Grateful Dead archives now call Santa Cruz home

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1966, Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco, Calfornia, USA --- Jerry Garcia (c) and Rock Scully (l), manager of the rock band the Grateful Dead, speak to author Tom Wolfe at the corner of Haight and Ashbury. --- Image by � Ted Streshinsky/CORBIS

1966, Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco, Calfornia, USA — Jerry Garcia (c) and Rock Scully (l), manager of the rock band the Grateful Dead, speak to author Tom Wolfe at the corner of Haight and Ashbury. — Image by  Ted Streshinsky/CORBIS

Santa Cruz is kind of famous. For a town (and county) this small, the area is known by a disproportionately large number of people. Maybe it’s the beaches, the world-class surfing, the towering redwood trees. Maybe they know our fine university, made famous for having no grades, pot-smoking hippies, and now, the final resting place for the Grateful Dead archives.

Doubtless, there has been much gritting-of-teeth in some parts of the community about this one. “This is just what we need,” I can hear ’em saying. Because, contrary to popular belief, Santa Cruz really isn’t a hippie town. It may be neo-Bohemian as Bob Weir says it is, but not too many folks are dead sure what exactly neo-Bohemianism is. On the other hand, most people think they know a dirty hippie when they see one, and more than a handful can probably say they’ve seen at least one or two in Santa Cruz.

For every resident that is appalled by linking Santa Cruz any further with the patchouli set (my colleague Mike Crain comes readily to mind), there is, I am sure, at least one other person who is totally stoked that the Dead archives have come to town. And I feel compelled here to point out that it’s not just drugged-out slack-jawed stoner types who groove to the Grateful Dead. In fact, who is helping to put these archives together? To quote the San Jose Mercury News:

A blue-chip team including several Silicon Valley-based fans – among them venture capitalist and musician Roger McNamee – will oversee a $2 million fundraising campaign for the archive. Seagate Technology CEO Bill Watkins has volunteered technical support.

I’m afraid you’re going to have to count me in with the folks who think this is a good thing. I don’t really know about the scholarship aspects of cataloging Grateful Dead fan letters, or what’s to be gleaned by studying the first contract the Dead signed to record an album or two for Warner Brothers. But my feeling is that it will further cement Santa Cruz as something of a mecca for live music. And in an era when music piracy is just so easy and prevalent, I suspect that playing actual shows will be an increasingly important revenue source for musicians.

Perhaps you don’t know, but for such a small town, Santa Cruz has a very healthy live music scene. Front and center, we have the Catalyst Club, which has been host to innumerable concerts by many leading performers. I don’t know that the Grateful Dead ever played there (but apparently they did put on a pretty good show in Watsonville), but I’ve seen many amazing musicians at the Catalyst – Los Lobos, Flogging Molly, Leo Kotke, Burning Spear, to name but a few. And beyond the Catalyst, there’s Moe’s Alley, and let’s not forget the Kuumbwa Jazz Center. And for special events, there’s always the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, which is the first (and one of only two times) place I saw Phish.

To me, it’s simple. Preserving the Grateful Dead archives here at UC Santa Cruz is just one more sign that Santa Cruz has got it goin’ on. A vibrant live music scene may not provide the kind of jobs that they got over there in Silicon Valley, but I think it really is one of the key aspects of the community that make this a very special place to live.

Edit: I can’t believe this, but I forgot to mention the Santa Cruz Blues Festival and the KPIG Fat Fry – two other yearly events which bring world famous, top-notch musicians to a beautiful Aptos Village Park. Hallelujiah and Amen!

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