Celebrating 50 Years of the Grateful Dead

Dead Central continues to commemorate band’s legacy

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Anatomically correct marionettes of Garcia, Mydland and Kreutzmann from their “Touch of Grey” music video stand near the entrance of the Grateful Dead exhibit. Photo by Casey Amaral
Anatomically correct marionettes of Garcia, Mydland and Kreutzmann from their “Touch of Grey” music video stand near the entrance of the Grateful Dead exhibit. Photo by Casey Amaral

Halloween 1965, Soquel Avenue — a Victorian house filled with college students experienced two seminal ’60s moments. Not only was it Ken Kesey’s first Acid Test, but it was also the Grateful Dead’s first house show. This was the night that began the band’s legacy in Santa Cruz.

The legacy has continued through Dead Central, the band’s public exhibit in McHenry Library. The tribute is built heavily from exclusive archival photos donated to UC Santa Cruz, and last month archivist Nicholas Meriwether reopened the space after a month of renovations for its latest exhibit. This is the fifth installment in Dead Central since its opening in 2008.

Named “Imagining the Dead: Photographs and Photographers in the Grateful Dead Archive, 1965-1995,” the exhibit contains more than 200 objects and artifacts, celebrating the band’s 50th anniversary.

“The archive includes never before seen footage of [the] band collected over the last 50 years of their career,” Meriwether said.

Meriwether has collected over 1,000 photographs related to the Grateful Dead, a band known as the godfathers of jam session music. Founding members Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, Ron McKernan and Phil Lesh are credited with the psychedelic sound associated with the hippie movement in San Francisco.

Their fans, known as “deadheads,” are known for their extreme devotion. Deadheads followed the band, created specific lingo and dressed in tie-dye. The intense relationship formed between fans and the band allowed unprecedented access to the rise of the Grateful Dead. While some bands shied away from photographers, the Dead embraced and encouraged rock journalism.

Various photographs taken over the years by rock photographers documenting the Grateful Dead’s 50 year career. Photo by Casey Amaral
Various photographs taken over the years by rock photographers documenting the Grateful Dead’s 50 year career. Photo by Casey Amaral

Dead Central has been a part of UCSC since the band itself chose to display their memorabilia here. Bob Weir stated at a press conference announcing the exhibit, “We looked around and UC Santa Cruz seems the best possible home.”

Even though the Grateful Dead’s prime was before most UCSC students were born, their legacy has touched many.

“I guess Dead Central played a part in me choosing to attend UC Santa Cruz,” said third-year student Camille Halley. “I was really into them my senior year of high school and thought the exhibit was super cool and wanted to work there.”

Last year, Halley got a tattoo with the signature Grateful Dead roses along with the words, “Rambling Rose,” to remind herself of the impact the Dead has had on her life.

The new exhibit is similar in organization to past ones but has a completely new collection of memorabilia. Arranged chronologically, the exhibit begins with black and white photographs from 1965 and ends with full color photos from the band’s last show together in 1995.

Fans of the Dead will be pleased to see the actual marionettes of Garcia, Mydland and Kreutzmann used in their 1987 music video, “Touch of Grey,” in the center of the room.

Some of the earliest copies of Rolling Stone are also included in a case far back in the room. Since the magazine was originally based in San Francisco, it included the band in its first issue. They became a favorite of the publication, and Dead Central contains two original copies of Rolling Stone with the Grateful Dead on the covers, the first shot by Annie Leibovitz and the second by Jim Marshall.

The Grateful Dead’s eponymous debut album cover, released in 1967. Photo by Casey Amaral
The Grateful Dead’s eponymous debut album cover, released in 1967. Photo by Casey Amaral

There’s also a display dedicated to the band’s 1978 performance in Egypt in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza. UCSC alumnus Don Defenderfer donated his photographs and essay. His essay embodies the spirit of the era — as a student, he realized this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so he took his camera to Egypt to document the show.

The exhibit ends with photographs from 1995 — the year Jerry Garcia passed away.

Former Grateful Dead members, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann have joined with singer John Mayer to form Dead and Company. The band is touring around the U.S. this summer, with its final show on July 30 at The Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View.

A brightly lit plaque in Dead Central reads, “In the spirit of the Grateful Dead and Grateful Dead community honoring that we are all one family in music, love, and joy, regardless of race or family composition.”

The Grateful Dead’s legacy prevails because of their power to bring people together. The band’s music isn’t limited to the baby boomers, members of the Dead or professional rock photographers. Students today are still discovering its music and new artists still cover their music and turn it into their own. The community surrounding the Grateful Dead is welcoming and continuously growing, cementing its role in Santa Cruz.