Since 1965, the Grateful Dead have been responsible for a few very important things: music, art, and culture. All three of these are represented in the timeless concert posters that have been created over the years to advertise the band’s live appearances. The Dead toured for 30 years, playing over 2,300 shows. Here’s a look at why the band’s art is so prevalent and collectible.
What Makes The Grateful Dead’s Art So Unique
A large portion of the Grateful Dead’s early concert posters were designed by the “big five” artists of the psychedelic era: Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley, Rick Griffin, Wes Wilson, and Victor Moscoso. These artists are responsible for creating much of the iconic imagery associated with the band. One such image is the famous Skull and Roses, designed by Mouse and Kelley. This image has been associated with the band since it was created in 1967. It serves as one of their logos.
Since the band has a long history of touring, poster art evolved alongside them. Most bands in the psychedelic era did not last nearly as long, so their poster history is somewhat limited. However, countless artists have had the opportunity to visually represent the Grateful Dead and tell their story. They are perhaps the only band who’s history is visually represented through concert art.
The Culture of the Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead’s fans are as culturally relevant as the music itself. The concert poster market today could not thrive the way it does without the influence of the “deadhead” community. The band’s rabid fan base loves to collect memorabilia. Thus, they were more likely to save posters designed as advertisements, and are more likely to buy posters created as merchandise. It’s rare to find a Grateful Dead fan today who does not have a poster on their wall.
The band represented the rise of a new alternative, creative community. Poster art was simply another outlet for this creativity to shine. Through the posters of the Grateful Dead, we gain insight into the hippie culture of the 1960s, and how it continued through the decades. These posters tell the story of a band and a period in time.
Beyond the 20th Century
Most bands from the psychedelic ’60s don’t still make music today. The Grateful Dead are an exception. Although Jerry Garcia died in 1995 ending the Grateful Dead as they were originally known, members of the band went on to continue playing their music. These offshoots of the Dead including Phil Lesh and Friends, Further, and most recently Dead & Company, have generated even more collectible posters. Posters sold as merchandise from the 2015 Fare Thee Well reunion shows featuring the band’s living members are currently being resold for hundreds of dollars.
It goes without saying that The Grateful Dead are the most important band in the history of concert art. They are seen as synonymous with the psychedelic style. Fans will continue to buy their posters. Their impact on culture is worth celebrating. Without a doubt, Grateful Dead posters will hang on the walls of fans for decades to come.