Deadheads aren’t dead

Sage Stokes, Contributing Writer


One of the most iconic and electric bands of the late 20th century was the Grateful Dead. The band was formed in 1965 by founding members: Jerry Garcia, Bib Weir, Ron McKernan, Phil Lesh, and Bill Kreutzmann. The band stayed together until 1995 with the untimely passing of lead singer and guitarist, Jerry Garcia. Even with the band being “technically” inactive for over 20 years it is still considered to have one of the strongest and most enthusiastic musical fandoms of the last 50 years. The Grateful Dead’s ability to bring numerous elements of rock, folk, jazz, and so many other genres together in harmony created an absolutely core connected fandom that lives on past the spirit of the band.

The Grateful Dead has a long and adventurous run on the festival and normal tour scene for 30 years and become known as one of the most “hippy-centric” bands of all time. Their mixture of jazz, rock, and more were staples for the originality and out of the box personas that created the band. They never fit into just one box of genre and style but made their own unique and satisfying sound. Their fans, who are most commonly known as “dead heads” or simply the “deads” were slow at start but eventually rose to their peak and has only continued growing since then. Rolling Stone wrote about 1977 being their peak year. This year they sold out nearly every show on their American tour which could count up to hundreds of thousands of fans. Not to mention those who snuck in, saw them at festivals, or couldn’t afford to go. It was a lot harder to bootleg music and concerts in the 70’s and 80’s. The fandom, however, grew tremendously over the 30 years and over 2,500 shows of their touring and preforming due to fascinating style of music, the friendliness of the band members, and the fact that while fame got the better of them in some ways, the boys were always kept grounded as a member dying of some form of overdose would happen every so many years. At the time the logo of the 5 dancing bears was a solidarity symbol. It was an unspoken rule that having it meant you were a part of this family. To this day my grandfather and I keep our favorite bears on the cars we drive as a symbol for our love of the music and never-ending love for the people who brought it to us.

The thing about musical fandoms like this one is that concerts are the most obvious form of conventions. However, in 1995 Jerry Garcia, the bands front man, died of an apparent heart attack. This ended the bands run. In 2015 the band made a revival tour of 5 shows in Chicago and Santa Clara titled “Fare Thee Well”. I was lucky enough to be able to attend the 2nd show in Santa Clara in 2015 with my grandfather. Without Jerry there was something off but having this band together to celebrate 50 years of music, comradery, and love was amazing to experience as a 17-year-old. I wasn’t even the youngest person there. The attendees ranged from elders to children and the friendships and laughter between them all was contagious.

Dead heads find so much joy and optimism in the music, but also a sense of family and friendship in the band itself. The band was and is an evolving mass of power and talent. To see the same band that my grandfather saw some 30 years ago was powerful and emotional. I think that a lot of other dead heads felt the same way at Fare Thee Well. The emotional tug of history and present-day molding together was inspiration and wild.