Though it sounds like he’ll be unable to travel to Chi-town this weekend for the final shows, longtime Grateful Dead fan Sen. Patrick J. Leahy will undoubtedly be there in spirit.
Per the story he shared with LIFE Magazine for a special issue commemorating the 50th anniversary and final performances of the renowned jam band, the late Jerry Garcia and friends opened the Vermont Democrat’s eyes to an entirely different world.
“A Grateful Dead concert is much more than the music, it’s an experience, almost like being in a family of thousands of people,” Leahy said of the sense of community fostered by the iconic rockers.
The seven-term lawmaker estimates he’s attended around a half-dozen Grateful Dead shows, often with a camera in tow.
Lobbyist-turned-cybersecurity wonk Michael A. Aisenberg reflected on a trip he took with Leahy to the then-Capital Centre in 1987 on a Deadhead discussion page .
“First show I saw with Pat Leahy,” Aisenberg said of an evening spent in a skybox with the live show-loving legislator.
The one that seems to stick out most prominently in Leahy’s mind was the performance prefaced by a call from 42.
“The secretary of State came on the line and asked if I could turn the radio down. I told him it was Sting. Silence. Sting, the rock star. Silence again. I told him I was onstage at a concert. He said, 'Do you have time at your "rock ‘n’ roll concert" to take a call from the President [Bill Clinton]?'” Leahy told LIFE about the surreal exchange. (He declined to tell HOH what Clinton rang him about.)
Then, of course, there was the time he ushered Garcia and Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart into the halls of Congress to break bread.
“After the RFK concert, I brought the band to lunch at the Senate Dining Room in the Capitol. Woody Harrelson was with them. That’s when they had their fabled encounter with [archconservative] Senator Strom Thurmond, who came over to our table to introduce himself,” Leahy related to LIFE.
That meeting of the minds was so legendary, Sen. Richard J. Durbin urged colleagues at the beginning of the current session to try and be as all-inclusive as Leahy.
“If we could all be so open to creating unlikely alliances, there’s no telling what we might achieve in the next two years,” the Illinois Democrat and minority whip challenged lawmakers in January.
Whether that bipartisan spirit will ever materialize remains to be seen. What’s certain, however, is that Leahy’s time with The Dead is running out.
The surviving members of the group are scheduled to play their last shows in Chicago over the holiday weekend. A Leahy aide told HOH scheduling conflicts will keep the boss from making it to Soldier Field for the grand finale of the “Fare Thee Well” tour.
Not that it will stop him from rocking out to “Black Muddy Water” (one of Leahy’s favorite tunes, according to staff) any chance he gets.
He’ll just have to get used to enjoying it alone — there’s always the Grateful Dead channel on SiriusXM — rather than with tie-dye clad extended "family" members.
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