This weekend my little brother got married.
Now, in and of itself, nothing about this is newsworthy to anyone outside my family. People get married all the time.
But in those weddings, was the bride's hair knotted into dreadlocks and did she walk down the aisle to Jerry Garcia's "Shining Star"? Did the groom have hair like a hippie chick's flowing halfway down his back? Had the couple seen Widespread Panic more than 200 times?
Let me backtrack for a moment. Growing up near Memphis, my two brothers and I listened to hip-hop and hip-hop alone. We watched Yo! MTV Raps religiously. My older brother brought me back a T-shirt from a Bell Biv Devoe concert that said "DO ME," which I somehow got away with wearing in grade school. (The teachers may not have known what it meant; we definitely didn't.)
But in college my younger brother began dating girls who wore sweeping patchwork skirts, shirts they stitched together themselves and no bras. Coupled up, he and his mate would make pit stops at my parents' house for one last night of hot showers before heading west to crash in roadside fields en route to their version of Mecca: festivals with headlining jam bands like Widespread Panic, Perpetual Groove and Moonshine Still. Of course, the pre-concert "lots" were much of the attraction. Half tailgate, half bartering mall, they're like family reunions, just for fans.
In fact, these types of parties happen before every show, no matter if the concert site is a sprawling field or a traditional venue. Fans hitchhike from one to another and sell stuff like "heady grilled cheeses" (you can probably guess what's special about these sandwiches -- it's not head cheese) to make enough money to get to the next spot. Last year, my brother and his fiancée visited me in L.A. when Panic had a two-night stand at the Wiltern.
"What time are you going to the show?" I asked, thinking he'd say 7 or 8 p.m. "We'll head over around 4," he said, "to enjoy the lot." I went to one in Asheville, N.C., where my brother finally got his didgeridoo back from some dude he'd loaned it to at a show months earlier. There are lots of hugs, high fives and cheers in the lot. It's probably as close to the spirit of Woodstock as any of us will ever get.
As for my brother's now-wife? I'm convinced one of the reasons he began dating her is because she saw Jerry Garcia live a few times when she was a teenager.
She started going to Panic shows in 1994, seven years before his first. Formed in Athens, Ga., in 1986, the band follow in the tradition of both Southern rock acts like the Allman Brothers and road dog jam bands like the Grateful Dead. In 2001, seven years before my brother and his wife met, they both happened to be at a Panic show in East Tennessee. It was fate.
They're both quick to note that they never followed Phish -- only Panic. Which is why they had a Widespread Panic wedding. He was going to propose at a show, actually, but thought better of it and did it the morning after. She said she wouldn't have minded unless he had interrupted her gettin' down to "Holden Oversoul."
Their wedding was held on the edge of a lake in a rural area outside Nashville, and it was supposed to start right as the sunlight began to turn a toasted amber color. But by 2 p.m. the bride was getting toasted herself -- on chardonnay -- and tossing her dreads to and fro, her sparkly blue nail polish glittering as she swayed to Panic and Grateful Dead tunes. She could not have cared less about her dress. Guests were milling around drinking beer, and no one seemed very concerned when the 4 p.m. start time came and went. "How many times have you seen Panic?" I asked a guy who'd started going to shows in '89. "A shit ton," he said.
The first song at their reception was Bob Marley's "Lively Up Yourself." The photographer tried to make the bride stand still. Suddenly, she had enough, balked and said what no bride has said in the history of weddings: "No more photos." And then I realized none of their friends were Instagramming or Tweeting or Facebooking anything. These people just soak it up while it's happening and rely on their (maybe weed-hazy, but whatever) memories.
My little brother took her hand and led her to the reception tent under which friends were already gathered. They were surrounded by twinkly lights and paper mache butterflies, as the Panic song "Conrad" is about a caterpillar who turns into a butterfly. Our 2-year-old cousin flitted about wearing gauzy fairy wings. Their first dance was to "Longer Look" from Widespread's album Ball. No one filmed it.
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