Formed in 1965 in Palo Alto, California, 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 an early 20th-century copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the poster became known as Skeleton & 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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Lockn' Festival Says Four Grateful Dead Band Members ScheduledThe Charlottesville Newsplex, July 31st
NELSON COUNTY, VA (NEWSPLEX) -- Two more of the original members of The Grateful Dead are heading to Nelson County for the Lockn' Festival, which means there will be four of band members there. Bob Weir will perform as the Featured Guest of the ...Read more
Grateful Dead's Bob Weir to Record an 'Album of Cowboy Songs'Music Times, July 30th
With the long-awaited Fare Thee Well gigs now just a Fourth of July weekend memory, the Grateful Dead have wrapped up their live performances, for now. Guitarist and lyricist Bob Weir, on the other hand, is ready to jump into his next musical venture...Read more
Fond, but not quite farewell: Grateful Dead's Core 4 to perform separately at ...The Daily Progress, July 30th
The Fare Thee Well tour of The Grateful Dead's Core 4 members will not be the final goodbye for Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Phil Lesh and Billy Kurtzman. Lockn' producers Phil Shapiro and Dave Frey announced Thursday that Weir and Hart have been added to ...Read more
Bob Weir And Mickey Hart Added to Lockn': Core Four Grateful Dead Members Set ...Relix, July 30th
Fresh off their appearance at Fare Thee Well, the Core Four members of the Grateful Dead will all appear at the 2015 Lockn' Music Festival. Bob Weir and Mickey are the latest additions to the roster of performers, joining Phil and Bill Kreutzmann on...Read more
Grateful Dead, LSD and tie-dye? Not in Alabama, thank you very much: Wake Up CallAL.com, July 28th
The criteria includes: number of communes; number of co-ops; number of local Etsy stores per capita selling hemp, patchouli, and tie-dye products; and the percentage of Facebook users who express interest in the Grateful Dead, Phish, cannabis, tie-dye, ...Read more
Grateful Dead Shows Shatter Pay-Per-View RecordNBC Chicago, July 27th
Thousands tuned into the live broadcast of the Grateful Dead's five "Fare Thee Well" shows in Chicago and California and broke the record for largest syndication of a live music event in history. More than 400,000 people subscribed to the live...Read more
Review: No Song Left Unsung, Grateful Dead Plays Its LastNew York Times, July 6th
CHICAGO — The last song the Grateful Dead performed here on Sunday night at Soldier Field — the band's farewell, 50 years after it was founded — was “Attics of My Life.” It's a close-harmony song of thankfulness to a soul, a muse, perhaps an audience...Read more
As Grateful Dead Exit, a Debate Will Not Fade AwayNew York Times, July 2nd
ALAN MANDE calls his first experience with the Grateful Dead, in 1969, “a portal to a spiritual awakening.” Since then, he's attended more than 400 shows and traded bootlegs with untold Deadheads, all while philosophizing on the nature of such devoted ...Read more