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All About The Immortal Cultural Phenomenon That Is The Grateful Dead

A few bands, whether still together or long gone, have fan bases so loyal and strong that they have nicknames. Spanning all musical genres, there are the Beliebers, Swifties, Little Monsters, the Bey Hive, Parrotheads, the KISS Army, Zepheads, Mettalicats, Phans, Rushians, and arguably the most famous: Deadheads…

Photo: Flickr.com/Carl Lender

Lead singer of the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia, inspired a lot more than one of the most popular ice cream flavors of all time (Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia). Even though Garcia passed away in 1995, countless Grateful Dead offshoots have kept the Dead music alive. Other members of the band who’ve also passed include Keith Godchaux, Brent Mydland, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, John Barlow, and most recently, lyricist and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Robert Hunter.

Rising from a cloud of smoke, rock ‘n roll, and “free love” in Haight-Ashbury, the Grateful Dead released their first album in 1967. The band’s faithful followers (literally following them from show to show), dubbed “Deadheads,” often were also members of the 1960s counterculture. Believe it or not, the Grateful Dead’s only top 10 single was “Touch of Grey,” from the album In the Dark, though many of their other albums went gold and platinum.

There were certainly perks of being a member of the Deadhead family. For one thing, the Deadhead sense of community permeated inside and outside show venues, with many taking advantage of the business opportunity and selling merch (and, let’s face it, drugs). Some even see it and feel it as a sort of spiritual religion. Those that attended a show (or two, or 10, or all 2,500) during the band’s 30-year touring gig experienced a unique air of authenticity—the audience feeding off of the music and the music feeding off of the audience. For another, the band legendarily never played the same set twice, so no matter how many shows fans went to, they certainly wouldn’t get bored. Shows were typically two sets, an hour and a half each, with some unforgettable jam sessions between the two. Members of the Grateful Dead also actually encouraged audiences to tape the Dead shows, so they could relive every glorious moment again and again.

After Jerry Garcia’s death, many wondered if the Deadhead fanbase would disperse or remain, but with the help of the internet, the community has remained steadfast. Artists like John Mayer joined surviving members of the Grateful Dead (Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, and Bill Kreutzman) for a 50th anniversary tour called the Fare Thee Well Tour, which was exceptionally well received by most Deadheads. Mayer even played “Wolf,” Jerry Garcia’s guitar, and the consensus was Mayer did Garcia’s genius and transcendence total justice.