I already had heard Jerry Garcia up close and personal in several small-hall incarnations -- the Grateful Dead, Old and In the Way, Garcia and Saunders, and the Jerry Garcia Band -- when my old friend George and I rolled into Berkeley, California on a summer night in 1973, but this would be a first for George.
Old and In the Way, a bluegrass quintet with Garcia on banjo (yes, banjo), Vasser Clements on fiddle, David Grisman on mandolin, Peter Rowan on guitar and John Kahn on string bass, were at the immortal Keystone Berkeley.
There already had been a somewhat other-wordly feel to the day. We had driven from Newark, Delaware to San Francisco by way of Gainesville, Florida, some 3,700 miles, and then across the bay to Berkeley, where the first person I met after getting out of the van was someone I knew from Newark. Then someone came up to George and gushed, "I know those boots! They're Snakegrinder boots!", a reference to the white cowboy boots with alligator tips that George was wearing at the time -- and wore on stage back home as lead singer for a band improbably called Snakegrinder and the Shredded Fieldmice.
Like I said, the Keystone wasn't that big, it was Garcia's home turf and musicians and audience mingled freely between sets, sometimes shooting pool together in a back room.
I'll let George pick up the story from here:
What a time we had!
I was taking a leak in the bathroom and Jerry takes a place in front of the urinal next to time. I said those immortal words, "Jerry, I can't believe how big you are!"
Jerry gives me a look that registered surprise, disgust and dismay. You could also add shock. Then I said, looking plaintively into his eyes, hoping against all hope that I would not notice his penis: "What I mean, Jerry, is that when I see you at concerts, I usually see you from the nose-bleed seats where you appear to be about an inch tall."
Jerry took a noticeably deep breath of relief and looked straight ahead at the wall and continued pissing, probably in mixolydian scale. He said not a single word to me, and I know deep in my heart that he was praying that I would not ask him for an autograph.
I remember that I turned to the wall trying to control my creeping feeling of embarrassment. He finished his business and moved as quickly as he could to get away from this adoring fan. Which was me. After he left, I remember getting tripped out on the graffiti on the wall in front of me. Then I realized that in the excitement of meeting Jerry Garcia I had pissed all over my white boots with alligator tips.