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Concerts Rock

The Art of the Grateful Dead Celebrated Through 20 Posters

June 10, 2015 by Alyssa

Grateful Dead Art

In the 50 years since the Grateful Dead formed in San Francisco, the psychedelic rock outfit has inspired a nearly limitless supply of artwork from fans around the world. So much of that art grew out of the storied tradition of Grateful Dead concerts posters: intricate, complex drawings that first advertised the band’s live shows in the Bay Area in the 1960s.

Many notable fixtures of Grateful Dead art--like the skull and roses logo and psychedelic lettering--came from the band’s arsenal of talented poster artists, including Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley, and Randy Tuten, to name just a few.

Before the band’s final shows take place in California and Chicago this summer, take a virtual journey through the history of Grateful Dead art with these 20 official posters pulled from the Grateful Dead Archive Online.

Grateful Dead (with Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Mothers)
Fillmore Auditorium | San Francisco, Calif.
June 3-4, 1966
Artist: Wes Wilson

This is the first of the official Grateful Dead posters on record in the archive. These June concerts took place just six months after the band performed its first show as the Grateful Dead at a Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters event in Dec. 1965. As you can see from this poster, famed San Francisco promoter Bill Graham--who connected the band with many of its most famous poster artists--was an integral part of the Grateful Dead’s success from the beginning.


Grateful Dead June 1966


Grateful Dead (with Oxford Circle)
Avalon Ballroom | San Francisco, Calif.
Sept. 16-17, 1966
Artists: Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley

This poster introduced one of the most famous Grateful Dead art icons: the skull and roses logo. Artists Mouse and Kelley borrowed the now-iconic image from an illustration by British artist Edmund J. Sullivan.


Grateful Dead Skull and Roses


Grateful Dead (with Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company)
Hollywood Bowl | Los Angeles, Calif.
Sept. 15, 1967
Artist: Jim Blashfield
Photo: Herb Greene

The Grateful Dead is one of the most famous bands of the “San Francisco Sound,” but the 1960s also spawned many great acts in the Bay Area, including Jefferson Starship and the Janis Joplin-fronted Big Brother and the Holding Company.


Grateful Dead September 1967


Grateful Dead (with Morning Glory)
Kings Beach Bowl at Lake Tahoe | Kings Beach, Calif.
Feb. 22-24, 1968
Artist: Robert Fried

Much Grateful Dead poster art takes inspiration from its surroundings. In this Lake Tahoe concert poster, artist Robert Fried drew on the city’s reputation as a resort town to create the skiing skeleton.


Grateful Dead February 1968


Grateful Dead (with Jefferson Airplane, Fleetwood Mac)
Carousel Ballroom | San Francisco, Calif.
June 7-9, 1968
Artist: Alton Kelley

This Grateful Dead concert poster marked another San Francisco Sound collaboration with Jefferson Airplane, as well as a pre-Buckingham/Nicks Fleetwood Mac.


Grateful Dead June 1968


Grateful Dead (with Pentangle, Sir Douglas Quartet)
Fillmore West | San Francisco, Calif.
Feb. 27-March 2, 1969
Artist: Lee Conklin


Grateful Dead Spring 1969


Grateful Dead (with Taj Mahal, Big Foot)
Fillmore West | San Francisco, Calif.
Feb. 5-8, 1970
Artist: David Singer


Grateful Dead February 1970


Grateful Dead (with New Riders of the Purple Sage)
Hill Auditorium | Ann Arbor, Mich
Dec. 14-15, 1971
Artist: Gary Grimshaw


Grateful Dead December 1971


Fillmore West Closing Week
Grateful Dead (with Boz Scaggs, It’s a Beautiful Day, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Santana, and more)
Fillmore West | San Francisco, Calif.
June 30-July 4, 1971
Artist: David Singer

Bill Graham’s Fillmore West only operated for three years, but it was one of the most important venues for the careers of many San Francisco Sound artists. In this Grateful Dead poster art by David Singer, the full five-day lineup for the venue’s closing is documented. It included Bay Area staples like Hot Tuna, Tower of Power, Santana, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and more.


Grateful Dead Fillmore West Closing


Grateful Dead
Nassau Coliseum | Uniondale, N.Y.
March 15-16, 1973
Artist: David Byrd

From 1968-1973, David Byrd served as the exclusive poster artist for Bill Graham’s New York venue Fillmore East. As one of Graham’s trusted artists, Byrd also created several East Coast Grateful Dead concert posters, including this one for a series of three shows at the Nassau Coliseum.


Grateful Dead March 1973


Grateful Dead (with Hamza El-Din)
Giza, Egypt
Sept. 14-16, 1978
Artist: Alton Kelley


Grateful Dead September 1978


Grateful Dead
Radio City Music Hall | New York, N.Y.
Oct. 22-31, 1980
Artist: Peter Barsotti and Dennis Larkins


Grateful Dead October 1980


Grateful Dead
The Downs at Santa Fe | Santa Fe, N.M.
Oct. 17, 1982
Artist: Dennis Larkins


Grateful Dead October 1982


Grateful Dead (with The Band)
Kingswood Music Theatre | Toronto, Ontario
June 21, 1984
Artist: Randall J. Rospond


Grateful Dead June 1984


Grateful Dead (with Bruce Hornsby and the Range, Ry Cooder)
Laguna Seca Recreation Area | Monterey, Calif.
May 9-10, 1987
Artist: Arlene Owseichik

Bruce Hornsby--who will perform at all the Grateful Dead Fare Thee Well concerts in California and Chicago--was featured in this 1987 concert in the ocean-side town of Monterey. Arlene Owseichik, who created this particular piece of Grateful Dead art, was the official art director for Bill Graham Presents for two decades.


Grateful Dead May 1987


Grateful Dead (with Santana)
Silver Bowl | Las Vegas, Nev.
April 27-28, 1991
Artists: Elsa Bouman and Whit Clifton

Many Grateful Dead concert posters from Las Vegas incorporate the town’s gambling reputation, as does this one for two 1991 Silver Bowl concerts with Santana.


Grateful Dead April 1991


Laughter Love and Music: To Celebrate the Lives of Bill, Steve, and Melissa
Grateful Dead (with Jackson Browne, Santana, Joan Baez, Journey, David Crosby, Neil Young, Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, John Fogerty, and more)
Golden Gate Park | San Francisco, Calif.
Nov. 3, 1991

After Bill Graham’s untimely death in a helicopter crash, many of his protégés (including the Grateful Dead) turned out for his 1991 tribute concert at Golden Gate Park. The show’s art was created by longtime Grateful Dead poster artist Randy Tuten.


Grateful Dead Bill Graham Memorial


Grateful Dead (with Sting)
Silver Bowl | Las Vegas, Nev.
May 14-16, 1993
Artist: Harry Rossit


Grateful Dead May 1993


Grateful Dead
Autzen Stadium | Eugene, Ore.
Aug. 21-22, 1993
Artist: Bill Dellick

Grateful Dead concert posters evolved drastically through the decades. This early ‘90s poster from Bill Dellick, though much less intricate than some of the posters from the ‘60s, incorporated new computer technology to advertise the band’s performances.


Grateful Dead August 1993


Grateful Dead
Summer Tour 1995 (Highgate, Utah; East Rutherford, N.J.; Albany, N.Y.; Washington, D.C.; Auburn Hills, Mich.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Indianapolis, Ind.; St. Louis, Mo.; Chicago)
Artist: Michael R. Everett

The Grateful Dead’s 1995 summer tour marked the end of an era, as Jerry Garcia played his final shows at Chicago’s Soldier Field that July.


'Grateful Dead Summer Tour 1995


Want to see more selections of official Grateful Dead poster art? Check out the full collection on the Vivid Seats Pinterest page.

Image credit goes to Wolfgang's Vault and Rhino Entertainment Corp.

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