New York City Deadheads exchanged their tie-dyed shirts and electric kool-aid for suits, ties and wine glasses on Wednesday night as the New York Historical Society hosted a benefit gala for an upcoming exhibit honoring the history and legacy of the Grateful Dead. Approximately 300 donors munched on hors d’oeuvres while enjoying a first look at some of the items that will be featured in “The Grateful Dead: Now Playing at the New York Historical Society,” a one-of-a-kind tribute that opens March 5th, 2010, and runs through July 4th, 2010.
The exhibit features iconic memorabilia including original artwork, photographs, backstage passes, hand-decorated fan mail, and much more from the band’s career, which spans almost 50 years. Most of the items will be on loan from the recently opened Grateful Dead Archive, a special collection at the University of California Santa Cruz that houses thousands of pieces of memorabilia, each of which serves as what the Archive calls “evidence of the creative activity and integrity of the music of the Grateful Dead and the influence the band has had on contemporary social structure and music history.”
Guests of honor Phil Lesh and Bob Weir were in attendance on Wednesday, signing a few autographs and posing for pictures before taking the tiny stage and delivering brief remarks to the assembled crowd. “Who knew we would ever be historic?” Lesh said with a wry smile before introducing “his brother and best friend” Weir, who came to the stage with guitar in hand.
Although the historical society, with its stained-glass windows, shelves of books, and paintings hanging from the walls, may have seemed like an odd place for a rock concert, Lesh and Weir laughed off the odd situation with their usual laid-back aplomb. Framed by two gigantic Greek columns, Lesh picked up his bass as he and Weir led a backing band through a performance of Bob Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece” with Weir on lead vocals —an appropriate choice given the masterpieces hanging from the walls around them.
A driving “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” with Lesh and Weir trading vocal lines closed the evening’s short performance — yet another stop on the band’s long, strange trip to legitimacy that has taken them from San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury hippie hotbed to their current status as a veritable American institution.
The Empire State Building even lent itself to the festivities, as its upper levels were lit with a multicolor tribute to the band’s psychedelic roots this past Monday. As the group nears its golden anniversary (the band formed in 1965), Lesh, 69, and Weir, 62, are showing no signs of letting the music ever stop, as the two have reunited as part of a new group, Furthur, that also features Jay Lane and Jeff Chimenti of Weir’s own Ratdog, Joe Russo of the Benevento/Russo Duo, and John Kadlecik of Grateful Dead tribute band Dark Star Orchestra and will play its first East Coast dates in December.