There is Nothing Like the Grateful Dead in a Museum


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Jerry Garcia's guitar at the NY Historical Society's Grateful Dead Exhibit

The Grateful Dead are the subject of a great exhibit at the New York Historical Society that has just been extended to run through September, so I strongly recommend you make the visit.  While the NYHS is contained in a relatively small part of the building, it is quite comprehensive in its analysis of the group’s legacy, their career and the fans who made them so popular for over 30 years.

As a museum that recently honored Abraham Lincoln and the Marquis de Lafayette, it is nice to see the place covered with tie dyed peace signs representing a) peace b) a slightly more contemporary topic c) something arts-oriented and the incredible Grateful Dead!

The show is not short on swag, and the gift shop is impressive as well, but it also gives attendees a context for the tie dye.  It makes a point of explaining the numerous innovations the band brought to live touring, such as their mail order policy (with amazing envelopes from ardent fans trying to make an impression), a sign for the “tapers section”; technical specs of the Dead’s innovative sound systems; contracts; backstage passes and even a few “officially licensed” stickers.

These were all ways that the band positioned themselves apart from the mainstream business while building closer bonds with their fans, who rewarded them with multi-night sold out runs at football stadiums, and for decades.  A few of the sections in the exhibit are deadicated to “Merchandise,” “Touring,” “Recordings,” and they make good sense of the band’s creative output and the innovative behind the scenes work.

The New York Historical Society accurately documented a few of the significant trips in the California band’s history in (or is it to?) New York State, with references to Dead shows at Fillmore, Woodstock, Columbia University and SUNY Stony Brook.  I know my buddy Howie Klein, who booked that show, will be excited to hear this news.

“Despite the Grateful Dead’s close association with California, the band and New York have been an important part of each other’s history from the first time the Dead played here in 1967 through 1995,” commented Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “This exhibition not only celebrates the band’s relationship with New York but its tremendous impact on American culture.” (from the museum’s website)  Alicia Keys and Jay-Z would be proud.

For more info on the exhibit, please visit NYHistory.org, and to learn more about the Grateful Dead, please visit the Grateful Dead Archive at the University of California at Santa Cruz here.

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