“They saw the audience not just as people to be entertained, but as partners in an adventure," former band publicist Dennis McNally notes of the Grateful Dead.
From San Raphael, CA to Union, IL, what a long strange trip it’s been for the relics and vintage band antiquities that will be for sale at the Grateful Dead Family Jubilee Auction to be conducted online by Donely Auction Services in Union at noon on April 11-12. Proxibid will provide the online-only bidding.
The auction anticipates a July “Fare Thee Well” 50th anniversary concert akin to The Band’s “The Last Waltz,” in which the surviving original band members will perform one last time at Soldier Field in Chicago. Tickets in the secondary market are going as high as $50,000 on StubHub.
The items available for auction are a Deadhead’s dream, a treasure trove of collectible artwork, furniture, instruments, song lyrics, autographs, and even frontman Jerry Garcia’s Colt .25 pistol.
Dennis McNally, author and band historian (“A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead”) and the legendary band’s publicist between 1984 and 2008, does not expect he will have seller’s remorse. Some of the auctioned items are formerly his.
“I’m a Zen Buddhist and a follower of Thoreau,” he told Millionaire Corner in a phone interview. “Philosophically, I resist wanting to hold on to stuff. I’ve had it for all these years. It’s time for someone to look at it now. It’s interesting; when my wife and I first talked about it, we said we would take at least a couple of days to determine if we had any second thoughts (about parting with their Dead holdings). And we haven’t. I’ve gotten great pleasure out of all these objects, but I can be comfortable in sharing them now.”
But what stuff it is. One of the highest-profile items expected to fetch the biggest price at auction is an original draft for the song, ”He’s Gone," which was featured on the live album, "Europe '72." With lyrics different from the final version and a signature and doodles by Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, it is expected to fetch $150,000..
Other items will include a Mickey Hart drum kit, the band’s office coffee cart and kitchen table, and, perhaps the crown jewel of the auction, artist Stanley Mouse’s original artwork for the 1966 Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion Grateful Dead Fan Club poster. The opening bid for this one is $420,000.
But fear not Deadheads of limited means. There is much more modestly priced music memorabilia that will be auctioned off. The opening bid for a 1968 photo of Jimi Hendrix at the Oakland Coliseum is $100. The opening bid for a Stanley Mouse-signed Skeleton and Roses poster is $60.
“There are 700 items (in the auction),” McNally said. “Go to the website and poke around and see what appeals to you. A lot of stiff will be quite accessible.”
Many of the treasured items were originally housed in the band’s office at 710 Lincoln Street in San Raphael. “When we shut down the office, the band said, “Take it out of our hair,” McNally laughed.
One item for which McNally feels a special connection is the office kitchen table. It may seem odd to wax nostalgic about a kitchen table, but this is a Grateful Dead kitchen table. “When the band members stopped by the office to pick up their mail or scope out the day, they would sit at that table and drink coffee,” he said. “My office was in a small room off the kitchen and I had a direct line of sight to that kitchen table. That’s why I’m a little sentimental about it.”
There are other office furnishings up for auction, including a file cabinet adorned with Grateful Dead stickers. “You can be confident in the provenance,” McNally assured.
The connection between the Grateful Dead and their audience was like no other. They inspired a fanatical devotion and nurtured a close-knit community who followed them on the road and shared tapes of the band in concert. McNally quotes Garcia’s observation, “People who like the Grateful Dead are like people who like licorice. Not everyone likes licorice but people who do really like licorice.”
“They saw the audience not just as people to be entertained, but as partners in an adventure,” McNally said.
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.