Behind The Scenes

“Fare Thee Well” Chicago Dead shows spark wit and wisdom from ESPN’s Bill Walton

(L to R) Bill Walton and Dave Pasch. (Eric Lars Bakke/ESPN Images)
One of these men will be in Chicago all weekend with the Grateful Dead. (Eric Lars Bakke/ESPN Images)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This July 4th Weekend, the Blackhawks are taking a backseat to the Deadheads as the Grateful Dead play three monumental “Fare Thee Well” shows in celebration of the band’s 50th anniversary.

ESPN happens to employ one of the biggest – and tallest – Deadheads bounding around Chicago this weekend, none other than college basketball color analyst Bill Walton, who is not only attending as a fan but is serving as a host on the pay-per-view telecast of the Soldier Field shows. So Front Row asked Walton to answer a few questions – and we got THIS in return. Whether you’re a Jerry disciple or just love Walton on Pac 12 games with play-by-play partner, Dave Pasch, we think you’ll enjoy his offerings.

How would Dave Pasch help (or hinder) your hosting duties for the three shows in Chicago?

Who??? Dave??? Please, is that the guy I sit next to during the ESPN Pac-12 telecasts??? Dave??? Really???

Please, hosting a Grateful Dead broadcast is a most sacred and solemn duty and responsibility. It is very serious business and hard work. It requires comprehensive knowledge and countless, untold skills. To be in “The Chair” usually demands that you know something about what you’re supposed to be talking about. I’m sure Dave – it is Dave, right ? – feels the same way about me on our show.

This is not the first time I’ve done this. And that can be said about most everything in my 48 years of life with the Grateful Dead.

One particular year, I co-hosted a Grateful Dead New Year’s Eve broadcast. I think it was almost 30 years ago. Who, and how, can you remember? The co-conspirators on the broadcast team that night were Ken Kesey, Al Franken and Father Guido Sarducci. It was a different type of show than what Dave – it is Dave, right? – is used to.

The processional call to the moment of truth – which Kesey commandeered – is one of the most memorable moments in the history of the universe. I’m sure that you can find it in the Radio and Television Hall of Fame archives, probably in the Intergalactic Wing.

One particular year, I co-hosted a Grateful Dead New Year’s Eve broadcast. I think it was almost 30 years ago. Who, and how, can you remember? The co-conspirators on the broadcast team that night were Ken Kesey, Al Franken and Father Guido Sarducci. It was a different type of show than what Dave [Pasch] – it is Dave, right? – is used to.
– Bill Walton

I think that Larry Bird and Kevin McHale were there that night too, although it is quite possible that it was a different show – with the Grateful Dead, it does tend to all roll into one. Anyway, Ken kept asking all night long where Larry and Kevin were. He wanted to interview them live and on the air. We never were able to find them, which in retrospect is probably best -for everyone.

Bill Walton plays word association with ESPN colleagues and the Grateful Dead songs they remind him of

Said Walton: “With the Grateful Dead, it’s all one song – with many different verses; and it’s all one show – with varying amounts of time between the stanzas. And while no list can ever be complete, here are a few experimental sunshine daydreams to get us started on the golden road to unlimited devotion.”

• Brent Musburger“Built to Last”; “Comes a Time”; “The Days Between”; “Saint of Circumstance”; “Estimated Prophet”; “Terrapin Station”

• Jay Bilas“Pride of Cucamonga”; “Cosmic Charley”; “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo”; “Cryptical Envelopment”; “Black Throated Wind”

• Seth Greenberg“Crazy Fingers”; “Cream Puff War”; “King Solomon’s Marbles”; “Bertha”; “My Brother Esau”; “Feel Like a Stranger”; “St. Stephen”; “The Eleven”

Keith Olbermann“Help on the Way”; “Slipknot”; “Franklin’s Tower”; “Touch of Grey”

• Doris Burke — “Cassidy”; “Bird Song”; “Althea”; “Fennario”; “Stella Blue”

• Mike Tirico“Eyes of the World”; “Let it Grow”; “Box of Rain”; “Ripple”

• Dave Pasch — My computer has limited capacity – he needs the whole catalog, we’ll start with “Lost Sailor”

• Stuart ScottAiko. . . Aiko. Sadly, “He’s Gone”

Fortunately Father Sarducci was there to absolve any and all sins that night. And I vaguely recall that the good Reverend gave everybody a blanket and eternal absolution for the rest of the ride. Most assuredly, I have needed and used that blessing quite often.

But to have Dave – it is Dave, right? – on the broadcast is a very tough call.

If we’re talking about the same guy, I do know the guy I think you’re talking about here, does need to go to a show more than maybe anybody I know.

The Grateful Dead is a meritocracy. Things are not just given away here. This is not about entitlement.

I do know that this guy Dave, has taken the first and most important step in his life.

It was February 26, 2015. We were on the air. Together. On ESPN. We were in Boulder, and he was appropriately throwing stones. I had no choice but to call him out on the nonsense and gibberish that was gushing like an early spring run-off. In the wake of that flood, Dave blurted out, for the universe to hear and bear witness, “I am oblivious!”

I’m not sure if truer words have ever been spoken on ESPN – or anywhere.

But at least Dave – Dave, right? – has acknowledged his problems. Which is always the first step to recovery.

Now he has to find his path forward. We have the antidote right here in Chicago. Please Dave, get on the bus. Don’t be afraid. It will all be fine.

I can find Guido. He will consecrate everything.

Your healing journey to salvation and the light begins here. And then maybe I can ask you the questions.

Larry and Kevin are happy to counsel you.

What were Coach Wooden’s thoughts on the Grateful Dead? Did you ever listen to the band with him or go to a show with him?

Coach Wooden loved music. And we overwhelmed him with ours. But he had his own favorites. He had hired The Mills Brothers to play at his wedding reception. He was upset that the band played too long that night. He had bigger plans. That NEVER happens at a Grateful Dead concert.

It is one of my biggest failures in life that I was never able to get Coach to actually attend a Grateful Dead show, though not from lack of trying.

I always played my best ball when the Grateful Dead were around. And they were ALWAYS around.

It is one of my biggest failures in life that I was never able to get Coach to actually attend a Grateful Dead show, though not from lack of trying.
– Bill Walton

The Grateful Dead have made me the person that I am, and the basketball player that I was. Their comprehension of space, timing, rhythm, and the beat are incomparable. The Dead played regularly at UCLA and Pauley Pavilion while we were students there in the early ’70’s – and beyond. They used our locker rooms as their dressing rooms and lounges.

When Coach Wooden would come into the locker room the next day to conduct his regular inspection of appropriateness, he would wrinkle his nose, sniff the air, and ask, “What is that smell?”

With as straight a face and as serious a demeanor as we could conjure up, we told him we had no idea what he was talking about.

The closest that we ever came to getting him to a show was when my wife Lori and I were meeting in San Francisco for the start of a new tour. We were on different business, work and travel schedules. We had pre-arranged to meet in the limo out in front at the airport. When I climbed in, Lori was already there, and she had Coach Wooden with her. I was so exited, sure that this would now be the time. It turned out that Lori and Coach were on the same flight, had sat together and she had offered him a ride – to wherever he was going.

I begged, I pleaded, I got down on my knees. All to no avail. He said he had a previous commitment – something about church, spiritual guidance, who knows? I said that’s exactly where we’re going, and that he would really enjoy our pastors and their sermons, rituals and sacraments. He sadly and mistakenly turned us down. Who knows how history and the fate of the known world would have turned out if he had come with us. The simple twist of fate of a chance encounter on a plane. You never know. If only he had taken that first step. Maybe the guy could have made something of his life.

Rachel Siegal contributed to this post

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