There are bands that have harnessed the power of their fans more than The Grateful Dead. The band’s rabid fanbase, known affectionately as the Deadheads were—and still are—as happy to follow any incarnation of the band across the country in hope of enjoying that archetypal ‘experience’ of a Dead show.
On July 13th in 1985, the world was trained on the international event known as Live Aid. But while Philadelphia was under the spotlight, The Grateful Dead held a counter-culture event which welcomed the underbelly of society to tune in and jam out. It remains one of the ultimate Deadhead experiences.
Live Aid was billed as the “global jukebox” with two concerts being held simultaneously at Wembley Stadium in London—attended by 72,000 people—and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the United States which was attended by about 100,000 people.
An estimated 1.9 billion people (40% of the world’s population) watched the legendary gig unfold and the opportunity to perform for such a global audience was too much for the three musicians to turn down. Meanwhile, thousands of Deadheads ignored this lure and instead turned their attentions to the experience of being at a Grateful Dead show.
Taking place at the Ventura County Fairgrounds as the huge event across the country kicked off, Jerry Garcia and the rest of the band were on fire. They welcomed a huge crowd and turned them all into a swaying mass of dancing bodies and gleaming smiles. It was only weeks after celebrating 20 years as a band and proved they were still as potent as ever, in Ventura they performed in front of a banner that read: “Grateful Dead Twenty Years So Far.”
There are a few great clips of this stunning performance. There’s one snippet of footage which captures the performance in a way that any bootlegger would be proud of, and Deadheads are the best bootleggers. But our favourite representation of the day is from the below TV footage.
Rather than the songs being played—it was a classic stunning set form the band including a rousing rendition of ‘One More Saturday Night’—the footage focuses on the people attending the shows. Naturally, they largely miss the point of the experience but the innocence with which they approach Deadheads is amusing, to say the least.
“A lot of people call you the lost legion of hippies,” says our interviewer standing in front of some fans, “how do you feel about that?” Dryly and resolutely the reply comes: “Yeah, it’s a great place to be.” The footage gets even better from there as we get a tutorial on what it’s like to be a Deadhead.
Naturally, the TV crew find some slightly spacier members of the Deadhead society but all in all, the clip provides an accurate depiction of what it was like to follow the Grateful Dead and count yourself as “a card-carrying Deadhead”.