20 years ago, I couldn’t stand the Grateful Dead. I don’t like the smell of patchouli and I don’t care for $5 grilled cheese sandwiches made on the carburetor of a ’72 VW Microbus.
18 years ago, I married my wife, who is a big fan of the Dead. So I’ve listened to more than my fair share of their music since then. And it’s grown on me. Granted, I still could do without an 18-minute version of a 2-minute cover song (looking at you, “Good Lovin'”) or “Drum Space.” But I really do enjoy many of their songs, and have a great appreciation for the fan base they’ve cultivated over the last 50 years. Whether you love them or hate them (and there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground), you have to admit that they are one of the most generous bands around, in the sense that they view music as a gift to be shared, and not commerce to be peddled. Tapers have always been welcome at their shows, and their bootlegs have helped them grow their fan base.
Two nights ago, The Grateful Dead played their final show at Soldier Field in Chicago. (Some would argue they played their final show 20 years ago when Jerry Garcia passed away.) We are on vacation and went to see a live stream of the show on a Jumbotron at an outdoor bar in Florida. It was my first time seeing them live (or semi-live on a Jumbotron). There were plenty of other fans there watching as well. How many bands could pull that off – having people spend a vacation night watching one of their concerts from a thousand miles away?
I know that there are a lot of preconceived notions about Deadheads, but as a passionate live music fan I tip my hat to them, because they obviously love live music. The Dead may not be the most technically precise band around, but they have a groove that runs a mile deep and have built a passionate community around that. More bands should be like them.