By Daniel Kohn
For 35 years, sweltering, bumper-to-bumper traffic off the 405 exit for Irvine Center Drive come sunset has been as beloved an OC summer ritual as hitting the beach or bitching about another lost Angels season. And it was no different this past July, as police waved hoards holding beer cans and sporting tie-dyed T-shirts across Bake Parkway. Dead and Company was in town, the last gasp of the Grateful Dead, and the parking lot of Irvine Meadows bustled with Deadheads. True to tradition, wherever they go, they create a makeshift vendor area crammed with campers and tents dubbed Shakedown Street, after the famous Dead song and album.
Fans started filing into the sold-out venue as the sun dropped over Irvine Meadows’ picturesque hillside setting, creating another majestic view on this clear summer night. Before Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995, the Dead made Irvine Meadows a regular stop, playing there 15 times, most famously in 1989 in what police labeled as a “near riot” when approximately 500 fans without tickets reportedly threw rocks and bottles at authorities and lit bonfires when they couldn’t enter the venue. Though the mood was much calmer 27 years later, excitement still surged through the crowd full of aging hippies in cargo shorts.
On the arduous walk from the gate to the amphitheater, fans whispered about John Mayer’s inclusion in the group and whether the group is still credible without Phil Lesh. But the biggest topic was whether this was the final time they’d ever catch a show at Irvine Meadows.
“I can’t believe it’s actually closing,” one middle-aged attendee said to another as he lit up a joint.
“Yeah, it’s been like this for a while,” his balding friend said. “Sad to see the place go.”