It was late June 1994. The marquee outside the Circus Circus read 112 degrees at dawn that morning. We were 10 shows into a summer Dead tour—about halfway through—and deep, deep into tour groove. With temps a broiling 125 degrees that afternoon in Vegas’ Sam Boyd Stadium parking lot, we had replaced fatty Sammy Smiths with bottles of ice cold water as our money maker. And we were making a mint, swinging sweating liter bottles at the entrance gate. We had more than 1,000 bottles packed into and onto the rig, an investment we hoped would pay off.
Every hour or so, we’d race our skateboard-mounted coolers back to the truck for refills and dollar dumps. And every time, just like at the steamy Oregon and CalExpo shows days before, we saw the same thing: spindly old man legs sticking out from underneath the bed of the truck.
His name … I don’t remember. He was vintage Dead Head. Mottled gray hair spilling over a faded tie-dye, a distinctive dirt-surfer odor and pockets swollen with yellowing “You’ve Been Selected For Jerry Duty” stickers he’d been selling on tour for the last decade. One could only read the stickers aloud in the headiest SoCal surfer lilt.
The Man Under The Truck—yes, we called him MUTT—knew our rig. We would arrive at each show with all our for-sale beer and gear Beverly Hippy-billied to the roof and even the hood, the tarp-lined truck shell swollen with cases of iced beer and dry ice chunks. MUTT regularly crawled under the rig to use the perpetually-dripping bed as a sort of ground-level shower. In sweltering Vegas, the melt was a deluge, gushing through the well-traveled Nissan chassis.
After a few cooler refills, I nudged MUTT’s foot, asking if he’d like some water. No answer. Peeking under the rig, his pillow of empty beer bottles revealed he had pilloried the few brews we had crammed amongst the water bottles. More than a few actually. He was snoring.
We pulled him out from under the truck and hoisted his groaning frame into the icy bed. We filled our coolers and went back to business, praying we wouldn’t return to a once-drunken, now-frozen dead guy. Next refill, he was back under the truck. “Too cold,” he growled from his gravelly bath, marking the only time those words have ever been uttered under the June sun in Vegas.
After the show, which MUTT slept through, the muddy old man joined us on the tailgate for our closing time beers. All the water was sold. We had a solid three grand in our pockets and a week until the next show. Life was good.
Maybe even good enough for an intervention. “MUTT, why do you pass out before every show?” we asked.
“Never drink in the heat, amigos,” he muttered, ignoring the fact that he would most certainly do it all over again.
To this day, I embrace the grizzled MUTT’s sage—yet perpetually ignored—advice and save the festival beers for sunset. It’s hardly a universal dictum though. I still see MUTTs every festival, curled up at the feet of dancers in the afternoon sun, snoring off those ill-advised breakfast brews and I mutter to myself: Don’t Be Like MUTT.