For other meanings of the word "Deadhead", see Deadhead (disambiguation)

Deadheads are fans of the band The Grateful Dead. They follow the band's tours, record their live shows, trade tapes of concerts and hold the Grateful Dead's music in a place above all other bands.

Many are devoted fans and have gone out of their way to see many of the several hour long shows the band produced. The appeal was, in part, created by the way the band structured their concerts. While from the 1980's on, it could be expected that the band would play two sets in a show, with the second set containing a drum solo and improvisational "space" jams, the night to night song selection would change entirely. Thus each show became unique and a Deadhead could attend several consecutive shows, seeing few or no duplicate songs.

Additionally, because the band was improvisation by nature, each time a song was performed it was slightly different from the prior time it was played. Over time this forced songs to undergo an evolutionary process where the current incarnation could sound radically different from the first time it was performed. The improvisational nature of the band, the choice of songs, as well as other factors such as location, crowd enthusiasm and the band members' energy would create the difference between a good show and a great show (also called "on nights".)

In the view of Deadheads, "on nights" were what set the Grateful Dead apart from many, if not all, other bands. During an "on night," the minds in the room, synchronized by the music, would merge and the combined mind would wake up, allowing participating Deadheads to experience the "thoughts" of this much larger entity. Deadheads refer to this phenomenon with a number of terms including cosmic and cosmosity. On nights like this, the music was no longer the main point and functioned instead as something like EEG waves for the "brain" of the combined mind. The Dead's extended jams could sound like random noise at these times to those who were not "connected." Rock producer Bill Graham once said that the Dead were "... not the best at what they do, they're the only ones that do what they do."

With large numbers of people attending strings of shows, a community naturally developed out of the familiarity. It also led to a need to create a "financing" feature to enable traveling Deadheads to support themselves when on tour. For Deadheads, "living in the Lot" on tour developed a community culture, and infrastructure of sorts. Thus many Deadheads became vendors of unofficial Gratedful merchandise such as T-Shirts, bumperstickers, pictures, posters and also necessities such as food. Much of this could be found in a vending area sometimes termed "Babylon", "Jerryville" or "Shakedown Street" referring to one of their songs (often called simply 'the Lot') in parking areas surrounding the venue where the Grateful Dead was playing.

It has sometimes been said "you can find anything you need in the Lot": Deadheads would fund their tour by selling car parts and mechanical services, massages, books, artwork, toys, clothing, by recycling, or by 'passing the hat' during artistic or theatrical performances of their own devising -- often these products and services were quite unrelated to the music of the Grateful Dead.

Another common sight in the Lot were "Miracle seekers" (named after the Dead song "I Need A Miracle"): ticket-less fans who had come to the show anyway, wandering around holding up signs or the fingers on their hand to indicate how many tickets they needed. This occasionally led to comical sights, such as at Madison Square Garden in New York, where hurrying commuters in business suits trying to get into the below-Garden Penn Station would physically collide with the circling, tie-dyed, somewhat unkempt and unminding miracle seekers.

Deadheads spawned some further subcultures, from the frivolous (Diamondbacks – Deadheads who expressed similarly mannered worship for Neil Diamond) to the serious (Wharf Rats – Deadheads who helped each other remain drug and alcohol free while staying in the Dead scene) to the kinetic (Spinners – Deadheads who would spin at concerts in the manner of Sufi Mystics).

In Grateful Dead lore, the Deadheads are actually a part of the band itself. This relationship known as the 'X factor' has even been recognized by the band members themselves.

New fans are always being born, and some of these fans will surely become fanatic enough appreciants of Grateful Dead's music to become Deadheads themselves. Because of this, and the fact that the Dead's music is being continually re-archived, it is taken as an article of faith by some that the band will "live forever".

Deadheads and recordings of the gigs

At almost every Grateful Dead show, it was common to see fans openly recording the music for later enjoyment. This occurred with the complete approval of the band, which is considered by many to be the first taper-friendly band. It is a matter of strict custom among Deadheads that these recordings are freely shared and circulated with no money ever changing hands. The desire to trade grew out of the Deadhead's desire to listen to tapes of the "on nights" and the ones they went to. It is not uncommon for Deadheads to have collections spanning the 30 years the Dead performed consisting of over 200 separate nights of recordings.

Deadheads have been known to purchase, or even 'steal', bootleg tapes from unscrupulous bootleggers who are illegally selling Grateful Dead music, and to copy them and distribute them for free - often at the same location as the bootlegger, in an attempt to stop the bootlegger from profiting. These recordings are sometimes called liberated bootlegs.

Many deadheads now freely distribute digital recordings of the Grateful Dead's music, and there are several websites which provide and promote legal access of lossless music. The following are some among the most notable:

Because of the practice of distributing Dead music in lossless formats -- with checksum verification of file integrity -- and since the music continually circulates, the body of free Dead music is perpetually re-archived. This is one of the only ways to reliably archive music, because while the media on which the music is stored deteriorates, the music itself does not, and so any corrupt file can be readily replaced with another identical copy.



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