ensued was a
spirited concert, outside, in a field in Veneta, west of Eugene, the
lot of the Oregon Country Fair, all put together with volunteer labor
concurrent with the physical stage and accoutrements being constructed,
team was formed, for this extravaganza was going to be shot in its
16 mm color film. The whole deal was sealed when the band members and
makers agreed to split the proceeds equally and in those days there was
Grateful Dead Productions, there was just the band members shaking the
the film makers, a done deal.
Music has power to ease tension within the heart and to loosen the grip of obscure emotions. The enthusiasm of the heart expresses itself involuntarily in a burst of song, in dance and rhythmic movement of the body. From immemorial times the inspiring effect of the invisible sound that moves all hearts and draws them together, has mystified mankind.
The word first goes out over the air. "Good afterhoon folks, Poppinjay the Dee Jay poppin dee jay all dee way, letting you know the Springfield Creamery benefit concert is a go, and you heard it first right here and as for you innocent thousands who are hanging on the edge of their seats wanting to know, yes, it's true I'll be poppin dee jay all deed day in every way every way from the first note to the last." Raising his foot and finishing on the same breath he started, he gasps and drops his foot to the flooor, flicks the mike switch off and brings up the volume up on the record. Sing me back home/ a song I used to hear/ make my old memories come alive/ sing me away and turn back the years/ sing me back home before I die.
The early morning sun beams through the branches of a tree where birds are chirping and down below crickets are fiddling. A rooster crows. In the middle of a big field. A child gets up out of a sleeping bag and yawns. The sun continues to rise over the top of a tower constructed from logs jaggedly impaled into the grtound. A dog sleeps in the back of a pickup. A naked man takes a leak next to the Hog Farm bus. People are up and moving around, the start of a new day, the sun already bulbous.
Page Browning, shirtless, a bandanna tied around his head, is in charge of building the stage and he brooks no shit. While others argue the merits of the plan, Page gets right to work. "Woo-ee, doin' good. By this afternoon I'll be even better. Energy's coming off me like sparks. Here's the marker stake I put in while the egghead philosophers were talking. Less talk, more action, I say, unh," he pulls out the stake and picks up the posthole digger. "I'd rather have callouses on my hand than on my tongue."
Chuck Kesey, hand to his chin, thinking, looks at an empty spot in the field: "This used to be an Indian celebration ground. I found some painted rocks out there." (Did a forbear carve that Indian rock Chuck later gave as a present to Donna Godchaux?) "Maybe I can do something to restore the spirit of the place. I'll build a counterbalancing spire of freedom, reaching for the sky."
in abundance and a decision must be made: "Let
bring their dogs but they must pay full admission."
A low slung Ford station wagon clunks across the field, Poppinjay’s raspy voice inside, "All dee way, kiddies, just like dee man done say, whoops, careful on the ruts, and dee overhanging branches, dee jay aint gonna be poppin in any way we get stuck now."
What's the deal on people that don't pay, the ticket takers want to know. "You're going to have to say something like, have you got anything at all? Give them a little shit. Don't really hassle them but give them shit. Like, 'you know you're not supposed to be here if you can pay.' And then, if they still say they can't pay, ask them if they've got any money at all. Go all the way down as far as you can, without spending more than thirty seconds on each person. Food stamps or anything. If a guy wants to give his shirt, go ahead and take it. The thing is, you really want to discourage all this, the whole trip is to make money for the creamery." -- Bob Laird
Poppinjay walks through the crowd, "What's this, a shy man smoking a joint. Doesn't want it to be seen, he's nervous. He thinks I'm a nark. Oh gosh, he spits it out, too bad, after all, we're right out in the open, damn, Poppinjay, you've failed again.
The crowd is growing, bringing in food, lots of vittles for the picnic, plenty of liquid. Stickers, the concert tickets, are pasted to their bodies and clothes. Green shirted, blued shirted, big breasted ones, skinny ones. An undisturbed cobweb rests on a bush next to the path through the woods.
one of those church lawn picnics behind the big brick
could it?" talking all they way to the microphone on the stage, "Do I
detect the rolling of marywanna? That’s it, Poppinjay, keep everyone up
date, provide a service, not an outlet for your extroverted ego, these
(he looks down at the crowd) cannot be ignored. Bearded, hatted,
beerdrinkdrs, haltertopped, longtressed, scantily dressed, talking,
sipping hanging on the fence, a mustachioed gent with carnal intercouse
mind, prevented by the fence, always the fince, in front of the fence,
crowd, behind the fence, the stage, say who's idea was this fence
The two way radio Poppinjay holds in his hand sqawks. Brother Bartholomew, his broadcasting partner, is calling him from the sound board tower in the middle of the field. "You know the red acid with the little stars? You better tell everybody not to take it."
"Okay." Poppinjay is interrupted by Sparky offering him a drop of liquid. "Here put one drop on your finger, it will help lubricate your throat."
Poppinjay turns away, talking to himself: "I dunnoh. It's about the mouth is tense. Relax if you’re going to be talking to the people, whatever you got to say, say it, why be so reserved?" He steps to the microphone. "Ladies and gentlemen, today's program is being brought to you by salt tablets and our sponsor recommends everyone take one or two and today only they are absolutely free over at the Whitebird tent where two guys dropped off a girl who was freaked out, don't suppose she got into that bad acid, you know the blue tablet shaped like a little pyramid of Xychotomes over there in Egypt with the white eye in the middle?”
“Why? what's with it?” someone yells.
“It kills you so think how happy you'd be when you didn't take one and John Lanning you didn't take your insulin and you're ging to faint in the crowd unless you run back to the Mu Farm where the guy wearing a gas mask has your medicine. Water is located in the old water truck but don't wallow in it, it's right behind the kids' tent, keep wet and keep salted up.”
Bob Weir comes up on the stage and Poppinjay greets him by hitting him up for a loan, “I already got thirty-five hundred, another thousand and I can start building on the house.”
Weir is unfazed. What about next week? Can I mail it to you then? What are those guys doing with that nitrous tank?”
What tank? When Poppinjay turns back around Weir is gone. He sees Jerry Garcia standing behind an amp and walks over. “Hey Jer, we’re really moving today. Gosh, I don’t know what to say for a change, I’m so public but I can’t help but be too personal, just a little over the edge, you know what I mean? There’ll be time, shoot, we got all day, so don’t mind me poppin dee jay all over you, I’m merely trying to be the perfect host.”
Garcia blew smoke in Poppinjay’s face. “Who needs a cranky landlord when there’s a perfect host around.”
“Is there anything I can get you?” a young lady asked.
“Yeah, more beer.”
She fills a cup from a keg, all around her beer in bottles, in cans, in drinking jugs, “Last call for alcohol,” someone shouts and the band breaks into song.
Left my home in Norfolk, Virginia, California on my mind
Tell the folks back home this is the promised land calling
the poor boys on the line.
These folk in their promised land, getting acquainted one with another, renewing old acquaintances, dope and booze lowering the barriers of social blundering, take some time for the hot hot high to come on, dance to the music, nothing frantic, smooth and easy, it’s going to be a long day.
“The ordeal,” Poppinjay mouths, standing at the side of the stage. “The martyrs of today lay themselves bare on the furnace of public scrutiny. They face the terror and band together in mute support, scream their anguished pleas for union, are joined in holy reverence and vent their joy with life, not in separation, they have opened their hearts and found them loving.”
The concert, captured in its entirety on film, remains as a time capsule, a vessel full of exuberant free spirit as exhibited by the enraptured edified and satisfied concert goers, a spirit that can still resound, that can still fill our hearts with joy, with compassion, with that sense and knowldge of our oneness, our open sharing and caring and the belief that the goodness inherent in all of us will continue to shine just as it did in Veneta, Oregon in 1972. And will prevail.
R.I.P. those who aren't around any longer, we know you are watching from on high: Keith Godchaux, Jerry Garcia, Paul Foster, Phil LaGuerre, Ken Kesey, Lew Melson, Ramrod, Sonny Hurd, Johnny Hagen, Page Browning.
Berry, 79, doesn't just pen works that highlight the benefits of a
simpler life at ease with nature.
He and his wife keep a garden, raise sheep and live largely technology-free on a hilly central
"It's kept me in touch with the problems I've written about," he said.