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End of a Long, Strange Trip: Reflecting on Dead & Co's Last Tour and Their Everlasting Legacy

As of Sunday, the Grateful Dead’s spin-off band, Dead & Company, has concluded their final tour. For the first time in almost half a century, members of the legendary psychedelic rock band will no longer be performing. It’s the end of a long, strange trip, not only for deadheads, but for the music industry, and the world as a whole.


The band began their pursuit back in 1965, their music a thoughtfully congruent and dynamic patchwork of rock, blues, jazz, folk, country, bluegrass, rock n' roll, gospel, reggae, and world music with psychedelia. Originally called the Warlocks before coming to learn there was already an established band with the name, the Grateful Dead stumbled upon their coveted name when lead guitarist and vocalist Jerry Garcia was flipping through a dictionary and found the two words juxtaposed. Garcia seems to have been drawn to the term’s sound and shape as if by fate, because the name perfectly encapsulates the band’s values.

Photo and cover by Wikimedia Commons


The term “Grateful Dead” refers to a lore in which the spirit of a deceased individual who grants benefits to the one responsible for their burial as an act of gratitude. Oftentimes, these individuals not originally granted a proper burial were incredibly poor. In deeming themselves the Grateful Dead, the band identifies themselves with the humility and sincere humanity of an individual and fosters a strong sense of camaraderie within their fanbase and community. The band clearly embodied their name, embracing the spirit of gratitude, benevolence, and interconnectedness in everything they did. Just like the protagonist in the folktales, the band members found a meaningful name by chance and embarked on a musical journey that benefited not only themselves but also countless others who found solace and inspiration in their iconic jams and countercultural ethos.

 

While the Grateful Dead’s jam-band folk-rock style is not necessarily every music-lover's go-to genre, it’s impossible to overlook their immense global influence on the music industry. For starters, the band’s decentralization of the music distribution system revolutionized the industry’s conception of soundsharing. The band was one of the first and few of their time to allow the taping and distribution of their performances, and in doing so they serendipitously fostered major marketing success; fans would bring immensely expensive recording equipment to best encapsulate the band’s stage presence, somehow further boosting the value of their transcendental tracks.


Furthermore, in allowing this taping, the Dead stimulated their own artistic pursuit and allowed themselves to connect more intimately with their community of fans. One way this creative inspiration manifested itself was in the uniqueness of each performance’s setlist. Different from other creators and with rare exception, the band never played the same set twice, making each show (and the recordings to follow) particularly valuable. Within these individualized setlists also came tremendous inspirations for improvisational incorporations to each piece. Though partly encouraged by the Dead’s heavy use of psychedelics, tangential drum or guitar solos became signature in their style, making each show a distinctly immersive and transformative musical journey.


Beyond their music, the Grateful Dead became synonymous with the hippie movement and American counterculture. They offered an alternative to traditional values, presenting a vision where red, white, and blue didn't necessarily represent greed and pseudo-patriotic militance but rather a more inclusive and compassionate society. Their goal wasn’t to heal the world of its problems; they were playing to soften the burden of modern society. Whether they were exploring the wonders of life in pieces such as “Ripple” and “Scarlet Begonias”, or more cathartically navigating the general struggles of existence in tracks like “Bertha” and “Friend of the Devil”, the Dead’s consistent personification of positive energy through groove rhythms and eclectic soundscapes sowed the seeds of their pivotally hopeful legacy.



 

Just as music serves an individual in a myriad of ways, the Dead as a band and as a culture resonates deeply with people from all walks of life. For the first generation of deadheads, they offered music lovers an entirely new experience.


At every Grateful Dead concert, a tapestry of humanity unfolded before our eyes, an awe-inspiring testament to the power of music to bring together souls from vastly different walks of life. Eagerly anticipating the experience that awaited, you could find individuals from all demographics embracing the unity of the moment. Alongside the spirited vendors selling vibrant tie-dye prints in hopes of affording an entry ticket, were everyday citizens with their groups of friends, and even lots of privileged few who indulged in any expense to follow the Dead from city to city, all with the same desire to immerse themselves in the euphoria of the music. Age knew no boundaries, either, within this congregation. Children, wide-eyed with wonder, reveled in the magic of the show, while the elderly swayed gently, their spirits lifted by the nostalgia of years past. Teenagers, venturing out on their own for the very first time, discovered a sense of belonging, embraced by the open arms of the community. With every note that resonated, barriers melted away, replaced by a profound understanding that, at the core of it all, we were connected, bound together by the threads of music and a collective love for the Grateful Dead.


For this new generation of deadheads, like myself, only alive for the advent of Dead & Co., enjoying the Dead’s music serves as a profound bridge that connects us with our parents and the shared love that unites generations. Embracing the open-armed community that envelopes us, we find not only a sense of belonging but also a deeper connection with ourselves. The Grateful Dead's legacy thrives not only in the echoes of the past but in the lively hearts and souls of this new generation, forever intertwined by the music that continues to ignite our spirits.



Some say that a person’s spirit lives on not merely as long as they live, but as long as they are remembered. The Grateful Dead's legacy is alive in the hearts and minds of generations and it continues to inspire new listeners, connecting people across time and space. In short, Dead and Co. will never die; it’s meant too much to too many.


Photo by rawpixel.com

 

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