Roll away the dew: Dead fans party like it’s 1967 in Tompkins

This Grateful Dead fan was all ears at the tribute concert for the classic jam band in Tompkins Square Park Thursday. Photos by Bob Krasner

BY BOB KRASNER | Tie-dye shirt? Check. Dancing sandals? Check. Stash? Check. Hula hoop? Why not? Time to head over to Tompkins Square Park, where a legendary moment in time is about to be celebrated.

Fifty years ago to the day — June 1, 1967 — the Grateful Dead began its relationship with New York City by playing their first show in the borough, a free concert in the very spot where the Dead tribute band Ice Petal Flowers set up speakers and hung tapestries on the fence.

There used to be a real bandshell here, erected only a year before the Dead occupied it. Although it was demolished in 1991, the spot is still a locus for musicians, fans and events for all kinds of people. Today it’s a mix of the expected — colorful characters from back in the day — to young adults who were infants when Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia died in 1995.

Hoops to groove on and Dead tunes in Tompkins.

It’s tempting to say that understanding the music of the Grateful Dead is like that famous quote  about jazz: “If you gotta ask, you’ll never know.” But it’s music that makes unlikely fans, like the guy in the Johnny Thunders T-shirt. Passersby stopped out of curiosity and stuck around because, well, the band was really good.

Grateful Dave Fuller with his inspiration.

Even Matt Lilly, the official DJ for the NYC Grateful Dead Family (the event’s organizers), was “pleasantly surprised” by the caliber of the music of the band, who weren’t just slavishly imitating the original, but adding something of their own to the mix.

When asked why he was in a Grateful Dead tribute band, guitarist “Grateful Dave” Fuller had stop to think for a moment.

“No one has ever asked me that,” he said. “I guess it’s because it’s just fun as hell”

“Festival Jim,” right, was truckin’ like the doo dah man in Tompkins. He got his nickname, he explained, because he goes to a lot of festivals.

For many, the eternal appeal of the Dead is unfathomable. But to the faithful, it’s a no-brainer (go ahead, insert Deadhead joke here). Although Lilly is now a diehard fan, it wasn’t always that way.

“I grew up hating them,” he confessed. “I spent a lot of time listening to punk and metal. But I’ve been listening to the Dead secretly for years.”

Taking a minute away from choosing between-set tunes from his collection of official and unofficial live LP’s (yes, he was spinning vinyl), he pulled out the album cover and let us know what was playing.

“It’s “Alligator” from the Shrine Auditorium, 11/10/67,” he said. “It’s 11 minutes and one second long.”

Lori boogieing to the music with her 5-year-old daughter, Zariah Maya Sappphire.

The celebration, about four hours long, was a perfect day for Susie Farmer, a co-founder of the NYCGD Family, who has been a fan since she was 12. Surrounded by good people, good vibes and great music, it was hard not to enjoy.

Dave, a chef from Greenpoint, felt the band and the park was a recipe for pure grooviness.

“You lean back on the tree and close your eyes,” he said. “You know it’s not the Dead, but you feel the energy and the reverence. And you feel life — and love.”

Grateful Dead fans just keep on getting younger.

Ice Petal Flowers will be doing their thing again at Lovecraft, 50 Avenue B, on Sat., June 17. For more ore information, visit www.icepetalflowersband.com/ . Keep on truckin’ with the NYC Grateful Dead Family at www.facebook.com/nycgratefuldeadfamily/ .

Taking a break from truckin’… .

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