When the parking lot is its own strange journey

Parking lots outside of Grateful Dead shows was part of the tradition, and that tradition continued with Dead & Company, the group’s...


Parking lots outside of Grateful Dead shows was part of the tradition, and that tradition continued with Dead & Company, the group’s post-Jerry Garcia incarnation with John Mayer.

This summer, as the band tour the United States, the party outside of the show is alive and well, although depending on the location each has a unique flavor. In New York City, when you step off the subway at Citi Field, you can see Shakedown Street – as the legendary scene of the lot is known (named after a 1978 Grateful Dead album) – in front of the stadium.

For a show in Boulder, Colorado, you’re on a college campus. In Saratoga Springs, NY, at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, you are in a state park on the grass in the woods near the cornfields.

On August 27 and 28, photographer OK McCausland captured the culture at two exhibitions: at Saratoga Springs and at Hershey Park in Hershey, Pa.

When I see these photos, I like to close my eyes and imagine walking from my old Volvo station wagon to a huge open field, with rows of colorful VW vans, RVs and buses. People young and old, sitting on top or right next to their vehicles, as if the land was their lawn. Some play music, others play games or barbecue or do whatever you can imagine while waiting to see their favorite band.

Strangers stop strangers just to say hello when a smile is exchanged. It’s electric and contagious. The lot looks like the largest open-air flea market in the world, with vendors selling all your favorite goods, whatever they are. Often the stuff finds you – things you didn’t even know you were looking for.

Everyone seems to know each other and no one seems out of place. It’s not about what they wear; that’s how they wear it. The style is captivating.

I am drawn to people who have worn a T-shirt that has seen hundreds of shows. I call it “worn”, not worn. Maybe it has holes from a joint or just from wear and tear, and fits the body like a second skin.

One of the nicest things about the Dead style for me is that it exudes authenticity. Fans may be wearing their favorite shirts, but they don’t appear in disguise. They are in uniform. A group of people who wear the clothes rather than the other way around. Everyone looks so comfortable and familiar to each other, like family. (There are also a lot of biological families: grandparents, parents and children.) Young and old, they bring style.

Until a few years ago, you had to be there or ask a friend to bring you a t-shirt or sticker, but thanks to Instagram, the lot has grown.

When you’re outside of the show, whether it’s in person or online, you may see a salesman who has been traveling the stage for 50 years or a 15-year-old wearing his father’s old T-shirt; it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the new from the old. And inside the room, the group is playing.

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