Despite the cold and wet weather, stubborn Grateful Dead fans, most dressed in the almost ritualistic tie-dyed shirts and beads, began arriving at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre parking lot Thursday morning in everything from a blue and pink 1948 International school bus to a 1985 Izusu pickup.
Some of the followers of the San Francisco rock group came from as far as Virginia and pitched their tents as early as Wednesday morning to catch one of the three Grateful Dead concerts scheduled this weekend.
"I don't know what they do for me," said one hard-core fan who called himself Freedom. "I don't think anyone here knows, but it's something that keeps us coming."
As the Navy's Blue Angels precision flying team, in town for performances this weekend at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, raced their jets across the cloudy skies over Irvine, many of the nearly 100 "Deadheads" who had already set up camp in the lot glanced up and waved.
Flying High in Red, White and Blue
"Someday, when the Dead get a hit album we will have our own jets, and they will be painted red, white and blue," remarked a bearded man in sunglasses as he watched the jets overhead. "It will be great."
Although continued cold temperatures and rain are expected this weekend, few of the fans who came with only a blanket to protect them against the elements were worried.
"If you came out here, you came prepared," said a man who identified himself only as Elf (Earth Life Form). "If you didn't come prepared, someone will take care of you."
But for Elf and his wife, Annie, who were married in an weather-worn school bus they call "the Blue Buffalo," following the Grateful Dead from town to town has fewer drawbacks than most people think.
The other fans they meet at the concert become something of a family for them, they said. They are never without food, water or company so long as they treat each other right, Elf said. Annie agreed: "I feel safer following the Grateful Dead around and living in parking lots than I do anywhere else."
Meanwhile, Irvine police will take extra precautions to see to it that everyone is safe and that the concert runs smoothly by assigning 21 extra officers to the concert site, including plainclothes officers to patrol the parking lot this weekend.
According to Sgt. David Freedland, all concerts attract some drug sales, while Grateful Dead concerts tend to "attract more hallucinogen type of drugs like magic mushrooms, peyote and LSD. . . . At other concerts you tend to get a lot more marijuana."
While 65 persons were arrested, mainly on drug charges, in 1986 when the group last performed in Irvine, Freedland said that Grateful Dead concerts "haven't generated significant problems that we can't handle."
The Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre's general manager, Matt Curto, who noted that all three shows have already sold out, said that every time the group performs at the amphitheater the management has to take extra precautions, such as portable bathrooms and extra parking lot surveillance.
"Generally we're trying to make them comfortable in the parking lot--as comfortable as you can get in a parking lot," Curto said.
But for many of the fans, comfort is the last thing on their minds.
Keith Strachan, 20, and Charles Amos, 26, both of Hamilton, Va., spread out their only shelter, two worn sleeping bags, under a tree near the parking lot. Strachan hitchhiked to Irvine after a school bus he was traveling in with several other fans overturned in Nevada. Amos picked up a ride to California from a truck driver after he "blew the engine" in his car in New Jersey where he abandoned it.
Never Go Hungry
Strachan said he earns money to travel doing odd jobs around the concert halls or by selling tie-dyed T-shirts or beads. "You can do all sorts of things," he said. "And we are never hungry."
Strachan wasn't the only one working his way around the concert route.
Lionel Robitaille, who said he has attended between 130 to 140 Grateful Dead concerts, said he earns enough money selling tie-dyed T-shirts out of the back of his van to pay for traveling expenses plus a little extra for savings.
"Orange County is great," he said. "There is a lot of money in Orange County."
Nearby, in the tiny community formed by vans, buses and tents, another fan sold cold sodas out of a yellow school bus, while another sold ice \o7 cappuccino\f7 out of a Izusu pickup, and still others sold stir-fry vegetables from an old white Toyota truck.
"Most people think the '60s' crowd is gone," a middle-aged woman who called herself Calico said as she watched a young couple prepare the stir fry. "That is not true, you just have to look for us in the nooks and crannies."