The Sacred and the Grateful Dead: It’s (Not) Just a Box of Rain

The Grateful Dead’s music has, for half a century now, provided a virtual “third place” for fans that have discovered companionship amidst the blithe, earthy sounds, sometimes spiritually-bent lyrics, and a subculture where the prevailing ethos landed somewhere between “take it easy, man” and “let’s take care of each other.

When Deadheads gather en masse for the band’s live performances—the last of which is scheduled for Chicago’s Soldier Field on July 5, at the same venue and almost 20 years to the day from the last show the Dead played while their chieftain Jerry Garcia was still alive— what was virtual becomes a physical third place, a festival where community, identity, and bonds of kinship are forged.

A special series on religion and culture produced in collaboration with the Office of Religious Life at the University of Southern California

While the location changed from concert to concert, Deadheads found the same spiritual camaraderie and community in whatever parking lot, field, arena, or festival grounds they found themselves in as they followed the band across the country and in some cases around the world.

Inside the sound, swaying and dancing and spinning with abandon, many of the Dead’s fans discovered something more transcendent than a blissed-out, good time.

They found belonging. Home. If only for a few hours, days, until the tour ended or the ticket dough ran out.

For many Deadheads, the sonic pilgrimage began when someone placed the needle at the beginning of song 1, side 1 of the Dead’s seminal 1970 album American Beauty. 

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Posted on: July 9, 2015

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