Deadheads young and old lined up Wednesday at Oracle Park to buy psychedelic posters, tie-dyed T-shirts and other Grateful Dead swag—even if they weren’t born when the original band performed its last show.
This weekend is the last chance to see the star-studded Grateful Dead spinoff band Dead & Company, featuring legendary Grateful Dead alums Bob Weir and Mickey Hart with co-founder John Mayer channeling the spirit of the late Jerry Garcia on guitar and vocals.
The band announced last year that, after rocking for eight years, its summer 2023 tour would be its last. The news spurred many fans to buy tickets to Dead & Company’s final shows of the goodbye tour at Oracle Park, which are sold out Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Held to coincide with the final concerts, the Haight Street Art Center is putting on a photography and poster exhibition exploring the Dead's 30-year legacy. “Between the Dark and Light: Grateful Dead 1965-1995,” curated by rock photographer Jay Blakesberg, is open now and runs through Sept. 3.
The Grateful Dead’s popularity has endured, even though many consider the band’s 1995 concert at Chicago’s Soldier Field, only a month before Garcia died suddenly of a heart attack on Aug. 9, to be the genre-bending jam band’s last true performance. The Dead disbanded shortly after Garcia’s death.
That hasn’t stopped younger generations from embracing their music.
The band played its first gig as the Warlocks at Magoo’s Pizza Parlor in Menlo Park in 1965. It became a symbol of Bay Area counterculture, with die-hard fans following the Dead around the country. It’s estimated that around 2,000 shows have been recorded on tape, and many are available online.
Like earlier generation Deadheads, Darian Betts, 18, and Cameron Arnett, 24, have followed Dead & Company’s tour over the last three months, living out of a refurbished van and crisscrossing the country to attend concerts.
“I’ve driven about 8,000 miles,” Betts said. ”We haven’t missed a show yet. We’ve got to go to all of them.”
The young Deadheads lining up to buy merch Wednesday looked much like their seasoned counterparts. Tie-dye abounded as fans waited to acquire memorabilia. The waft of weed was also in the air.
But fans agree there are new Deadheads and OG Deadheads.
For Dave Halverson, who’s been following the Dead since 1993, the key thing that divides old Deadheads from new ones is the original band’s iconic late lead singer. There are “the ones that got to see Jerry Garcia and the ones that didn’t,” he said.
But for others, the unique camaraderie of a Dead show melts away superficial differences in things like age.
“Everyone gets along,” said Alex Wolfert, a 23-year-old San Francisco musician who’s been following Dead & Company for about two years. “Most of the time, I go to these shows alone ... and normally end up sitting next to a pretty older crowd, like anywhere from 40s to 60s, and we get along so well. It’s as if there’s no age gap.”
Fans say the Dead’s music ultimately transcends time, space or age.
“Us older fans, we don’t have quite as much energy as when we were younger, but everyone still gets their groove on,” said Charles Roberson, 54, who’s been listening to the Dead since 1989. He journeyed from Kentucky to attend Dead & Company’s trio of finale shows in San Francisco, the Grateful Dead’s spiritual home.
“It’s always been the music.”
Christina Campodonico can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org