Don’t Tell Me This Town Ain’t Got No Heart

Definition of shakedown: According to Miriam-Webster

1an improvised bed (such as one made up on the floor)
2a boisterous dance
3an act or instance of shaking someone down; especially extortion
4a thorough search
5a process or period of adjustment
6a testing under operating conditions of something new (such as a ship) for possible faults and defects and for familiarizing the operators with it

Shakedown Street: According to Wikipedia is the area of a jam band parking lot where the vending takes place. It is named after the Grateful Dead song of the same name,\and began in the early 1980’s in the parking lots at Grateful Dead concerts.Items sold have included food, beverages and alcoholic beverages, clothing (such as T-shirts)and jewelry, among others. Ticket scalping may also occur.

I never got to see the Grateful Dead as the Grateful Dead, I did see some of it’s members in various collaborations throughout my concert going years, not that those are over they are just far less frequent than they used to be, and my tastes have evolved somewhat.  So for you purist touring Deadheads I never saw the real shakedown street.  I did however spend much time on the lot, while seeing bands like Phish, The String Cheese Incident, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, etc.  The atmosphere and energy both leading up to and after the show you could breath in the air, and I’m not just talking about the weed smoke.  While there is a part of the phanbase that can certainly be pretentious, I found the over all experience to be one of acceptance, inclusion, and enjoyment in a Dionysian carnival like atmosphere filled with music, dancing, ganja goo balls and the like, and  plenty of healthy, mostly but certainly not exclusively vegetarian fare, there are some exemplary chefs at work at some of these shows. Of course not all the food was healthy, and a bit later I will talk about one of my experiences with one of the most famous lot foods out there, it wouldn’t be a Phish show without a grilled cheese sandwich.

The American food culture of today was greatly influenced by the Deadheads, and later those who followed Phish. (and I’m not just talking about Ben and Jerry)  They championed, organic produce, farm to table, sustainable food production, vegetarian and veganism, of course all of these were around long before the Grateful Dead or even the USA.  After the industrial revolution, along with war rationing and the need to feed the troops both affordably and efficiently during WWI and WWII, America became a culture of canned foods and TV dinners, just look in almost any cookbook from the 50’s and 60’s.  Alice Waters of Chez Panisse is generally credited with bringing the farm to table movement back to the American culinary scene as many of the Chefs I learned from told me.  I have read some of her work but have never had the chance to enjoy her food.  A lot of these ways of cooking and eating along with the back to the land mentality became popular in America with the hippie culture of the 60’s and 70’s in which the Grateful Dead played a major roll.  Before industrialization in America, and until the vast commercialization and affordability of processed and fast food, in much of the world eating this way of living was a way of life mostly because it’s the only option available.

“Who invented the food truck? Who made the burrito a staple outside the barrio? Who taught white people to stir fry? Who popularized the health food store, organics, farm fresh produce, and the grow- your-own movement? Who spread the good word about vegetarianism, veganism, raw food, macrobiotics, and sustainability long before the internet? Who decried factory farming and rainforest grazing before it was cool? And who, for the record, truly gave birth to haute stoner cuisine?” Read more from this article  by David Bienenstock at Deadheads Forever Changed the way We Eat

I have been working in kitchens for almost twenty years, in a wide range of venues,  from health care to high end restaurants, in small Mom and Pop bars where most of the night is standing around between tickets waiting for that shift drink at the end, to nightmares about the ticket machine that never once stopped printing for your whole ten hour shift.  Those of you who have spent any time on the line know which dream I’m talking about.  In all of my years cooking the most fun I ever had on the line was at a Phish concert in Denver.  My friend Steve and I cut out part way through the encore         (maybe thirty minute in or so) and headed out to the lot to set up.  We had two cast iron griddles, two Coleman camp stoves, 15 loaves of white bread, 5# of American cheese, and 4# of butter.  We snagged a good spot not far from the venue and started grilling.  Within minutes of the show ending we were surrounded by what felt like hundreds of people.  We were selling our grilled cheese for $1.00, all you could see was hands waving dollar bills in your face, we would grab them and shove them in our pockets and make sandwiches, and hand them out as fast as we could without any clue if the person you just handed the sandwich to had paid for it or not, as we went a small pile of messed up sandwiches grew on the ground next to us.  After awhile of this chaos the police started coming along moving people along and shutting down vendors as they went, not by ticketing us or anything, (that’s a whole different story from a show in Virginia, I may relate someday) but just telling us to shut it down and move along.  With all this happening people are still shoving bills in our faces and shouting, I will take that one off the pile there.  As I said it was incredibly fun, good show, great friends, and a pocket full of ones.

That’s about all I have to say on this subject for now,  there are a lot of really fun an interesting articles about The Dead, shakedown street and the food you can find there, that  you can find with a quick google search.  Here is one more link I didn’t use for this article but enjoyed from, The Culinary Cellar.  It’s a review on the book Cooking with Deadheads by Elizabeth Zipern.  I have not yet had the joy of perusing the pages of this book, although I really do look forward to it.  So if anyone needs a gift idea for me. Just kidding. (sort of) Cooking with Deadheads

You just gotta poke around.


“A recipe has no soul. You, as the cook, must bring soul to the recipe”

-Thomas Keller



Author: foodinculture

Lover of Food, Music, Culture, and Humanity

One thought on “Don’t Tell Me This Town Ain’t Got No Heart”

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