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A chapter from Rainbow Gatherings, a memoir by Butterfly Bill
Before the gathering ended Felipe said he was going to take his school bus to the Washington D.C. area and find places to set up his up his kitchen so he could serve needy people out of it. He said that he would be there by Labor Day weekend, the weekend after the one the gathering ended on.
On Saturday I went to Lafayette Park, across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. Here there were some nuclear disarmament advocates who maintained some tables of literature and slept in the park, keeping a “24-hour peace vigil”. Some of the people I had seen there I had also seen at the regional gathering, so I went there in hopes of finding more about Felipe’s whereabouts. I found a group of people with long hair and asked, “Rainbow Family, anyone?”, and two people said yes and that they knew where Felipe was. He was at the Grateful Dead concert at the Capital Centre, in Landover, Maryland just outside the I-495 beltway.
It was about 4 in the afternoon of a hot sunny summer day when I arrived there. There was a large sports arena, where the Washington Bullets played basketball and the Capitals played ice hockey, surrounded by a vast asphalt parking lot. As I approached it I saw cars parked all along the street leading into it, and the parking space that I found for myself was a walk of about a quarter mile from some gates in a chain link fence that I saw in the distance.
As I walked in, there were people strolling around everywhere. Most of the men were wearing tie-dyed tee shirts in rainbow colors, and a lot of the women were in hippie granny dresses or peasant skirts. Many of them were standing around in groups talking and sometimes passing joints and pipes, and I was able to go up to them and join in just as freely as at a gathering. I got pretty amplified by the time I made it to the gates.
When I got to the gates they were open and I was able to walk in, but there were people at the gates in police and custodial staff uniforms who weren’t allowing any cars to drive in. Inside I found several virtual streets on the asphalt that had been formed by tents and canvas canopies setting up on each side along the painted parking lines, and in all of them they were selling various items of hippie paraphernalia: tie-dyed clothes, bumper stickers, incense burners, bongs and pipes, kid’s toys that appealed to people when they were stoned. There were also people selling food, some of them in commercial kitchen trailers with counter windows, selling stuff like hamburgers, hot dogs, and soda pop, and other people who were sitting by their vans or campers with ice chests full of cans of soda and beer and woks full of stir fried vegetables on propane stoves.
This appeared to be a zone of unrestrained free enterprise. Some of the vendors looked like they were retail professionals with slick displays, but there were also a lot of folding tables, hand drawn signs, and other garage sale-like improvisations. It looked like anybody who thought they had something that others would want to buy was free to just set up, with no licenses or booth rental fees. This was a multicolored psychedelic bazaar which was a feast for the eyes even if you weren’t buying anything. But I immediately set about looking for a rainbow tie-dyed shirt for myself and found one and put it on right after I bought it.
People were selling and even hawking drugs openly. There was one man standing by an ice chest saying, “Beer and a dose, two dollars.” I took him up on it, and got a can of beer, which I drank right after I had given him my money, and a little square of paper with a purplish stain on it, which I put in my pocket for later.
I had noticed lots of Grateful Dead references at the Rainbow Gatherings I had been to, and there had been one worker at the Sundance Café and another at Gropen Signs who liked to play their records and tapes at work, but I had never really understood just what their appeal was. They sounded sort of like a country music band, and not all that remarkable. But about halfway thru that initial walk in I was beginning to understand. It was more than just a band, it was a community.
Beyond the vendor’s area were parked hundreds of vehicles that people were using to sleep in. There were many Volkswagen Micro-Busses, along with American vans, pickup mounted campers, and even a few school busses. A lot were covered with bumper stickers on places other than the bumpers, and some of them were painted up Rainbow style. It looked a lot like Bus Village at a gathering. The main differences might have been all the ice chests with fresh cubes and all the hands with beer cans in them. Another difference was the music of the Grateful Dead coming from car stereo speakers in every direction.
I found Felipe’s school bus with a tarp stretched out from its entry door side, and beneath it some people I had seen at the gathering, including Judy Appleseed, the brother who didn’t want to be cannon fodder, and Otter, a young red-headed sister who had impressed me with her drumming. Felipe came up and gave me a hug as soon as he saw me. He had been serving food for free to any of these “Deadheads” who came up, and some of them were destitute enough to be genuinely in need of his charity.
There were a lot of people there who were just hanging out with the crowd and did not have any tickets to get into the arena for the actual concert. Tickets were not easy to come by. A few months earlier I was walking on the downtown shopping mall in Charlottesville early on a Saturday morning and saw a long line of people sitting on the cobblestone outside a store door that had not yet opened. I asked someone in the line what this was and he told me that they were waiting for tickets to go on sale to a Grateful Dead concert. Some of them had spent the night there in sleeping bags.
And I saw people walking around this parking lot carrying handmade cardboard signs saying: I NEED A MIRACLE, PLEASE HELP, and as the line was forming outside the arena before the concert, there were people walking by it with one or two fingers in the air saying “I need a miracle; does anybody have a miracle?” – all in the hope that someone would have a spare ticket to give them. (“I need a miracle, every day” were the words to one of the band’s songs.)
The band went on tours playing concerts in several cities in succession, and Deadheads would follow them from one to the other, whether or not they could get tickets for the concert itself. Some of them were able to make money to live on by vending, and most of the people there were like me, living and working in towns not far away and ready to travel to an event like this.
But there were some people who lived on the generosity of others in both food and psychedelic drugs, and bummed rides from friends or hitchhiked on the interstate to get from one concert venue to another. There were some teenagers running away from unhappy homes and finding support and hope here, and other people with social problems finding companionship they couldn’t find elsewhere – just like at a Rainbow Gathering. A lot of Deadheads lived the same lifestyle of creative poverty that many Rainbows did.
It was to these lost souls that Felipe dedicated his charity, and he served Rainbow vegetarian food just like he did at a gathering. There were other people from the gathering parked around his bus making a Rainbow encampment. There were circles with an Om before food servings, and circles of drummers in the evening. And Felipe made sure everyone washed their hands.
There was also a lot of CALM-like work being done there. Some came for first aid for minor cuts and sprains, and with so many people going around tripping on LSD, there were some who had trouble handling it. Once I was walking with Otter and another Rainbow brother and we came upon one man who was walking around with a panicked look on his face repeatedly saying, “I don’t know where I am. I don’t know where I am…”
We followed him around and pulled him away any time he looked like he was going to run into something dangerous, and kept trying to tell him where he was. “You’re at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland.” “You’re at a Grateful Dead concert.”
After a while we figured out that the specific problem was that he couldn’t find his car, and after several tries we were able to get him to tell us a brand name and a color. So we walked him around pointing out cars to him and trying to get him to answer. But most of the time we would still be getting “I don’t know where I am”, over and over as he walked here and there looking off onto space. This went on for over two hours.
Then we finally found the right car, and as soon as he put his hand on the door handle he instantly snapped out of it.
I slept in my truck the first night, and as I was walking thru the parking lot gate to get to the porta-potties early the next morning, I noticed that there were no people in uniform watching it. I immediately went back to my truck and drove it inside the fence and found a place near Felipe’s bus.
That morning looked like a good time to put that little piece of paper I had bought the previous evening into my mouth. I kept it there between my gums and my cheek for about fifteen minutes. It turned out to really be LSD and it gave me a clear high.
Unlike what I’ve read in magazines about them, psychedelic drugs do not make me hallucinate, unless I sit in a dark room and deliberately abandon myself to it. Even then, an adrenaline producing event can make me come out of it. It is more like an intense marijuana high that lasts for 6 to 8 hours on mescaline and peyote, 12 to 18 hours on LSD.
Like marijuana they amplify what my senses perceive, and do it even more so. Sensations that begin from real objects can be amplified into surreality. I might look at an object and start noticing variations and unevennesses that my attention would dismiss when sober. Something I would normally think of as a straight edge might really have some subtle curves that I don’t usually pay attention to, but on a psychedelic those curves might be turned into wide wiggles. My drug-amplified sensations always have some stimulus in reality.
I was surprised to experience myself basically holding on to my normal attention the first time I took LSD, back when I was working at the Sundance Café. But I finally figured out that I had learned all about how to deal with bad trips back when I was 4 years old and afraid of the dark because I would see moving pictures on the walls. For years my mother let me solve the problem with a night light. Then one night when I was nine years old I tried turning the light off and found I no longer had any hallucinations.
It is like when you take LSD for the first time, you confront insanity head on, and your mind gathers all its resources to defend against it. If you have a strong will and a basically good feeling about yourself, these will prevail and you will just settle back and enjoy the show, amid a great euphoria. If you don’t, then all your insecurities will be super-amplified and you go off on a bad trip, where you are finding your own personal demons in everything around you.
Most people who tripped at Grateful Dead concerts and Rainbow Gatherings surrounded themselves with trusted friends and good stimuli, and had a giggling good time. For me, this morning was spent looking at all the bright colored objects and all the faces on the people.
Not long after dosing I absolutely couldn’t stand the feeling of blue jeans around my legs, and I put on the pink skirt. Somebody from the kitchen tried to talk me into taking my truck on a supply run to some stores outside, but I told him I was in no condition to drive. It was a good thing that I couldn’t have and didn’t, because I would not have been able to get back in. The gates became guarded again and remained like that for the rest of the weekend, even in the morning.
On Monday evening someone came around to the Rainbow camp about an hour before the concert with 19 tickets, and told Felipe to give them to any of his friends who wanted one. There were a lot of people running up and saying “me!”, and I almost didn’t get one, but I did. So I got a miracle, and I was able to go inside and hear the concert itself.
It was a domed arena, with seating all around the sports floor. There was a stage between two monster stacks of speakers, and there were concertgoers on the floor in front of it. The floor was packed, and so were all the seats above.
There was no announcer saying anything like, “Ladies and gentlemen, the Grateful Dead.” The members of the band just strolled onto the stage randomly and adjusted the knobs on the front of their amplifiers, then looked around to see if the others were arriving. Then a portly man with long white hair and a Santa Claus beard, Jerry Garcia the lead singer, gave his guitar a strum and the audience erupted into a cheer.
When they went into their first tune, everybody in the audience got up and started dancing in front of their seats, and I mean absolutely everybody; nobody stayed sitting down. The style of dancing was bobbing up and down with the legs and shaking arms and head every which way in frantic abandon. People started to spill out into the aisles as they did this, and some of the arena ushers were trying to push them back. One of them near me had a definite look of fear on his face, muttering to a co-worker, “I have never seen anything like this!”
After about twenty minutes I saw people walking in and out of the entrance doors, so I decided to take in more of this show that was not on the stage, and went out into the lobby. There were speakers feeding the music out there, and more people dancing. Everybody was working up a sweat doing this, and the air became humid and foggy, almost like being in a steam bath.
And all this was a costume show of tie-dyed and batik regalia. There were men wearing madras wrap-around skirts like I had seen at Rainbow Gatherings. Finally I saw a man dancing in a blue shirtwaist dress with a white bow in the back. I knew then that I had found another place where I could wear women’s clothes in front of other people.
Never had I been to any performance where I had seen and felt the audience so involved, and where I had seen the participation so universal. Everybody’s individual vibrations coalesced into standing waves.
I now understood fully what the trip was with these Deadheads, and why so many Rainbows were such demonstrative fans of them, why there were so many bumper stickers on their vehicles and guitar cases saying: WHO ARE THE GRATEFUL DEAD AND WHY ARE THEY FOLLOWING ME? and WHAT A LONG STRANGE TRIP IT HAS BEEN. So many things decorated with skulls with a silver lightning flash separating the red and blue sides of a circle inside it,
and lines of 5 dancing koala bears each in a different color.
There was no way I was going to drive back to Charlottesville that night in time for work the next morning, and I called Neal long distance and told him I would be late (which he wasn’t too happy about at first but I was eventually forgiven). The next stop on the tour was Philadelphia, from Thursday to Monday surrounding the next weekend. I drove up right after work on Friday.
Philadelphia had its baseball, football, and basketball arenas all next to each other, and the concert was in the Spectrum, the place where the 76ers played basketball. Across a street was a large city park with grass and trees. It was dark by the time I got there, and I saw parked cars scattered all over the grass and people walking about to the light of Coleman lanterns.
I found some wooden barricades surrounding what looked like an entrance, and I was turned away by some men there who told me it was full. I drove back up the street and found a relatively dark place and drove up over the curb as quickly as I dared with all the people around. After I was on the grass and inside, nobody interfered with me and I found a place to park.
I walked over to the arena and the show still hadn’t started. I found the lines waiting to get in, and more people walking around with hands upraised and fingers indicating how many miracles they needed. I didn’t even bother with asking for one myself, and nobody gave me one.
In the park was a long row of vendors with the backs of their tents toward the street, and I found one place that had a purple tank top dress with a rainbow tie-dye pattern on its chest, which I bought but did not put on immediately.
The next morning I made sort of a pilgrimage, I walked a few blocks north to the Philadelphia Naval Hospital where my parents told me I had been born. Later on I found Felipe’s bus over on the asphalt parking lot on the other side of the arena from the park. He wasn’t able to get it started, and I troubleshot it down to the solenoid on the starter. Then he and I went for a ride around Philadelphia in another brother’s car to look for a place open on Sunday morning that had a new one. We found one and I installed it on his bus back in the parking lot successfully, which fixed his bus and furthered my bonding with him.
At about noon a Rainbow sister and I found a man standing in the middle of a softball field in the park, standing all by himself stiff legged with an agonized look on his face, and we could tell by the way he didn’t respond to us that he was tripping on something psychedelic. So we spent another two hours watching out for him and trying to get him to talk. Suddenly, without any discernable stimulus, the expression on his face changed to a more relaxed one, tho he still looked frustrated and disgusted. He walked off soberly without saying much of a good bye or thank you, but we felt we had succeeded in bringing him back down safely.
There was no concert that evening. For a while there was an interesting cultural mix when the Deadheads were mingling with football fans tailgating before the Eagles game. I walked around the vendor’s tents in the dress I had just bought.
More people who wanted to party started showing up in the afternoon, and a lot of them were not dressed like Deadheads. As it got toward evening there were more and more drunks, and a few of them started mocking me about my dress. Over in an open field was a row of porta-potties that were overflowing, with pieces of toilet paper strewn on the ground around them and people opening the doors and closing them again saying “eeuw”. There was a man being driven around while standing in the back of a pickup truck offering 20 squares of toilet paper for a dollar fifty. “Here, take a load off your mind.”
I left to go back to Charlottesville and my job about an hour before sunset.
So here was a place with intense beauty amid ugliness sometimes as great (not unlike a Rainbow Gathering). I knew I didn’t want to be a tour-head; I would just continue to have a steady job and go to their concerts when they came nearby. But being around Felipe and his group further increased my feeling of bonding with the Rainbow Family and the spirit of sharing and charity they had displayed in the midst of this, and how they had further introduced me to more intense experiences. What a long strange trip I felt it was going to be.
And at future gatherings I was going to see lots of interplay and sometimes conflict between those who considered themselves to be Rainbows and those considered by these same people to be Deadheads. Some “spiritual” types disparaged them as being just into drugs and partying and expecting others to pick up their trash. At many a Dinner Circle and Vision Council I was going to hear, “This is not a Dead show!”
But there were many who saw no conflict in being both; occasionally I would be greeted on a trail with “hey now” (from a line in one of their songs that continued with “hey now, aiko aiko wan day”), and many a Rainbow troubadour treated us to Friend of the Devil, Love You Love You Not Fade Away, and Ripple. The two cultures were intimately intertwined.
I went two more times in as many years before I left Charlottesville to live in a city that they didn’t include on their tours. These were both at the Robert F. Kennedy football stadium where the Redskins played, near the Mall and downtown D.C. This venue was much larger than the Capitol Centre, and tickets were easier to get. At one of those shows I was even able to buy one at the gate. And at both of them I found in the parking lot the means to attend the concert in a psychedelically amplified state. At the third show I had on a bright red tank top sundress, and at the fourth I wore a rainbow tie-dye one that I had bought in the parking lot of the third. Both times I asked for two days off of work and was able to get it. (Ben, the second-in-command supervisor, said, “You mean to tell me you’re gonna be worth a fuck the next day?”