I'm not a fan of large cities. San Francisco I can handle. Richmond, Virginia is all right. But Denver? No. Denver is -- in my humble (and I'm sure as many of you might think, uninformed) opinion -- a hard, desolate place where the people don't smile much; a city with a bad case of the blue meanies.
The only thing that'll get me up there any more is a good show, such as the two I saw the weekend before last. Phil Lesh, former bassist of the Grateful Dead, and his amazing Friends played Friday and Saturday nights to a packed house at the Fillmore Auditorium.
The sidewalk jam-band crowd outside furnished a major portion of the fun. Hundreds of Deadheads -- old and young, freaks and straights, dogs, cops, incense burners, bell ringers, beggars, vendors, artists, burrito barkers, dancers, all kinds -- came to hear Phil play. And play he did, driving the crowd into such a frenzy that unless you were stone dead you were on the dance floor, sweating and grooving with 3,000 others, as happy as you.
Inside the auditorium, it had to be 80, 90 degrees, so spilling out into the frigid night air after such a show was nothing less than a sock in the gut. My happy little band and I had parked a few blocks away, but after that kind of night, surrendering to hotel room dreamland was the last thing on our minds. Having shown an uncanny knack for finding great little eateries on the spur of the moment, our friend, Dr. Levinson, as we like to call him, had become something of an entertainment coordinator for the group. He pointed out a little coffee shop across Pearl Street, and we readily agreed to head on over and warm our bones.
Off the main drag, Stella Bluz (the title of a Dead tune) is understated and tiny. The entire space, on the ground floor of a 100-year-old building, would fill about a third of my bedroom. Three diminutive tables sit against the wall, and mismatched post-WWII kitchen chairs are scattered around, all dumpster-dive scores. It's jumbled, but clean and cool, like that friend's basement you used to hang out in, before you had an investment portfolio.
The decor in Stella's is a monument to the Dead. Tie-dye tapestries do for wallpaper, and walls not covered with hangings are plastered with posters, drawings of Jerry Garcia, bandanas, ticket stubs and stickers. "Dance with Reckless Abandon" adorns a glass case filled with candleholders, crystals, jewelry and other baubles for sale. Two bookshelves flank a doorway, holding various volumes ranging from commentary on the Dead to paperback mysteries. In the bathroom, above the toilet, hangs a sketch of Jerry.
Eric, the proprietor/owner/resident coffee-maker, was just closing up when we tramped in around midnight. He had forgotten to turn off the "open" sign, but sure, he said, come on in. "We haven't gotten more than what? Four hours sleep in the past few days?" he asked his girlfriend as he turned on the drip coffeemaker.
After the steaming brew was passed out, burning our freezing hands through the paper cups, we sat down and talked with Eric and the old hippie folks hanging out at the far table. A kind woman I had just met showed great concern over my bare, dirty knees, and a big man with a red spiral painted around his bald head shared his duffle full of T-shirts from tours past. Eric told us about the uppity yuppies in the SUV that were hanging around outside but wouldn't come in for a cup. "We started making faces at them, and they started rolling their windows up and down, so we went right up against the window and ..., " he motioned with his hands, "we whipped our pants off and mooned 'em, and they just drove right off."
After a while Eric's eyes began to droop, so we packed up our purchases and gathered our coats. The only possible thing that could have completed that evening of music and release was what we got: a nice cup of coffee with a crowd of good friends, new and old. We said our goodnights and tripped out the door into the frosty night, laughing, hopeful and warm.