The passing of two decades has not stopped the '60s street carnival surrounding the Grateful Dead from rolling ever onward, turning each of the venerable rock band's tour stops into a miniature Haight-Ashbury.
And what time itself has been unable to defeat, the city of Irvine has proven powerless to prevent.
City officials are not happy that the Dead is returning this weekend to familiar haunts--the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre--where a 3-night stand beginning Friday will mark the sixth consecutive year that the Dead and its cult of hippie-throwback followers, the Deadheads, have convened festivities in Irvine.
After last year's three-day stay left in its wake a raft of complaints about littering, unauthorized camping, trespassing and vandalism, as well as traffic problems and drug arrests, Irvine officials asked amphitheater management not to bring the Dead back again.
But about 2 months ago, Irvine Meadows notified City Hall that the Dead would indeed be coming back. Amphitheater officials maintained that last year's problems should be prevented from happening again by beefed-up security, a ban on camping, and radio announcements and newspaper advertisements urging Dead fans without tickets to stay away from the sold-out shows.
Paul Brady Jr., assistant city manager, said the city has no legal authority to stop Irvine Meadows from booking the Grateful Dead or any other act. But a majority of the City Council, after an informal straw poll, had him communicate its displeasure about further performances by the San Francisco band.
"We have not sought to ban the event, which is not something that I would get involved in, (because) I happen to believe in the First Amendment and I take it very seriously," Mayor Larry Agran said last week. "But we aren't fools. We know what went on last year. We have a public safety problem. We prefer that they not return."
With a typically (though not universally) scraggly uniform that might include sandals or bare feet, tie-dyed T-shirts or serapes, bandannas or unshorn hair, the Deadheads and their Woodstock-Nation ethos are virtually antithetical to the ideal of affluent and orderly suburban living that Irvine has come to stand for as one of the nation's leading planned communities. (The Grateful Dead, formed in 1965, is in fact a longer-running institution than the city of Irvine, incorporated in 1971.)
But Agran said his opposition to the Dead playing Irvine is based strictly on public safety problems, and not on appearances or cultural values.
"I could care less if people find the act or the followers offensive," the mayor said.
Past visits by the Deadheads have brought complaints of a "general nuisance" variety, Agran said, but he is concerned that drug and alcohol use among Dead fans during an extended encampment in Irvine could set the stage for "damage of a tragic nature."
In turn, amphitheater officials and the Grateful Dead's promoters are making changes this year in hopes of ending the troubles and complaints and restoring to the city's good graces a band whose annual sellouts are a financial linchpin for the Irvine Meadows season.
"We're going to great lengths to (prevent) what people see as a nuisance," said Bob Geddes, managing partner of Irvine Meadows.
During last April's Dead shows at Irvine Meadows, police reported that cars parked along Irvine Center Drive and a press of campers waiting to get into the Irvine Meadows parking lot created tremendous traffic problems that forced them to close off traffic lanes several times. Preoccupied with traffic woes, the police said, they didn't go after drug busts. Over the course of the three-day stand, police made a total of 12 arrests.
Compounding the difficulties, police said in a written report on the event, was the arrival of 2,000 to 3,000 fans without tickets, making it "more of a fair (than a concert), with . . . people arriving to absorb the atmosphere rather than listen to the music."
The day after the last Dead show, Assistant City Manager Brady said, there were arrests made at an Irvine hotel after Deadheads congregated for a party that involved nude swimming and destruction of hotel furniture. Police also seized marijuana and $12,000 to $13,000 suspected of being drug money from a hotel room.
Agran, Sally Anne Sheridan and Cameron Cosgrove were the three City Council members who asked Brady to put the council on record as opposing this weekend's Dead shows. The other members, Paula Werner and Edward Dornan, agree that the concerts pose "a burden on the city," Brady said, but "they don't feel the council should be passing judgment" about acts playing Irvine Meadows.
There were few favorable judgments about the Deadheads to be found among business operators who suffered trespassing and property damage during last year's long weekend of the Dead.