Tony Ballz

As I walked into the place, I felt like Frodo Baggins far from the Shire. It was a large hall full of people and every man there (as well as some of the women) towered over me. My height is on the short side of average (5’7 when I’m not slouching), but this was ridiculous. I estimated 15% of them to be past 6’2 as well. What the heck? I then realized where I was and relaxed. Of course. These were kind giants, stoned and peaceful. I was at a Karl Denson concert in the Orpheum Theatre, a natural gathering place for the 21st century hippiejock. I was among friends.

The hippiejock (or “brah”, to use the colloquial) is the modern ubermensch, carrier of only the top shelf genes and DNA. The splicing together of two seemingly opposed lifestyles and personalities, the jock and the hippie, and the attempt to focus and amplify the positive traits of each while dampening the negative has worked and I’m proud to number several as close pals.

In contrast to the traditional hippie, the hippiejock is well-scrubbed with neatly trimmed facial hair. They are children of suburbia and have a pretty good grasp on pop culture. If not still in college (the hippiejock’s petri dish) they usually have degrees and well-paying jobs, allowing them to purchase nice new clothes of the outdoor variety and expensive camping/sports gear.

They are physically fit despite the gallons of Fat Tire consumed. They rarely drink PBR and other schwag beer, unless it’s the only thing available. They are able to afford some pretty killer weed and are always willing to smoke you out. They possess very little of the hippiehippie’s natural laziness, with a constant need for physical activity such as hiking, snowboarding, rock climbing, rappelling, softball, jogging, frisbee golf, hacky-sack, mountain biking, skiing, one-on-one, etc.

In comparison to the traditional jock, the hippiejock is way mellower and more in touch with his feelings, allowing for less misplaced what-are-YOU-looking-at pent up anger leading to random bar brawls and spousal abuse. They are politically to the left of the jockjock, with a broader tolerance and understanding of women, gays, and non-Caucasians. They have thankfully little of the jocks’ need to constantly touch other men, outside of the standard brah hug or the occasional shoulder clap. Apparently they have been cured of the repulsive jock habit of parading around the house in their skivvies when loaded (more research may be needed).

Their musical tastes lean far to the hippie side, with barely any of the jocks’ love for heavy metal and Van Hagary “jock rock”, though isolated incidents have been observed. They will have some soul/R&B music, but not enough. And a little too much country. They usually date girls with 90% identical CD collections.

They will participate in spring break and other collegiate functions, but will end up getting laid while you’re covered in vomit and passed out in the surf. They are reliable designated drivers and always make sure the ladies get home safely. They are sometimes involved in weird mind game/athletic prowess competitions with older brothers. By the time you crawl out of bed at noon on your day off, they will have already made coffee, eaten breakfast, showered, visited the library and the post office, gone on a run, and had a beer at Pay-n-Take.

They are comfortable in nearly any social situation and won’t embarrass you in front of new people. They will listen to your drunken blubbering and offer comfort when your girl unexpectedly dumps you. They’ll eventually sleep with her, but not until you’re hooked up with someone else. They will feed you hallucinogenic mushrooms and get you high as a coon-dog on hydroponic bud and then want to go on a 10 mile uphill bike ride. They ALL know how to play “Wish You Were Here” on the acoustic guitar.

Moms love them. Dads too. Your younger siblings will have more fun with them than they ever had with you. Watch your girlfriend, for they are catnip to most women (muscles AND money AND sensitivity? Forget it, Jim). Deep down they are sincerely kind brahs, if a little obsessed with buying stuff. Do not mistake them for hippies, for the jock lieth within. Get them drunk and they’ll soon have each other in wrestling headlocks on the floor while discussing the six Widespread Panic shows they saw last summer.

The first attempt at melding these two disparate cultures was nearly disastrous. In 1987, after a 7-year hibernation between studio albums, the Grateful Dead hit the top ten with the In The Dark LP and the “Touch Of Grey” single and video. Their popularity on college campuses soared, as well as attendance at their live shows.

These were my college years as well. Around this time my friend Paul, an old school Deadhead, took me into his new housemate’s room and said look at this shit: on one wall was a Grateful Dead poster, and on the other a George Bush For President poster. It didn’t make sense, we couldn’t process the absurdity.

By the late ’80s, the Dead had been touring for close to 20 years with a traveling parking lot sideshow of vendors, diehard Deadheads, and assorted weirdos. Most outdoor venues would allow these people to camp out on the premises or in adjacent fields, legally or not. The college kids discovered this peaceful freak scene, declared it party central, and ruined it forever.

Drunken frat-boy mayhem ensued: fistfights, property destruction, and general obnoxious ungroovy behavior. A kid got killed in Florida after a show and Rolling Stone ran a big article. The police, who never once had to patrol these gatherings in 20 years, swooped down and broke them up. Deadhead-friendly places such as Alpine Valley in Wisconsin banned on-site camping. Farmers and land owners began worrying about liability and refused camping requests. The scene died.

The Dead kept plugging away until Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995, but most long-time Deadheads said all the fun was gone from what was left of their scene. But seeds had been planted. Some of these collegiates were enlightened by their experience and became hip to the Dead’s trip. For better or worse, kids were getting on the bus, as they always had. Bands started forming, and strange little pockets of hippiedom were popping up in college towns all over America.

These weren’t Haight-Ashbury street freaks, but the sons and daughters of the well-to-do, on the fast track to a career in marketing or computer programming, until drugs and the lure of this unknown lifestyle permanently derailed it. These kids had never been homeless, never slept without a tent in the freezing cold, never hopped a train, never subsisted on just rice for days, never went without bathing for a week or more, never had head lice or the clap, never been arrested for vagrancy, never been laughed at or beaten up or had a shotgun pointed at them by rednecks, never had a good friend who “just disappeared”, never left home to go on tour with ten bucks in their pocket, never had to take their girlfriend to the free clinic for an abortion, never dropped acid every day for a month, never had to hitchhike or panhandle or go to bed hungry. They were used to having money around.

They absorbed the hippie ethos and transformed it into something new, something their own. The Dead were already old, old, old, and soon they weren’t around anymore. The kids turned to the younger bands: Phish, Blues Traveler, Widespread Panic, etc., and adopted them as the new prophets.

The rest is history.


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