Ripple in Still Water: A Grateful Dead Ethnography

Corbin Fritz Butler University
Faculty Sponsor(s): Sholeh Shahrokhi Butler University
The Grateful Dead have been an integral thread in the tapestry of Americana for over half a century. Notoriously dedicated; their fans, known as Deadheads, would, and still do, follow the band around North America and the world for months or years on end. But how has this San Francisco band been weaved into American culture since 1965? Through profound impressions on millions throughout the population. The verbatim phrase, “It’s like church!” has, by far, been the most prevalent explanation in my researching this query. Attending and experiencing a Grateful Dead (or related) “show” is often a very personal and formative experience; a highly ritualized event that has been evolving and adapting alongside American culture since 1965. Understanding how these rituals affect people at personally fundamental levels provides insight into how secular ritual and tradition can shape popular values, beliefs, and behaviors. Through field research at two Dead and Company concerts, volumes of published sociological and anthropological articles about the Grateful Dead phenomenon, interviews, material available through online communities, over 1200 survey responses, and a lifetime of being a Deadhead myself; I have come to understand that a Grateful Dead (or related) show is, in its model form, a mystical experience for the audience. I explore, step by step through the course of a ‘show,’ just how this transpires and affects an audience, and how its social function in America has continued to live on for over fifty years.
Oral Presentation

When & Where

01:30 PM
Jordan Hall 242