Robbie Seals, a chilled can of beer in one hand, a cigarette in the other, was one of the lucky ones Friday.
The Utah electrician had a place to crash after Friday's Grateful Dead concert at Irvine Meadows. His campsite at O'Neill Regional Park in the county's eastern foothills had been reserved for several days. Now he was "slumming" in a beach chair, soaking up the sun and getting primed for the concert.
"We're all set up," Seals said proudly as he surveyed his campsite: an orange, two-person tent, a well-stocked cooler and a bag of groceries. "Everything's falling into place."
Byran McClintock's karma wasn't as good.
McClintock and his van full of Deadheads pulled up to the main entrance at O'Neill park Friday after a 2-day drive from Salem, Ore., only to be told that the 1,700-acre county park was full. All 128 campsites were reserved through Sunday.
"Bummer," McClintock moaned. "Where to now?"
Ranger Richard Dyer advised the Grateful Dead loyalists to move on. McClintock slowly turned around the Volkswagen van-- with a red, white and blue peace sign painted on the side--and drove off. He was not alone in his predicament.
Dozens of free-spirited followers of the 1960s rock band who converged on Orange County this week for the group's three weekend shows were caught short in their search for overnight accommodations. In past years, fans of the drug-era cult band were allowed to camp overnight in the Irvine Meadows parking lot. But not this year. Tired of complaints about noise, trash and consumption of liquor and drugs, Irvine city officials made it clear to concert promoters earlier this year that the annual Dead shows would not continue if fans were permitted to congregate on Irvine Meadows property during the weekend performances.
The promoters complied and decided to steer fans of the band to more appropriate settings in the county's regional parks.
It seemed like an ideal fit. Stashing fun-loving rock fans in remote, isolated reaches of rural Orange County satisfied those worried about unruly disturbances in public.
And for hard-core Deadheads, those who consider the band's appearances as more than a concert--"It's a happening," one devotee explained--camping in the parks was well-suited for socializing.
"Got to be able to get to know thy neighbor in case you run short on milk, oranges or rolling papers," offered Bob Winston, a Northern California auto mechanic.
"I've been coming to the Dead shows in Irvine for 4 years, and this is the best setup yet. It's perfect."
Winston said the word spread quickly among Deadheads about O'Neill park.
By Thursday, the campground was booked for the weekend. Shortly before noon Friday, Caspers Park, another county overnight campground east of San Juan Capistrano, was also sold out through Sunday night.
"About 90% of the people in here are Deadheads," said Richard Dyer, supervising park ranger at O'Neill. By today,he estimated, the number of people camping at the park may reach 500.
Parked Near Gate
The only trouble thus far occurred Friday morning when Dyer showed up for work about 6:30 a.m. Two carloads of Grateful Dead fans, who had arrived at the park after closing Thursday night, were parked in an unrestricted area near the main gate.
"We rousted them, and told them to move along."
As a precaution, Dyer said, four rangers will be on duty tonight and Sunday until midnight. In a departure with normal procedure, two more rangers will patrol the park until daybreak.
"I just want to make sure that when those folks start returning from the shows," Dyer said, "there's no trouble."
At the amphitheater, police had arrested about a dozen people by the start of Friday night's concert, Irvine Police Lt. Vic Thies said. More than 40 officers--nearly every available officer in the department--was on duty as a precaution. A similar number of officers will be deployed for the band's two remaining shows, tonight and Sunday, Thies said.
Police, trying to prevent a recurrence of revelry that occurred in the amphitheater's parking lot last year, closed the area to all but those with concert tickets. The result, police said, was that large groups of people went to other areas of the city to park and party--most notably the industrial section on the opposite side of the San Diego Freeway. Some parked on the freeway itself, and CHP officers were dispatched to move them along.
Irvine police said they were continuously making arrests for offenses such as selling drugs and being drunk in public.
Trouble is the last thing Wendy and Tom Scotts want. The couple, in their early 40s, traveled to Orange County from Boise, Ida., for a dose of Dead. Every spring, Wendy said, the couple "dances away winter" by attending one of the band's concerts. This is their third trek to Irvine to see the group, and first stay at O'Neill park. As much as the music, it's people that make it a "good trip," Wendy said.
"Deadheads may seem like dropouts," she explained, "but in reality they care about things most people have lost interest in because of this fast-paced, commercial life style we live today.
"Deadheads care about family, tradition and spiritual replenishment," she said. "Can you relate?
"It's a party for sure, but it's good for the soul."
Two campsites away, Cameron Joyce was in the midst of a snack of corn chips and enriched Kool-Aid.
"I added a shot of Cuervo. Want a sip?" he asked.
Joyce had come with a Volkswagen full of friends from the California desert town of Borrego Springs. At 24, Joyce, a part-time carpenter, was just a baby during the band's Haight Ashbury heyday. Nonetheless, he describes himself as a "big-time fan" of the band and its following.
"Where else can you go and find people who like to have a good time without damaging themselves or each other," he said. "It's cool. It's the best."