Hippie Kids Flood the Subway

I was 13 years old, living in my home town in New Jersey, where I could gaze at the skyline of center city Philadelphia from Cooper River park, just six or seven blocks down the winding suburban streets from my family’s home. It was my middle-school friend who came up with the idea that we both “borrow” a sneaky amount of tens and twenties from our parents, and jump the train to Philly to see our first stadium rock concert. We would probably both get in a bunch of trouble later, but this would be way worth it! Or would it?

The subway was flooded with jean jackets masking liquor bottles in inside pockets, concert t-shirts, bandanas, assorted swirling smoke, and long haired hippy kids. Conversations about favorite songs and last month’s concert filled the air. On that kaleidoscopic night, we were on a wild journey with the mysterious hippy sub-culture of “the Grateful Dead.”

On the train, the tough leather Jersey attitudes mingled with tie-dyed peace-love vibes into a colorful exotic elixir of lyrics, music, and songs. We didn’t even have tickets yet, and already the party on the train was well worth the trip! My friend knew the ropes, and we quickly scalped tickets from a dreadlock Rosta dude just as we got to the stadium parking lot, which seemed like a sea of open-doored mini-vans floating on a salty breeze of jam-band music and conversations about previous shows on the tour.

We herded ourselves in with the crowd, and crawled our way up to the second level to our seats. As the show started, the fans lit up like a fire on the mountain, and we breathed in their smoke like young gypsies dancing in the streets. In between sets the drums played on, and my friend taught me what scoring elicit substances in the crowded smelly bathroom was all about. As the drum solo kicked in, this band actually had not just one, but two amazing drummers, everybody danced themselves into a tribal trance, and it was so melodic that I couldn’t get the drum solo out of my head for three days. At my young age, I only knew a few of their songs, but I could instantly tell that the atmosphere that was created by a live show was way different from just listening to the albums. Every song seemed to propel us into a mind-blowing musical journey.

My thoughts and emotions were spinning with music that just ripped me out of my complacency and spray painted a new way to experience life all over my chest. I stumbled off the train back home, and carefully climbed up the chimney to my second floor bedroom window, where I drifted into an exhilarating sleep just before my family all went to bed, when they might have found me missing. That was close!

That wild night transformed me. I was now a veteran, I lived it… I did it! And after that, all I cared about was music. I flowed through my teenage years building tribes of friends that lived and breathed music, and we went to concerts every weekend we could. A stack of concert ticket stubs became my badges of authority, and concert T-shirts were my uniforms.

I would visualize myself on those stages creating wild musical atmospheres for fans to dance through. And I was beginning to realize that writing music, discovering just the right notes, and just the right words, like a jigsaw puzzle through time to open up doors to wonderful new realms, was my real calling in life.

Fast forward a couple decades, a music degree from Berklee College of Music, a half dozen CDs recorded, International radio airplay, several tours with different bands and styles of music, and that feeling is still what I live for. Community, love, connection, a musical journey that takes you to another level of reality, and songs that show you the miracles that have been right in front of you all the time. That is what music is about for me!

Now, I have to admit that the Kevin Thomas Band, Stratosphere, and my earlier bands, sound nothing like the Grateful Dead. But, this deep connection, making lifelong friends who love the same music, lust for this spiritual awakening, and living for these life-changing live shows, is something that we all can share, and often crave at a primal level. Fulfilling these passions, hopes, and needs for others is now the biggest part of why I create and perform music.

If magic like this captivates you, as it did for me, like echoes of a lost and forgotten home from caverns deep inside that you can barely remember…..Welcome To Our Tribe!


4 responses to “Hippie Kids Flood the Subway”

  1. Lin says:

    Thats quite a story you shared. I never saw a “ Dead” concert but I vividly remember a JFK stadium concert.“Yes” and “Frampton” headlined. People were diving into the subway car windows to get on it was so packed! What a trip! Music thundered in my ears and I daydreamed about the lazer light show long after. Thanks for sharing, it jogged my memory! Every day people talk, mainly I think to make a point or communicate information. Songs for me are about communicating feeling, my own or imagining someone else’s if I were in their shoes. The world is full of people and people are full of stories. Each life is unique and
    Its endlessly fascinating! What you do is a dream for many. Thanks for sharing your know how with others! Have Great Day!

    • Kevin Thomas says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments Lin. And it’s cool that you remember JFK stadium in Philly; My father used to take me as a kid to see football games there, and I went to the very last concert held there before they tore it down. And I saw “Yes” play in Philly once as well. Good memories!

  2. Callie says:

    Very inspiring story. You are such a gifted story teller! Thank you for sharing your heart with the world. Keep on writing!

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