Guest Post: ‘A Rare And Different Tune’: Why The Grateful Dead’s Legacy Matters


Music File Photos The 1970s by Chris Walter
THE OG GD: The original Grateful Dead with (clockwise) Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, Mickey Hart and Jerry Garcia circa 1970 whose long and winding legacy continues to this day. Photo by Chris Walter / Wireimage

On June 21, 1995, the summer solstice and annual Deadhead holiday, The Grateful Dead sauntered into Knickerbocker Arena for what would be their final time in the venue and my 43rd Dead show.  

During the second set closer, Jerry Garcia poured every ounce of emotion he had left into “Morning Dew” for what would become the “final version” of the fan-favorite Bonnie Dobson cover. As the song comes to a climax and Garcia is fanning (Deadhead term for Garcia rapidly playing the same chords super loudly in a progression) with the crowd in complete jubilation, he steps to the mic one last time and belts out, “I guess it DOES matter anyway.”

I’ve spent the last few decades pondering the profoundness and timing of the moment. Was it just a simple lyrical mishap that Jerry was prone to in 1995? Or was it an acknowledgment of how much the band and its legacy meant to so many people around the world? Twenty-eight years later, Jerry’s words have proven prescient, his band’s work has continued to deeply impact our culture, industry and subsequent generations of music fans.

With Dead & Company making the rounds on a “final” tour this summer, many Deadheads are looking for one more time to enjoy the ride.  For some, the ride ended when Brent passed. For others, it was when Jerry left us, but for many, the ride is either still going or just beginning. John, Jeff, Oteil and Jay have helped carry the torch alongside Bobby, Mickey and Billy, as fearless leaders making sure the music never stopped for the past eight years. It allowed for a whole new generation to experience a “Scarlet>Fire” and poke around Shakedown Street, a venue parking lot transformed into a heady outdoor market. And the community is indeed grateful for their commitment to the continuation of this long, strange trip.   

Pelosi Pic[24]
THE JAM BAND DREAM TEAM: Bob Weir, Jason Colton, Mickey Hart, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Bill Kreutzmann, Warren Haynes, Mike Gordon, Bruce Hornsby, Jonathan Shank & Matt Busch are pictured at Pelosi’s inauguration ceremony Jan. 7, 2007, at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. Courtesy Jonathan Shank

This puts the Grateful Dead in rarefied air as one of the only groups that have endured in pop culture for almost 60 years and continue to deeply influence the touring landscape and redefine marketing for the modern entertainment company.  

One could argue that the band helped spawn what we now refer to as D2C (direct-to-consumer) ticketing via their The Grateful Dead Ticket Service  mail-order system and helped popularize the fan club.  It was a sacred ritual to decorate mail-order requests to San Rafael with immense hope that your miracle would be granted. In return, the band would reward the most faithful with innovative keepsake tickets that were always unique for each show and included holographic foiled skeletons, turtles, and dancing bears.   

Deadheads, via their tape trading practices, were at the forefront of what would become the seeds of social media. Is it a coincidence that The Grateful Dead’s physical origins are just mere blocks from where social media platforms would be created and popularized? The show was always the centerpiece, but there was so much more woven into the layers of community and the band’s real-time relationship with its ever-growing fanbase.   

If that’s not big enough, how about the legions of artists, bands and industry executives borne from the tradition of the Grateful Dead? The musical landscape after Garcia passed was infinite. His passing allowed the popularization of the jam band scene, which gave way to Bonnaroo in 2002. Many Deadheads started to engage with Phish, while others gravitated to Dave Matthews Band, Widespread Panic, The String Cheese Incident, The Disco Biscuits or the burgeoning Jam-tronica scene. All were GD inspired and each met the core jam band criteria — varied setlists, improvisation, fun covers and epic jamming. It was those core elements that laid the way for 75,000 people to come to Bonnaroo in 2002 with very little marketing, just a promise that our scene would be flourishing.   

As the Dead toured in ’03, ’04 and ’09, everyone was reminded of their roots, but it was in 2015 that “Fare Thee Well” took the scene by storm and elevated the band’s legacy once again. Mickey Hart imparted to the masses to take this positive feeling and do something with it, and indeed we did.  

Jonathan Shank and Mickey Hart
JONATHAN SHANK is the CEO of Terrapin Station Entertainment (, a Sony Music Masterworks Company. Its productions include “The Bob Marley One Love Experience,” “Disney Junior Live Franchise” and “Deal or No Deal Live” among others. The Terrapin Station Sports Division represents 16 stadiums nationwide.

Since that record-breaking weekend at Soldier Field in 2015, the band’s legacy and ubiquity have only increased with sold out tours by Dead & Company and various offshoots, numerous consumer product offerings, and biopics in development. New GD influenced artists have blossomed into headliners like Goose and mega-talent Billy Strings, who I’m convinced would have been Jerry’s favorite artist. Can you imagine the Pizza Tapes with Garcia, Rice, Grisman and Strings? 

GD imagery and lyric references are blotted throughout society and found in every nook and cranny of the globe. The inspiration continues to move many brightly and led some of most dedicated to name their children, pets and companies (like Terrapin Station Ent.) after their favorite song or band member.

The band’s impact on my life, extending back to my very first show on June 15, 1992, at Giant Stadium, is surreal both personally and professionally. I had the privilege of meeting Mickey Hart at the Azoff Music office in 2004 and would go on to work with him and other members of the band for the next five years, including producing GD events for the Obama campaign and Nancy Pelosi’s inauguration as Speaker of the House.   

During my time, members of the band collaborated with everyone from Wyclef Jean to Tommy Lee to Ludacris highlighting the breadth of artists and genres who were touched by the Grateful Dead and the hundreds of musicians with whom they have shared the stage over the past five-plus decades. The spirit of collaboration has always been at the root of the Grateful Dead and that tradition continues with a recent Dead & Company sit-in by Dave Matthews.

Quantifying the Dead’s impact is now the subject of college courses at universities. They ultimately created an emotional connection with legions of people which continues to grow to this day. I recently went back and watched a bootleg video of that final version of “Morning Dew” from The Knick in ’95, which was likely recorded on a VHS camcorder snuck in underneath a wheelchair, to reaffirm the memory of Jerry’s energetic performance that night and unlikely final lyrical coda. We were all “going down the road feeling bad” on “the ship of fools” after Jerry passed and wondering how the band’s legacy would endure. After almost three decades, it is resoundingly clear that it DOES matter anyway.