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Looking for a Miracle: Modern-Day Deadheads in San Francisco

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When Don Henley sang about seeing a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac in his 1984 hit “The Boys of Summer,” it signaled the very real shifting demographic of former Grateful Dead fans. Today, that’s especially true in the Bay Area, where Lexus-driving Marinites and Silicon Valley millionaires alike claim the band as inspiration.

And yet the band’s idealistic, nomadic base endures. In a two-night stand billed as “Dead & Company” at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, KQED Arts talked with diehard fans who gathered before the show — some looking for the elusive “miracle ticket,” some sending good things out into the universe in hopes for karmic return, and all still believing in the core spirit of community and love.

The year 2015 marked the 50th Anniversary for the band, which helped define the Haight-Ashbury era of San Francisco with its free street concerts and notorious acid tests. Pioneers of both concert audio and live taping, the Dead were also the first major jam band, attracting throngs of traveling fans for whom the parking lot scene outside concerts was sometimes just as important as the music itself.

Clearly, that scene remains active. After the band’s much-publicized 50th Anniversary “Fare Thee Well” concerts in the summertime of 2015, a truncated version of the band, titled Dead & Company, announced shows on both the East and West Coast. At the Civic Center in San Francisco, telltale fingers held in the air indicated those fans seeking a free ticket and often receiving one — something near-unfathomable in the profitable new scalping economy, but a holdover from another time, another mindset, even, that still survives. — Gabe Meline

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