Hundreds of people gathered in Salt Lake City on Wednesday as Grateful Dead fans worldwide said goodbye to a friend, an icon and possibly an era.
Jerry Garcia, 53, died of a heart attack early Wednesday morning in a California drug treatment center. The lead guitarist and vocalist for the Grateful Dead, Garcia symbolized the psychedelic sound of an endless summer of flowers, drugs and love.As news media worldwide announced his passing, Garcia's fans in Salt Lake City gathered at Memory Grove Park to play music, dance and mourn with one another. Children in tie-dyed shirts and businessmen in suits joined an all-ages crowd in remembering a man who touched the lives of millions.
"It's the end of an era," said Beth Weekly, 26, as her 6-year old daughter played nearby. "It's kind of the final nail in the coffin of the '60s. I wish there could be something like this around for my daughter."
The gathering grew larger as the night wore on, and as a full moon lighted the colorful group, many discussed the spiritual aspects of death.
"We've lost one of the greatest artists of our time," said Alyssa Butcher, 16. "But he's graduated to a better place. It kind of makes me feel good."
Garcia's life was plagued by health problems, many of which were drug-related. Often, his illnesses broke up the band's exhaustive touring schedule. In 1986, Garcia was hospitalized in a diabetic coma, but he recovered quickly and soon was back on stage and in the studio.
Fans and music critics marveled at Garcia's tenacity. Three years ago, after collapsing from exhaustion, he attempted to change his bad habits with a strict diet and exercise routine. Still, his death did not surprise some fans.
"He abused his body," said Mark Dunn, 32. "I think we're all just happy he lived as long as he did."
For many, Garcia was more than music - he was a lifestyle. Thousands of fanatic "Deadheads" followed his band religiously from venue to venue for years at a time. Wednesday, as the band's future was clouded with uncertainty, many fans lamented the end of that lifestyle.
"A Grateful Dead concert was the first time I ever felt totally unencumbered by anything," said Dunn. "That's a feeling you can only get in a situation like this, where people come to listen to good music, enjoy each other's company and enjoy nature. We may never see anything like it again."
The scents and sights at Memory Grove on Wednesday were reminiscent of a Grateful Dead concert. As incense and smoke wafted in the warm night air, friends and strangers alike shared hugs and memories. The continuous rhythm of bongo drums recalled the famed "drum trips" of Grateful Dead concerts.
Residents of Canyon Road, the street leading into the park, sat on their porches and watched the procession of quiet, colorful fans heading toward the gathering.
"This is the quietest group we've had here all summer," said Dee Edmonds from the concrete wall where she sat with some neighbors.
Salt Lake police responded to a complaint of illegally parked cars in the area, but no other problems had been reported.
"We'll stay to monitor the area and keep drugs and alcohol to a minimum," said officer Mark Askerlund. "But typically, we don't have a lot of problems with Deadheads."
The officers were somewhat perplexed about all the fuss over Garcia. Commenting on the Deadheads' public display of loyalty, Askerlund said, "I guess I would attend a memorial gathering for Patsy Cline."
Cosmic Aeroplane, a Salt Lake music store at 1300 S. 900 East, dedicated a storefront shrine to the much-loved Garcia on Wednesday. But dozens of red roses at the shrine were stolen near midnight. Store owner Jeff Salt tracked a trail of rose petals through a neighborhood to find witnesses - who also happened to be Garcia fans - that pointed him to the culprits' apartment.
Salt, who did not press charges, said the couple returned the roses and agreed to buy dozens more for the shrine. He plans on letting the shrine stand as long as people need it.
"People are coming by and dropping by flowers," Salt said. "We want to let people contribute."