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Bartering with business hippies at the last-ever Grateful Dead Shakedown Street

Aaron Kid, left, and Trip Williams, right, hold balloons filled with nitrous oxide in San Francisco on Friday. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

Depending on which Deadhead you ask, Shakedown Street is a family occasion where trippy trinkets are traded for cash, random items and tickets. To others, it’s a spot to snag last-minute drugs for the show and mingle with other spiritually minded Deadheads—many of whom have been on the road following Dead & Company for months at a time across the United States. 

“Everybody would come in, and they would sell their wares, or what they had made by hand: macrames, jewelry, chokers and early tie-dyes, anything kind of related,” said Gary Hull, a veteran and Deadhead from San Pedro. “They would sell food, drinks, whatever you could to make money to cover gas to get them to the next show.” 

READ MORE: San Francisco Is Alive With Grateful Deadheads for Final Shows. Is the City Still a Hippie Mecca?

Various crystals, stones and tchotchkes sit on a table for sale at a Grateful Dead “Shakedown Street.” | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

“Shakedown Street” is both the name of a 1978 Grateful Dead song, album and a descriptor for the chaotic vending areas where Deadheads and concertgoers mingle and sell anything and everything outside the concert venue. The spinoff band Dead & Company will end its final tour with three sold-out concerts at Oracle Park, in the city the original Grateful Dead members once called home. The last-ever Shakedown Street will be on Sunday at the show's finale.

Like other concerts on the tour, San Francisco’s own Shakedown Street has popped up just past the Third Street Bridge across the water from the stadium. 

“It’s a bazaar—not bizarre,” said a man who asked to be called Uncle John between taking hits from a nitrous oxide-filled balloon. John said he’s attended too many Shakedown Streets to keep track of since becoming a Deadhead during a Los Angeles performance in 1978

Uncle John, left, poses with Patrick Elliott, right, as Elliott holds a stalk of marijuana. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

The Standard went on a mission to find the most interesting tchotchkes in the weird Deadhead world of Shakedown Street on Friday afternoon. We found the usual fare: homemade kombucha and Dead-themed buttons, merchandise and concert posters. 

More than a few vendors brought things you could only find at Shakedown Street. Homemade glass pipes adorned with the Grateful Dead’s iconic skull and lightning symbol; a man at the edge of Shakedown Street gifted us a Krishna meditation book and told me I was “glowing” with spirituality. 

But the best, most quintessentially Deadhead find of all was an orgonite skull made by a craftsman named Brenton Forrest. Filled with bits and bobs Forrest collected from parking lots outside of Grateful Dead concerts, the skull is perhaps a talisman for the Dead’s beloved community traditions and culture—I snagged it for $80 after bartering on the price. 

“It’s made of orgonite: We put a layer of copper. It always has to have a quartz point wrapped in copper wire,” Forrest said. “Allegedly, it gets rid of negative energy in the air. If you believe it works, it really does.” 

Brenton Forrest holds up a crystal skull in San Francisco on Friday. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

This particular skull is complete with empty ketamine bottles, nugs of weed, quartz minerals, eight tabs of what appears to be LSD and a few rose buds wrapped inside. The material Forrest said it was made of, orgonite, was popular among counterculture and alternative medicine movements in the '60s—it apparently holds curative and sexual powers

When asked for his business card, Forrest, who runs a craft shop called Dark Jars, handed me a lighter with his brand label on it—a true business hippy.

Just as no two Dead concerts are the same, every Shakedown Street iteration looks a little different. San Francisco’s street was filled with locals selling their wares alongside the diehard contingent following the Dead & Company tour every step of the way. 

“There’s a lot of different, big energies coming together. Sometimes it’s a little chaotic, but mostly it’s like family vibes,” said Olivia Minster, who makes beaded earrings and has followed the Dead’s tour since the start. “I just love the music, and I love the craft since it keeps me going to the next show.” 

Attendees gather near the "Shakedown Street" entrance in San Francisco on Friday. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

The Grateful Dead has amassed a huge following since its founding in 1965 in Palo Alto. Fans young and old have flocked to Dead & Company concerts this year, and the crowd at San Francisco's Shakedown Street spanned generations—from children to 80-year-olds who reminisced about the band’s early concerts.

“I like the music and shakedowns—the people are fun, and I love the vendors. I love the bazaar atmosphere. But you kids have kind of ruined it a little bit,” John joked, pointing at the nitrous oxide balloons bobbing about nearby. “They call it hippie crack. That’s not what this is all really about. It’s nice if you’re indulging a little bit, but it can become an issue and ruin things for other people.” 

An attendee turns toward the concert stage at Oracle Park in San Francisco on Friday. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

Concertgoers also lined up outside Oracle Park for official merchandise early Friday afternoon. With masses of visitors and locals grabbing posters and donning tie-dye bucket hats, it’s really shakin’ on San Francisco’s Shakedown Street—you just gotta poke around.