Hey Jim,

Just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your book. I recently started reading several books that came out last year about the Dead and as I was looking around I came across your book. I’m now trying to get every one I know to give it a read. The stories are amazing and I must say I will probably never have an experience like you and your people did working backstage. The whole time I was reading your book I kept thinking, wow, I don’t think I could handle the responsibility, especially dealing with the egos of the people you had to answer to. How you kept going working those hours and succeeding at pleasing anyone and everyone is beyond me.
In the last couple of months, I have learned a lot about Jerry’s struggles and the huge responsibility of him being him. I had no idea what he had to deal with as a famous artist. I’ve been listening to the Dead and Jerry for the last couple of decades but got into it a little late, 1993-1994, went to Deer Creek in 1995. That was the only time I got to see him. I thought I knew everything until I started reading about him this past couple of months and learned in detail about the highs and lows and honestly ended up being a bit depressed after finishing the books. Thinking about what might have been had he not been pushed so hard, especially towards the end. Anyway, your book was a breath of fresh air, something different while still getting perspective on life with the Dead. Its amazing how often people never think about the ones involved with one single concert, much less an entire run or tour. It sounded like a thankless job, like nobody was ever satisfied or appreciated you and the people you worked with. I must say I’m impressed with what you did and I’m definitely jealous of the experience you had. Again, thank you for writing that book and know that it is getting around and should be just as popular as anything out there. Good luck and be safe.

Brian Vallely

Page turning read: Feeding the Dead – “Rustic Cabins and 5 star hotels” – “what a long strange trip it’s been”

Page turning read: Feeding the Dead – “Rustic Cabins and 5 star hotels” – “what a long strange trip it’s been”


Posted on September 9, 2012 by stevez

“Catering to the tastes of one of the most famous rock bands of all time, and serving meals to homeless hurricane refugees, are worlds apart from one another in most people’s minds. Not so for Sheep Ranch resident Jim Stearns. When a decade of catering for the Grateful Dead began, Stearns found himself in the right place at the right time. When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, he put himself there. When the Dead would come into a city, Stearns said the operation worked a lot like the Army.  “You blow into town with nothing, get tents, set up and feed a thousand people,” he said.  With a helping heart formed before he ever lived the fast-paced life, Stearns knew what he had to do as soon as the infamous storm slammed the South.  “This is my gig,” he recalls thinking. “Who’s better at going into chaos and madness and doing this on a shoestring than we are?”
Jim Stearns and I recently reacquainted. I had no contact with Jim for 30 years. While not uncommon in today’s socially connected facebook world, it is worth reflecting  on the real meaning of these reunions and the ultimate value of a connected universe.
Watching Jim promote Salmonstock, a music festival in Ninilchik, Alaska, reading his most recent book “Feeding the Dead” and some brief electronic communications got me thinking once again about how far the surface of my life has strayed from my original idealistic plans for life.  This then became a metaphor for earth and life on it, as it too has seemingly strayed from its original purpose, or has it?
At the same time  Jim’s “Salmonstock – 3 Days of Fish, Fun & Music” festival and “Feeding the Dead” reminded me that beneath the externals of my life, deep inside me, the core of my idealistic plans for life live on and simply manifested themselves in different ways than I had “planned”. I do not think I am unusual or different in this regard.  What we somewhat derisively refer to as “childlike idealism” rings true to all at our rawest moments and it is those moments that we really know who we are.  Idealism, wanting the world to be a better peaceful and beautiful place for all is really at the core of who we all really are. I once heard if you want to make god (or the universe, higher power, nature, whatever your preference) laugh, just tell it your plans.
Jim’s story as told in his books brings me – and will bring you -closer to the paradoxes of our lives with what could be a metaphor for my life  and planet earth itself.  The phrase that captures it for me is “rustic cabins and 5 star hotels”.
Sean Janssen summarized it best in a 2009 news article (some paraphrasing and additions):

In the mid-70′s Jim found himself serving a lot of people on a daily basis by accident. An environmentalist, in the early 1970′s he had been heavily involved with Friends of the River working to save on of America’s most scenic rivers, (the Stanislaus in California) from the ill conceived pork barrel New Melones dam project. In 1974, he bought some remote acreage in Tuolumne County, California that became Avery Ranch, where he planned to live a simple Henry David Thoreau sort of lifestyle.
A group of a dozen or so people were hanging out there for years, living what Jim described as a “hippie lifestyle,” and by 1977, “we’d just started building buildings.” Informal gatherings turned into festivals and one of Jim’s friends happened to be a great chef, whereas Jim could be a great organizer.
In 1987, when the Grateful Dead came to play a show at Frogtown, the band’s manager, Cameron Sears, who knew Jim from their Friends of the River days, asked him to house the band for a few days. He agreed, not realizing just how big a rock group he just invited over, until their sleek Italian-made helicopters came over the hill and started landing in his meadow at the ranch.
Neither the band nor Jim had really known what to expect of each other.
Keyboardist Brent Mydland first wondered aloud, “What the hell are we doing here?” Jim recalled.
Men used to staying at five-star hotels were looking at doing hard time in 200-square-foot rooms without power and some without restrooms, Stearns said.
Mydland first wanted to bolt.
“Slowly, we won them over,” Stearns said.

Jim’s story carries a simple message. Within all of us lives peace, love, music, a love for the earth and the yearning to be closer to it all in the way we once were.  As in the case of The Grateful Dead, it is possible to “slowly win them over” and enjoy, preserve and cherish it