Back in the early 90s I was a sophomore in high school, 14 years old. Varsity soccer and varsity tennis team, and really loved all forms of rock n’ roll. Hard rock, soft rock, heavy metal, etc… The Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin playing constantly on the tape deck. The music helped me escape from the stresses of everyday teenage life. Our garage was playing field for lots of local musicians, including some very talented guitar players. In order to play on varsity team and try to get a scholarship, I had to have good grades and pay attention. One of the most memorable school teachers I had was my 10th grade English teacher, Mr. Bader. Yes Mister…. Bader. All joking aside he was very intelligent and a fan of Ken Kesey’s writing.
“One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey was a book chosen by the school, that all students MUST read. Along with others, like Orwell’s “1984,” Shakespeare, and Bradbury’s “Fahrenheight 451.” Kesey’s writing was completely different than what we were reading in our school at the time. It was hip, interesting, creative, and intelligent writing. I was hooked. Mr. Bader encouraged us to research our favorite author in the library and of course Ken’s address was on the index card. Remember writing him a letter or two, but can’t find any responses. Heard he was pretty good about responding to fans. Even cooler……
Onward to Summer – June 1994. School is out! We have tickets to see Traffic and The Grateful Dead at one of the biggest football stadiums in the nation. Washington D.C.‘s RFK Stadium. Bill Clinton was in office. D.C. was filled with tons of friendly Deadheads. Remembering clearly this HUGE circus you could see for miles off the interstate! Vice President Al Gore was there! Balloons, lots of balloons! Stoked to see Jerry Garcia for the first time. This must have been the biggest party in the world. Looked like a really fun movie set. At least 80,000 people – stoned! How am I gonna find my friends? Easy go inside to the floor, back center! After Traffic played, it got dark. The Boys took the stage and remember this amazing light show. Holy shit there were a lot of people inside. Sold Out. 42,000 people. Jerry opened up the show with “Cold Rain and Snow”, and everyone was dancing! 42,000 people dancing with Jerry Garcia smiling. I was turned on! This was by far the coolest experience I have ever encountered! I knew it was real, cause I could feel the music. The goose bumps you get, that stand up on your arm. The good feeling goose bumps. The feeling of being alive and free, in the nation’s capitol with Jerry Garcia, the Vice President, and 42,000 “fu**in people”. The band was great that night, one of my favorite live GD shows. Classic songs like Ramble On Rose, China Cat > Rider, and Estimated Prophet. The only bad thing about it was I had to go back home. I could not continue to the West Coast, too young!
Forward to Oregon 1997 – the Oregon Country Fair was happenin’. Veneta, OR. Out of high school (graduated), and unfortunately Jerry had passed in 1995. I was on the road. Hitch-hiked from the entrance to Yellowstone. Gardiner, Montana. Walking out of the Fair on a hot summer day. I saw this beautifully painted school bus, shining in the sun. BRIGHT and gorgeous. Looked closer and saw it was titled “FURTHER.” That’s it, the real Further Bus. I went to the door and Ken (Kesey) was there. A surreal moment, like holy shit that is Ken Kesey, on the Bus. He looks older than I expected, but he’s friendly with a strong handshake and a beautiful smile. It was an honor to meet him and check out the Bus. He was my hero and a damn good writer. I felt without him, life would honestly be different, and he was very intelligent and one of those authors and characters who could honestly make a difference in people’s lives. So I was “On The Bus”, and where I have remained for over 20 years now. The Kesey’s have always been supportive and kind. Teaching me along the way, and encouraging me to live a more positive life and treat myself a little better along the way. Ken Babbs is always entertaining to converse with and love his writing as well. Owner of a captivating sense of humor. Have always had a huge amount of respect for him.
So in my eyes, Jerry Garcia, the music, the scene, and The Kesey’s/Ken Babbs changed my life for the better. Really miss those days, and Jerry, and Ken. Young and free, on the road, and on the Bus. “One Flew East, One Flew West, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.” – Ken Kesey— Erin Skypilot