The Grateful Dead lasted 30 years. The remaining members continue to play both together and separately, but the music has never managed to reach the same heights it attained before the passing of lead guitarist and singer, Jerry Garcia. Garcia’s heart, his very soul, was seamlessly integrated into the fibers of the music. He infused it with a primal energy and joy as if he were channeling the very essence of music itself.
The Grateful Dead attempted and achieved what few musicians ever do. Through daring and often reckless improvisation, the Dead sacrificed commercial popularity to, instead, try and tap into something bigger than themselves. Like Michelangelo carving away at marble to discover the David that was always inside, the Grateful Dead played their music with the knowledge that, eventually, the music would begin to play them. They weren’t so much creating as they were revealing. And in so doing, they attracted a rabid fan-base ready to join them on their journey, to be a part of these miraculous moments that were taking place secretly within the walls of concert halls and theaters across the globe, while the rest of the world continued on, oblivious to the small gathering of people who were, in their own way, touching the face of God.
While this may sound like a lot of hyperbole, anyone who has genuinely tapped into what took place within those walls on those special nights when everything converged just right, know that truer words were never spoken. The Grateful Dead were never an ordinary band. And like so many artists that reach beyond the norm, they were vastly misunderstood by the masses and the industry who had other ideas about what music was and should be.
To the newcomer, the music of the Grateful Dead probably won’t seem as “magical” and “transcendent” as I’ve painted it here, but I assure you, like so many things we encounter in life, there is more here than meets the eye (or ear, as the case may be). Therefore it requires an open mind and a spirit of exploration. It took a certain level of genuine curiosity for me to go beyond listening to the Grateful Dead to actually “hearing” the Grateful Dead. But when that day arrived, I never looked back. So now, about 34 years after making that initial discovery, not a day goes by that their music is not a part of my life.
For many Dead-Heads, the spring tour of 1977 was the Grateful Dead’s peak. Something happened that allowed the band to soar to heights unseen. There was a beauty and resonance to their music that seemed to have been forming for years to arrive at this very place. There were still touches of the jazziness that had become a strong component of their sound palette in 1974, but it had also taken on a more “mystical” edge infused by the musical explorations that gave birth to their BLUES FOR ALLAH album (their best studio effort, IMHO), with a newfound desire to return to their rock and roll roots while managing to incorporate the bluegrass sounds that had inspired them back when they were a simple jugband playing coffee houses in the Bay area. All of this while still embracing the sense of vocal harmony and storytelling that lead them to create the incredible AMERICAN BEAUTY and WORKINGMAN’S DEAD albums.
So this week, I’m offering up a terrific show they played at the Mosque in Richmond, Virginia on May 25, 1977. Not one of the shows usually referenced from this tour (like the beloved and now famous Cornell University show), this outing is nonetheless inspired and breathtaking. The first set is a terrific mix of songs and styles. The perfect warm-up for the fluid and adventurous second set that, like the Grateful Dead were known for doing, is a non-stop 120 minutes of seamless, wall-to-wall music, taking songs and connecting them with living, breathing jams –bridges, if you will– to places unknown and lands untouched, unique to that single evening, that place, that moment in history, never to be repeated again.