The Grateful Deadheads, Part 1

When my best friend texted that TJ and I could stay with his Aunt and Uncle in Colorado, I was excited to have a bed for few nights during our 6-week journey through the western United States.  Aunt Renee and Uncle Matt, he told me, spent years following The Grateful Dead around the country.  I thought we’d be staying with a couple of burn outs who were doing a favor for their nephew.

Judging by the name and artwork for The Grateful Dead, I’ve always assumed the band was some kind of heavy metal band, playing music I’d rather not have on my iPod.  In consequence, I, to the best of my knowledge, had never heard one of their songs.   In my mind, it took a special kind of person to not just listen to their music, but to devote their life to following the band– even for the shortest amount of time.  As TJ and I hurtled toward Colorado, I wondered, with some unease, where we would be crashing.

The car– packed and ready to go.

Arriving at their home after a day of meetings in Boulder, I was surprised by the well-kept appearance of their property.  The large house sat nestled in the midst of several empty lots that the couple own.  The talkative, straight-shooting Renee greeted us in the driveway with hugs.  Immediately we were treated with a hospitality cultivated, we would learn, though their years traveling with “The Dead.”

The Grateful Dead, as it turns out, did not play heavy metal.

They were a genre defying, psychedelic jam band with influences ranging from bluegrass to space rock with philosophies about life, community and performance that ring true with thoughts floating around in my head since Burning Man.  Both the Dead and Burning Man formed a traveling community existing as a sort of alternate society of strangely dressed gypsies.  “Traveling with the Dead,” Matt excitedly told us during our alcohol-fueled marathon chat session, “was like being taken through a whole experience.”  With so many similarities, it wasn’t a surprise to learn that the band and art festival were born out of the same city– San Francisco.

The band formed in 1965 in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco.  They gained notoriety by playing as the house band for Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters at their Electric Kool-Aid Acid Tests.  They hung out with the likes of Neal Cassady who was the real-life bases for Dean Moriarty from Kerouac’s On the Road.  The Dead became popular throughout the seventies and by the late eighties were routinely selling out venues like JFK stadium in Philadelphia.

Welcome to Colorado!

Matt and Renee started to follow the Dead in the early nineties.  Matt, from Colorado, started by following a few West Coast tours.  Renee, from Ohio, hit up a series of shows in New York.  (The Dead usually played multiple nights in the same venue.)  By then, the Deadhead subculture was firmly established.  However, as Matt was quick to point out, “they weren’t judgmental at all.  Nobody didn’t welcome you.”  Both fell in love with the crowd.

The couple met at concert in Buckeye Lake, Ohio.  As Renee tells the story, Matt was playing Frisbee with a group of guys while she and her friends were making dinner.  Smelling food, the boys ventured over to scope out the situation.  They have been inseparable ever since.  Without the Dead, Maggie and Kaylie, their teenage daughters, would have never been born.

-Benjamin Rexroad
Managing Artistic Director


Part 1 of 3 in a series about The Grateful Dead and their loyal following.
Part 2 coming soon…


  1. […] The Grateful Dead and their loyal following. Part 3 coming soon… Part 1 available by clicking here. Share this:FacebookTwitterDiggEmailLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  2. […] hoping to save it for the end; it’s our favorite beer. Truth be told, we sent some to the people (read about them here) who took great care of us on our road trip around the […]


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: