The Grateful Dead share new rare footage of 1989 concert
Credit: Warner Bros.

14,566 Grateful Dead concert recordings made available online free

At a time when we’re forced to change the way we must indulge live music, we’re exploring the world of archival recordings with the iconic rock band Grateful Dead.

The Grateful Dead, a band formed in 1965, were been able to successfully blend genres with their expansive and eclectic style. For decades the group weaved in and out of rock music with elements of folk, jazz, blues, gospel, and more which was always tied together with their own brand of psychedelia.

Once labelled “the pioneering Godfathers of the jam band world”, Grateful Dead have never allowed their recorded material dictate live shows. The band would quite regularly allow the atmosphere of a crowd, venue or location dictate their rolling performances which, typically, meant that none of their concerts were the same.

Having performed playing more than 2,300 concerts during their active years, Grateful Dead managed to build a community spirit like no other during their touring days. With a devoted fanbase which became known as the ‘Deadheads’, the band would play just about anywhere for anybody as long as their music was appreciated—and it was. Having entered the record books for their commitment to live music, the Guinness Book of World Records triumphed the band and selected the Grateful Dead to take the title of “most rock concerts performed”.

It is speculated that the Grateful Dead performed to an estimated total of 25 million people during their time on the road. Despite their achievements, Jerry Garcia, the band’s leader, always deferred back to the fans: “We didn’t really invent the Grateful Dead, the crowd invented the Grateful Dead, you know what I mean?” he once stated. “We were sort of standing in line, and uh, it’s gone way past our expectations, way past, so it’s, we’ve been going along with it to see what it’s gonna do next.”

Given the commitment of their loyal fanbase, the Deadheads have been scouring the archives to find rare recordings for years. Now though, the Internet Archive has managed to collect 14,566 bootlegs into one convenient location. The Internet Archive, a non-profit internet library that has been plugging away since 1996 in an attempt to make “Universal Access to All Knowledge” through its website, has been collecting books, magazines, television programmes and culturally relevant films with prolific accuracy.

As Open Culture points out, Nick Paumgarten detailed in his article for the New Yorker, which focusses on the “the vast recorded legacy of the Grateful Dead”, that a never-ending source of live recordings of the band continues to float around.

“It was denser, feverish, otherworldly,” Paumgarten said when getting lost in some of the earliest recordings. “If you took an interest, you’d copy a few tapes, listen to those over and over, until they began to make sense, and then copy some more. Before long, you might have a scattershot collection, with a couple of tapes from each year.”

He added: It was all Grateful Dead, but because of the variability in sonic fidelity, and because the band had been at it for twenty years, there were many different flavors and moods. Even the compromised sound quality became a perverse part of the appeal. Each tape seemed to have its own particular note of decay, like the taste of the barnyard in a wine or a cheese.”

“You can browse the recordings by year, so if you click on, say, 1973 you will see links to two hundred and ninety-four recordings, beginning with four versions of a February 9th concert at Stanford and ending with several versions of December 19th in Tampa,” he continues.

“Most users merely stream the music; it’s a hundred cassette trays, in the Cloud.” 

Follow this link to the Internet Archive’s full Grateful Dead collection which includes well over 14,000 recordings.

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