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Dead Symphony

August 6, 2009

When it comes to developing close ties with audiences, few bands in the history of rock music have garnered a fan base as strident as the Grateful Dead.

"The standard musician-audience relationship doesn't exist in a Grateful Dead show," says longtime Grateful Dead publicist Dennis McNally, who will be speaking at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music this weekend after a performance of Dead Symphony no. 6, Lee Johnson's composition based on 10 of the Dead's songs.

Members of the band were very open to all sorts of musical styles and educated their fans to listen to long, spiraling improvisations that merged genres as diverse as rock, folk, blues, reggae, gospel, bluegrass, psychedelic rock, jazz and country. But serious fans -- the Deadheads -- have not always been so flexible. In fact, when it comes to other musicians interpreting the Dead's music or even appearing in concert alongside the band, the Deadheads can sometimes be puritanical.

David Gans, host of the nationally syndicated Grateful Dead Hour radio show who attended a performance of Dead Symphony no. 6 by the California Symphony earlier this year, said: "The audience was very nicely divided between Deadheads and regular California Symphony subscribers. The music director's intention was to bring these two audiences together. The Dead themselves and their audience members were known for being open-minded and trying new things. however, there is a certain kind of dogma in the Dead world - the fans are fiercely protective of the music as they understand it. They are hostile to irrelevant interpretations. Hence, the people who didn't want to hear about Johnson's symphony didn't show up to the concert."

Read my LA Times story about the symphony here. This blog post can also be found on the LA Times' website, here.


  • I simply love the Grateful Dead. Period. I happen to be a deadhead that still makes tie dyes and still goes to a ton of shows. I love all of the "offshoots" of the Dead in their many numerous and colorful forms. Wish I could have been there. Peace always.

    By Anonymous james bryant, At August 25, 2010 at 11:55 AM  

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