Grateful Dead fans, perhaps rock's most dedicated bunch, are taking a stand against the band they love. Until recently, Deadheads could download countless live recordings of the band for free from third-party sites, including the popular Live Music Archive (archive.org), which once hosted nearly 3,000 Grateful Dead shows. All of the downloads were pulled last week at the request of Grateful Dead Merchandising (GDM), the group that handles official products for the band and is overseen by its surviving members.
Deadheads have answered in protest. In an online petition, fans have pledged to boycott GDM -- including CDs and concert tickets -- until the decision is reversed. (The band itself broke up in the wake of leader Jerry Garcia's 1995 death, but in recent years guitarist Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh and drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann have toured simply as "the Dead.")
GDM recently began selling live music downloads through its online store. The sudden lockdown could be a simple non-compete strike, or it could foreshadow a long-rumored deal with iTunes that will make the entire Grateful Dead live vault available for purchase.
Fans were incensed that the policy change applies not only to official soundboards but audience recordings as well. Throughout their four-decade career, the Grateful Dead actively encouraged fans to trade live recordings and even designated a special "taper's section" at the concerts. In return, Deadheads largely respected the band's wishes that the concert recordings weren't sold for profit.
The petition states: "Now it appears doing the right thing, for the fans, has given way to greed . . . We've lost all respect for this organization . . . We refuse to support any aspect of GDM until we see change." The petition has already picked up thousands of signatures. A kindler, gentler petition is also circulating, with nearly an additional thousand signatures.
On his blog, David Gans -- host of the syndicated radio show Grateful Dead Hour, which has drawn on the Live Music Archive for its broadcasts -- criticized the petition: "The howling has begun, and the sense of entitlement that has always concerned me is in full flower." Countering claims that the Dead are doing this to maintain "champagne-and-Porsche lifestyles," Gans mentioned that Grateful Dead Productions, the band's business wing, was recently forced to downsize. Meanwhile, fans are still permitted to trade shows, and Live Music Archive is developing a special section for streaming thousands of the band's audience recordings. "I think it's worthwhile to ask ourselves if there isn't some greed on the other side of the equation," wrote Gans, pointing to the fans.
An official statement from the Grateful Dead camp is expected in the next few days. In the meantime, longtime band publicist and spokesperson, Dennis McNally, told Rolling Stone that he thinks "David Gans' comments were dead -- you'll pardon the expression -- on."