Back in the early 1990s a friend got a job at a family-owned company in central Indiana. The proprietors were what were then Republicans: law and order, respect for authority, business-first. And when my friend moved into his office, he put a framed black-and-white photo of the Grateful Dead on the wall. If he hadn’t been so valued, he would have been summarily dismissed for some trumped up reason. Although the proprietors had no idea of who was in the photo, the members of the band were clearly anathema to what they stood for.
But arguably, those Hoosiers were wrong.
The Grateful Dead was one of the—if not the—hardest working bands in show business (which is not to take away anything from James Brown, the Hardest Working Man in Show Business (“Jus’ watch me now!”)).
The Dead performed 2,318 concerts between their establishment in 1965 and disbanding in 1995 (a month before Jerry Garcia died).
The average length of a concert was three hours.
That means they spent approximately 290 days—24-hour days—on stage. Jerry Garcia’s “The live show is still our main thing” is something of a huge understatement.
And his “You don’t want to be the best at what you do, you want to be the only one” is something that is completely overlooked in a period when there are literal teams of songwriters and producers crafting cuts that will have high levels of familiarity and low quantities of difference so as to be able to move as much merchandise—musical and otherwise—as possible.