For some, the sixties ended when the Rolling Stones played their disastrous 1969 free concert at the Altamont Speedway; for others, the exploits of the Manson Family signaled that the decade of peace-and-love had come to a close. But for Grateful Dead fans, the '60s finally ended on August 9, 1995, when the long-lived psychedelic rock band's beloved singer and guitarist, Jerry Garcia, suffered a fatal heart attack. For hundreds of thousands of self-professed Deadheads, the 30-year love-in was suddenly over. Fascinated by the Deadhead phenomenon, Brent Meeske decided to make a film about the fans, now several generations strong, who followed the band from one sold-out venue to another, often just to hang out in the parking lot without a ticket. Meeske intended to "tour" for three years, but Garcia's death cut short his plans after only three months. So his finished film is in two parts: The first is a fascinating anthropological look at an anachronistic subculture that continued to thrive on Summer of Love ideals long after the party ended for the rest of the country. Meeske interviews Deadheads of all ages, who discuss their undying devotion and willingness to travel far and wide with little money and no guarantee of actually seeing the band. (No one seems to see the irony in adhering to a non-materialistic philosophy embodied in a band they can't afford to see.) They also discuss serious issues within the Deadhead community, like whether nitrous oxide should be sold in the parking lots and what's to be done about the gate crashers who caused the band to cancel a concert. The second part of the film centers on Garcia's death, a tragic event that nevertheless proved serendipitous to Meeske's project. Nothing could have better revealed the depth of feeling between the band and its audience than the words spoken at Garcia's memorial service in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. It's easy to snigger at a group of fading hippies who imagine that the straight world still perceives them as a threat, but Meeske remains respectful throughout. Fans will appreciate the consideration, and while the rest of us won't come away with any greater understanding of the band's appeal (viewers, too, are stuck out in the parking lot during the shows), Meeske does offer insight into a way of life that may be finally gone for good.
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- Released: 2001
- Rating: NR
- Review: For some, the sixties ended when the Rolling Stones played their disastrous 1969 free concert at the Altamont Speedway; for others, the exploits of the Manson Family signaled that the decade of peace-and-love had come to a close. But for Grateful Dead fans… (more)