Thursday, December 01, 2005

Overview of Archive Controversy & Short History of GD Trading

By SLC Library Boy:

No two Grateful Dead shows were the same. Not only did the setlists vary from concert to concert, but individual songs were interpreted differently every time played. Since the Dead’s sound and repertoire evolved dramatically over the years, their 30-year concert legacy has produced a diverse body of work that is unparalleled.

Tape Trading

Early in the band’s existence, Stanley “Bear” Owsley began the taping tradition by obsessively recording their concerts. By the time the Grateful Dead first organized a fan club, the value of these recordings was quite apparent. The Dead contemplated creating a system where fans could purchase concert recordings directly from the band. But since this was realistically unfeasible in that era, they began allowing fans to record the concerts themselves. The Grateful Dead allowed trading (and giving) of these tapes as long as no monetary transaction was involved. The practice, nearly unheard of at the time, evolved into a trend-setting taping culture that eventually resulted in a special “taper’s section” at the Grateful Dead concerts. Deadheads built collections by copying tapes from friends, exchanging recordings with long-distance trading partners, and by joining well-organized “trading trees.” Magazines, newsletters, and large reference books grew out of the Deadhead trading community.

When the digital age arrived, finding shows and being able to copy them became exponentially easier. The Grateful Dead’s mp3 policy mirrored their original tape trading policy.

In 2000, a group of dedicated collectors began organizing all known shows in circulation into one complete collection on a single server. This collection became available to the public for free on

Without warning, Archive’s hosting of the shows suddenly ended on November 22nd, 2005. The online reaction by deadhead collectors was immediate and explosive. Little explanation as to the reason(s) for the action led to rampant and often nasty rumors and speculation. At one time or another, every band member was held responsible by upset fans (including one message board poster blaming “Bob Weir’s the Money”). A common target for their anger was Deborah Koons, the already unpopular widow of Jerry Garcia.

Beyond’s original vague statement, the first official word came from Grateful Dead spokesperson Dennis McNally. He told the Associated Press, “When we discovered [the archive], we decided to take a wait-and-see approach. Eventually, it was the band’s conclusion, after a long discussion with them, to request that they change their policies.”

But the confusion was compounded by two negative reactions from the band itself. “You have no idea how sad I am about this. I fought it hammer and tong…This is just the beginning of the backlash, I promise you” wrote John Perry Barlow, a lyricist for the band and, ironically, an advocate of a free and open internet. The next day, Phil Lesh, singer and bass player of the Grateful Dead, told viewers of his website “I was not part of this decision making process and was not notified that the shows were to be pulled. I do feel that the music is the Grateful Dead’s legacy and I hope that one way or another all of it is available for those who want it…We do love and care about our community as you helped us make the music.” He went on to offer some hope by saying “Your concerns have been heard and I am sure are being respectfully addressed.”

Within days, a compromise was found. Audience recordings (those made by fans on their own equipment) will again be available for download. But fans can only listen to Soundboard recordings through streaming technology. It is likely that the new policy will not end the controversy because, even though there is freeware that can rip a broadcast stream to mp3, Deadheads valued the easy access to Soundboard files.


Continuing the practice that Owsley started, the Grateful Dead recorded their concerts until disbanding in 1995. These recordings, called SBD’s (SoundBoarD’s) are reel-to-reel tapes made from the band’s mixing console. They are stored at “the Vault” and organized and maintained by an archivist. Before his death in 1999, archivist Dick Latvala made a name for himself in deadhead circles by choosing what shows would be released in the popular live CD series “Dick’s Picks.” David Lemeiux is the current archivist.
Besides contemplating it in the early 70’s, the Grateful Dead has attempted to offer access to the Vault several other times. Around the turn of the century, there was a plan to build a Grateful Dead museum in San Francisco called Terrapin Station. Among other offerings, the plan included an on-demand listening room with CD burning capabilities. Over the last few years, it has been reported that the Dead were working on a plan where online music distributor Apple's iTunes would host the entire Vault. Neither plan has reached fruition.

Over the years, many of these recordings made their way into the trading community. At one point, a large stash of them called “Betty Boards” (because they were recorded by Betty Cantor-Jackson) was sold to private collectors. Recently, another large batch was found on a houseboat. Though the Grateful Dead’s trading policy referred to “live recordings made by fans,” these SBD’s have always been an important part of any collection. It now appears that the Dead will enforce a policy against downloading SBD’s for the first time ever. Regardless of how this controversy ends, there will be no way the band can stop the trading of these recordings. As Barlow said, “They might as easily put a teaspoon of food coloring in a swimming pool and then tell the pool owner to get it back to them.”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is such a slap in the face to Jerry's memory and to John Perry Barlow, who besides being one of the lyricists for the Dead is a founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization that has fought tooth and nail to keep the internet free and open, created the notion of "creative commons" and helped establish the internet archive.

This is Bob Weir's doing, not Phil Lesh's.
Being that Bob was raised in Atherton, Ca., an enclave for the superrich next to Palo Alto (Larry Ellison lives in Atherton), Bob is just coming home to roost.

Many hippies would like to think that because the Dead made the music that they love, that the Dead are hippies too. That might have been the case for Jerry and Phil (an artist with an honorary PhD from Stanford), but Bob was born with a diamond-encrusted silver spoon up his rectum. Of course, they were all wealthy because of the band, but they were artists first and foremost. I know a few folks that know Bob, including somebody from RatDog, his solo band. Bob Weir is and always was a spoiled rich kid for whom this whole "strange trip" always was about the money. He has the arrogance to match. Of course now that they are taking a hit on concert tickets, they (Bob) are trying to monetize their recordings.

As is, Bob Weir is just milking the last of the Dead legacy dry, and touring with Jerry "sound alikes" as opposed to really moving forward with his music. He could easily live for years on end on the money he has and never feel a pinch or keep on making a name for himself as an artist with current art. He'd rather
rest on his often coked-out (this I say from talking to folks that know) ass and rehash old songs that will never be the same because Jerry isn't alive to give those songs (even Bob's songs) their magic. He just doesn't have the creative juice to be original and relevant anymore, if he ever did. Without Jerry's tutelage, it's not obvious he would have lasted long enough in public memory to have the option of pissing on his fans 30 something years later.

Bob betrayed his fans years ago, and only now they are catching on.

Thursday, December 01, 2005  
Anonymous jonathan said...

Hey anonymous-

Those are some pretty hefty allegations you're throwing around. I know you claim you have sources for them, but aren't you just doing nothing more than slinging mud behind the curtain of anonymity? The war is over, there's no point in rumor-mongering.

Thursday, December 01, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I might like my anonymity, and it's mostly to protect my sources. What what I've said is quite true. And no, the war is not over. All those times I've felt like grabbing one of those soundboards, burning it and listening to it in my car.

What's the difference between getting the disk from a trader? Nothing. This is the world they created, now they get greedy. Bob (and the drummers) just wanted to piss on the fans. Plain and simple.

Friday, December 02, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, I turned on to them when I was 14. It used to be that you would see entire families at shows...3 generations sometimes despite the negative (druggie) elements in the scene.

I'm 40 now. I have a 13 year old now. Nobody that she knows in school know anything about The Grateful Dead except those few that have parents that still like the Dead... and of course, many have moved on.
Many folks my age don't have CD buying on thier list of priorities like they might have when they were young.

So at this point, when and if they buy a Dead CD over something like John Mayer or something else current their kids will like too or whatever, it is a function of returning the good will of the joy the Dead brought them back in the day. They drop the cash even if they know there's bootleg soundboards out there, even if they have bootlegs themselves. They drop the cash exactly because they know the Dead are so cool as to allow their shows to be online for free. It's all about good will at this point. A Dead CD is no longer a "must have" item. They spend the money because you still support the idea of them.

The Dead lost the good will by doing this... and you can still find soundboards easy enough in other places. By losing the good will, they are nothing now. The magic has left and they are no longer special beyond the nostalgia value.

If the members of the band can't see this function they have always played and now it's all about money it's because they are as out of touch as George Bush at a NAACP dinner. Yeah, and Bob has just become that pathetic aging rock guy whose addictions cloud him from seeing that he's no long relevant and has become nothing more than a bad cliche. Worse yet, I know that his personal wealth finds him with too many sycophants in his circle to tell him otherwise.

So have another line Bob, and pay people to tell you that you still matter and still are special because of some originality you had in your youth. You are just as ordinary as the next guy now. Quite pathetic indeed.

Friday, December 02, 2005  
Blogger xian said...

To the first anonymous, the Dead fan world has always been full of rumormongers trading on half-truths and "I'm protecting my sources." I don't make saints of the musicians in the band but I hold the tales of anonymous whisperers in contempt. (I will grant that the line about the diamond-encrusted spoon was amusing.)

To our host: Hey, I'm pretty sure it's Owsley Stanley, not Stanley Owsley, or - in full - Augustus Owsley Stanley (III or IV or something like that). You're a librarian, right? You can probably track down his exact moniker.

Great summary of the story.

Saturday, December 03, 2005  
Blogger Justin F. Farrar said...


You have an insanely informative blog! My name is Justin Farrar, and I am writing a piece on YouTube for the East Bay Express (Bay Area, CA), and I am trying to find out if the Dead have an official policy on YouTube where one can find broadcast streaming footage of old Dead shows and old television spots. Also, what is the group's policy on videotaping/trading video tapes of its concerts.

I would love to figure this out as soon as possible. I have this crazy deadline. Your help would be greatly, greatly appreciated!!!!!! I am having an impossible time trying to get a rep from the band to answer me.


Justin Farrar
San Francisco, CA

Thursday, May 18, 2006  

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