The Grateful Dead are one of San Francisco's most enduring cultural legacies. The outfit rose to prominence as the house band for Ken Kesey's LSD-fueled "acid tests," where its extended psychedelic rock jams helped launch the counterculture of the 1960s. But the band thrived long after the Summer of Love, thanks to legions of extremely loyal fans. Dubbed "deadheads," Dead fans were famous for following the band on its constant tours, and for creating a festival-like atmosphere in the show's lawns and parking lots. Deadheads created their own autonomous community long before the D.I.Y. ethics of Burning Man hit the mainstream -- their constant travels were funded by an underground economy where members made and sold items like tie-dyed shirts, stickers, veggie burritos, and LSD.
And while "shakedown street," the whirling frenzy of the "spinners," and the nightly tradition of drums and space may have passed from this world with Jerry Garcia's death in 1995, those memories live on in San Francisco. With what would've been Garcia's 71st birthday coming up this Thursday, Aug. 1 (and the 18th anniversary of his death on Aug. 9), locals including his former bandmates and the San Francisco Giants have something special planned. Here's a guide to the festivities.
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 1 and Friday, Aug. 2. $30-$75
Warren Haynes and the S.F. Symphony are teaming up to bring Jerry Garcia's music to Davies Symphony Hall. Performing on a tour that collaborates with local symphonies is a departure for Haynes, whose better known for his work with the Allman Brothers Band and Gov't Mule.
"The biggest difference is that everything I've been a part of has been flexible -- things you can change on a moment's notice," he says. "Working with a symphony you can't do that."
The symphonic part of the show is based on Garcia's original compositions, Hayne's interpretations of them, and live Grateful Dead recordings. To keep the feel of a Dead show, the setlist will be different each night, and at times the symphony will drop out to let the band jam. Haynes said to expect "a staple of Grateful Dead classics," and that things usually get started with "Dark Star" into "Bird Song."
"It was important to me to keep that improvisation because it was such a big part of Jerry Garcia's music," Haynes says.
The timing of the San Francisco show is no accident. "I'm hoping to make a very special occasion for Jerry's birthday. I know there will be a lot of friends and family there," he says.
7:15 p.m. Monday, August 5. $33-$200
This is one of the Giants' best community nights. Former members of the Grateful Dead are invited to perform in the pre-show and to do the traditional rendition of the National Anthem. Proceeds from the event are donated to nonprofits chosen by the band, and all special event ticket holders receive a collectible Uncle Sam Grateful Dead Bobblehead. There is also a VIP package that includes access to the Triples Alley premium space, a custom produced Grateful Dead/Giants print, and a performance by Moonalice.
11:30 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 4. Free-$100
The Excelsior celebrates its most famous native son each year with a free concert. Held in the appropriately titled Jerry Garcia Amphitheatre in McLaren Park, this year's show will be headlined by Melvin Seals and JGB. Seals knows Garcia's music well. He played with the Jerry Garcia Band for 15 years, and wholeheartedly endorses Jerry Day. "This is one of the most authentic Jerry festivals around," he says. "His vibe and spirit surround this festival."
8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 1. $30-$35
On the tour to support his new album Superorganism, former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart will do something both intellectual and psychedelic -- he will play the sounds of his brain.
"My brain wave signals are re-imagined in sound using a cap with electrodes that can read the throbs and signals of the brain," Hart says. The show will also display Hart's signature sound of psychedelic world music, and he'll be joined by Grammy-winning percussionist and longtime bandmate Sikiru Adepoju.
The tour opener in Healdsburg is about an hour and a half north of San Francisco, but if there's ever been a good time for a road trip, it's Garcia's birthday. Readers who don't feel like "trucking" to Healdsburg don't have to worry though. Hart will play at the Grateful Dead's former stomping ground The Fillmore on Sept. 6.
Sunshine Daydream at Century 9 and Cinearts
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 1. $10.50-$12.50
Fathom Events' 3rd Annual Grateful Dead Meet Up at the Movies looks to be its best so far. They're showing the previously unreleased (at least officially) film version of the Grateful Dead's famed 1972 performance in Veneta, Oregon. The concert was a benefit for the struggling Springfield Creamery, which was owned by Ken Kesey's brother. The weather was unusually hot that day, but the show is considered one of the finest the Grateful Dead ever played.
See a sample of the film here (warning: naked people and hula hoops):