By Owen Skoler

I left the city behind when I stepped over the chain-linked fence and entered “Tent City” last Saturday night before the Dead show. Patchwork replaced Pats gear; grungy smiles replaced grungy stare downs; and, if you ask me, the air smelled exactly like it should post-Prop 2: homegrown heaven. In the sea of gemstones, Jerry sweatshirts and grilled cheese, it was difficult to strike up a conversation with a Worcesterite. Fans I spoke with came from Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine and Vermont. Vendors came from Wisconsin, South Carolina and I’m sure a host of other locations even farther from Wormtown. A young black-haired couple carried a pan of gooey balls that looked equally appetizing to the mind as the stomach. With wide eyes and wide grins, the two conversed with a vendor from Wisconsin named Trent. Trent struck me as a jolly, excessive partier much like a friend I had in high school. The only difference was Trent was about 10 years older, probably around 35. Whatever judgments one chooses to make about a quickly aging Head who wears a necklace of dancing bears around his neck while he sells scribbled “I Miss Jerry” bumper stickers, it’s vendors like Trent that illustrate how unbelievably profitable the concert was for Worcester and the state as a whole. More than any other music or sporting event, I believe a Dead show is the ultimate boost to a local economy via coveted out-of-state funds. First, fans are famous for traveling across state lines to see the legendary rock act. Second, there’s a massive amount of large bills circulating through places like Tent City for obvious reasons. And, maybe most importantly, the accumulation of small bills by people like Trent slinging trippy trinkets will be injected back into the local economy almost immediately. That’s because Trent and other vendors are nomadic peddlers and their spending habits reflect a life on the road. It’s likely money made off Tent City is not deposited into a bank account or put toward mortgages. Rather this money goes toward daily expenses like gas, groceries or a night out on the town. That’s the whole point of riding with the Dead: make just enough to support yourself on a day-today basis and enjoy the experience in peace-loving company. As one grilled cheese slinger from South Carolina put it, “We might not be surviving in luxury, but we’re surviving well.” And it looks like the City truly gets the economic benefits of a scene that can at-first appear strange and intimidating to a non-Head. City Manager Michael O’Brien was quoted in the T&G as saying, “In this challenging economy, these events and guests are a boost to support our local economy worth hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars, and all of us benefit.” It’s a point harped on by Dead merchants, and they appreciate the respect the city is finally showing them. A young vendor who called himself Geek commended the city for scaling back police presence compared to past jam band events. However on a side note, Geek wasn’t too pleased about the scheduling of Metal Fest during a weekend of the Dead. “You have those people over there who are all into thrash metal and being all aggressive and then you have us,” Geek says. But take Geek’s criticism with a grain of salt. Deadheads, like any rock concertgoers, can always have moments of confrontation. But that wasn’t the case Saturday night. The scene inside Tent City was peaceful and classic festival in its best sense. For me, an out-of-towner that came to Wormtown from Missouri where blue grass jam bands are a way of life, I felt at home. It’s a scene I hope to see more of in Wormtown, not only for the sake of my musical inclinations, but also for the sake of our economic prosperity.

Advertisements