Lives in the heart and soul of American Folk music, Bluegrass, and Mind-Expanding Psychedelic Rock. Their approach to music was primal. The connection being made in The Grateful Dead’s music was about adventure, learning, and creating. These are things that human beings are supposed to do. It rejected the modern ideal of having a job you hate (that hates you too) and growing old in front of a television with a beer in hand. They didn’t care about being successful in the music industry. They played music because it was fun, because it was who they were.
Before they called themselves the Grateful Dead the band first played as The Warlocks in a series of bars. They eventually had to change their name because there was another band also named The Warlocks. To avoid confusing audiences, they played as Jerry Garcia and Friends while they were in search of a permanent band name. During this time Ken Kesey invited the band to play at his parties, the Acid Tests. Ken Kesey was a former Stanford University student who participated in a military experiment in taking psychedelic drugs in a psychiatric facility (this was way before psychedelics were made illegal, obviously). He found the drugs to be mind-altering and believed that he could make a different, more fun kind of America by spreading the knowledge and experience of psychedelics across the United States. He did this in a school bus that was painted in mind-altering patterns and vibrant colors. The people who rode the bus with him were called pranksters. When Kesey and the pranksters came back from tripping while road tripping across the U.S.A. they held Acid tests in their shared home. There Jerry Garcia and his band would play and get a decent following of people who genuinely enjoyed their sound.
Later Jerry Garcia would find a name for the band thanks to an old dusty dictionary. The “Grateful Dead” was an old folk tale told and shared by many different cultures. It’s about a traveler who comes across the ghost in the shape of a skeleton. Many believe that when a person dies in debt or without a proper burial, their soul wanders the earth until someone helps them out. Depending on the version of the tale, the traveler pays the dead man’s debt or finds his bones and gives him a proper burial. In return for the traveler’s righteous deed the spirit comes back in the shape of an animal, an angel, or person to save the traveler’s life when he encounters danger. This story not only the permanent name of the band but also created a whole new society of individuals who believed in freedom, adventure, and learning (with or without the use of drugs), these people were the Deadheads.
These were people weren’t fans who’d come to a show every now and then. Dead heads would attempt to follow the band for their entire tour or as many shows as they could possible. They would either drive across the U.S. in their vans, or they’d hitch hike their way there. The Grateful Dead didn’t just make great music, they gave people a platform where they created their own jobs. Some Deadheads were lawyers, college professors, parents, and sometimes even “yuppies”. But some dead individuals made most of their living selling tie-dye band tees, food, crystal necklaces (“for sexual energy!”) etc. at the shows. For some people, it really was a way of life. Dead shows became a place where they felt like their work mattered. It didn’t even matter if you didn’t have a craft or a job. If you were there, you were welcome. If you were hungry, someone would share their food with you and people treated you with respect. The shows were a place where you could leave your social class behind because the only thing that counted was being nice.