The Grateful Dead, a band forged during the Bay Area Acid Tests of the 1960s that grew to become one of the most popular live acts in American history, is the subject of a new 4-hour documentary by Academy Award-nominated director Amir Bar-Lev. Using a trove of archival images, Long Strange Trip follows the band over three decades, delving into the group's history, music, and fans.
"There is sex, drugs, and rock and roll," Bar-Lev told Reason. "But also a different attitude towards fame and the relationship with fans that I think people–whether you like the band or not–are going to find informative and interesting."
At the heart of the Grateful Dead's unique connection with fans was founder Jerry Garcia's emphasis on community over hierarchy. During a 1981 interview with New Musical Express, Garcia explained that "a combination of music and the psychedelic experience taught me to fear power. I mean fear it and hate it."
"I think Jerry was radically anti-authoritarian," says Bar-Lev. "All the guys are in the band. So when people began to elect them to be authorities, they had a natural concern and skepticism around that. I think that's healthy. I wish more people in power were concerned about power and wielding power."
Bar-Lev sat down with Reason to discuss the film, why he considers the Grateful Dead "the musical Statue of Liberty," the implications around the band's decision to allow bootleggers to record and trade their music, as well as his thoughts on conservative Deadheads Anne Coulter and Tucker Carlson.
Long Strange Trip is now playing in theaters and will become available for streaming through Amazon on June 2.
For more on the Grateful Dead, read: "Come Hear Uncle Sam's Band: The hippie capitalism of the Grateful Dead."
Produced and edited by Meredith Bragg. Camera by Austin Bragg, Paul Detrick, and Alexis Garcia.