August 3, 2008 was Jerry Day in San Francisco, the sixth annual day of celebration commemorating the life and music of Jerry Garcia. It’s one of my favorite summer events – for more than the expected reason. The success of the event is a testament to the power of community spirit in action.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported, “Long before he was lead singer for the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia was a scrappy kid in the Excelsior — pulling fire alarms, sticking his hands in wet cement, throwing cherry bombs in the Alemany tunnel.”
San Francisco changed quite a bit in the 50 years or so since Garcia’s cherry-bomb days. His old neighborhood, “hidden” on the south east edge of San Francisco, didn’t benefit as much as some SF neighborhoods did from the City’s economic upswing.
Rex supporter and Excelsior resident Tom Murphy joined forces with a group of friends and neighbors to improve their neighborhood by renovating and upgrading the Excelsior’s Crocker-Amazon playgrounds. Local neighborhood associations, San Francisco parks officials, Garcia fans, parents, kids, and friends all came together around this worthy project. The first Jerry Day all-day concert in 2003 raised $5000 for the playgrounds.
In 2005, San Francisco’s Parks and Recreation Department voted to dub the open-air venue located in John McLaren Park “Jerry Garcia Amphitheater.” Not nearly as well-known as that other San Francisco Park, McLaren boasts athletic fields, hiking trails, and a golf course; a water tower and reservoir; and an abundance of flora and fauna.
This year’s show featured Loco Bloco, Stu Allen and Sandy Rothman Acoustic, Workingman’s Ed, and Melvin Seals and JGB. Jerry Day is becoming a tradition. A mellow tribute to Jerry Garcia – and a major triumph for a committed group of neighbors.