In sitting down to watch Sunshine Daydream, one gets a sense of revisiting history. Because this was an era of unprecedented accessibility, the Canis Major crew were able to station their cameras squarely on the wings of the stage, mere feet from the band. The resulting footage allows the viewer to stand almost shoulder-to-shoulder with a very young Bob Weir, age 25, strumming a cherry-red hollow-body guitar; a bushy-haired Phil Lesh, dressed more like a surfer than a bassist, and belting unexpected harmony vocals; a fuzzily bearded Garcia, age 30, smiling, not a gray hair in sight; and, a tough-looking Bill Kreutzman, sitting squatly on his drum stool, chewing gum and wearing a railroad conductor's cap. Where most Dead fans only witnessed these musicians 20 years later, and from the remote mezzanine deck of a Checkerdome-Enormodome-Superstadium, here suddenly is Garcia's boot tapping on a rusty foot pedal, Phil Lesh leaping in front of Kreutzman during a jazzy drums and bass solo, and Bob Weir stepping timidly to the microphone after a long, haunting jam.
One can only speculate on just how psychedelically engaged Norris, Field, and DeGuere (along with third cameraman Lou Melson, and soundman Charlie Barreca) were as they recordeded the day's proceedings. The concert itself was organized by Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, which helped to ensure a day of genuine acid craziness. But shot with synchronized, handheld cameras, the Canis Major team succeeded in capturing both the blissful playing of the musicians and the general ecstasy of the audience. The camera eye becomes almost a running commentary of the respective filmmakers' interior monologues. A close-up of Garcia's leather boot stepping on a wah-wah pedal jumps suddenly to a Christ-like figure perched precariously on a wooden pole above the stage. The camera tracks the fellow as he dances rabidly above the music, then cuts to two women walking a child behind the stage. A dog runs past them. Suddenly the music changes gears and the camera swings back to the stage, to blonde-haired Phil Lesh at the precise moment he strums a booming chord on his bass. And then the other camera takes over, offering Bob Weir baring his teeth and straining to sing a high note as he chops harsh chords on his guitar. Weir falls backward as Garcia begins to solo and the camera suddenly jumps again to a topless girl dancing nearby in the tall grass.
Such chaotic filming succeeds precisely because of its extemporaneous nature. Almost accidentally, it captures the day's events in whirlwind fashion, fortuitously recording all the peripheral "noise" of the festival. In editing the film, DeGuere, Norris, and Field wisely provided some breathing room, interspersing performance clips with vintage moments of Kesey and the Pranksters. Additional background footage delivers candid shots of the festival's organizers as they try to cope with a water shortage amidst the day's 100-degree heat. The camera pans to crowds of men and women sharing plastic jugs of water. Overdubbed walkie-talkie chatter reveals the stage crew trying to bring in a fire truck to hose down the crowd.
In true Deadhead spirit, the film preserves an event that seems awfully remote in today's world of cable TV, Internet ticketing, and heavily policed gatherings. Early in the movie, an eager crew can be seen building a simple wooden stage. No cops, no security force trolling the grounds. No bags being searched, no one ejected for cigarette smoking. What one witnesses as the movie gets underway is 30,000 folks raving about in a big, sunny meadow while the local band plays on a hastily erected platform. Two flinty piles of amplifiers broadcast loud rock 'n roll out to the countryside. Amidst such casual planning, it seems forgivable that the festival's organizers forgot to incorporate stage lights. Providentially, this lack of concert lighting works to stunning effect later in the film. As the sun sets, and a cool breeze settles on the day's revelry, Garcia can be faintly seen crooning the plaintive "Sing Me Back Home," a mere silhouette of dark hair and beard against the gathering dusk.