Year of The Dead Continues

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Fare Thee Well isn’t all Deadheads can be grateful for during 50th

Dear Jerry 1This summer has been Dead – and I mean that in the most Grateful way. The celebration of the 50th anniversary of the band originally known as the Warlocks, combined with observing 20 years since Jerry Garcia’s passing at age 53, set off a series of tributes, from a special light show at the Empire State Building to a unique museum exhibit on the opposite coast.

Of course, the biggest bang of all was made by the series of five sold-our Fare Thee Well shows in Santa Clara and Chicago, by surviving Dead members Bob Weir, Phil Lesh (who turned 75 in March), Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann. (See reflections on the event by BCB contributors here.)

For some of those unable to make the summer shows, the recently closed Dear Jerry exhibit at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (MAH) filled the gap. To the strains of Dead classics, visitors explored the fan-band relationship through displays such as a wall of decorated envelopes fans sent in requesting tickets and a map where visitors could pen a luggage tag telling their personal memories of Dead shows they attended. (Garcia’s daughter visited and filled out a tag.) There was even a house made out of fan-penned concert set lists with a video presentation playing inside. In the video, by an artist called the Endless Tour Project, Wavy Gravy and others describe what it was like to live in the Dead’s community of transient musician fans.

Where did you see The Dead?

Where did you see The Dead?

These materials and those making up the rest of the exhibition came from the Grateful Dead archive at the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC). On campus, they reside in a room known as “Dead Central” along with books, scores, recordings, a million ticket stubs and more.

According to Nina Simon, Executive Director of the Santa Cruz MAH, the museum’s curator Justin Hoover teamed with the Dead Central archivist to develop the timely show. Simon remarks, “The Dead were pioneers in something we see all the time today, that was new then: fans being invited to co-create the experience. As a museum that celebrates participatory culture, we were interested in pushing that forward.”

The house of set lists

The house of set lists

The exhibit consisted mostly of items made by fans for the band. The focus was the 1995 Jerry Garcia memorial in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, but also, as Simon puts it, “the strong personal relationship fans had with him and the many different ways that was manifested.”

Curator Justin Hoover says, “The whole archive has awesome things, but there’s a section about when he died, how the fans came together and created all these materials dedicated to him. It’s tricky because archives and exhibitions don’t usually speak the same language. We wanted to convey the idea that people lived in the music. The challenge was translating the archive into a gallery space.”

The room’s multimedia included fan-recorded reel to reel tapes, video content from the archive, news footage from Garcia’s death and the audio from the entire day-long memorial. Hoover says, “The sentiment behind the show is the public creation of a monument to the man, as well as the fan-band relationship.” One artist, Michael Everett, who sent in a ticket request, was hired by the band to make a poster; two are on display in the show.

Letters from "Jerry's kids"

Letters from “Jerry’s kids”

The UCSC archive was also the basis for an exhibit at Chicago’s Field Museum titled All The Years Combine: Deadhead Treasures from the Grateful Dead Archive and GDTS Too. Like the Santa Cruz MAH exhibit, it documented the extraordinary connection between the Grateful Dead and their family of fans.

Other opportunities to have a Dead experience in 2015:

• Nicholas Meriwether, the Grateful Dead Archivist at UC Santa Cruz and co-curator of the Field Museum exhibit, contributed an 80,000-word essay to the band’s official 50th-anniversary release: an 80-CD, $700 box set that focuses on the Dead’s unreleased live recordings – one from each of the 50 years they toured. Release date is September 18th.

Dear Jerry 4• Digital Silver Imaging will curate an exhibition of Dead photographer Herb Greene’s work at the Griffin Museum of Photography, 9 Brighton St. in Belmont, MA from September 21st to October 9th. Greene will attend and speak at the show’s opening ceremony Thursday, October 1st. For information call 617-489-0035.

• The multimedia exhibit Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles runs through October 11th and features plenty of Dead posters and memorabilia. Graham booked his first show in 1965.

• More live shows billed as Dead & Company featuring Grateful Dead members Weir, Hart and Kreutzmann with John Mayer will take place this fall starting October 29. See our Breaking News item here.)

• An exhibit about the literary history of the Grateful Dead is featured at Dead Central, the archive’s exhibit space in the McHenry Library on the UCSC campus. All the Pages Are Our Days: The Books of the Grateful Dead, runs through the end of the year with free admission.

The Dead live on.

Laura Huntt Foti

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