Will Deadheads go for Dead Symphony no. 6?


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When it comes to developing close ties with audiences, few bands in the history of rock music have garnered a fan base as strident as the Grateful Dead.

“The standard musician-audience relationship doesn’t exist in a Grateful Dead show,” says longtime Grateful Dead publicist Dennis McNally, who will be speaking at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music this weekend after a performance of Dead Symphony no. 6, Lee Johnson’s composition based on 10 of the Dead’s songs.


Members of the band were very open to all sorts of musical styles and educated their fans to listen to long, spiraling improvisations that merged genres as diverse as rock, folk, blues, reggae, gospel, bluegrass, psychedelic rock, jazz and country. But serious fans -- the Deadheads -- have not always been so flexible.

In fact, when it comes to other musicians interpreting the Dead’s music or even appearing in concert alongside the band, the Deadheads can sometimes be puritanical.

David Gans, host of the nationally syndicated Grateful Dead Hour radio show who attended a performance of Dead Symphony no. 6 by the California Symphony earlier this year, said:

‘The audience was very nicely divided between Deadheads and regular California Symphony subscribers. The music director’s intention was to bring these two audiences together. The Dead themselves and their audience members were known for being open-minded and trying new things. however, there is a certain kind of dogma in the Dead world – the fans are fiercely protective of the music as they understand it. They are hostile to irrelevant interpretations. Hence, the people who didn’t want to hear about Johnson’s symphony didn’t show up to the concert.”

Watch the video above for a sampling of the music and read my Calendar story about the symphony.

-- Chloe Veltman