No, the headline is not a joke. There really is a place called George, Washington. Great name, isn’t it?
We did a road trip to the area to see the Grateful Dead play at the Gorge Amphitheatre. It took almost nine hours to arrive in Ephrata, Washington, where our hotel was, about half an hour from the concert venue. The effort was tiring, but well worth it. The drive took us through a stunning display of terrain, from the moody cloud-covered mountains of the North Cascades National Park to temperate forest to rolling dry brushland to the formidable canyons of Indian reservation territory to the Grand Coulee Dam and the Columbia River. It was like driving through a Woodie Guthrie song. We were really seeing America.
A fitting prelude for the Grateful Dead show. This quintessential American band was right at home at the Gorge Amphitheatre, set on the edge of a canyon overlooking the Columbia River. The sky was clear blue, the sun was shining, and the band was in top form. The line up was officially Dead & Company, featuring Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann and John Mayer, with Oteil Burbridge (bass) and Jeff Chimenti (keyboards). The show lasted about 4 hr., including an hour break for the band. I’m used to 90-min. to 2-hr. shows, so this was an unexpected treat.
I must say that it was a delight to watch John Mayer play. I didn’t respect him much when he first came on the scene years ago with what I considered juvenile pop (“Your Body Is a Wonderland”, etc.), but when I saw a clip of him playing “Gravity”, I knew I was looking at a good guitar player. When I saw him play with the Dead at the Gorge, I knew I was looking at an artist. The man can play. He’s a clean soloist with smooth flow through the fretboard. He blended perfectly with the band, which displayed a seamless chemistry, transitioning with ease from song to song from the opening tune “Touch of Grey” to the encore “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”.
Honestly, I looked the other way when it came to the Dead when I was younger. I used to associate them with their fans, who, it seemed to me, did a lot of drugs and led aimless lives. But I did a 180 when my husband played me some Dead albums a few years ago, and it became clear that this was a band to be reckoned with when it came to songwriting prowess. They hit a chord that has always been deep within me, and within the American psyche, with their folk music that keeps alive the raw, strange, wild, and beautiful elements of a time gone by.