Where Have All The Deadheads Gone?

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Where Have All The Deadheads Gone?
By Toni A. Brown

Archaeologists have long searched Greece for the true story surrounding the statue of the Colossus at Rhodes, which allegedly greeted ships at the entrance to the city's harbor. But it has been virtually impossible to figure out how such a large structure was erected. Historians have spent eons trying to uncover such mysteries.

We are fortunate to have lived through a time that will be looked upon from the distant future as the awakening of twentieth century culture. Likewise, historians will one day ponder the Grateful Dead phenomenon and its long reaching effects on civilization. Fortunately, the Grateful Dead and its subculture of Deadheads will leave much behind as evidence of what a long strange trip it was.

When Jerry Garcia died on August 9, 1995, life as many knew it ceased to exist. It was a rude awakening-a time to face reality with all of its harsh consequences. With the band's retirement from touring came the end of a way of life, but it also brought about a time of rebirth and continuation. From the ashes, embers still flickered. And from those embers rose the spirit that will allow Deadheads to continue the journey.

Upon the dissolution of the Grateful Dead, the media was quick to cite this as the "end of an era." Hardly. Deadheads have just forged the beginning of something that will thrive long after the memory of the touring entity fades.

The question remains-where have all the Deadheads gone? The scene has shifted, and people have scattered among the many bands that continue to provide valid musical options. Some went to laugh their cares away at Phish shows, others tried to make it just one more day at Widespread Panic concerts. Independent bands and the club scene have all been provided a jolt of life. Millions of Deadheads have dispersed, and we are now, truly, everywhere.BR>

One step done and

another begun and I

wonder how many miles...

By the late '60s, the Grateful Dead had earned a reputation as house band for some of the most experimental events ever held-The Acid Tests and Trips Festival. It was not necessarily the most productive way to hone a musical craft, amid swirling lights and tripping souls. But the music evolved, and the improvisations that grew from those historic moments set the Dead apart from its contemporaries. Though the band's keyboardist, Pigpen, kept his blues spirit intact, the rest of the band found itself inspired by the enlightenment that the then legal L.S.D. provided. The doors of perception were open wide, and the Grateful Dead helped guide us through those doors with its music.

The sound systems of the era did little to get the message across, but the freaks in the Dead camp, specifically Augustus Owlsey Stanley III ("Bear"), changed the way the music industry delivered concert sound with their pioneering concepts. Owsley's innovative approach to sound delivery in the concert setting paved the way for all future concert systems.

The Jefferson Airplane was the first band from San Francisco to get a record deal, Moby Grape came up with a significant album that went largely ignored and Janis Joplin and Big Brother went on to commercial success. But the Grateful Dead made the largest commitment to touring of any band in history.

In 1966, the Dead ventured into Canada, but it wasn't until June 1967 that the band traveled to the East Coast. Most of those shows were at a tiny Greenwich Village club called the Café au Go-Go. The Dead also did a free concert in Tompkins Square Park and one in Central Park. That summer brought the boys to Canada again, and they got additional exposure by playing a few dates in Michigan, followed by Seattle and Denver that September. In December, the band was back on the East Coast, turning in shows in New York and Boston. By April of '68, the Dead became a full touring entity, with Florida, Pennsylvania and a date in Virginia on its itinerary.

Courtesy of promoter Bill Graham, the Dead was invited to play the Fillmore East in New York on June 14 and 15, 1968. The Jeff Beck Group (with Rod Stewart) also appeared on the bill.

It wasn't until early '69, though, that the Grateful Dead put its energies into full-fledged national touring. The band that invoked the spirit with its ever changing array of sound finally stepped out of the confines of California and brought its musical message to a very hungry country.

It was a time of intense change in our society. Revolution and experimentation were paramount in the minds of most youth. The Vietnam War was a uniting front on which we could all agree-peace and love was the battle cry.

Though San Francisco embraced difference as the norm, the rest of the country was still extremely conservative. Hippies were not unique to California, but most existed in isolated environments. It wasn't easy to find like-minded people to hook up with-until Woodstock, the single most important event in the hippie movement.

We woke up at Woodstock and realized that we were half a million strong! This was the ultimate qualifying experience that encouraged us to stand apart. And from that day on, we didn't feel weird or alone again. Our freak flags flew high, and we embraced the Grateful Dead as our band. We called ourselves Dead Freaks, and a subculture was born.

In our fights for individuality, many of us alienated our birth families. But at a Dead concert, we became part of another family, one that welcomed everyone. That unique camaraderie brought more people to shows in those early years than the music, which was largely loose and disjointed. But as the Grateful Dead's magic began to congeal, the music improved and provided an important soundscape to our mind altering experimentation. No two Dead shows were alike. Its repertoire grew and its improvisation became more precise. And the word got out. There was nothing like a Grateful Dead concert.

It may be that the single most important facet of the Grateful Dead's growth came through the unauthorized taping of concerts by fans, who later began trading those tapes. The First Free Underground Grateful Dead Tape Exchange was formed in 1971, and with it, the first formal link between Dead enthusiasts was solidified. The more tapes that surfaced, the more people heard them. The best kept musical secret was fast becoming well-known outside of the intimate concert circuit.

The Dead's sound didn't translate well in the studio, but these concert tapes captured some of its live energy. Of course, record company executives were distraught over the perceived "bootleg" competition, but the notoriety that the tapes created brought an increased audience to the live shows, which ultimately resulted in additional record sales. With time, taping became so culturally intrinsic to the Dead experience that a taping section with special taper tickets was provided at all Grateful Dead concerts.

More and more people wanted to experience the Grateful Dead's music. As the scene itself was very enticing, the family steadily grew. By 1972, the band was on a roll: Bob Weir released his first solo effort, Ace, Mickey Hart released Rolling Thunder and the band toured Europe and released Europe '72, a live collection of its material from that tour.

Monumental change for the band and the Deadhead scene came in 1973 when Pigpen died on March 8 at the age of 27. To the dismay of fans, the band hit the arena circuit. New York's Nassau Coliseum dates March 15, 16 and 19, resulted in the most drug busts at a concert recorded at that time. This was the start of the targeting of Deadheads by drug enforcement in this country. The public outcry was heard by the band who promised never to play the arena again. But the popularity of the Grateful Dead forced the band to remain at the stadium level for the remainder of its career, and Nassau County police continued to bust Deadheads at Nassau Coliseum.

The Wall of Sound that accompanied the Dead in 1974 was the ultimate experiment in sound conveyance. The equipment, which was so expensive and time-consuming to haul around, put such demand on the band that it decided to take a hiatus from touring in 1975.

Deadheads feared for the future of the Grateful Dead, but it was actually an extremely productive year. Solo albums were released including Garcia's bluegrass project, Old And In The Way; Robert Hunter's Tiger Rose featured guest band members; Phil Lesh and Howard Wales released Seastones; Blues For Allah was released in September; Bob Weir joined Kingfish and the group released its self-titled album; and the band spent time in the studio rehearsing. In early 1976, Garcia's Reflections was released followed by Mickey Hart's percussive Diga Rhythm Band album.

By June, 1976, the Grateful Dead was back on the road, to the delight of its anxious extended family, the Deadheads. And despite a couple of close calls with Garcia's health, there it remained until the summer of 1995.

In July, 1987, something occurred that changed the scene dramatically. The band released In The Dark, its very first album to achieve commercial success. Suddenly, it had hit singles and a chart-topping album.

It also became more difficult than ever to get tickets to shows. The Grateful Dead's in-house ticket sales office was inundated with requests for every tour. Controversy arose among Deadheads-a resentment against new fans coming into the scene. The family began to fragment, and problems became more common with too many people showing up at shows without tickets.

The parking lot scene expanded dramatically as well. The real world began to intrude-bootleggers of unlicensed Dead products became part of the scene, and the band was determined to put an end to the negative effect this had on its royalties. The Dead called for an end to vending in the lot, partly to stop the bootlegging of its merchandise, but also because it attracted too many people, making it tough for those with tickets to find parking and facilities.

But, with time, came acceptance. We eventually felt like a family again, only on a grander scale. The young Heads that infiltrated the ranks actually added vitality to the carnival. Shakedown Street grew into a part of the scene that the Dead couldn't control. Veggie burritos, tie-dyes, beaded jewelry, Guatemalan clothing, crafts, incense, original artwork, candles…it was a hippie shopper's paradise. The scents, the colors, the sounds became ingrained in our psyche. We were a traveling circus that moved from town to town.

And many ran off to join that circus. Tourheads became so multitudinous that it was as if a small city followed the band from show to show. Although some venues had trouble accommodating the large entourage and many disliked the problems with drugs and litter, the profits they earned inspired them to invite the band back year after year. Yes, the Dead was shut out of some wonderful venues over the years, such as Red Rocks in Colorado, but the extent of what the band had become was not wholly in its control.

The road seemed endless for the Grateful Dead. We all lived by the credo of "Be Here Now," an apt phrase left over from the early years. No one questioned the future, and we lived happily, waiting for the next tour. We existed in anticipation of the next time we could gather and feel the vastness of who we were.

In retrospect, there was premonition in the air that last summer. It was the very first time the media so closely chronicled a Grateful Dead tour. After all, it was the group's 30th anniversary. It wasn't as if the Dead hadn't experienced problems before, but this summer was extreme in its casualties. And while we were being scrutinized by the rest of the world, the synchronicity that had previously seemed to hold it all together began to come undone.

The War On Drugs, which had been targeting the scene for years, was on us in full fury. We were easy targets, and the DEA literally set up camp on Dead tour. Garcia looked bad and sounded worse. Lightning struck Deadheads in Washington, D.C., problems arose in Boston, fans were killed in an accident in Missouri and riots broke out in Deer Creek, resulting in a show canceled due to fans' actions for the first time in the Dead's long journey.

While we pondered the events that had threatened to halt the Grateful Dead's ability to tour, we worried for the first time whether there was a future for the band and Deadheads. A month after the Dead's last concert in Chicago, which was thankfully uneventful, we were hit by that fatal blow-Jerry Garcia had died.

The world was unprepared for the outpouring of grief over the loss of someone who had become such an important icon of an era. The media scrambled, and suddenly the Grateful Dead was once again in the spotlight. But Deadheads couldn't have wanted anything less. We needed to mourn quietly. The loss was so indescribably deep, so abstruse that we couldn't share it with those that weren't part of it. It wasn't just that a guitarist had died. This was the head of our family, and suddenly, unmistakably, our lives were changed forever.

Words To Live By
The lyrical connection

A Grateful Dead concert was like going to church for many. It was the place we sought solace and healing; where we found inspiration and invigoration.

The Grateful Dead always used lyric laden songs, often creating imagery with subtle reference. Robert Hunter with Jerry Garcia, and John Barlow with Bob Weir, were each incredible songwriting teams. Deadheads were easily taken with many of the concepts that have been handed to them via the Dead's music. Like scripture, they've provided words to live by. Hunter, the band's chief lyricist, was often inspired by biblical reference and religious context. For some, the words strike a chord of reason, a cosmic reference that sheds light on a specific moment. "Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right." "One man gathers what another man spills." "Every silver lining's got a touch of grey/We will get by/we will survive." "If your cup is full, may it be again." "I don't know but I been told it's hard to run with the weight of gold/Other hand I heard it said, it's just as hard with the weight of lead."

Many of the Dead's lyrics seemed prophetic at the time of Garcia's death. The double encore that the Dead performed at its very last concert in July, 1995 was the Garcia/Hunter-penned "Black Muddy River" ("I will walk alone by the black muddy river/listen to the river as it moans/I will walk alone by the black muddy river/Sing me a song of my own"). The song that followed and marked the very last tune ever performed by the band was "Box Of Rain," which was written by Hunter with bassist Phil Lesh when Lesh's father was dying ("Such a long, long time to be gone, and a short time to be there"). Other lyrics that seemed relevant when Garcia died include "Standing on the moon with nothing left to do/A lovely view of heaven, but I'd rather be with you" ("Standing On The Moon") and "The wheel is turning and you can't slow down/you can't let go and you can't hold on/you can't go back and you can't stand still/If the thunder don't get you then the lightning will" ("The Wheel").

"New Speedway Boogie" (Hunter/Garcia) was written in the Dead's early years, but can be viewed as poignant from today's perspective. "Who can deny, who can deny it's not just a change in style?/One step done and another begun and I wonder how many miles/I spent a little time on the mountain, spent a little time on the hill/Things went down we don't understand, but I think in time we will."

A Box Of Rain, The Collected Lyrics Of Robert Hunter (Viking Penguin) is highly recommended. Approximately 18 songbooks are also available; all are published by Warner Books.

"At first it was very confusing…the scene changed so much so suddenly when Jerry died. I'd been going to shows for 25 years, and that was over. But there is so much music that has been inspired by the Dead. There's always a great band to catch-old favorites like Zero, Merl Saunders, David Nelson, the New Riders, and the Allman Brothers. Ratdog's last tour was the best they've ever been. Vince Welnick plays occasionally, and Phil pops up at a show now and then. Dead cover bands are fun to dance to, and their shows bring Heads together. I think I've been seeing a lot more diverse music since the Dead stopped touring. It's forced me to open my ears. The Dead gave us a great springboard of musical influence. I'll always be a Deadhead, but I still need to shake my bones!"

-Sarah Frieberg, 42, California

I'll always consider them a part of my life. I try to keep in touch with people I've met over the years who were brought together by the Grateful Dead. I listen to new jamming music, and I'm getting back to a lot of classic funk. I also listen to new rhythmic bands like Inasense and Rusted Root. Sort of Dead-oriented bands."

-Jay Brown, 32, New Jersey

"I love the Dead. I miss Jerry more than anything in the world. I'll always listen to them, and I'll raise my kids on them. I'm glad to see my friends still hanging out. [Since the Dead stopped touring] there has been four weddings and two people having kids. I toured with the band when I graduated from high school, then I did as many shows as possible with my friends. Now I listen to a lot of Allman Brothers. I saw them twice this past summer. I also see Blues Traveler. I like Pink Floyd. I still collect Dead tapes. Now I put my money away, and I take trips. Even though the Dead aren't there, I still love the traveling part."

-John Zenicos, 25, New Jersey

"In 1969, it was easy to get into shows. But when the band began to do arenas around '72, lots of us got turned off. I stopped going to see the band for a few years, but by 1980, I was back in action-Radio City Music Hall got me hooked. I never thought much about the future. I guess I took it for granted that the Dead would be there as long as I wanted them to be. I hate when reality intrudes on my little world!"

-Bob Hotchkiss, 46, Maine

"I'm working as a screen printer, a trade I picked up on Dead tour. I'm into taping, all Grateful Dead, Jerry Band. I don't go to that many concerts, except Blues Traveler, and I'm in a bluegrass/folk phase right now."

-Tom Konicke, 22, New York

"I've been working. I did the Furthur Tour. [I listen to the] Dead, Dylan, CSNY, stuff like that. Not Phish, definitely not Phish. This Phish thing is out of control."

-Roland Konicke, 22, New York

"I didn't get to as many shows as I'd have liked to, but I've been on the scene since the early '70s. I recently got into tape trading because I needed to hear the music I was missing so much. Some friends and I get together once a month and have a drum circle. It's very healing and it lifts the spirit, something that's been missing since the band stopped touring."

-Bonni Rossoff, 45, Colorado

"I've been listening to a lot of country & western, a lot of blues. I'm hoping Starship comes around again 'cause I love those guys. I'd see Hot Tuna any day of the week, and some alternative bands. Anything that's got a lot of driving guitar. I've seen Tiberius about a dozen times, Zen Tricksters-they've got real chemistry on stage. They're tight, professional, and when they're doing the covers, they do the hard ones, the stuff you've got to know how to play. I work in a bookstore that specializes in psychedelic and music related stuff in Greenwich Village. Ever since Jerry died, there's been an enormous amount of previously unpublished material about the whole scene, about the band and individual people that were involved in that whole experience. It's really fascinating, a lot of it had never been explored before. [It's surprising that] there's never been a definitive book on the Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna or Starship."

-Jim McBride, 48, New York City

"I go to Phish shows now, and they're different from Dead shows. There's a stronger feeling of love and community at a Dead show. There are definite similarities, but it's a different feel. They [both] jam and attract similar crowds, but the crowds at Phish shows are a lot younger. They're [both] traveling bands that you can tour with. You need to be at the shows to understand-the energy levels are different. [The Dead] is much higher, I mean, to travel with the band, to love them that much and have them be an inspiration for 30 years! People I know who were on Dead tour, they'll see Phish shows, but they won't go on tour because they don't get the same feeling. People are kind of in it for themselves on Phish tour. The Dead just seemed different. People welcomed us more.

I traveled across country last summer. I did a Phish tour, went to school and worked. I still listen to the Dead, a lot of classic rock and some reggae. Phish, Percy Hill, Freddy Jones Band, I'm pretty open. I saw Rusted Root."

-Abbus Axelrod, 19

"I still need to do the live music thing, but I usually go to local clubs now to see a variety of bands-Oroboros is fun, and Ekoostic Hookah. As far as going to bigger shows, Hot Tuna and Jorma are great, and the Allman Brothers rock harder than ever."

-Sue Stevenson, 27, Ohio

"I've never seen a Dead show, but I feel like I've been there. I go to a lot of Phish shows. I did summer tour and most of fall tour. I've been listening to a lot of underground bands like moe. and Strangefolk, Max Creek, Hot Tuna and a lot of classic rock. I will forever love the Grateful Dead."

-Adam Marshall, 18

"I've been into the Grateful Dead, Medeski Martin & Wood, Phish, Miles Davis, anything that's psychedelic rock 'n' roll. I'm also into dance and techno music. Since Jerry is gone, you have to be diverse. [The Dead cover bands are] background music. It doesn't compare to Jerry, and I only hear flaws when I really listen. I mostly go [to Wetlands] for drumming and to hang out with old friends that I don't see on Dead tour. I still collect tapes. I loved Jerry, I loved the band. I was on Furthur Fest this summer and got to meet Bob Weir and his band and Bruce Hornsby."

-Robert Burgess, 21, New Jersey

"I didn't get to many shows, but it was comforting to know I could catch a tour now and then. I live off the beaten track, and thankfully I've been an avid tape trader for many years. So at least I have lots of tunes to keep me warm. I will always consider myself a Deadhead. The magic was real."

-Peter Bartlett, 39, Alaska

"I do a lot of tape trading. I keep old shows, but I have a craving to go to a Dead show so bad. I've gone to some Phish shows. I went to six Furthur shows this summer, and I'm waiting to see Bruce Hornsby again. He rocks! I'm trying to stay with the music and the scene, and I like a lot of other music. I love the blues. Where I live in Long Branch, New Jersey, there's a place called the Gateway. The owner's a Deadhead, and he tries to have as many shows as he can to keep the place running in winter. Ripple plays there, occasionally Solar Circus. It's good to see people keeping the spirit alive."

-Nick Oramas, 22, New Jersey

"I'm usually playing music four or five nights a week, so I don't get to many shows. I'm listening to a little of everything that's out there. I still listen to a lot of Grateful Dead. I'm getting into Phish, Blues Traveler, Rusted Root, Dave Matthews. I went to my first Dead show August 1, 1981, Jerry's birthday, and it changed my life. I did some tours and in later years, just caught local shows. My last show in summer '95, the last song they did was 'Brokedown Palace,' and that was kind of significant for me."

-Mark Diomede (Solar Circus), 38, New Jersey

"I've had trouble finding parts for my Volkswagen since the Dead stopped touring! The parking lot was the best place to connect with like-minded friends. It was a family. It's really sad that we don't have an outlet to gather any more. But the music will always be with me."

-Eric Sanders, 38, New Mexico

"I've been working a lot, I mean a lot! I still listen to the band. I don't have much time on my hands, but I love the blues, rock 'n' roll, jazz, the usual Pink Floyd, Allman Brothers, Beatles."

-Max, 23, New Jersey

"My life used to center around Dead tours. In a way it's okay not to have the pressure of putting jobs and responsibilities on hold. But the scene was what fed my spirit. So now I work more steadily and have settled into family life. But if that bus starts rolling again, I'll be on it!"

-Kenny West, 32, Georgia

"People told me to stop doing Grateful Dead paintings. Instead, I felt I had to do them because there's not many of us left, and somebody has to do it. As for other music, I'm staying more with the psychedelic genre. I've been seeing Illuminati and a band called Mosaic. I'll always listen to the Dead, I put them on every single day."

-Murph, 35, New Jersey

"I spend a lot of time at the Fillmore, Maritime Hall and Great American Music Hall when they have good shows. The Sweetwater in Mill Valley is a great place to catch some tasty bands. Between those places, something's usually happening. But I spend more time at home listening to tapes than I used to. There's definitely a void that nothing's going to fill. But I'm trying to be optimistic. I hope to some day pass the spirit of the Dead on to my children."

-Tara Larson, 26, California

"I used to be into Metallica and Slayer, then someone introduced me to Phish. I dug it and started going to Dead shows. I definitely could say that the Dead scene was a lot nicer place than the Phish scene. Too many sketchy people at the Phish scene."

-Howie Kaufman, 24, New York

"My last show, June 25, 1995 at RFK Stadium, Jerry played with Dylan that night. It was beautiful. Hornsby says he remembers Jerry looking like an angel in the blue light during 'Wharf Rat.' I still listen to the Dead's music. Also the Allman Brothers, The Band, Bob Dylan, the Stones, jazz, blues, bluegrass, everything. Rusted Root I like a lot, Blues Traveler. I go to see Grateful Dead-oriented bands-I'm also in one of those bands (Tiberius).

-Marty Bostoff, 29, New York

"My parents took me to my first show. They were really into it, and they sort of raised me in the scene. My folks settled down in recent years, but they gave me the freedom to go to any shows I wanted. Our lives were shaken when Jerry died. It was as if the patriarch of our family had left us. We try to get together with the many friends we made on tour, but people have gotten on with their lives. We all still listen to the music, and the basic spirit is intact."

-Rose Montgomery, 24, Oregon

This article originally appeared as a cover story in Relix Magazine, Volume 24 #5 (October, 1997).

Copyright © 1999-2004 - Toni Brown

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