When it comes to the Grateful Dead, most people think of tie-dye, psychedelic guitar licks, and drug use. However, when frontman Jerry Garcia died, a drug once a mainstay for Deadheads quickly fell out of fashion. Here’s how:
The Grateful Dead’s musical and cultural influence
The Grateful Dead was formed in 1965 in California and was made up of members Garcia (lead guitar and vocals), Bob Weir (rhythm guitar and vocals), Ron “Pigpen” McKernan (keyboards, harmonica, and vocals), Phil Lesh (bass and vocals), and Bill Kreutzmann (drums).
Their musical style blended rock, country, jazz, blues, and folk, and the unique sound made them fans worldwide. The Grateful Dead’s hits include tracks like “Friend of the Devil,” “Casey Jones,” and “Touch of Grey.”
In addition to their musical impact, the Dead’s style changed popular culture. The band’s logos, such as a skull, roses, and a line of dancing bears, have become ubiquitous on t-shirts and tote bags. Their fans (known as Deadheads) also popularized the concept of following a band on tour across the country.
How the Grateful Dead promoted LSD use
Something else the band popularized? Drug use. Most attendees of Grateful Dead shows used either marijuana or LSD. This harkens back to the band’s early days when they played for Ken Kesey’s “acid tests.”
Kesey was a popular countercultural figure who promoted and popularized the use of LSD among hippies and other young people. His “acid tests” were parties where attendees would take acid as multimedia performances went on around them, including the Grateful Dead.
Why the LSD trade suffered after Jerry Garcia’s death
However, after Garcia died in 1995, LSD use started to slow down. One DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) agent attended many Grateful Dead shows and discovered that, without the band to bring dealers and buyers together, LSD sales dropped.
“Phish picked up part of the Dead’s fan base — and presumably vestiges of the LSD delivery system,” Slate reported. “At the end of 2000, Phish stopped touring as well, and perhaps not coincidentally, [reported LSD use] began to plummet.”
These days, drugs are still frequently used at concerts. According to the National Library of Medicine, instead of LSD, many take substances like MDMA, ketamine, and marijuana. While drug use at live shows is still prevalent, few bands are as linked to drug use as the Grateful Dead was.
Is the Grateful Dead still touring?
Garcia died in 1995 of a heart attack after a long struggle with health issues like drug addiction, weight problems, and diabetes, all of which contributed to his heart attack.
After Garcia’s death, the band started to play concerts again, but it’s unknown if LSD use went back up. The Grateful Dead are about to embark on what they’re calling their final tour, which will kick off in LA in May and conclude in San Francisco in July.