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Deadheads converge in San Francisco for Jerry Day 2023

Sky Williamson hula hoops as music plays at the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater in McLaren Park on Aug. 5, 2023. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

Weed smoke and music filled the air at the 21st annual Jerry Day in San Francisco, where hundreds of Grateful Dead fans converged Saturday at McLaren Park to celebrate the birthday of the late frontman and San Francisco icon Jerry Garcia.

The event—which has been held at the amphitheater bearing Garcia’s name since 2003—was free and open to the public, with vendors selling Grateful Dead merchandise, food trucks and performances of Garcia’s music.

Garcia, a native of the Excelsior, died of a heart attack in 1995 while living at a North Bay drug-treatment facility.

“Uncle Jerry,” as he’s affectionately called, was the soul of the Grateful Dead—a group he co-founded in 1965 with guitarist and vocalist Bob Weir, bassist and vocalist Phil Lesh, keyboardist and vocalist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan and drummer Bill Kreutzmann.

READ MORE: Prepare for ‘Jerry Day’ With These Historic Photos of the Late Grateful Dead Frontman

The group’s Haight-Ashbury home became ground zero of the late '60s Summer of Love while their music—which blended together folk, rock, blues and jazz—became the soundtrack for San Francisco.

Last year, Mayor London Breed declared Aug. 1 Jerry Garcia Day in San Francisco.

Yet, Garcia’s musical impact, on not just the city but also the world, was evident as Deadheads—young, old and from all corners of the globe—came out in droves to dance, sing, hula hoop and reminisce about the musical icon.

Finn, who told The Standard he originally hails from Florida but now lives “on the road,” said he made the trip up from Southern California with friends for his first-ever Jerry Day.

Deadhead Finn stands in front of the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater stage to listen to music on Saturday. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

“I’m just excited to be here,” he said, standing near the performance stage. “This was unexpected, and I didn’t think I would be coming up for this. I was in LA, having a bad time down there, but luckily, someone picked me up, and I was able to make it.”

The event was scheduled from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. with performances by Box Set, Melvin Seals & JGB and Stu Allen & Mars Hotel.

After the activities at McLaren Park, fans could join the Jerry Day after-party and pub crawl in the Excelsior—something Finn said he was looking forward to doing with his friends.

“This is just such a wholesome event,” he said. “I’m just excited to be with my friends. We are all here for the same reason, and that’s the music.”

Mellody Gannon, who brought her two pet parakeets on leashes, said that she has been coming to Jerry Day since its inception and has for years brought her birds to interact with the crowd.

Mellody Gannon poses with her two sun conures during Jerry Day 2023 at McClaren Park. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

Gannon—a self-professed Deadhead who has seen the Grateful Dead on “numerous”occasions—said she babysat during Dead and Company’s show dates at Oracle Park but made it a point to come to Jerry Day with her birds.

“I love Jerry Day,” Gannon said as her 6-year-old sun conure named Aiden squawked. “Because of Covid, I’ve tried to bring my birds to socialize with people more, and they love it. They get to say hi to everyone while passing on smiles. That’s what Jerry was all about. Smile and pass it on.”

As Melvin Seals & JGB played their set, Sky Williamson jammed out with his hula hoop, dancing to the beat of the drum and hoping to contribute to the party at the park.

“I just want to show everyone that this place is a safe space,” he said. “We’re all here to celebrate Jerry and share in the love he brought to this world.”