Bill Walton Shares Volcano Fire On The Mountain Story

By Scott Bernstein Mar 26, 2015 12:05 pm PDT

On June 12, 1980 the Grateful Dead performed at Portland Memorial Coliseum in Oregon just weeks after nearby Mount St. Helens erupted leading to the most deadly and economically destructive volcanic eruption in the history of the United States. According to legend, just as the Dead lit into “Fire On The Mountain” in Portland, Mount St. Helens exploded once again. Basketball legend Bill Walton told the story of that night from his perspective during a Reddit Ask Me Anything session.

Walton recalled the events of that night after he was asked “Have you ever been to a volcano when it’s erupting.” Bill responded, “We were on tour with the Grateful Dead in Oregon. They were playing the show and they start playing Fire on the Mountain. The volcano next door, Mt. Helens, blows up. When the show was over a bunch of us raced to the airport and boarded a plane. We told people at the airport we were scientists studying atmospheric conditions and the effect of smoke and volcanic explosions on the human spirit, so the pilot was terrified, but we convinced him to fly right into the smoking crater with fire and lava everywhere. He wanted to go home but we were on a scientific mission and we kept getting closer and closer. As we were flying around inside the erupting volcano, the military jets scrambled from the local base and come up there to get us out of there. It was a real dogfight but we had the spirit Cortez on our side. We eventually left and when we landed at the airport the pilot was most relieved as we quickly fled and went back to the rest of the tour.”

When asked about his favorite Grateful Dead album, Bill’s response included “I’ll be in Chicago -and anywhere else they show up to play” in reference to the Grateful Dead 50 shows at Soldier Field days after he tweeted a since-deleted note saying there were more Fare Thee Well shows in store for Santa Clara, California.

Listen to audio of the Grateful Dead’s June 12, 1980 performance including the legendary “Fire On The Mountain” Bill Walton referenced:

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