Even though the Grateful Dead officially called it quits after Jerry Garcia's death in 1995, the band's spirit lives on. And it's a very good week to be a fan. The four-day Dead celebration Gratefulfest, now in its 14th year, takes place at Nelson Ledges with artists like Rusted Root, David Gans, and Melvin Seals. Former Dead singer Donna Jean Godchaux will also be there, in addition to appearing at the Rock Hall as part of its lecture series. Her appearance coincides with the exhibit Grateful Dead: The Long Strange Trip, which runs through the end of the year. To prep for this week's Gratefulfest, we asked the Rock Hall's curatorial director Howard Kramer to walk us through the exhibit and point out some of its key artifacts.
The Offstage Flier
"I'm very fond of this piece that [Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna guitarist] Jorma Kaukonen gave to us. It's a flier for a group called the Offstage, which was an organization in San Jose that presented folk music in the South Bay Area. Over in the corner, you can see a listing for banjo lessons, and if you look closely, you can see Jerry Garcia's name and phone number. This is how he earned money back in 1964 and 1965. You can also see [Airplane guitarist] Paul Kantner's name and number, and Kaukonen's as well. Not a bad group of guys to take lessons from."
Anthem of the Sun Master Tape Boxes
"We have the production notes on display with the tape boxes. The notes were written by Jerry Garcia. It's like seeing Jerry Garcia's brain on the page. This record was a combination of studio and live tracks. They were physically mixing onto the master two track to create the record. They had six hands on the faders to move from one song to the next, and you can see their notes."
"Box of Rain" Original Manuscript
"This is typed out, and all the chord changes are written in by [Dead bassist] Phil Lesh, and then you have notes in red ink written by Jerry Garcia."
Neal Cassady Photograph
"Neal Cassady, as an artist, was maybe the most single guiding light to them as a unit. They never wrote together, but [with the accompanying audio] you can hear them performing together as he does some free-form rap while they're playing."
Bill Graham's "Father Time" Outfit
"This is one thing I really, really wanted to get. You can't tell the story of the Grateful Dead without [promoter] Bill Graham. He was a benefactor of theirs and promoted almost every show west of the Mississippi. He was very, very close to the band. Despite his commercial instincts and their complete lack thereof, they had a very intimate relationship. Part of what he did during the New Year's Eve shows was that he would come down on a wire dressed as Father Time. It was almost ritualistic. He used this robe a couple of times."
"You have things like Unbroken Chain, which went from this copied pamphlet to an actual magazine. And we have issue one of Relix, which is still in print and the second longest continually printed music magazine in the country."
Hand-Drawn Ticket Request Envelopes
"The Dead pioneered fulfilling ticket orders for their fans with a ticket service. Between '83 and well into the last decade, they filled millions of ticket orders. No other band did that. The Grateful Dead always serviced their fans, and many times the fans would decorate the envelopes. The band saved about 25,000 of them."
Dick Latvala's Open-Reel Tape Machine
"Among the tapers, Dick Latvala was probably the best known, and this was his open-reel machine. He transferred things from people on this reel-to-reel and then added them to his own private collection."
Workingman's Dead Artwork
"This is the original artwork. Originally, it was supposed to be a picture of the Grateful Dead holding guns, but the band changed it because the implication might be that the band was into violence. [Stanley] Mouse — who took the photographs and did the drawings — did some of the drawings on great material. But some of them are on newsprint. Eventually those will deteriorate. Part of the deal was that we paid for conservation of these to get the pieces. But it was absolutely worth the investment."