Jerry Garcia died 21 years ago today, aged just 53. 

But after all the years have combined, Deadheads are left not with sadness or mourning but a party. 

For the Grateful Dead family and fans who were left "standing and crying in this land" by Garcia's death that day, who could have imagined the state of the tribe?

Grateful Dead summer tour is alive and well, the band is once again one of the top concert draws in the country, and the Hunter/Garcia catalog is now being given new life not only by hippie jam bands but also the likes of The National.

But here we are.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Dead & Company – featuring a transcendent John Mayer on lead guitar – just finished a national tour that seemed to close the gap of the dark years in between. The happy audiences were not just gray-haired contemporaries of the band but also kids not born before the Dead's last show at Chicago's Soldier Field creaked to its exhausted finish.

How is it possible that the Grateful Dead – so widely identified as a "hippy" band and a "60s" band and a "jam" band – continue to inspire new generations?

Garcia's heart and soul 'still with us'

For Baylee Russell, 20, it's simple. "What the boys mean to me is pure joy, something that is dear to my heart, a part of me."

For Baylee, "the good times in life are that moment when you are waiting for the next show."

But how can you be a Deadhead if you never saw the actual Dead, never saw Garcia hold a whole coliseum in thrall with a Morning Dew?

"I don't think it matters if I never saw Jerry because his heart and soul is still with us and throughout the music."

Garcia daughters lost their dad 

If the music never stopped, the anniversary is still a time to remember.

Advertisement

Diane Andrea, one of the founders of a Facebook group called Weir Here Listening Party (that's WHLP radio, kids), remembers the day Jerry died.

"I can't say I was suprised but I was certainly upset. Upset enough that my office sent me home." As so many of us did, Diane thought about Garcia's death as a loss for the music. But her own father's death in 2014 offered a shift in perspective.

"Now I think about his daughters" – Heather, Annabelle, Theresa "Trixie," Keelin Noel, and Sunshine Kesey.

"We lost our Captain Trips. They lost their dad," Diane says.

When a man doesn't take care of business before he dies, he can leave a lot of pain in his wake. And Jerry didn't really take care of business. Thus, Garcia's widow Deborah Koons barred Jerry's former wives from the funeral (held at St. Stephen's church), and Carolyn "Mountain Girl" Adams Garcia sued Koons to enforce Jerry's post-nup promises.

But now is not the time for such thoughts.

Advertisement

Instead, the time is right for dancin' in the streets.

Click to read more