The Grateful Dead‘s 50th anniversary is approaching. The band’s first documented concert took place May 5, 1965 at Magoo’s Pizza Parlor in Menlo Park, California. This spring, Deadheads have a variety of new events and memoirs to groove over.
I think it’s safe to say that no band has ever been more loved and more hated than the Grateful Dead. They were the greatest jam band ever, indeed the progenitor of all jam bands. They both inspired and symbolized the whole ethos of the hippie generation. They blended folk, country, blues, bluegrass, progressive rock, island music, and good old rock and roll into something completely original and irreplaceable.
Their relationship with their fans was also something never before seen, culturally or commercially. Dead shows were more than concerts; they were mobile communities of dancers, free spirits, artisans, vendors, and of course drugs, lots and lots of drugs, especially marijuana and psychedelics.
Also, the Dead fostered community by encouraging fans to tape and distribute their shows free of charge. Meanwhile, the band turned sales of concert tickets and merchandise into a money-making juggernaut that continues to this day, nearly 20 years after the death of founding guru Jerry Garcia.
Yet many people, including many music lovers, found and still find the Grateful Dead’s music intolerable. It’s hard to argue with them. Was there a whole lot of seemingly aimless noodling around? Yes, at least if you’re not tripping. Was the singing pretty awful, even by jam-band standards? It is. Do Grateful Dead studio albums sound rather like the afterthoughts they indeed pretty much were for a band that was all about live shows? Yes, mostly. And did even their touring career include periods of terribleness? Sure did. Even devoted Deadheads admit it.
So how can fans celebrate all this polarizing greatness and awfulness, half a century on? Lots of ways:
Bill Kreutzmann’s memoir entitled Deal: My Three Decades of Drumming, Dreams and Drugs with The Grateful Dead comes out on the very day of the 50th anniversary, May 5, 2015.
On May 14, Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland hosts a concert by Kreutzmann’s band Billy & the Kids entitled “Dear Jerry: Celebrating the Music of Jerry Garcia.”
Fathom Events brings the Grateful Dead to movie screens in Grateful Dead Meet-Up at the Movies 2015, on May 4, with a previously unreleased concert from July 19, 1989 at Alpine Valley.
On July 3-5 Fathom presents Fare Thee Well: Live from Soldier Field, a three-night cinema event from Chicago broadcasting the surviving founding members’ three-day farewell event.
The four musicians added two “Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years of Grateful Dead” shows June 27-28 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. They have said the “Fare Thee Well” concerts will be the last shows in which all four surviving founding members, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh, and Bob Weir, will appear together. Their letter to fans is here. Guests will include Bruce Hornsby and Phish’s Trey Anastasio.
Worth a read is Owsley and Me, a memoir by Rhoney Gissen Stanley chronicling her years with the Dead’s LSD supplier and sound man extraordinaire, Owsley “Bear” Stanley. “If you weren’t there yourself,” wrote our reviewer, Wesley Britton, “after reading this memoir, odds are you’ll wish you had been.”
Not a Deadhead? You can still benefit from the wisdom of Jerry Garcia. Just pick up your guitar (or whatever your vocation, avocation, or passion) and go to it, as Garcia told Rhoney Gissen Stanley back in 1966. She recounts:
I needed music. Jerry held his guitar and picked some random licks. I spoke from an LSD haze.
“LSD changes perception. Music transcends the musician. You are a vehicle for communication.”
Garcia stopped and stared at me.
“I practice,” Garcia declared. “Anyone can do that.” That shut me up, and he returned to the guitar.