Thursday, February 02, 2006

A Bump in the Golden Road (to unlimited devotion)

There was a time not so long ago that I was obsessed with the Grateful Dead. Relatively speaking, I got on the bus pretty late in the game, in the late 80’s. By most deadhead’s accounts the band peaked in 1974. What drew me to the music was the combination of rock, blues, folk, country, and jazz with a dash of psychedelia; a rich Mulligan’s stew of American music. I was also attracted by the fanatical devotion of band’s followers, particularly the taping community. The Dead embraced the notion of allowing fans to tape their shows and collect the recordings, wisely understanding that this would only increase their fan base. The Dead could have never foreseen in 1966 that one day in the 21st century all of their concerts would be available at the touch of a button on the Internet. What?

Yes, up until very recently nearly every show the Dead played was available for free download at, including many high quality soundboard recordings and countless audience recordings. The surviving band members recently chose to pull the soundboard recordings from the site, because the downloads were eating into their profits generated by the sale of official live recordings. (The band recently backed off, allowing streaming of the soundboards on computers so the Heads can relive those high times at work. The audience recordings are still available for download).

Now let me put this in perspective. The free exchange of concert recordings really built this fan base. I first heard the wonders of their live performances through the Grateful Dead Hour, a syndicated radio show that broadcast live recordings, among other things. I faithfully recorded these broadcasts weekly until I managed to find other collectors and build a collection of full recordings of shows. Sometimes the quality sucked (5th of 6th generation copies of copies on analog tape) but other times they were pristine. I managed to collect hundreds of shows, many seemingly identical to the uninitiated. Did this stop me from buying official CDs, concert tickets and dancing bear merchandise? Of course not. Pulling the soundboards is a bit like biting the hand that feeds. The people downloading from probably have many of the shows already, and the technology to transfer their own tapes to digital format, so what’s the point?

The band certainly has the right to do whatever they want with their own material. I have no problem with them pulling shows from the web site that they have officially released, and maybe some that are scheduled for release in the near future. But all of the soundboards? The band has said they will never officially release 5-9-77 because “everyone already has it.” (5-9-77 is widely regarded as one of the best GD shows of all time). Yes, we all have it, and if the band officially released it in a deluxe high quality package we’ll all happily shell out for a new copy.

Explaining the decision to pull the soundboards, Bob Weir said, “People see what we put out then go download it. That’s not going to get my kids through college.” Bob, aren’t the Grateful Dead mouse pads, coffee mugs and the rest of your merchandising juggernaut already covering that? Come on, Bob. Don’t you realize that for the most part this hopelessly devoted fanbase is essentially buying the same songs over and over again? What other band that hasn’t toured in 10 years or released new music in 16 years can say that?

Now, in the spirit of the moment, a favorite from a great show at the Alpine Valley Music Theater, East Troy, WI, 8-7-82:

On The Road Again

Like what you hear? Buy the official download of this show from the The Grateful Dead Store

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Anonymous site said...

This won't succeed as a matter of fact, that's exactly what I consider.

9:45 AM  

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