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E001: Ken Hays remembers the Grateful Dead @ Telluride in 1987

Updated: Feb 25

In the midst of skyrocketing popularity and sold out stadium shows, the band escaped to the tiny town of Telluride, CO to play for ~3000 lucky faithful followers.


Episode 1 (2/21/2021)

Ken Hays founder of Terrapin Tapes and the Gathering of the Vibes music festival joined Prem to relive some memories of that time when the Dead and their tribe descended on Telluride.


Transcript excerpt:


Prem:

It looks like we actually have a few friends in the room. Who would have thought?!

We have Brando from CashorTrade, our friend Andy, and mister cloud kitchen Dan!


Well, let's introduce everyone to SickShow! We all have Sick Shows that we've attended. I define a sick show as one where you literally walk out saying, "wow, that was a SICK show!" While it's a feeling very much in the moment, it's something that lasts.


Ken Hays:

It's Built to Last!


Prem:

Ha, yes. It sparks something in you, it keeps you going, it inspires you to do something positive, and gives you energy in your darkest moments. We've all drawn on that energy in recent months.


So, Ken, I asked you yesterday to think of a show that was inspiring and memorable to you as just a fan. We all know you've created many magical experiences for other people, but that's not what today is about. We'll get there! We want to know when you danced hard and enjoyed yourself!


Ken Hays:

It was 1987 in August after 3 shows at Red Rocks, we drove about 5 hours west to Telluride, Colorado. It was by far the most magical experience of my life.


Prem:

So, summer of 87, I know what this means for the band. They almost stopped existing a year earlier but now they have a top 40 hit rising. But where are you in your life?


Ken Hays:

I'm in Boulder, a junior at CU Boulder.


Prem:

Ah, ok, so you're basically already a Colorado resident. But in college.


Ken Hays:

Yes. Having a whole lot of fun, probably more fun than I should have. And following the Dead as much as I could. Traveling the country. Summer of '87, In The Dark is released, and things started to get really f*in crazy out on tour.


Prem:

Yeah, that July they're playing stadiums, and they're on MTV with the Giants Stadium parking lot scene. And this is only a month later...


Ken Hays:

And I had never been to Telluride before, and we arrived at something like 5 o'clock in the morning. I remember it being dark. So, we set up camp, or crashed in the car, and a couple of hours later, we heard a ton of drumming going on and the sun came up. I think it was the Harmonic Convergence with Olatunji, and a ton of people had their drums.


Prem:

That's right, I did a little research, and there was an exceptional alignment of the planets in the solar system.


Ken Hays:

And when the sun came up, it hit the back bowl of the mountains, and it lit them up bright red! And, it was just an amazing start of the next 2 days. Yeah, man, that was the beginning, and then we walked downtown, which felt very much an old school Western Colorado gold town. There weren't that many people there.


Photos © Chuck Miller, Telluride Town Park, Telluride, CO, August 16, 1987


I had known that in Boulder, Phil was on the radio station KBCO, and Bill Graham also, saying "hey, guys, we're playing Telluride. Please don't come if you don't have a ticket; we want to do this every year. And shockingly, people listened, and they didn't show up.


Prem:

I read that Bill also took out full page ads in Denver newspapers! That's what I read today. So did you come to town having tickets?


Ken Hays:

Yeah, yeah, we had tickets. We bought them waiting outside the record store in Boulder. And then before the show, saw Bobby riding his mountain bike down the street. There really weren't that many people there... I'd be shocked if it were more than 3000.


Prem:

I think that's what they wanted to keep it to, right? Between 3000 and 5000? or at least that's what the town approved, I think? As opposed to the 12000 that Graham wanted?


Ken Hays:

Well, on the field, they could have easily double the capacity and still have a ton of room. And I got to meet Bill Graham. Apparently, he had a home there in Telluride, and that's how it all came to together. Bill convinced the people in charge of the municipality that it would be a good thing to have. (laughs) This band that's been playing to 60000 people...


Prem:

What I read is that he wanted 12000 people, and, you know, there was revolt. And the town put it up for special election, and they agreed to let the band play to a smaller amount around 4000 or whatever. Interestingly, more people came out for this vote than for the general election that year for the mayor or whatever.


Ken Hays:

I mean, it was shocking. They probably voted on this things before the release of In The Dark. You know, which is when things went ballistic. But it was amazing. Just aesthetically something. People had dayglow, zinc oxide, the vibe was so f*in positive. It was so clean and so beautiful... it was just something I'll never forget.


Prem:

Sounds like it! You're painting a very clear picture. I've seen a couple of photos here and there, but... so who were you with on this trip?


Ken Hays:

A couple of buddies. I honestly forget at the moment.


Prem:

I guess the dayglow people were more important as far as the memory goes. (haha)


Ken Hays:

In terms of the music, it was kind of sh!t, eh. Kind of a weak performance. But on the 2nd night... well, before we get to that, I remember after the show, which ended at like 7pm, Brent was playing this old school piano, and people were gathered around, maybe 20 people or so. And it was just amazing.


What was really fun and kind of encapsulates the essence of the weekend was the encore: Brokedown Palace. Typically not something that's all that memorable. But they start and it's clear that it's really bad, they're off key, and it sounds terrible. Phil is looking around totally lost. Bobby is looking at Jerry, everyone is looking at Jerry, saying "what are you doing?" And Jerry starts singing, and it sounds horrible. And he STOPS. And says "wait a minute, wait a minute, stop! This is all f#cked up! We're in the wrong key...How did all that happen?!" Bobby said something about the altitude, and everyone cheered. It was that memorable Kodak moment that you just never forget.

Prem:

That sounds that was your most intimate moment. Were you close to the stage?


Ken Hays:

Yeah, man, everyone was.


Prem:

Super cool.


Ken Hays:

There were definitely more people the second night than there were the first night. I imagine there were maybe 6000-7000 people that came on the 2nd night.


It was an amazing experience.


Prem:

I've been reading some archive reviews, and it looks like there were at least some highlights. We'll have to schedule time to listen to the Scarlet>Fire and the Candyman (Audio links are to recordings made by the famous and dedicated Oade Brothers).





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