A dream they dreamed
New documentary showcases followers of the Grateful Dead
One night seventeen-year-old Lonnie Frazier was offered a ride home from a party in rural Maryland by some guys from school she thought were friends. Instead of taking her home, they drove her out to a field and raped her. When she tried to tell others what happened, few believed her. “If you played sports or were a cheerleader, you could do no wrong,” Frazier remembers.“If you weren’t in those cliques, nobody cared about what was going on with you.” Several months later, a friend needed a ride to a Grateful Dead concert at the legendary Red Rocks Amphitheatre near Denver, Colorado. Frazier had a car, and her friend had a spare ticket. Off to Colorado they went.
For Frazier, the trip proved to be more than just a concert: it was an entry into a different world, one where her interest in photography was taken seriously and men protected her from harm. “The men in that community looked out for me, and I thought that was really special,” she remembers. “Maybe it wouldn’t have been for everyone, but from where I was coming from in my life at that time, it was very different and very much needed.”A quarter of a century later, she found herself at a gathering of fellow Deadheads, and one Deadhead that. Frazier describes as “an elder statesman” had recently died. “I heard someone say how much they were going to miss his stories.” Frazier got the idea to interview Deadheads to preserve these stories; the result is a new feature documentary, Box of Rain.
As she embarked on this project, Frazier reached out to a former coworker and friend, Elizabeth Kopetka, whom she first met working at a holistic health care product company in Maryland.The two eventually parted ways—Frazier to San Francisco and Kopetka to Rochester—but stayed in touch. Kopetka, who is not a Deadhead, had recently gotten into videography and relocated to Rochester for a better quality of life. Frazier didn’t initially set out to make a documentary but rather a YouTube channel where she could upload interviews. Says Kopetka: “She just wanted to preserve some memories. The Deadheads were aging, and she wanted to do interviews that were archival.”
Frazier and Kopetka crisscrossed the country shooting interviews. Among those interviewed was James LeBrecht, the disability rights activist who produced and appears in the documentary Crip Camp. Some themes emerged. “Everyone seemed to have what we started calling ‘a magic moment;’ a moment where they said something special happened to them at a show,” recalls Frazier. She realized the potential for a documentary and flew to Rochester just prior to the pandemic to begin editing with Kopetka.As they began showing what they had edited, Frazier was encouraged to tell her own origin story, which she had been reluctant to do. “Seeing other films where documentarians allowed themselves to become part of the story made me feel comfortable doing that,” she says. Another thing they were told was that the documentary was lacking what Kopetka calls a “North Star Figure, somebody who could talk more as an expert.”
Kopetka reached out to a Rochester-area Deadhead Facebook group, and some suggested contacting Peter Conners, the Rochester author of the books Growing Up Dead and Cornell ’77.The three connected, and during the summer of 2020 Conners’s interview was shot at his parents’ cottage on Canandaigua Lake.“He was great at getting the point across and really helped tie a lot of the themes together,” says Frazier. Conners also connected Frazier with David Gans, host of the radio program The Grateful Dead Hour, who provided music for the film. “I had a pretty good idea of the challenges that you face trying to get Grateful Dead music licensed for a movie,” says Conners, citing his own experience adapting his own work to the movie screen.“It’s not impossible, but it is a challenge.There are a lot of hoops to jump through.” Following Conners’s interview, shooting wrapped up with Frazier and Kopetka traveling to Red Rocks to shoot Frazier telling her story.
Box of Rain made its debut at the 2021 Toronto International Women Film Festival, with Kopetka winning best female editor. For Frazier, doing the festival circuit online amid the pandemic was a challenge. “There’s amazing feedback that you get from an audience when there’s a live Q&A. It’s not the same energy without the supporter interest,” she opines. With the movie now available to stream, Frazier and Kopetka have embarked on a new project, which they start shooting later this year. In the meantime, Frazier hopes this movie resonates beyond the Deadhead community. “I’m hopeful that maybe there are some people out there who are healing from trauma and maybe haven’t quite found their healing place yet. And maybe it’ll show them that there’s a community or family or something out there waiting for you.”