Formed in 1965 in San Francisco, the Grateful Dead attracted a large concert following until the untimely death in 1995 of lead guitarist and singer Jerry Garcia. In its wake, the band left behind scores of albums, most of them live recordings from the Dick’s Picks and Road Trips series, as well as a monumental amount of collectible memorabilia.
Vintage Grateful Dead posters, handbills, postcards, and ticket stubs from the 1960s are particularly in demand. The rarest of these are the flyers and handbills advertising the fabled Acid Tests organized by author Ken Kesey and held between 1965 and 1967 at various venues from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The Grateful Dead was the house band for these seminal events.
By 1966, the Grateful Dead was a fixture in San Francisco’s Avalon Ballroom and Fillmore Auditorium, both of which produced posters and postcards to advertise their shows. That year, Alton Kelley and Stanley Mouse created one of the most famous Grateful Dead Avalon posters, known among collectors as FD026. Based on an illustration the artists found in a 19th-century copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the poster became known as Skull & Roses, thanks to the prominence of a rose-covered skeleton in its center. A version of this poster would go on to become an album cover for the band in 1971 and remains one of its most enduring and collectible images.
Over at the Fillmore, artist Wes Wilson was creating posters that helped define the psychedelic lettering style of the day. In 1966, several of his posters for Grateful Dead concerts featured photographs by Herb Greene. One of the best of these, BG032, had a portrait of a leather-jacketed, Cheshire-cat-grinning Jerry Garcia staring straight into the camera. Another, BG023, paired a group photo of the band with one of the Jefferson Airplane, which at the time got top billing.
Fillmore promoter Bill Graham hired an artist named James H. Gardner to create a new version of this poster for a summer-of-1967 show of the Airplane and the Dead (they were billed on the poster as representatives of the "the San Francisco scene") in Toronto. Known as BG074, the poster used the same Herb Greene photo of the Grateful Dead below a new one of the Jefferson Airplane, and was organized almost exactly like Wilson’s original. But due to the remote location and low print run, it is today one of the most collectible Grateful Dead posters from the late 1960s.
Other San Francisco artists to create Grateful Dead posters include Rick Griffin, whose January 1969 poster for a series of shows at the Avalon (ABR690124) was repurposed that summer for the band’s third album, Aoxomoxoa.
Which brings us to vinyl. When the Grateful Dead recorded their first few albums, the process in the studio was, by most accounts, a good deal less than perfect. Thus, in the early 1970s, Anthem of the Sun and Aoxomoxoa, the band’s second and third albums, were remixed to improve their sound quality. This pleased the band but annoyed some of its fans, who preferred the original muddy mixes, which are now quite collectible...
Deadheads also cherish ticket stubs from the 1960s and beyond. Those for shows at the Fillmore and Avalon were usually mini, two-color versions of the poster, so some collectors strive to collect a concert’s poster, postcard, and tickets to create complete sets.
Ticketron issued one of the band’s most famous tickets for a show on October 20, 1974. Prior to this concert, the Dead had announced its intention to take a hiatus. No one really knew if this was just a break or a break-up, so the ticket for that show was printed with the words “THE LAST ONE” in big, blocky letters on its front. And for some reason, the band’s name was misspelled—Greateful instead of Grateful.
Of course, the Grateful Dead did not break up. In fact, during the 1980s and early 1990s, they were routinely one of the highest-grossing touring bands on the planet. Stage passes from these decades, particularly uncut sheets of unused passes like the "Truck Puzzle" (12/3/92-12/17/92) by Tony Reonegro are highly collectible. After the death of Garcia, the band created a line of collectibles for kids in the form of stuffed bean-bag bears, similar to Beanie Babies but with Grateful Dead themes.
In recent years, the band has released limited-edition soundboard recordings of entire runs at the Fillmore West (four nights in a row from 1969) and Winterland (three nights in a row from 1973). These sets routinely turn up for resale on eBay.
Even more successful are the recent auctions at Bonham’s of items that had been collected by former Grateful Dead road managers and band associates. In these tony, auctioneer surroundings—a far cry from the band’s communal, 1960s digs in Haight-Ashbury—everything from gold records to tie-dyed speaker covers to Harley Davidson motorcycles have been auctioned off, sometimes for breathtaking prices.
Among the most prized items at these affairs (besides the original album art and the handmade guitars, which have brought tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars) have been the beat-up equipment and attaché cases. Despite their road-weary condition, or perhaps because of it, these modest cases have fetched upwards of $15,000 each.
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Martin Scorsese Signs On as Executive Producer of Grateful Dead DocumentaryTIME, October 24th
Hollywood director Martin Scorsese will be the executive producer of an upcoming documentary on legendary '60s rock group the Grateful Dead. The documentary, which will use a mix of vintage interviews, live concerts and new interviews with surviving ...Read more
Martin Scorsese Will Executive Produce New Documentary About The Grateful ...MTV.com, October 23rd
If there were any lingering doubts that The Grateful Dead were kind of a big deal, the fact that Martin Scorsese is a fan should put them to rest. According to The Hollywood Reporter, a new documentary about the landmark band will be executive produced...Read more
Martin Scorsese is producing a Grateful Dead documentaryUPI.com, October 23rd
The documentary is expected to feature never-before-seen performance footage, vintage interviews and candid moments unearthed from the Grateful Dead's vast vaults, along with new conversations with surviving band members Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann ...Read more
Martin Scorsese to exec produce Grateful Dead documentaryEntertainment Weekly, October 23rd
Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Bar-Lev noted that he'd first set out to make a film about the Grateful Dead 10 years ago. While there have been many documentaries, concert films and television specials chronicling aspects of the seminal band...Read more
Grateful Dead Documentary in the Works With Martin ScorseseBillboard, October 23rd
In celebration of the band's 50th anniversary next year, the Grateful Dead have announced plans for a career-spanning retrospective documentary executive produced by Martin Scorsese and directed by Amir Bar-Lev. Bar-Lev has been highly regarded for his ...Read more
Grateful Dead's 50-year career to be chronicled in Martin Scorsese-produced ...Consequence of Sound, October 23rd
Legendary jam band Grateful Dead will see its 50th anniversary commemorated with a brand new full-length documentary due out next year. As Deadline reports, the authorized production will be directed by Amir Bar-Lev (Happy Valley, 12-12-12, The ...Read more
Martin Scorsese to Exec Produce Grateful Dead DocHollywood Reporter, October 23rd
A new documentary from executive producer Martin Scorsese about landmark psychedelic rock group the Grateful Dead is headed our way. Set to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the legendary jam band led by Bob Weir and the late Jerry Garcia, the ...Read more
Martin Scorsese to Executive Produce Grateful Dead DocumentaryLive Music Blog (blog), October 23rd
It's amazing to think of any band that can actually carry a legacy all the way to 50 years, and the Grateful Dead's legacy remains strong today and looks to be carrying well past that if the surviving members keep as busy as they have been. Next year...Read more