I wasn't going to talk here about the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia, who died 10 years ago yesterday, but if Seth Godin can, what the heck. As someone who spent much of her misguided youth as a Deadhead, I didn't realize just how powerful the ideas behind what they were doing were. I doubt they did, either, but in hindsight, their instincts were right on.
By the time I got "on the bus" in the late 1970s, the Dead were inviting people to record their concerts (even letting people plug into the soundboards!), make their own t-shirts, all those things that make most bands some serious coin. The Dead gave it all to their audience, and the audience gave it back in spades—they may not have had much in the way of top-10 hits, but the Dead made more money touring than almost any other band for much of their trip. Their concerts weren't concerts so much as all-inclusive events that lasted hours (sometimes days) before and after the actual concert. They created passion among their listeners for the band, their music, and a mindset that was unique to the Deadhead culture.
The fierce loyalty Deadheads have for all things Dead comes from a sense of ownership: The fans were not just allowed, but encouraged to take over the scene and make it their own, to add their own funky twist to the story the band is selling—or really, to make up the story themselves, let the band embellish it and toss it back to the crowd. What I took for granted at the time actually was pretty amazing.
The Dead were way ahead of their time, so much so that I think they scared a lot of the traditional music insiders. Now we have open source, we have permission marketing, we have niche markets that are starting to break into micro-markets—we have a world that's starting to get on the bus, too.
- The most important takeaway is this: They repeatedly did things that felt like huge risks, that challenged the status quo and that seemed, on their face, to give too much power to their audience. And in those moments, the Grateful Dead were at their most successful.
Giving up power and control sounds like anathema to meeting planners, I know, but imagine the possibilities...
(I still miss you, Jerry.)