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Grateful Dead Woodstock 1969 – Mama Tried
There may have been no better place for a psychedelic jam band than Woodstock; ergo there may not have been a band that belonged at Woodstock more than the Grateful Dead.
Formed in 1965 in the San Francisco Bay area, the Grateful Dead were originally known as The Warlocks, but were forced to change the name after learning that a different band had already claimed that moniker. The group decided on the name Grateful Dead which means life and death simultaneously. Over the years the band has obtained a huge following with fans dubbing themselves “Deadheads”.
The eclectic and improvised style of The Dead came from the rigid backgrounds of its members and their refusal to stray too far from the musical style that they loved. This aspect made them the pioneers of the jam band, as well as an embodiment of the entire counterculture of the 60’s. The Dead were able to incorporate a vast number of genres within the musical spectrum of the time in order to become their own phenomenon. Categorizing the Grateful Dead in four genres or less proves to be incredibly difficult and a great source of their admiration.
The unrehearsed and continuously improvised sets of The Dead made them unlike any touring band of the time. The recorded material of The Grateful Dead is said to be unimpressive simply due to the structured nature of the recordings which lacked the energy and unpredictability of live shows. The tendencies of de facto spokesman Jerry Garcia including open drug use and all out recklessness made him an icon of the times.
Unfortunately, the Woodstock 1969 performance was not as iconic as one would think. The fabled rain had made the stage a potential electrical hazard, which resulted in a final delayed starting time of 10:30pm. Long breaks between songs, inherently dragging tendencies, and substance induced hazes created a notoriously long and sub-par performance for the quintessential hippie jam band.
In the recording of the set, there are about 10 minutes of drug induced banter and confusion which resulted in a 50 minute song; too long even for The Dead. The performance was simply not their best work nor was it conducive for keeping the attention of the crowd. The mere five song set which spanned over 90 minutes was said to have produced a wave of sleepiness over the viewers. Following the set was a hum-drum performance by Creedence Clearwater Revival whose mundane outing is said to be a direct result of the Dead’s prolonged occupation of the stage.
Despite the lackluster outing at Woodstock, the band continued to mystify listeners with their unconventional and unpredictable sound and performance. The Dead toured with great success until Jerry Garcia’s death from a heart attack in 1995. The band has reunited several times for and some of the members still tour with their respective bands; Bob Weir in RatDog, Phil Lesh and Friends, the Mickey Hart Band, and Donna Jean and the Tricksters.