Six Signs of the Grateful Dead's Lingering Legacy
Dark Star Orchestra is keeping the spirit of the Dead alive.
Music changed forever during the heady days of the late '60s. Indeed, while the bands may no longer be around, their legacies still survive thanks to the influence that resonated with so many musical acts that followed.
The roll call of immortal outfits that left an indelible imprint reads like the membership in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame -- the Beatles, the Stones, Bob Dylan, the Who, the Buffalo Springfield, Pink Floyd, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, the Velvet Underground, and on and on and on. There's no shortage of artists today that trace their sounds to the seminal ones exercised by these stalwarts.
Still, if you were to isolate any one band that weighed most heavily on those that followed, the Grateful Dead would certainly be among those in the top tier of influential ensembles. The Dead certainly spawned its share of groups willing to carry on its torch, from tribute bands like the Dark Star Orchestra to those headed up by the surviving members themselves -- Bob Weir's Ratdog, Phil Lesh and Friends, and even the name given what remains of the mother ship, the Dead pure and simple. We offer as proof six examples of how the band's heritage lingers on.
6. The Populist Principle
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Dead fans were among the most organized and dedicated devotees any band has laid claim to, before or since. They literally followed the group from show to show, developing a communal spirt between members of the audience. A very personal comradery, real or perceived, formed between the audience and the band itself. The Dead encouraged this devotion, and if some fans seemed fanatical, so be it. It became part of the Dead mystique.
Today, that communal spirit remains alive, as evidenced in the followings of certain jam bands and others that consistently play the festival circuit. Many artists encourage that inclusion, especially through the power of social media, making the power of their populist appeal all the more potent. The Dead were the originators of the obsessed fan, so take that Brooooooooooooce Springsteen. Don't you feel a little phrivilous, Phish?
5. Putting the Heart in San Francisco
When the musical underground took root, it found safe haven in selected cities -- London, New York, L.A., and San Francisco. It was there in the latter that bands like Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Quicksilver Messenger Service found a following in the breeding grounds of Haight Asbury and the surrounding haunts of the Bay Area.
The Grateful Dead were at the top tier of rock royalty, hosting free concerts in Golden Gate Park and the streets of the Haight as well as in the darkened environs of clubs and private hideaways where the soundtrack for the so-called acid tests could be enjoyed by all who cared to listen. These days, that famed neighborhood is mainly a tourist haunt, and the once revered venues like the Fillmore and Winterland are all shuttered. However, thanks to the Dead and its brethren, the city's reputation for music and magic still remains intact.
4. Psychedelic Suggestion
Okay, so Pink Floyd knew how to delve into flights of fantasy, and we're pretty sure the Moody Blues spent at least some of those nights in white satin hitting the brown acid, nobody knew how to score big on those acid tests like the Grateful Dead.
C'mon, nobody would willingly subject themselves to an entire side of Aoxomoa or, for that matter, the entirety of Anthem of the Sun without some kind of chemical influence. They didn't call Jerry Garcia "Captain Trips" for nothing. So while political correctness forbids us from endorsing this sort of wanton intoxication, we all recognize that some of the music made today kinda suffers without it. No, we're not gonna name names, but Miley, you know who you are...
3. Jam Band Demands
Here again, the Grateful Dead was a master of the genre, extending any number of simple songs into 45 minute flights of fantasy. Melody be damned, it was all about extending the riff and taking the music into unexpected realms. The Allman Brothers, Big Head Todd, Government Mule, Keller Williams, Leftover Salmon, Spearhead, Phish, Rusted Root, Umphrey's McGee, and Widespread Panic all might be accused at times of excess and indulgence had the Dead not demonstrated the fact that more is more and and less is never best.
2. Americana Authenticity
With the dawning of the '70s, the Dead did an abrupt about face, delving into flawless harmonies, pedal steel guitar, and songs that were down home as opposed to far out. The album Workingman's Dead still reigns not only as one of the very best offerings in the Dead's canon, but also as the precursor to what we now refer to as Americana. And we all know how much Americana has excelled in America since. Consider them the original cosmic cowboys.
1. Night of the Living Dead
Reunions on the occasion of a 50th anniversary are nothing new. We've seen the Stones and the Who embark on tours celebrating a half century, so now it's only fitting that the Grateful Dead should mark a half century of their own. This summer, the remaining members will reconvene for four nights in Chicago's Soldier Field for what's being billed as a final farewell. What better way to remind the world of all they've inspired.
Of course, if you can't make it to Chicago, you can journey to Fort Lauderdale and catch the Dark Star Orchestra, which, by most accounts, amounts to the next best thing, an excellent audio reminder of the Dead's lingering legacy.
Dark Star Orchestra, 8 p.m., February 23 and 24, at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $35.20. Visit cultureroom.net.
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