Take a Long, Strange Trip and Stream a 346-Hour Chronological Playlist of Live Grateful Dead Performances (1966–1995)

I am not a Dead­head nor an expert on the Grate­ful Dead, by any means. I am an occa­sion­al lis­ten­er and, one might say, occa­sion­al enthu­si­ast of Dead­head cul­ture, in that I find it equal parts mys­ti­fy­ing and fas­ci­nat­ing. I men­tion all these qual­i­fiers ful­ly aware that thou­sands upon thou­sands of ded­i­cat­ed fans have spent life­times lis­ten­ing to, fol­low­ing, and tap­ing the Dead. It is pos­si­ble that those peo­ple have absolute­ly no need of what fol­lows below, a chrono­log­i­cal playlist of 346 hours of live Grate­ful Dead, track­ing the band’s career on stage after stage, from their very begin­nings in 1966 with the tal­ent­ed and trag­ic Pig­pen to their trag­ic end with the death of Jer­ry Gar­cia in 1995.

Com­pletists may scoff and quibble—I can’t tell what’s miss­ing here. I speak for those who kind of get it and kind of don’t—somewhere between peo­ple “who believe that the Dead only ever stum­bled,” as Nick Paum­garten writes at The New York­er, and those who “believe that they only ever soared.” Some­times, maybe a lot of times, the Grate­ful Dead just sound­ed awful, and I dare any­one to prove oth­er­wise. But the same could be said of a lot of great bands, who have all had far less longevi­ty and pro­fi­cien­cy.

And so much depends on the qual­i­ty of the record­ing, to be fair, not a giv­en in most Dead tapes. Then there’s the “copi­ous drug use, an aver­sion to rehearsal, and a gen­uine anar­chic streak.” But when they were in phase and in time, and some­times even when they weren’t, they could be “glo­ri­ous”:

The chance at musi­cal tran­scen­dence amid a ten­den­cy toward some­thing less—was what kept us com­ing back. This argu­ment is a lit­tle like the East Coaster’s on behalf of his weath­er: the nice days are nicer when there are crap­py ones in between.

Writ­ing, he says, as an “apol­o­gist,” Paum­garten claims that the Dead’s ups and downs were large­ly the result of their most tal­ent­ed and “charis­mat­ic fig­ure” Jer­ry Garcia’s errat­ic per­for­mances. “When he had a bad night, you knew it. The oth­ers, when they were off, could sort of hide.” When he was on, his “iri­des­cent gui­tar leads” were trans­port­ing (check out his effort­less coun­try licks at the top in “Big Riv­er”). But his strength waned, and the band lost much of its ener­gy in lat­er years.

Anoth­er Dead fan, Marc Wein­garten, writes at Slate in praise of the “famous­ly var­ied… archi­tec­ture of band leader Jer­ry Garcia’s fre­quent­ly tran­scen­dent gui­tar work,” and blames not Gar­ci­a’s decline for the band’s decline in gen­er­al but, you prob­a­bly guessed it, Dead­head fans, who har­bor an “a pri­ori assump­tion… that Dead shows were always mag­ic and that the mag­ic could be rou­tine­ly sum­moned on a night­ly basis.”

Per­haps unfair. Some­times fans could make a bad show mag­i­cal… ish. And it’s impos­si­ble to imag­ine the Grate­ful Dead with­out their rabid fan­base, who cru­cial­ly allowed the band to grow, expand, and exper­i­ment, always assured of a packed house. But a large part of the Dead’s appeal, to casu­al fans, at least, is that they were only human. Dudes you could total­ly get high with (on the pow­er of music!). That’s right, I’ll say it, take a long strange trip. Come back in 346 hours and tell us what you found.

Stream the “Grate­ful Dead Full Live Chronol­o­gy” playlist above, or find it on Spo­ti­fy here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

11,215 Free Grate­ful Dead Con­cert Record­ings in the Inter­net Archive

When Jazz Leg­end Ornette Cole­man Joined the Grate­ful Dead Onstage for Some Epic Impro­vi­sa­tion­al Jams: Hear a 1993 Record­ing

The Grate­ful Dead’s “Ulti­mate Boot­leg” Now Online & Added to the Library of Con­gress’ Nation­al Record­ing Reg­istry

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (5)
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  • Fred says:

    About 100 hours of that playlist is them tun­ing their instru­ments :)

  • David Hetz says:

    A song is like an aroma,always brings a mem­o­ry to the present. Thanks for all the hours of research.The music nev­ers stop.

  • Claudia c says:

    Is this avail­able on Ama­zon Music?

  • Sean says:

    There’s a pro­found quote about the band that I’ve seen attrib­uted to Jer­ry Gar­cia in the past, though I have to admit I don’t know if he real­ly said it.

    It goes, “the Grate­ful Dead is a lot like black licorice. Not every­body likes black licorice. But the peo­ple who do LOVE black licorice.”

    There’s anoth­er quote that comes to mind, but I can’t remem­ber who said it. It goes some­thing like, “the Grate­ful Dead were sort of like a base­ball team. Some nights they had too many hits, some nights they struck out many times. And some nights you got to see some­thing real­ly spe­cial. The peo­ple that came back night after night were the peo­ple look­ing for those spe­cial moments.”

    That’s how I feel about the live cat­a­logue. They were unique in that they put them­selves out there, night after night, 200+ a year, with a flu­id setlist and freeform jams that sort of defied any type of plan. There aren’t many bands that do that, rel­a­tive­ly speak­ing, even few­er that are suc­cess­ful, and few­er still that are tour­ing jug­ger­nauts.

    Whether the music is some­one’s cup of tea or not, I cringe when some­one says they suck. That song may suck, or that night, or that tour, but they could just as eas­i­ly find their fast­ball the next night and kill it.

    That’s why you could­n’t miss a show, right?

  • Robert Austin says:

    I was one that went years on and off with the boys From 1972 until present.When they were on they were on and some nights they stunk it up!, But It was a long stage trip, One that mold­ed me into the per­son that I’ve become. I lis­ten to music80 % of my wak­ing hours and75% it’s the Dead. All I can say it always improves my mood. And at the ripe old age of60 I’m still going down the road felling bad!!

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