I am late to the bus.
After I got out of the Navy in January 1995 three things happened that slowly brought me to the Dead: I started college, the internet was born, and I started listening to the Dave Matthews Band. Lots of medleys, long jams, and a feeling that everything was connected, actually or tangentially. And so like a true addict, looking for a more pure high, and with the help of some of my school friends, I soon worked my way backward to the Dead.
But when I started listening to the Dead on copies of friends’ tapes, but mostly through the Archive, I just had no idea where to start. I asked around and got a few suggestions, but even then, it was only a handful of shows. So I had to figure it out myself and soon adopted a procedure: start with the Archive’s “Shows on this Day in History” click through that day’s shows and see what I liked. I quickly learned that I liked the early stuff the best; I learned my lineups; and I learned all the nuances that come with loving the Dead: the names of the jams, the set openers and closers, and some of the epic dates and venues. I was learning to speak the Dead.
Using the Archive’s history page, of every show from every day, every year, I began to wonder, every day, “which one of these is the best; which one should I commit all the time to, if I only have time to listen to one show, and I have to really focus?”
We Deadheads are a Collecting People. We like to collect “the best” versions of songs, of jams, of sections of jams, of venues, of particular mixing boards, and even entire tours and years. So a collection of best anniversary shows doesn’t seem too far fetched. And every Head is an expert, so when I say that 5-4-1977 is the best May 4th show, I expect that someone out there is going to argue for a different May 4th favorite.
So, those two thoughts– the Dead shows on each day and the absolute mystery of where to begin listening to decades of incredible music – gave me the idea to start this sort of half-assed almanac.
One more thing: I’m not a music writer,as will become obvious as you read through, but I’ll do my best.