Smile Smile Smile

Smile Smile Smile,

So the Grateful Dead song goes and so we did. One of the few things I really miss, even yearn for in the States would be attending the Dead shows. I download the newest ones, watch the videos, and smile at all the pictures my friends post of the shows. So, when I saw there was a real Grateful Dead music festival in nearby Japan, I started the wheels turning.

We like to take go out of the country every year and now enjoy taking Priam, fortunately his school also sees the value in him traveling so worked with us on his 2-week absence.

I started emailing the festival and the Deadhead JP facebook page, they all seemed delighted we might come. Tickets booked, visas in hand and away we go! I looked at various means of transportation and accommodations, discovering the car or camper van camping is very popular in Japan and there are abundant accommodations, so a camper van it is! Our Japanese Furthur bus, was booked.

The RV rental company picked us up at the airport, and to our amazement the staff was all Filipino, we would discover this is the last English-speaking people we would encounter. Van loaded, checked out on all the bells and whistles, and chanting over and overgo left, we headed out on the excellent Japanese express way system.

We arrived at the festival sight, all excited to see acres of tents already pitched. The organizers met us at the entrance and thru some trans language communications, we were in. Seems we were the only “foreigners” to attend. We received a warm and very happy hippy welcome.

We sent up camp and just as I headed to the stage, I heard a splendid rendition of that old hippy anthem, the Youngbloods, “Get Together”, I was home.

Priam loves the Dancing Bears
The event is sponsored and promoted by a well known Japanese Dead tribute band, the Warlocks of Tokyo, i expected them to be great, I had heard their tapes. What I did not expect was for every one of the ten bands I heard to be great, I was to be pleasantly surprised.

The Dancing Bear Band was the first one I heard, mix of old hippy and Dead tunes, all done with a flare yet a clear respect for the material.

kids bubbles and music
The bands came and went all afternoon, we were camped within easy listening and a short walk to the stage. Between us and the stage was a traditional “Shakedown Street” row of vender, ahh but no toasted cheese sandwiches. I saw two vintage Jerry dolls like the one that had faithfully followed Furthur across the Pacific, but in far better condition. Our Jerry has seen some miles.

Night rolled in with a misty rain, we dined at our camper and then went to see the bands again. One band took some liberties with the music, a hip-hop Dead band would usually make me turn my heels and make me run, but this one seemed to make the mix work. Their thirteen members made a great sound.

the Warlocks of Tokyo
Next came the headliners, the Warlocks of Tokyo (for the non Dead heads reading this, the Warlocks was the original name of the Grateful Dead). They tackled the hard stuff, Terrapin Station, and ended with a rousing version of Johnny B Good. Like some of the other bands they had translated the lyrics into Japanese. The show ended at nine pm, and we headed back to the camper. At nine at night the entire campground went silent, not like any thing one would see in America haha.

We arose to a partly sunny sky and our first glimpse of Mt Fuji! Mt Fuji is like Mt. Rainer back home, we know it is there but does not come out all the time. The bands started playing, “Touch of Pray” and a few other phenomenal bands. The last one we saw, Far East Swampers, was a real-life Japanese country band. They had a bitchin steel guitar player and a whalin’ electric banjo player. Like all the bands we saw, they had incredible female vocalists, some more than one. One interesting note, all the bands had a huge number of members, usually over ten, up to thirteen. I saw a band with four percussionists, four guitar players, four vocalists and a keyboard player, all playing as tight as a tick, a tribute to Japanese organizational skills for sure.

The term “tribute band” or “cover band” gets tossed about often. I did not see these bands as either, no more than I would say the New York Philharmonic Orchestra playing Beethoven as being a “Beethoven tribute band” more a band paying tribute and keeping the music alive. That is what I saw, ten bands and a thousand or more people, most if not all of which had never seen the Dead, all keeping the music alive. The festival motto was “The Spirit Lives On” and it did. I had to note, there were no recipticals for rubbish, it was all to be taken away by the campers. As they tents folded and cars left, there was not a scrap of paper in the fields, totally clean. That impressed me!

So how does a somewhat obscure, certainly not mainstream pop, sixties band acquire a loyal and dedicated following in far off Japan. Unlike the USA, Japan does not have a baby boomer generation, so not many old Japanese hippies about, (we did see a few long, grey, Shogun like beards though). Japan is known to be a cutting edge modern culture, Karaoke, high tech, YouTube sort of place not where I expected to find acres of tie dye and real authentic 60’s relic attire, let alone a passion for the music, but here it was, in all its glory. I was over come with joy.

We want to thank all who put this one on and welcomed us so much, for a “real good time.”