Thursday, May 2, 2019

Deadology: The 33 Essential Dates of Grateful Dead History

For obvious reasons, December 31 is one of the essential dates of Deadology.

Bob Weir and friends were passing by Dana Morgan’s music shop on New Year’s Eve 1963 when they were drawn to the sound of banjo picking. They entered the shop and one of Bob’s companions knew the banjo player, Jerry Garcia. The noodling musician mentioned that he was waiting for some students to show for lessons, although he was quite content to be playing by himself. Weir and friends found some instruments and had an impromptu jam with Jerry. They discussed forming a jug band, and shortly thereafter, Weir, Garcia, and Pigpen were performing as Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions. In Garcia’s wildest thoughts, he never could have imagined that he’d be performing live music with Weir almost every New Year’s Eve for the rest of his life.

In addition to all the extraordinary music created by the Grateful Dead on New Year’s Eve, this is easily the best-documented day. The band played twenty-two times on this date, out of which there are twenty existing audio recordings, and many of these shows were filmed and can be viewed on YouTube. These year-end celebrations, often three-set affairs, gave the band an opportunity to deviate from the unofficial rules of how a show was constructed in the Grateful Dead Universe. If you add in the eclectic mix of guest musicians and celebrities joining the band on stage, then one could write a book solely on the Grateful Dead’s New Year’s Eve exploits. 
Most critical studies of a band’s archive focus on years or an era chronologically—a horizontal approach. Deadology takes a vertical approach as all the Dead’s years combined are studied through the lens of a single date. These thirty-three essential dates are unique mini-histories of a band beyond description. On their own, a compilation from any one of these essential dates can produce a box set of music that could stand toe-to-toe with the excellent So Many Roads (1965-1995) box set. 

The Grateful Dead are uniquely suited for this type of study. What musicians, artists, entertainers, or athletes can be examined like this? One could write about the essential dates of Bob Dylan’s career, but that endeavor would be focused on the times we wrote his iconic anthems and alnums. The Grateful Dead experience is communal. If a you’ve ever seen the Dead on Halloween or July 4, you were part of a larger musical tradition tied to that day. Out of band members, Bobby, Billy, and Mickey’s birthdays earned their place amongst the essential dates. The minimum requirement for essential dates consideration was a minimum of three extraordinary shows on that day. Most dates in Deadology easily exceeded that threshold. 

Before selecting the entries for Deadology, I guessed the month with the most essential dates would have been April, or perhaps May. Surprisingly, October topped all other months, with eight essential dates. Here’s the breakdown: October (8), September (6), April (5), July (4), May (3), June (2), February (2), November (1), March (1), December (1).

Here are the 33 Essential Dates:
February 17, February 28, March 23, April 6, April 8, April 12, April 21, April 22, May 5, May 7, May 11, June 16, June 24, June 30, July 2, July 4, July 10, July 18, September 2, September3, September 11, September 18, September 21, September 23, October 9, October 12, October 15,

October 16, October 17, October 19,, October 20, October 31, November 17, December 31 

Deadology on Amazon

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