by Russell S. Glowatz
So with my second blog post on this page, Dear Youngins: A Message To Post-Jerry Deadheads, I went viral. Well, as viral as one can go within the online Dead community. Through this unexpected experience, and also through the excellent tracking tools WordPress provides for bloggers, I had a long-held suspicion confirmed. A suspicion that many of you likely have: that we are EVERYWHERE.
Grateful Dead is a uniquely American band. Everything about the members, songwriters, music, lyrics, and past shows, oozes something that is particularly American. Due to this, and the fact that the band only seldom toured outside the States and Canada, most Deadheads are American. Yet a dedicated Deadhead Diaspora has emerged outside of North America as well, intricately connected to the band and the community by an appreciation for the songs, transcendent jams, ideals, and spirituality that the Grateful Dead phenomenon has to offer.
A diaspora is a group of people with a commonly held cultural identity that, for whatever reason, are settled far from their ancestral homeland. The world Jewish population became a diaspora community with their initial expulsion from the Kingdom of Judah (present day Israel) during the Babylonian Captivity. Many people from war-torn countries that have become refugees make up diasporas of their own, such as the Ugandan Diaspora. The Tibetan Diaspora emerged as China occupied Tibet and the 14th and current Dalai Lama made a pilgrimage from his homeland, with many followers, in order to escape the aggression of their occupiers in the late 1950’s. As Deadheads, our circumstance is a little different. We weren’t personally expelled from our homeland, nor were our genetic ancestors (unless you happen to be a part of another diaspora community as well), yet I contend that members of the Grateful Dead and their extended family were expelled from their home when the scene in the Haight District became untenable after the influx of aspiring “hippies” during the “Summer of Love” in 1967. While no longer in existence, the Haight district of the mid-sixties embodied the utopian ideals that many Deadheads hold near and dear. As Deadheads, this is our ancestral homeland.
This deterioration of the Haight-Ashbury scene, and the increased popularity of the band throughout the greater San Francisco area, and the country as a whole, encouraged the first out-of-state touring for the Grateful Dead. Their first East Coast tour was during the summer of 1967, where the Dead found themselves playing a show in New York City, and then at SUNY Stony Brook campus out on eastern Long Island. These shows encouraged enterprising folks who liked what they heard to promote shows for the Dead on Long Island and throughout New York in the years to come. What emerged was the first diaspora community, composed of New York Deadheads. The New York Deadhead community remains an essential part of the Deadhead Diaspora, evidenced by Phil Lesh’s choice to play residencies at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, NY, since he’s retired from touring. I go into greater detail of how this went down in another piece I wrote, which I link here. As the Dead toured North America, what happened in New York transpired for other regions and what I coined as the Grateful Dead Diaspora truly emerged by the end of the seventies, as Deadheads from across the continent identified commonly with the band and their ideals.
Now the emergence of a worldwide Deadhead population couldn’t have only been spurred by touring, since the band toured outside the country merely a few times during their career. Despite that, through taper networks, the selling of studio albums, and Deadheads’ early adoption of the internet, there is a healthy GD community outside the bounds of North America. While many of these are certainly American expatriates, I am certain many of them are not. To use one country as an example…a country that has an inclination towards American music possibly due to the United States post-WWII occupation and continued presence therein, that based on my stats happens to have the largest international Deadhead Diaspora community (outside of Canada), here are three photos involving two Japanese Deadheads…
Exhibit A, a photo of a Japanese Deadhead holding up her sign looking for a miracle ticket at the Fare Thee Well shows in Chicago.
Exhibit B, a poster made by an enterprising Japanese Deadhead named Miki Saito.
Exhibit C, a letter from Miki Saito to the band.
Source: Saito, Miki, “Japan Deadheads poster with letter,” Grateful Dead Archive Online, accessed July 10, 2015, http://www.gdao.org/items/show/825781.
Also emanating the vibrant nature of the Japan Deadhead community is Exhibit D, Japan’s premier Grateful Dead cover band. Here is a link to an article, on Jambands.com, showing Joe Russo performing with Warlocks of Tokyo in 2014. Please click the link for set list information. If I ever venture to Tokyo, I will surely check this group out…they can noodle and jam with the best of ’em, and absolutely capture the vibe in their music.
Back to the present day, and my widely dispersed blog post (I don’t mention this to boast, but to show definitive evidence of our presence amongst the people of the world). WordPress allows bloggers to see where their posts are being read, and what I’ve confirmed is that we are on every continent on Earth (excluding Antarctica, although I’d bet a miracle ticket that there is a Deadhead or two amongst the hundreds of folks currently wintering in that frozen tundra). Here is a list of countries and territories confirmed to have Deadheads currently living within their borders (in order, from the most Deadheads reading in each country, to the least):
United States, Canada, Japan, United Kingdom, Israel, Germany, Brazil, Australia, India, Spain, Italy, Mexico, France, New Zealand, Netherlands, South Korea, Thailand, Sweden, Ireland, Austria, US Virgin Islands, Denmark, Norway, Costa Rica, Philippines, Belgium, Portugal, Russia, Finland, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Slovenia, Taiwan, Singapore, Argentina, Romania, Colombia, Vietnam, Bahamas, Anguilla, United Arab Emirates, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Cambodia, Jordan, Hungary, Jamaica, Nigeria, Rwanda, Peru, Chile, Ghana, Andorra, Antigua & Barbuda, Indonesia, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Grenada, Fiji, Guam, Qatar, Tanzania, Poland, Aland Islands, Nepal, Malaysia
Now I decided not to list the individual numbers of Deadheads in each country and territory because these stats are not scientific in the least. They do prove Deadheads live in each country listed, but only the ones that read my blog, and more certainly exist. Some of these sectors of the Deadhead Diaspora appear to be extremely small, yet once again their existence proves that we are here, there, and EVERYWHERE.
We are a worldwide scattered community consisting of people who all share a commonly held identity based around the Grateful Dead, and more importantly the Deadhead community as a whole. Within our Deadhead subculture certainly exists diversity; diversity in nationality, religion, and opinion. Show me two Deadheads, and they will give you fifteen differing opinions. We are a very opinionated bunch! Yet our disagreements exist due to our strongly held convictions about the band, community, collective history, spirituality, ideals, and culture we have in part created, advanced, and consistently been a component of throughout our developed lives. Some of us are more dedicated than others, but each of us identifies with our reciprocal symbols, knowing that we are far from alone on this “bright blue ball just spinning, spinning free.”
© Watts Glow Grateful Productions, 2015
For a more detailed look into the emergence of the Grateful Dead Diaspora, and how we resemble a religious community, go check out Unconventional Church: The Emergence of the Grateful Dead Diaspora.