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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David Browne's 'So Many Roads' recounts Grateful Dead successes, travailsMilwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 24th
A listener doesn't have to think the Grateful Dead is "a band beyond description / Like Jehovah's favorite choir" (to quote "The Music Never Stopped") to find the group fascinating and culturally relevant. As long as Dead chieftain Jerry Garcia was...Read more
Grateful Dead members planning full-scale tour with John MayerConsequence of Sound, April 24th
Many fans of the Grateful Dead were unable to acquire tickets to the band's reunion shows at Chicago's Soldier Field this July, prompting the announcement of two additional dates in their hometown of Santa Clara, California. Despite the heavy demand...Read more
How a 1995 Grateful Dead concert shaped a diehard Phish fanAL.com, April 23rd
But the Grateful Dead came first in his life, and one particular concert he attended when he was 13 set him on the path toward becoming the Phish fanatic he is now. It was the April 5, 1995, Grateful Dead show in Birmingham, and it was his very first...Read more
The Grateful Dead Vs. Radio City Music Hall: Preview 'So Many Roads'RollingStone.com, April 23rd
David Browne's So Many Roads: The Life and Times of the Grateful Dead (Da Capo, out April 28th), takes a different tact when chronicling one of the rock's greatest and most enduring bands. Using new interviews with surviving members as well as Dead ...Read more
Keep streamin': Grateful Dead's last show to be webcastCNNMoney, April 23rd
The surviving members of the legendary San Francisco band will perform one last time at Chicago's Soldier Field for three nights in July. The final show, "Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years of Grateful Dead," will be broadcast on pay-per-view...Read more
Listen to Grateful Dead Classics in HebrewRelix, April 22nd
Israeli hip-hop star Sagol 59 has released The Promised Land: The Grateful Dead/Jerry Garcia Hebrew Project featuring takes on various Grateful Dead classics. As Live for Live Music points out, the record finds Sagol teaming up with folk singer Ami...Read more
Phil Lesh Announces Grateful Dead 1975 and 1976 Celebration Showsjambands.com, April 22nd
Phil Lesh will continue his celebration of the Grateful Dead's 50th anniversary with a May 4 show at Terrapin Crossroads honoring the band's musical year of 1975. Joining the bassist will be Stu Allen, Grahame Lesh, Rob Barraco, John Molo, Alex Koford...Read more
Grateful Dead Announce Additional Shows With Trey Anastasio, Address Heads ...Billboard, April 10th
When 210,000 tickets to the Grateful Dead's three-night Fare Thee Well run at Chicago's Soldier Field sold out in a snap, millions of hapless heads were up in arms. Billed as the final Dead shows, and featuring the original "core four" members with...Read more