The psychedelic rock band, The Grateful Dead, was formed amid the rise of the counter culture in 1965. Their unique and eclectic fusion of rock, folk, blues, reggae and country evoked a spiritual awakening in ordinary people. Legions of fans gravitated towards performances laced with space rock, psychedelic tones and live performances of long musical improvisation. A quick cult rose from the unexpected community and the Deadhead was born.
Deadheads or Dead Heads grew from devoted fans who religiously followed the Grateful Dead to as many shows or festivals as possible. The ever-changing playlist each night and the promise of a two set show with an encore kept people coming back for more. Deadheads wanted to hear the sweet sounds of their favorite songs and if they didn’t hear them one night, they would pack up and hear them the next night, regardless of location. A nomadic tribe of wandering Deadheads sold out performances each night as they patiently waited to be spiritually reborn through music. A make-shift community formed complete with solid friendships and a language infused with idioms and slang understood only by Deadheads. The peaceful cult even resorted to commerce by selling tie-dye t-shirts and veggie burritos to fund transportation to the next event. It was a phenomenal response created by average folks simply wanting a spiritual experience through blissful and transcendent music.
“Wiser” Deadheads rose to the occasion and with the support of the band, handed out flyers telling people to “cool out”. This gave way to the creation of the Minglewood Town Council, a group of fanatical Deadheads including the infamous Elisabeth van der Mei also known as “Calico” and later on as “Ruby”.
Calico was born in Holland and as a teenager experienced starvation and homelessness during World War II. The experience taught her to appreciate shreds of good fortune and always share with others. She was a keen learner and took great interest in world events. She was always willing to share her knowledge with others and listen intently to their opinions. Her open and willing spirit was welcome at Grateful Dead concerts where she was a renowned supporter of the band and eventual friend of Jerry Garcia.
Grateful Dead Personal Service
In 1983, Deadheads broke new ground by creating a system to acquire tickets through mail order. Steven Marcus was at the helm of the organization with Frankie Accardi and not surprisingly, Calico at his side. It was at this point Calico became Ruby, a softer and perhaps more subservient version of herself. She lived in service to the people, helping tens of thousands of fans. Her personal handwritten notes touched many including Harry M. Carpenter who remembers “She always sent me notes…and tickets. The greatest tickets! We corresponded many times. I’ve always cherished everything she sent”. Christine Smith Darge recalls “Ruby was always super nice and patient with me on the phone, many years ago, before caller ID, before the internet, before I realized she really didn’t have to be nice to an annoying kid from Jersey.” A surprised Leslie Edmonds remembers “Ruby brought tickets to me at my work one time. Forgot what I messed up on but she kindly drove over and met me in San Rafael…like a favor for a friend. I will pass that kindness on”.
Ruby Spirit of The Dead
Ruby’s gentle spirit was not only a presence in the ticket office, but at the performances, as well. She frequently came to concerts and helped fans who were unwell or promoted peace within the parking lots and campgrounds. Richard De Angelis recalls “Sweet person, she helped me out at a Kate Wolf Festival in Laytonville. Very kind and understanding of my problem that night. Much love…”. Ruby always reminded people they were a community that needed to work together and share possessions and mutual love.
Ruby sadly passed away this year on March 18, 2015 at the age of 79. There has been an outpouring of love from devoted Deadheads through social media, all recalling stories of this phenomenal women who shared great wisdom and care towards complete strangers. Strings of comments describe a sweet, magical, kind person who offered time, patience and unrequired extra effort. “She was committed to communicating with us Deadheads no matter how much effort it took”, writes Francesca Rago, “Thank you, Ruby, for your wonderful gifts to our planet”.
Ruby appeared to possess a magical formula for drawing people in and keeping them engaged. She kept tens of thousands of people coming back for Grateful Dead tickets with little to no experience and a void of social media to aid her cause. She single-handedly represented the image of an entire legendary band by simply walking through crowds of people at a concert and offering nothing more than a peaceful smile.
In a modern world of rewards programs, flashy advertising, free samples and quantity over quality, companies forget the simple things that keep customers coming back. A personal note, sincere conversation and going the “extra mile” will win over customers who crave to be a person in a world of anonymity. Calico encompassed all of those qualities in an almost motherly fashion that encouraged people to return not only to hear great music, but lay eyes upon a caregiver who was willing to sacrifice her time for loyal and devoted customers. KhatAroo Baker simplifies it by saying “The day we lose a cherished friend is like no other. RIP, Ruby. Thanks for making this world a better place”.