The big groups all toured South America, the harder rocking members of the music industry mostly. There had to be a Brazilian version of The Eagles; every country has their own sappy bullshit, so why import another culture’s? KISS or Queen, though, could sell out stadiums down there: South Americans love it loud, and they enjoy when others rock them.
Which is why the Grateful Dead’s ’81 tour through Brazil, Argentina, and several other countries that Billy had to be discouraged from referring to as “Lower Mexico” is such a mystery. The concept, the agreement by the band to do it, actually getting them on the planes (and in 1981 it took a series of increasingly smaller planes to get anywhere in South America), the bookings: everything, really. To this day, no one knows whose idea it was in the first place, but lately people have been blaming Brent.
Thankfully, the original idea of driving down was nixed, even though it took a few days to explain to Bobby that the Darien Gap was not a clothing store. Mickey pushed hard for the overland journey, wanting to record indigenous drums and native cymbals and hopefully a half-civilized tambourine or two; he hoped to locate and capture on tape drums never before seen or heard, and then he would have the right to name those drums when he wrote up the article for the Journal of American Drumming. (Mickey was planning on naming the newly-found drums after his penis.)
The plane landed safely in Guatemala and Phil asked, “Why are we in Guatemala?”
To which Billy replied, “Because we’re touring South America, shitbird.”
“It’s been a long flight.”
“To Central America. The flight has only been to Central America. We’re supposed to be on a South American tour.”
“South, Central: what’s the difference?”
“Location. Location is the difference.”
“Ah, stop being such a Phinicky Phil, shitbird.”
And then there was a fist fight on the plane in Guatemala; Garcia got conked in the head by accident; he was in a foul mood about it for days. After consulting both the itinerary and a map, it was determined that Guatemala was, in fact, not where they thought it should be, which led to a vote of “no confidence” in both Guatemala and the map. The plane took off again, pointed downwards.
45 hours later, the Grateful Dead touring party landed in Buenos Aires, where there was a press conference for them. Billy was given a microphone, because otherwise he’d start swinging chairs around, and kicked off the question-and-answer session by thanking the Argentinians for being so welcoming.
“People have been so nice, you would think we were escaped Nazis!” Billy said and then they were all immediately thrown out of the country.
From there it wasn’t on to Chile, as it had been decided by everyone to skip the country: in the very beginning of the planning process, someone mentioned hitting Chile, and Bobby said, “We should bring sweatshirts,” and everyone in the room realized they would be hearing variations of that one for months to come, so it was tacitly agreed to never bring up the place again.
After that was Brazil, where they do not speak Spanish because a Pope drew a line on a map in the 1500’s. What Brazilians do have in common with the rest of the continent is a philosophy in stadium-building: as big as a Midwestern city. They are built so large because the architects want to give the peaceful sections of the crowd somewhere to run to once the riot breaks out. In Paraguay’s largest stadium (El Stadio Grande de Paraguay), any given Tuesday night will see four futbol matches and two unassociated riots going on at the same time.
The Maracanã hold 78,241 people. The Dead sold around three thousand tickets, and the place seemed kind of empty, but the crowd rioted anyway. The band did make at least one fan, who showed his appreciation the traditional way: chucking a lit flare at Bobby during Estimated.
Venezuela was next, but no one wanted to go and everyone hated South America and Brent, who they were blaming the whole thing on, so the plane stopped in Colombia even though the flight logs do not say that it did and the tour was never spoken of again.