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December 15 1986


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On this date in 1986, the Grateful Dead held their first show back after a diabetic coma nearly killed Garcia.




On July 10, 1986 Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia lapsed into a diabetic coma that nearly killed him. The band’s upcoming shows were canceled as Garcia spent weeks and months recovering with help from old friend Merl Saunders. While Garcia played a number of Jerry Garcia Band shows in Fall 1986, the Grateful Dead finally returned to the stage on December 15, 1986, to begin a series of three performances at the Oakland Coliseum Arena.

Scribe Blair Jackson described Merl’s role in getting Jerry back into shape for a Dead.net article:


 "When Jerry nearly died in the summer of 1986 after slipping into a diabetic coma, it was Merl more than anyone else, who literally sat by Jerry’s side and helped him regain his musical gifts—which had become scrambled and elusive following the coma—by patiently re-teaching him the fundamentals, rebuilding his skills a little at a time. And even before he was ready to attempt to play, Merl helped him get some of his strength back: “I’d take him for a walk. We’d take 10 steps, then take 10 steps back. His attitude was great. He wanted to get better, but he was scared, too. He got tired very easily, but he never really got discouraged. The most he’d say would be, ‘Oh man, this is harder than it looks!’”

Once Garcia picked up a guitar, “It came back very slowly,” Merl said. “He had to learn chords all over again and he had a lot of trouble remembering how to do even the simplest stuff. And I didn’t want to push him. ‘Man, I’m tired.’ He’d been playing for five minutes. ‘OK, that’s fine. Put it down. Let’s go for a walk.’ And we’d do that for a few minutes until he’d get tired. We’d talk about music. I’d tell him about songs I was working on and that would get his mind going. We’d talk in musical terms. And slowly he started to get his strength back. But it sometimes took an hour or two for him to get even a simple chord down. Then, as we got farther into it, some things started to come back to him a little, but it took a lot of work. The first song he wanted to learn again was ‘My Funny Valentine.’”


Setlist (via JerryBase)

Set One: Touch Of Grey, C.C. Rider, When Push Comes To Shove [1], Beat It On Down The Line > Greatest Story Ever Told, Loser, Cassidy, Althea, My Brother Esau, Candyman, Let It Grow

Set Two: Iko Iko, Looks Like Rain, Black Muddy River [1], Playing In The Band > Terrapin Station > Drums > Space > Truckin’ > Wharf Rat > Playing In The Band > Good Lovin’

Encore: Johnny B. Goode


  • [1] First performance



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