On March 5th, New York City’s oldest museum will open its doors to the first large-scale exhibition of materials from the Grateful Dead Archive for The Grateful Dead: Now Playing at the New York Historical Society. Although the band formed in California and the Archive itself is located at the University of California Santa Cruz, this exhibit — which runs through July 4th — has come to the Big Apple to celebrate the band’s special relationship to the city. At a preview yesterday, the museum’s CEO Louise Mirrer explained, “The Grateful Dead first played New York in 1967 at the Cafe Au Go Go and Central Park and continued to play concerts in New York City every year from the late 1970s up until 1995.”
Test pressings, album covers, backstage passes, guest lists, performance contract riders and band merchandise are all featured in the show, along with decorated ticket lottery envelopes, fan surveys, letters, and Dick Latvala’s (the Dead’s tape archivist) own notebooks and original tape boxes. Other items of interest include sketches, budgets, and equipment lists for the Wall of Sound and marionette skeletons of Jerry Garcia, Bill Kruetzman, and Brent Mydland used in the band’s 1987 “Touch of Grey” video. While most of the items were loaned from the Grateful Dead Archive in Santa Cruz, a few came directly from band members and private collectors. Jerry Garcia’s custom made Rosebud guitar, which he used throughout the Nineties until his death, is on loan from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The exhibit also features a variety of concert posters designed by artist Dennis Larkins. Larkins, a former stage designer for Bill Graham Presents, was asked by Graham himself to make a poster for the band’s fall 1980 shows at San Francisco’s Warfield Theater in just four days. The resulting poster, which features two giant skeletons resting on the sides of the famous theater, would later go one to be one of the group’s most iconic images. Now a full time artist in California, Larkins admits the exhibit is a bizarre thrill: “I never thought this would be the work [of mine] that would be showcased in a museum.” At an earlier preview of the exhibit last October, the bandmembers shared similar sentiments. “Who knew we would ever be historic?” Phil Lesh said.
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