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Review: Box of Rain – “It’s about finding your place in the world”

“When home doesn’t feel like home, where do you go?”

Filmmaker Lonnie Frazier was forced to ask herself that question when at the age of 17 she went to a party and accepted a ride home from some boys she knew from high school.  Instead of taking her there, she was driven to a field and brutally raped.  The understandable trauma that resulted meant Frazier needed to find herself again, re-establish a sense of belonging and acceptance, and she wasn’t getting that at home. 

So, when a friend of hers offered her a free ticket to see Grateful Dead in exchange for a ride, Frazier accepted, putting the miles on her new set of wheels from Maryland to Colorado – the remarkable Red Rocks Amphitheatre to be precise.  Each one of those miles put space between her and her painful experience.  

While she wasn’t expecting it, she found kindred spirits at that first show amongst the “Deadhead” community, those Grateful Dead fans that traveled with the band and created an experience around every concert.  Frazier’s directorial debut, Box of Rain, is a documentary, but also an appreciative love letter to those in the community that embraced her and that brought her ‘home.’

Lonnie Frazier at Red Rocks in BOX OF RAIN

Frazier starts her story reminiscing with Betsy and Kelly, the friends who accompanied that first fateful trip and their camaraderie is instantly charming and relatable.  Three girlfriends, sitting around a table and enjoying their trip down memory lane.  The reminder of the Deadheads interviewed are all at once what you would expect, but at the same time also deconstruct some stereotypes.  They are all good storytellers, which makes sense when you find that many of them are fellow creatives – musicians filmmakers, authors.  They each have important memories of their time within the community and what it meant to them.  

Box of Rain creates a time capsule of the era, mostly the 70’s and 80’s, where hitchhiking was commonplace and the Deadhead movement was established but growing.  Some people traveled for a couple of days to see shows, but some would travel for months, nomads, living in vans or camping.  Footage of the time shows the communal atmosphere that surrounded the concerts, the “hippie” clothing, the merchandise the mainstays regularly sold like bracelets made from embroidery floss or macramé.  This video footage really transports you to the time.  It shows you how this group of people connected and thrived.

Even if you aren’t a fan of the band, the story of Box of Rain is one that can resonate with you.  It’s worth stressing that this documentary isn’t a movie about Grateful Dead – you won’t find a plethora of concert footage (there is some, but it is by no means at the centre).  That’s not what this film is about.  It’s about finding your place in the world, about recognizing that you can find community and family in all sorts of difference places.  Frazier’s journey brought her to a group of people that supported each other; whose generous spirit is on grand display in her tribute.  As she discovered, there’s importance in finding those parts of yourself, and opening yourself up to unexpected opportunity.  As the Grateful Dead’s song Box of Rain says, “Maybe you’ll find direction around some corner where it’s been waiting to meet you.”

Box of Rain is currently available on digital platforms, and will be released May 24th on Vimeo

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