You don’t have your product ready yet. In fact, all you have is a sketch. You don’t have an organization yet, and only a few close friends even know about the idea. You have no paperwork, no web site, no nothing.
Well, where do you think every successful corporation started! You’re doing great so far!
Now let’s go sell it.
Wait, you say. I can’t. I have to build it first. How can I sell it if I don’t have something to return in exchange for cash?
That’s simple. You’ll be straight with everyone from the start. You’ll tell people you want them to buy even though the product is still “in development” (a phrase vague enough that it can mean as little as “I’ve been pouring it over in my head”). Then just say something to the effect of “If that’s a problem, we can stop now, or I can still sketch out the idea for you in case you have any feedback or you know someone who might buy this while it’s still in development? Is that fair?”
Here in 2020, some people use Kickstarter or Indiegogo to launch an idea. These great sites can help you in three ways. One, you can test the market at minimal cost. Two, you can start to build brand awareness. And three, you can raise some much needed money.
Run your Kickstarter concurrent with your efforts to sell five, not instead of.
People tend to get caught up on the “thing.” Oh, the app isn’t finalized yet, they might say. I would say you shouldn’t have even started coding it until 5 people gave you money for it.
Trust me, you don’t need the “thing” just yet. You need the money.
See, the money validates your idea, your organization, your “thing.”
Here’s all you need:
Step one. Go register your new entity with your state. Here in Colorado, that’s the Secretary of State’s office. Choose for-profit or non-profit, most often it will be for-profit, and most often, an LLC will do great. File and legally form your entity.
Step two. Go on-line and find a legal agreement from a similar entity in your state. For example, if you’re forming a chamber of commerce in Colorado, go to the site of the Commerce City Chamber of Commerce and download our membership agreement, or whatever we call it. I founded the damn organization, you have my permission, and even if you didn’t, this isn’t stealing, just do it. If it still feels too much like plagiarism to you, find two or three similar documents and blend them into a new word document. That’s called market research.
Use the Find & Replace command in a word processor to change out the old group name to your name. Be sure to swap out any specific language they have to make it fit your own. And simply delete anything you don’t like. Maybe it references an annual golf tournament and you don’t want to do a golf tournament. Delete. When in doubt, leave it out.
Pro Tip – Have an attorney review it. It could save you a ton in the long run. For now, if you’re broke, run with this, and vow to hire an attorney once your business is doing what businesses are set up to do, and that’s accept incoming payments.
Step three. Price your offering. This part is hard. The tendency is to go low. “The existing chamber down the street charges $300 for their base membership.” That’s the kind of statement people will make. How do you respond?
A couple things here. One, if you’re starting a membership association, your base membership pricing will be KEY because 65-85% of your first year members will choose this level. Get it right. Don’t charge $5 in annual dues, you’ll get the wrong people. And nowhere near enough money.
The $300 example above is what we faced with the Commerce City Chamber. Brighton is a beautiful community just north of us. Tremendous people. A fabulous community with a historic downtown core around which they had built, at that time, a town of nearly 50,000, roughly our size. The community, the business environment, was very comparable to our situation. Brighton’s Chamber had been around for over 50 years, boasted hundreds of members, 2.5 employees, all kinds of printed materials and a lengthy schedule of upcoming events. We had none of that. Their base level was $300. Where would you have priced us?
We went with $250, and we put a one-time, $100 Registration Fee on top of it. It worked. I’ll get to that story later. The key is, you have to get your pricing right. And it’s easier to miss high, reprice and do a mea culpa, than to get it too low to start.
PRO Tip: A Registration Fee is a great way to get a little more money out of people at the height of their excitement – when they first join. And it can work in your favor when they get a renewal notice in 11 months for a lower amount.
OK, you’re registered, so you have a legal entity. You don’t need a bank account yet, but kudos for you if you set one up, you’re thinking ahead, good sign. If you’re waiting for your first check to fund it, that’s even better, that’s the right mindset. Your first customer check can cover any fees the bank will charge your business to establish the account. We want to get in the frame of mind that the org pays all these charges, not you.
You have a sales agreement, something official looking your client will have to sign when they write you a check, or, my personal favorite, pull out a wad of cash and start counting out the amount of money you asked them for. “Twenty, forty, sixty, eighty, one. Twenty, forty, sixty, eighty, two….” Set those prices right, I’m telling you!
And you have a price sheet.
Time to sell.
This is the point at which most people will balk, hesitate, delay, and make excuses.
“But I don’t have a product yet to sell! I have to develop it first.” Or “Thanksgiving is only 11 days away and people are already leaving on vacation so I’ll start in 2 weeks.” Wrong, wrong, wrong.
No excuses. We need to do some market research. You will simply tell your prospective client “I don’t have this product/org yet. I still have to develop/build it. Would you still be willing to buy this product/membership today, if it fixes/solves ___________?”
Some people reading this will object: “But you don’t understand, we’re going to be raising all our money on-line,” they might say. “We don’t need to sell.” I don’t know all your specifics, and raising money on-line is one of the greatest business categories going these days. But you DO need to sell. Trust me on this one. What do you think your site will be doing? On-line asks tend to be lower amounts, so this will be even easier for you than others. But you still need to get belly-to-belly with a bunch of people and sell five.
Here’s why this exercise is so valuable. Let’s say you’ve got an idea for an app. Great! Look around, people love their stupid f*$king cell “phones.” (Technically they’re computers that kinda suck as phones. But I digress.)
The old you was thinking you had to spend 3-9 months coding up this app before you have to leave the house, walk out of your comfort zone, and talk to people.
No, no, no! Don’t waste 15 minutes coding this thing yet. You may think it’s a great idea. So what. We need other people to think it’s a good idea. Here’s NOT how we know it’s a good idea.
YOU (on your lunch break with another corporate drone from your office): “I’m thinking about making an app that connects banana lovers with fresh bananas.”
DRONE 2: “That’s a great idea! You should do that!” Goes back to eating.
That is 0% validation of your idea. You would need to keep the dialogue going.
YOU: “Would you pay $10 a month for such an app?”
Now we’re getting somewhere. I have no idea what your co-worker would say to such a flimsy idea. Actually, I take that back, I know exactly what they’re most likely to say. If you have the greatest idea in the world, you’re still going to hear “no” more than anything else.
And that’s great!
Hearing a no is validation! Stick with me here. Let’s pick up the scenario above:
DRONE 2 (squirming slightly because you put him on the spot and he actually has to make a decision, something he rarely does): “Uh, I don’t know.” (Notice the “know” in I don’t know sounds exactly like “no”? That’s “no” coincidence.) “I usually just go to the grocery store when I want a banana.”
BAM! NOW we’re getting somewhere. A few more questions will lead to even more discovery of their banana buying process.
This no doesn’t mean your app idea is stupid. Far from it. We’ve barely asked one person. You’re still at zero, you need to sell this thing 5 times, remember? If you sell 5 talking to 20 or fewer people, you probably have a hit. And you’ll learn a lot from the other 15 people.
Many will go 0 for 10 with the first 10 presentations. Don’t get discouraged!! You’re making real progress, and it’s not costing you any money! The key is asking those no’s a few follow-up questions like “Is there anything we could add to the product that makes it good enough for you to buy it?” This is the gold you’re seeking to mine while selling five.
The money you collect from the five sales – which might take over 50 presentations – is just icing on the cake!
I know, it sounds like it’s gonna be painful. So let’s put it in perspective. Instead, you get to work in your basement designing your whatever. You spent 4 months with no income, but you were very comfortable, never talking to anyone outside your comfort zone. You designed it up, whatever the hell it is, and, feeling very proud, you made two or three calls to one or two manufacturing plants in China. After some delay and internal struggle – you still don’t talk to anyone, as you don’t think you can, because, after all, you don’t have any product to sell yet do you? – you finally pick a factory. They charge you thousands, which ends up being over half your life savings. But 6 weeks later, a bunch of boxes arrive on your doorstep. Wow, you are at the top of the mountain! You’ve never been so proud!!
You rip open a box, grab your product, take a picture, and post it to Facebook. “My widget is now available!”
Quickly, your excitement fades. You get a few attaboys. There are some likes, but you feel like there should be way more. Some fellow you’ve never met posted “Cool, I’ll buy one” and you get a momentary lift. You haven’t yet realized you’ll waste 5 to 30 minutes 4 or 5 times before giving up trying to find him to complete that sale. You’ll slowly learn, not all “I’ll take it”s turn into cash. Unfortunately.
You will quickly realize you need cash. Your garage will be full of widgets. Now what? Did you take the time to come up with a marketing plan!?!?
Now let’s deep dive a run of sales meetings that goes as bad as it can, an 0 for 10. It took over 100 phone calls, but you were focused on week one, and every day you made sure to book two appointments. You even ran one that first week of power dialing.
Week 2 will be super busy, as you start driving around town pitching your idea to people while also still working the phones. A pattern begins to emerge. You pull up, check your look in the rear view mirror real quick, wait in the lobby for what seems like a longer time than it should be for a scheduled appointment, you go through your preso, and they say no. You ask a few questions after the no, and some give you feedback, some basically tell you they’re busy and they have to go. You walk back to your car dejected.
At 3 weeks in, all you have to show for it are a bunch of no’s – and a ton of feedback. This feedback is gold. If we continue with the dumb idea above for a banana app, we can all guess why you haven’t sold any – it’s a dumb idea! No one needs it. But you know what? Your friends and loved ones will want to help you. They’ll see you’re serious about this. So they’ll offer up suggestions.
“I don’t eat bananas, but I’ll tell you, when we run out of diapers, wow is that bad! If I could push one button and have diapers here within an hour, I’d pay double for the diapers AND the delivery charge.” Sounds like a possible market niche…
What if multiple people in your first 0 for 10 said something to the effect of “I wouldn’t buy it for just bananas because I wouldn’t use it, but if it could meet all my fresh produce needs, that I could use!” Those types of trends are what you’re looking for. Don’t be afraid to ask about different price points too. You might be surprised what people will pay, often a figure you would’ve thought too high.
PRO Tip: Not everyone is broke like you. Never assume the prospect you’re in front of is broke!
Let’s go sell five.
You have two choices, call people you know, or cold call around. Your choice. I recommend working both avenues.
Most people detest both. I know I did. When I started in life insurance sales, they told me to make a list of 100 people I knew. I did. It took a few hours, it was boring, I didn’t like it. I wasn’t quite sure why they were having me do it. I was so dumb and naive.
Then they told me “Great job. See that phone over there? Use it to call them. Use this script when you call them.”
Man, if I didn’t like making the list, I’m not sure I have words to describe how I felt about calling up everyone I knew at the time and pitching them a product they’d never asked me for. This was 15 years ago. Of course, most of them have long since left my life, not because of the call, not because I don’t like them, not because they don’t like me (at least, I don’t THINK that’s why!), but simply because – life.
I hated calling people I knew and asking them about their finances, their retirement, practically begging them to meet with me. I’m not saying this will be the most fun part. I’m saying this will be one of, if not the, most important action you take to determine if this thing, this idea of yours, will fly or not.
We might as well find out early.
Make a list of people you know. Call them, tell them what you’re doing, ask for their help. A real friend will gladly sit down with you and give you honest feedback, which is what you want. You may have to buy them a cup of coffee and a pastry, that’s the least you can do. Put it under “Marketing” in your budget. It will be your best marketing dollars spent.
Also make a list to cold call. Here’s the good thing about your cold call list. There are literally billions of people you don’t know, so you can really target this list. In the example above, the really dumb idea about a banana app (I was eating a banana, don’t actually use this idea, its preposterous), you might cold call food distributors, grocery stores and someone in the banana business. Imagine! Calling someone in the industry you want to enter and just asking them some simple questions. You’d be surprised what people will offer up just because you ask them, even potential competitors. I would also go to a farmer’s market and ask around. At a good farmer’s market, you could learn a lot about a banana app in just one afternoon.
Go. Sell. Five. Keep asking people. You’re going to get a tremendous number of no’s. Great!! After each one, take one or two minutes to write down what they said. Let me repeat this, this is so important. After each meeting, write down what they said.
Even better, write it as they say it. Research shows people perceive you have a higher IQ when you take notes. You need written notes. Don’t trust this to memory, this is too important.
Another good move is to collect a deposit. “Member organizations are expensive to run. We’re forecasting first year dues at $400.” Pause and watch their face very closely, see if or how they react. “Would you be willing to put down a $100 deposit as startup capital for the organization, and once we officially launch, we’ll come around and collect the remaining $300 from you at your convenience?” Even better “I’ll just run your card for $100 today, and once we launch, we’ll confirm you’re still on board before charging you the remaining balance of $300.”
One hundred dollars is a great price point. Only people who are serious (or really love you) will pony up $100 for your phantom org / product. And what a validation this is! You can tell others, “You know Joan at XYZ? She wrote us a $100 check yesterday.”
A lot of people are too chicken shit to go first on a new org or product like this. (Are you?) Once you start closing a few people, the momentum will create more momentum.
Once you get to 10 no’s, you now have something. With a little luck, you also have a sale or two, which would be great, no doubt. But don’t feel like you HAVE to have a sale at this point. Your lowest close ratio will always be at the beginning. Why? OMG, let me count the ways. One, you’re smart, and you’re going to constantly improve this process. Two, you’re just getting your first market feedback. For example, what if at the farmer’s market, people kept talking about lettuce. One guy told you he couldn’t keep track of all the great varieties of lettuce. You’d talk about bananas, he kept coming back to lettuce. Another lady was literally eating the lettuce while you asked her about bananas. See where I’m going: The market is talking to you! Are you listening???
Very rare is the business that gets it perfectly right from the very beginning. That’s why going out and producing a bunch of inventory, or wasting months writing a bunch of code, is so dangerous. You need market feedback to hone and refine your idea, your org.
Your first ten no’s will do more to launch your business than anything else short of a huge infusion of money. And if you do get a huge infusion of cash, you owe it to that investor to ramp up the hunt for no’s and accelerate your no rate, and thereby increase the efficiency and speed at which you hone in on a successful thing.
There is another option you can run simultaneously, Because this one is a bit of a cop out, I left it til the end of this chapter, and I’m encouraging you to do this concurrent with your sales calls.
You can run an on-line survey, using Survey Monkey or another similar service. This is especially helpful if you’re planning to build a product of some type.
Writing a good survey isn’t that hard. Take a little time to think about what you most need to learn about, and keep it short. Like 3-5 questions short.
The challenge with a survey is getting the word out, as only a small percentage of people who hear about it will take it. But even just 3 survey responses can give you some valuable insight.
To be clear, a survey is no substitute for good ol’ fashioned sales calls.
What are you waiting for? Go sell five!
[This post is an excerpt from my book Building Something From Nothing.]
Here we go again. Another Presidential election, another close race for the third time this decade. The Senate still hangs in the balance. America’s red/blue divide seems as “50/50” as ever.
Now more than ever, America needs to lighten up and light up! Five states asked voters to consider legalization of marijuana, and last night, all five states – including South Dakota and Mississippi – voted to end Prohibition of this beautiful plant.
The movement continues to grow. New Jersey voters approved it almost 2-1, an almost unheard of statewide number for anything this side of a tax cut! (Voters here in Colorado simultaneously approved a tax cut and a massively expensive Family Leave program, but that’s another story….)
In AZ, it passed after narrow defeat four years ago. 15 states will now have adult rec use of cannabis, and the genie is pretty much out of the bottle. If anyone doubted the coming end of cannabis Prohibition, last night should remove all doubt!
Are your sales numbers not coming in where you need them?
Here are a few ideas to help you build some solid relationships, the type that lead to sales that stick around for years.
Networking is the simple concept of talking to others! Ideally, you network in the right place. It’s not that you can’t network in the produce aisle of your grocery store. It’s just likely a waste of your time because you’re not networking with the right people.
For cannabis professionals, here are a few networking events you can jump into. Remember, as with marriage, networking is like an empty box. You can only expect to get something out of it if you put in more than you take out!
Cultivated Synergy runs a virtual networking event twice a month. Even better, as a co-working space for cannabis companies in Denver, Colorado, you can meet people the old fashioned way too!
Giving back to your community isn’t just good for your bottom line – it’s literally good for your health!
2A Service Organizations
Lions, Kiwanis, and my favorite, Rotary International, have long been considered the “Big Three” of service organizations across America. Any decent sized American town is proud to hang those three logos on the city sign as you enter town!
Key tip – Don’t go for the business. Show up with the genuine intention of helping your community, and then demonstrate it through actions. Your fellow members will want to help you. Again, think of the empty box analogy.
There are countless small non-profits struggling for recognition and money. Find one near you that aligns with your values, then roll up your sleeves and help! These 501(c)3’s are required to have a Board of Directors with seats they often struggle to fill because they cost you time and pay you no direct financial compensation. If you help them, they’ll want to return the favor.
In the cannabis world, Color of Cannabis, Last Prisoner Project and NCIA are some of my favorite non-profits where a cannabis sales pro could do good today with the potential to profit from it later. What are some of your favorite cannabis related charities and other non-profits?
2C Events and Conferences
You could volunteer at an event to meet new people. This is more of a “one time” commitment than some of the above suggestions, so it might be a little easier for some to implement.
Here at 20/20 Growth, our Cannabis Public Policy Conferences are always looking for volunteers – and we always ask how we can help grow their business! This raises an important point – always be ready to ask for a certain type of prospect, and especially be ready to answer the question “what do you do” with a close that asks for a certain type of referral.
So for example, I would have no problem with a volunteer who said to me unprompted “Hey, by the way, we’re doing a special promotion for banks in cannabis. Do you know anyone in the banking sector who specializes in cannabis?” This is a great ask, because its specific. (Off the top of my head, I can think of three people in banking who have told me they specialize in cannabis clients.) A poor ask would be “Do you know anyone in cannabis who really needs [what my company offers]?” I know tons of people in cannabis. I have no idea what most of them need, and only a foggy idea what the rest need.
When asking for referrals, always be specific. “Do you know any women who own dispensaries here in Colorado?” Right away the faces of two amazing women I know pop up in my head. Ask me if I know any dispensary owners, and the category is so broad, I’m less likely to think of those two – or any one else in particular.
I hope these ideas will help you build enduring relationships!
We have great speakers like Nandu Sarma, Brian Vicente, and many others lined up. Heck, even Senator Cory Gardner is hoping to find time to phone in from the Capitol and take some questions, if the Senate schedule will allow for it!
The most exciting aspect is the virtual component we will begin test running this week. This is an in-person conference, but with COVID-19 limiting our seating to 100, and with many still not comfortable going out in public, we have optimized this conference for the virtual experience.
There will be a virtual lounge for networking, a virtual trade show floor so you can discover some of the leading brands in cannabis, and of course, we’ll have all the in-person content streaming live so you can still catch the session(s) you most want to see even if you can’t be at the Holiday Inn Denver East in person.
One last thought. We wanted to do something to help the cannabis industry in this trying time, so we are giving away virtual trade show booths to cannabis industry entities who introduce to a cannabis license holder. It’s that easy, email info@2020GrowthConferences.com for more info!
The cannabis industry is experiencing annual growth rates exceeding 30%! And many states are not even open for business yet. A number of Americans looking for a new career might ask themselves “Perhaps I should work in the cannabis industry?”
Here are a few tips to get started in cannabis:
1 Know Your Market. What state are you in? In America in 2020, cannabis is all about what state you live in. Do you need a badge? Is your state medical only or “full on rec” (recreational)? If it’s not legal yet in your state, it might be close. Many states are deciding in two months. Learn the legal language on what will be legal when.
2 Start Growing. In some states, like Colorado, it’s legal to grow a certain number of plants yourself for personal use. Do it. Learn what’s involved. Even if you don’t want to work in a grow facility – and they’re not grow houses any more, they’re full blown facilities – you’ll have a greater appreciation for the plant. And those who do grow will have a greater appreciation for you. Even if you want to be the accountant. Especially if you want to be the accountant.
3 Start Making Friends In The Industry. You know the old saying, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. LinkedIn is particularly kind to cannabis. Start building relationships.
4 Use Cannabis. Smoke it. Try sativas, try indicas, learn about terpenes. Eat and drink cannabis too, because now you can. Rub a CBD topical on your skin. Understand the consumer experience.
5 Ancillary Or Plant Touching? This is one you may not know the answer to yet. Ancillary businesses, like insurance, payment processing, and yes, conferences, make money by being part of the industry without actually touching the plant. This is key in one regard – taxes. If you start a grow operation or a retail dispensary, expect to pay the IRS $70,000 out of every $100,000 you bring in. Don’t believe me? Read up on IRS 280E.
Indeed, a cottage industry is arising that helps grows and dispensaries carve out part of their operations as not plant touching – bookkeeping for example – and then carving out the tax savings too, reclassifying to a more typical 15% or so. Do the math.
6 Work It If You’ve Got It. Let me blunt. America appears to be genuinely trying to do something about the systemic racism in this country. Finally.
So if you’re a person of color, research social equity programs. Highlight your ethnicity, especially if the place you’re applying has a board that’s all white (it still happens way too much). Women of color in particular, I guarantee you, somewhere in this industry, there’s a white guy who needs to hire you in more ways than one.
7 Join An Industry Org – And Work It. Great organizations like NCIA and NACB advocate for and represent the industry to elected officials, the media, and others. They can’t do it alone. They need both our time and our money to be effective advocates for our movement. Sign up, pay your annual dues, but don’t stop there. Join a committee, go to events, participate! 90% of life is just showing up!
Also, your resume will pop if it includes the NCIA logo on there.
8 Visit A Co-Working Space. In Colorado, the Denver market is served by Cultivated Synergy. Co-working spaces do events regularly to bring people into their space. Go to some!
If you start your own company or organization, rent a co-working space. In addition to all the perks of a co-working space like sharing scissors and printer/copiers, Cultivated is focused on the cannabis industry. All co-working spaces offer value – find one in your industry, and you get the added value of meeting people across your industry.
9 Attend Industry Events. The Cannabis Public Policy Conference on September 23-24 has a virtual option that’s only $29 for two full days of content. The trade show floor is free. There are dozens of events like this every year in cannabis.
August 12, 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the death of Jerry Garica. RIP old buddy, I never got to meet you, and yet, you felt like an old friend.
For the uninitiated, the Grateful Dead were certainly special for their music, and their music carries on thanks to both The Tapers and the band. The Tapers, as they were known, were the DeadHeads who lugged around sophisticated analog recording equipment from show to show. Mind you, with most bands, you get caught recording their concert, the best you can hope for is a not-so-gentle escort out the front door you came in. You might also get arrested or even sued.
Not the Dead. They (brilliantly) told their fans “Sure, you want to make a recording, we’ll not only let you do it, we’ll carve out the best space on the floor and let you sit there.” (The dancers knew the best sound was behind the tapers, and even better, since you couldn’t see the stage very well behind all those dozens of mics, no one else went back there and you could twirl away.)
So we all owe the Tapers a huge debt of gratitude, because thanks to them, you can listen to any show the boys ever did. And they did a shit ton.
And it was the shows that really made the Grateful Dead into a unique experience.
We called ‘em shows, not concerts, because to call a Dead show a concert would be like calling beer a drink. Sure, beer is a drink, but its so much MORE than just a drink. And so too were Dead shows far more than just a concert.
The parking lot for any Dead show usually opened at 10AM, and there would be a line out front ready to race in and jockey for the best parking locations. Mind you, these concerts were typically at 7PM local time.
These early arrivers were mostly vendors, DeadHeads who scratched out a living by selling burritos or lyric books or, let’s admit it, drugs, to concert goers. The legit vendors arrived early to stake out the corner lots at the key intersections. You know the old adage, location, location, location.
By Noon, the place would be hopping, and by 4PM, the parking lot would be packed. You could buy anything you need in those parking lots, except love. The love was free.
The love was all around, the love flowed freely, and the love was expressed constantly and in unique and beautiful ways that made you glad to be alive. The guys, we’re guys, so we were, by and large, more downlow about it. Smiles mostly. Some hugs. But the women. Oh, those lovely hippie chicks!
Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t sexual in any way. I never saw a topless woman at a Dead show, I never saw a couple “doing it” at a show. And to use a modern phrase we didn’t have at the time, the love was gender non-binary.
I can’t tell you how many random interactions I had with beautiful women at dead shows that left me smiling. I don’t think I ever even got a kiss, but then again, the love was flowing, and on more than occasion, I was tripping. Or as we liked to say, “tripping my balls off.”
I saw the band 19 times. I think I found acid at two shows, the rest, I had to merely smoke copious amounts of weed. That wasn’t hard. At all. It was everywhere, and it was all shared.
I did get dosed in the summer of ‘90 in Pittsburgh. It must have been 98 degrees that day. Old Three River Stadium. In the parking lot, some guy my buddy found had some liquid LSD (“really good shit” I believe was his marketing pitch) for only $20. I gave him the money. He goes “I’m gonna pour one hit in your hand, as soon as I do, like it right up, don’t spill it or anything.” So he pours it in my hand, and I immediately lick it off my palm as he says “Oops, that was more like one and a half. Oh well, it’s on me. Enjoy.”
And enjoy I did! Crosby, Stills and Nash opened up that night. The rumor du jour did not, unfortunately, come to pass. Neil Young was not there, or if he was, he chose to be a spectator. No worries, CSN rocked it just fine. Worth the price of admission alone. A few things were consistent around the controlled mayhem of a Dead Show, and one of them was that you always got a great opening act on any summer stadium show.
The summer shows were always the craziest, because football stadiums can hold 60,000, 75,000 people. I never went to any Chicago shows, but I heard they’d exceed 100,000 people. And that’s just ticket holders inside. More people would come just to hang out in the parking lot, perhaps hoping for a “miracle,” a free ticket, and a reference to one of the greatest songs the boys performed, I Need A Miracle. So many of us would sing along to that crowd fav “I need a miracle EVVV ry day!”
I got a miracle, of sorts, once. It wasn’t technically a miracle, because I paid for the ticket. It was a miracle, because I was standing out front of the basketball arena in Charlotte, NC, with everyone streaming past me and going in. It was looking bleak. My friends had long headed in. I had written down their section, just in case. I had $20 to my name. (Good thing I had a ride back to Virginia!!)
I was standing there on the curb, with the number one finger up like all the other hippie bums, begging for a free ticket. There were far more of us than available tickets. As you’ve probably guessed, my one finger meant I just need one ticket please. I just need a miracle.
Suddenly, this couple stopped. The guy told me he a ticket left, one ticket. He didn’t immediately offer it to me. I started telling him how badly I wanted to get in, how all I had in the world was $20 but I’d gladly give it to him for the ticket. He said he could see I was really passionate and a “true Deadhead.” He sold it to me for $10. He could have easily gotten $50, even $100 for it. I hugged him like I’ve never hugged a strange man, before or since.
I ran toward the gate, finally got through security, and as I’m walking the concourse amongst my fellow Heads the band broke out into “Feel Like A Stranger” to open the night. The place went wild. I felt like a stranger, surrounded by people I didn’t know, but strangers I knew I could love and trust.
I danced all the way to my friends seats, where they were pleasantly surprised to see me.
That was Spring 1995. It was a tough time for me, financially, and I couldn’t swing the summer tour, so I had to sell my Orlando tickets.
The Grateful Dead distributed tickets in a unique fashion. The lines must have gotten too unruly, the way all the other acts had to sell tickets, with teens lining up overnight at the local department store waiting for the TicketMaster mainframe to warm up and hopefully work
The Grateful Dead had a very strict system, which was kind of ironic, very un-Dead, but you know, money. You had to go get a money order for the exact amount, and you had to use a 3X5 index card and you had to include a SASE. They had to keep those hippies in line!
So when Winter 1989 went on sale, I mailed in for tickets for the first time. I had been to a few shows at that point, but had never ordered my own tickets. I went for the Grand-daddy of all shows, their fabled New Year’s Eve show they did every year in their hometown of San Francisco. They wrote me back apologizing that Dec 31 was sold out by the time they got to my request. But I did get tickets for the 28th. (And damn it, too broke to find transportation to Cali over winter break in college, I had to sell those tickets. They guy who bought ‘em said the show was “awesome.”)
The point is, I think that got me ranked on their system or something, because I never got denied tickets, and people often got their money orders back with no tickets. Not me. I’d order tickets, and a month later, one day, bam, Dead tickets in the mail. It was like Christmas. My friends took to giving me cash and orders (“Get me one for each of the first three days of the four shows at the Cap Center this March.” “OK dude, but you gotta drive.”)
I’ve always regretted selling those Orlando ‘95 tickets, because unbeknownst to all of us, Jerry up and died suddenly in August 1995.
Rumors that the band wanted to break up had swirled for years. And they seemed to grow throughout the Nineties, and you couldn’t tell if that was natural – they obviously weren’t getting any younger – or borne out of some truth. Or both.
I had a very reliable friend who claimed that Bobby Weir was getting regular action from a chick with whom he used to do it. They were still on good terms, the way a guy and a girl who had casual sex together and aren’t yet married can in a way that a guy and a girl who dated, can’t. You know what I mean?
Anyway, he swore his source was right there, on the inside, no rumors, no translations, he was getting the actual inside word from the family. And the word was that all of them were over it, but none of them wanted to be known as the Yoko Ono of the Grateful Dead. So in a way, Jerry liberated them all by speedballing his ass to heaven.
That August day, President Clinton and his team made some snide remark about drug use that day when they praised him, as one should, when one comments on the passing of any human. Jerry was no ordinary human. He was an artist among artists. He was one of the greats. The snide remark could have waited a day, couldn’t it have? No one was talking up speedballing that day. Indeed, Jerry may have been into it, but I never saw anyone speedball at a Dead show.
I was on the road that day, that wretched, awful day in August ‘95 when concerts died for me. I was over 2 hours from home when I got the word, and the whole way up I-81, racing back to Blacksburg so I could grieve with my friends, I kept looking for a car with a dead sticker in the back window. See, that was the code to show we were cool. Many of my friends said I was stupid, that I was asking to be pulled over by a cop, which never happened, not because of the stickers anyway. Probably didn’t help any when caught speeding, but the stickers themselves never got me searched or anything. And good thing.
Window stickers, bumper stickers, the most common was the steal your face logo, the skull with the lightning bolt through it you may be familiar with. Over the years, some more subtle symbols came forth like the dancing bears and the roses. Like everything else about the band and the scene, it was all beautiful.
Driving home, I didn’t see a single Dead sticker. News moved slower in those days, before the internet and cell phones, but it didn’t move that slow, and I think by Noon, all the Dead heads were at home mourning.
And on that long lonely drive home, I kept thinking “I’ll never be able to go to a large concert again. Nothing will compare.”
About a year later, I mustered up the faux interest to try another major concert. It had been a while. I had seen my share of local acts – The Kind, the Blacksburg Dead cover band, were my favs – but I just couldn’t bring myself to experience another major act in a sports stadium.
In a sense, it wouldn’t be fair. Who could compare to the Dead? (The answer – No one.) I was worried I’d be too disappointed.
But about a year later, I got a chance to go see the great Jimmy Buffet live. We showed up a little early, walked in, waited, had a perfectly adequate concert performed for us, upon the end of which we walked to our cars and waited in a long line to go home.
It was such a let down. The Dead had ruined concerts for me, there were no two ways around it. I continued to support local acts. In 1997 I moved to Colorado, and in my first years here, I had some great moments at The Bluebird and The Ogden Theatre. And some places I’m not sure I ever caught the name of!
In 2016, my oldest was 15, and he wanted to go see The Who. My first thought was, wow, I did a great job raising my son, he likes The Who! My second thought was Hell yeah!
Once again, the standard concert style unfurled. I showed up to a parking lot full of cars and nothing else. Not even a solitary food truck.
The strangers all around us did not speak to us, and us not to them. Shit, no one even tried to pass me a joint during the show, although I suppose that could have been because I was there with my teenage son. (And yes, I would have politely declined. But it’s nice to be asked!)
I keep thinking another band will recreate the traveling magic. Phish got close in one sense, but they didn’t in another. I’m not really an expert, having only seen them once, finally, in 2016, here in Colorado. (Commerce City baby!) And I hear String Cheese is super cool, I never made my way to one of their shows, so I can neither confirm nor deny.
In summer 1991 – or was it 1992? – a group of us went to the Horde Tour. This was a relatively new concept, multiple bands in a show of its own name and design. We signed up because we really wanted to see this new band called Phish, but it turned out Merriweather Post Pavilion was one of the few stops they didn’t make that year. (Our consensus was that the third act was best. We had to look them up. Some guys from Georgia called Widespread Panic.)
Panic had great shows, I know. Amazing, trippy music. And I’m not saying there wasn’t any love there. It just didn’t compare. And would it kill some of you Rastafarians to pull a cooler out of your trunk and spend a few hours selling cold soda (yeah, soda) from the back of your car? A little service here!
Ah, what do I know any more? I’m 52, and twenty years of scrapping and struggling to support my family has beat me down and left no time for staying cool. And frankly, I’m not sure that desire is still there even if I could revert back to not having a life.
So maybe it is out there. Maybe there is a traveling flea market with a circus-like atmosphere, touring America one big city at time, a swirling hive of activity around a great musical act. And if there isn’t, there’s no reason one couldn’t arise out of this new normal. People will want it more than ever.
Another random Dead show memory: The Grateful Dead never played the same song the same way twice. It was part of the charm of the shows, the need to tape every show. Sure, some shows were shit. The boys would be the first to admit it. But some shows were magic.
Each song sort of played out the same, where they began straightforward enough, singing the initial lyrics and what-not. But every song had a place where they would allow themselves to drift off and play off each other and see where the mood swept them, musically. It was like watching Picasso paint. Jerry, over there on our right, would turn to his right, to see his fellow guitarists, Bob Weir and Phil Lesh. Phil, on our left, would turn to his left. Poor Bobby, he always had to look back and forth. What’s Jerry strumming? Where’s Phil headed? I suspect they could have done just as well blindfolded. Maybe even better, I mean, they were making music after all, why did they need to see each other? I think it was mostly to take turns on “lead” so they each knew who they were following. Did it always go perfect? Oh God no. But hey, it was a Dead show. Perfect wasn’t what you encountered along the way. Love and spontaneity were much more valued than cold perfection.