No Recession for the Long-Lived Grateful Dead

FORMED 26 years ago in San Francisco, the Grateful Dead have become an institution with their trail of die-hard fans, called Deadheads. While some groups have floundered during the recession, the Grateful Dead became the top-grossing concert act of 1991.Though the Dead's current tour has ended, the atmosphere of their recent run of nine sold-out shows in New York and six in sold-out shows in Boston is recreated in city after city when they perform. On one evening of the Boston tour you could find people dancing, playing drums and guitars, selling jewelry, tie-dyed T-shirts, veggie subs, and more. Some wandered around in dreadlocks and Birkenstocks. It was herbal, hippie, '60s-like. What is the Grateful Dead phenomenon? Deadheads talk of a tribal feeling in following the Dead. Many at this night's show will also be at other shows. "I have very good friends here," explains a woman who calls herself simply "Liz." She has followed the Dead since 1985, only missing three spring tours. "I need a miracle," she shouts at passersby, an indication that she's looking for a ticket. Others hold up an index finger for the same reason. An atmosphere of laissez faire pervades inside. Assigned seats are ignored, as are other "rules." A special section is always set up for fans who wish to tape the concert. The past five years has brought a resurgence of the band's popularity, attracting a whole new generation of Deadheads. The Grateful Dead dabbles in folk, jazz, blues, acid rock, reggae, and many other styles. No two shows are ever the same; concertgoers patter about the band's spontaneity, which is why many of them attend multiple shows. The Dead's heightened appeal has been fueled in part by their hit single, "Touch of Grey." Also the death of keyboardist Brent Mydland in 1990 and the near-death experience of leader Jerry Garcia (he went into a diabetic coma) made people realize that the band won't be around forever. Historically the Grateful Dead have been associated with drug use, although some say that scene has lightened up a little in recent years. Police comment that Dead concert crowds are tamer than others. (In Boston, about 250 arrests were made over six shows, the majority of which were drug-related, according to a spokesman for the Boston Police Department. "The crowd was fairly mellow on the whole," he added.)

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