Drive-in’s Grateful Dead show a hit

MILFORD – The Grate­ful Dead were a great ex­periment for the Milford Drive-In, and happily it turned out great.

"The crowd, they couldn’t have been any nicer. They were abso­lute the most pleasant, appreciate people I’ve ever seen," said Barry Scharmett, co-owner of the Milford Drive-In The­ater, speaking of hun­dreds of Grateful Dead fans who flocked there Sunday night to watch a simulcast of the final per­formance in that band’s 50-year history.

The Milford Drive-In was one of just four out­door theaters in the coun­try to show Sunday’s show live. Scharmett and his brother, Steven, who re­cently took over the busi­ness that has been in the family for four decades, called this an experiment a way to branch out from traditional movie fare.

"I didn’t know what to expect," said Scharmett.

But the satellite link from Chicago and the sound system, both were new to the drive-in, were flawless. "There wasn’t a hiccup. … The picture was so-so the first 10 minutes and then it was perfect and the sound was great," he said.

Milford Police Chief

Mike Viola and one offi­cer showed up about 6:30 at the drive-in’s request, but weren’t needed.

In the end the theater didn’t quite sell out, but Scharmett called it a "suc­cessful experiment" and vowed to try other special events, such as concerts or sporting events.

The drive-in charged $20 per person ($15 if tick­ets were bought online in advance), as compared to the usual price of $20 per vehicle.

The first fans began showing up at 1 p.m., even though the theater’s gates didn’t open until 4 p.m. The band started playing about 8:30 p.m., Eastern time, and lasted until about 1 a.m. – as did virtually the entire crowd in Milford.

People came from throughout New Hamp­shire and Massachusetts. The crowd tended to be somewhat older, as you expect for a band that has played for five decades, including senior citizens "Deadheads" who had seen live shows scores or even hundreds times. But there were also plenty of young adults and teens who knew the band some­what, plus a number of children brought along for the fun of the gathering.

It looked a lot like a normal crowd at the drive-in except for the preponderance of tie-dyed garments, which reached a peak with Dave Harris, of Salem, Mass., who matched his T-shirt with tie-dyed socks. His long white hair and white beard made him look startlingly like the late Jerry Garcia, the band’s former leader.

Harris, 58, said he has seen than 200 live Grateful Dead shows over the course of four decades. He couldn’t make it to Chicago for these shows, but he wasn’t going to miss the simulcasts. He said the first two nights of the three-night stand at the I-max theater in Hooksett, and wanted to experience the final one at the drive-in, where people sat in lawn chairs talking, children ran around and played on the swingsets, and the speak­ers pounded out Grateful Dead songs.

"This is just like the shows," said Danielle Couture, of Chelmsford, Mass., who attended with her partner Blair Heffernan and their 20-month-old daughter Libby. She gestured around at people playing Frisbee and hack­ey-sack, small children and obvious grandparents, not to mention one stand selling T-shirts, macrame and glass-blown pipes.

The mix of ages and backgrounds among fans is part of the charm of a Grateful Dead show, said Joy Kolonoski of Bel­mont, Mass.

"You don’t see this many age groups at a Phish concert," she said, naming the Vermont jam band that is often compared to the Dead – indeed, Phish’s lead guitarist Trey Anastasio filled in for Jerry Garcia during the shows, and several fans mentioned him as a major part of the draw.

Scharmett noticed one difference between this crowd and the usual movie-watchers.

"I set up speakers in front of the old play­ground. … There must have 100 to 150 people dancing all night. They couldn’t have been any closer to the speakers," said Scharmett.

Another difference? People were neat and tidy.

"I went through the yard last night after everybody left. It was not as bad as a Saturday night at the drive-in. They picked up after themselves, and put a good portion in the trash cans," Scharmett said.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashuatelegraph. com.