As babies born the year after The Grateful Dead’s last show start turning 25, the band is still inspiring a counter-culture that’s as vibrant now as it was in the 1970s. But what is it about the Dead that’s kept them relevant for so long?
One key is the cult following they built. As Brooklyn Vegan points out, their fanbase was incredibly loyal, and even though they never got much mainstream popularity or recognition from high-award-giving bodies, they were able to turn each of their live shows into an experience that brought thousands upon thousands of people together.
Another key is the band’s ethos of community and generosity. They encouraged fans to record their concerts and share them with other members of the community, resulting in a massive archive of high-quality recordings that continues to grow today (every show has been reissued multiple times and is available on streaming services). Unlike modern bands that depend on digital files to sell music, the Dead’s approach allowed them to build a relationship with their audience that couldn’t be replicated online.
The Grateful Dead also flipped traditional American iconography on its head, creating an alternative for their audiences in which red, white, and blue didn’t have to mean wars, money, and greed — but instead could stand for peace, love, and music. By making those values central to their message, the Dead created an alternative culture that has survived and thrived over time.