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Long Strange Trip, one night only

Get the untold story of the Grateful Dead on Thursday, May 25

Long Strange Trip: Tour guides Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir
Long Strange Trip: Tour guides Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir

Not unlike an actual Grateful Dead concert, Amir Bar-Lev’s candid Dead doc Long Strange Trip plays one night only — Thursday, May 25 — and runs just slightly over four hours.

Movie

Long Strange Trip: The Untold Story of The Grateful Dead ***

thumbnail

Not unlike an actual Grateful Dead concert, Amir Bar-Lev’s candid doc runs just slightly over four hours. But don’t expect wall-to-wall concert footage. (If that’s your preference, Shout Factory released a splendid blu-ray edition of <em>The Grateful Dead Movie</em>.) Using never-before-seen footage and interviews, Bar-Lev’s warts-and-all approach fits a band that backed into fame in spite of itself. On a lighter note, the group had a habit of lacing the Craft Service beverage cart with a batch of acid so strong Jimi Hendrix wrote “Purple Haze" in its honor. Ever wonder what it’s like to film under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs? Clips from a turned-on appearance on Playboy After Dark and a planned documentary that some accuse Garcia of spiking to the point of sabotage are a scream to behold. If you’re not a fan of the Dead, chances are you’ve stopped reading this. But if you are, pack your Owsley Bear and edibles for what’s bound to be a long, strange, and — for grateful Dead fans — wonderful time at the movies.

Find showtimes

My initial interest in the band had more to do with the venue in which they appeared than the music they produced. According to Cinema Treasures, Chicago’s Uptown Theatre was the 12th-largest picture palace ever built in the United States. In the late ’70s, special-events producers Jam Productions began booking concerts in the dilapidated 4381-seat barn.

A coworker with connections happened to have a spare ticket. At the time, the joke went something like this: “What did the Grateful Dead fan say after the pot wore off? This music sucks!” I thought I’d go, enjoy the buzz, and laze in the glory of what once considered the best moviegoing experience in town. (The Uptown was located in what your parents would call a “bad area,” and as such, little Scotty was forced to make do with the smaller 3443-seat Granada located up the road in the Safe Zone. I saw more Grateful Dead concerts in the Uptown than I did movies — nine, to be exact.)

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Sponsored

Little was done to preserve the interior. Damaged or missing seats were covered by Hefty lawn bags. The audience was turned on, the once-sparkling fountains in the lobby were not. Even before pot smoke permeated every crevice, the place gave off the impression of life as viewed through a dirty windshield.

My first viewing was from the first row of the balcony. A surge of tie-dyed tees thrummed below. Fans would spontaneously take to the aisle and begin Dead-dancing, a form of joyously unbridled up-and-down motion. Think anthropomorphism in reverse; humans doing Snoopy’s Happy Dance.

Once the smoke cleared and the crowd settled, I was immediately impressed by how tight the band was. Bass player Phil Lesh calls it “collective improvisation.” And while I was never fortunate enough to see them perform outdoors at the foot of their legendary wall of sound, the group brought their own audio experts and equipment to each venue. The sound was more than just that of an average concert. It was an experience, one that included the reliable appearance of a 20-minute patch about two-thirds of the way through each show where the group went all weird on you. According to drummer Mickey Hart, the band “liked to take the song so far out you didn’t know what song you were in.”

With Long Strange Trip, Bar-Lev had no intention of compiling another concert film. (Shout Factory has already released a splendid Blu-ray edition of The Grateful Dead Movie.) Using never-before-seen footage and interviews, Bar-Lev’s warts-and-all approach fits a band that backed into fame in spite of itself.

It was Jerry Garcia who gathered together six musicians, all of whom came from different places musically, and somehow managed to make it work. Garcia began as a banjo player but felt bluegrass was too concerned with technique and found the music he produced “sterile and inhuman.” He soon traded in his banjo for an electric guitar.

The first thing you learn is how an otherwise trendsetting band arrived at its name through the most conventional of ways and means. While flipping through a Britannica World Language Dictionary, Garcia dropped a finger on the following definition: “Grateful Dead: The soul of a dead person...showing gratitude to someone who, as an act of charity, arranged their burial.” Garcia was roused by what he called, “A striking combination of words.”

Warner Bros. Records wanted to turn the group into a rock band. It was the swinging ’60s, and at the time, the wildest act the label had under contract was Trini Lopez, who had scored a hit with “Lemon Tree.” No wonder the band turned to LSD to escape the straightness of the world that surrounded it.

It takes but one unscheduled trip for anyone involved with a Grateful Dead production to learn not to sip from any cup that’s handed them. Leave it to the wacky pranksters to regularly spike the beverage cart with a batch of acid so strong Jimi Hendrix wrote “Purple Haze” in its honor. Ever wonder what it’s like to film under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs? Clips from a turned-on appearance on Playboy After Dark and a planned documentary that some accuse Garcia of spiking to the point of sabotage are a scream to behold.

From Karloff to Cutler, the film is populated by all different types of showbiz characters. Garcia had a thing for the power and fear of Frankenstein, and Bar-Lev expertly laces his footage with perfectly timed clips from the Universal horror series. And speaking of horror, road rage is but one of the more endearing qualities of former tour manager and occasional on-screen narrator Sam Cutler.

Deadheads may not be the smartest folks on the planet — the tomb of keyboard player Pigpen is covered with guitar picks — but they sure are loyal. If you’re not a fan of the Dead, chances are you stopped reading after the first paragraph. If not, pack your Owsley Bear and edibles for what’s bound to be a long, strange, and for Dead fans wonderful time at the movies.

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Long Strange Trip: Tour guides Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir
Long Strange Trip: Tour guides Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir

Not unlike an actual Grateful Dead concert, Amir Bar-Lev’s candid Dead doc Long Strange Trip plays one night only — Thursday, May 25 — and runs just slightly over four hours.

Movie

Long Strange Trip: The Untold Story of The Grateful Dead ***

thumbnail

Not unlike an actual Grateful Dead concert, Amir Bar-Lev’s candid doc runs just slightly over four hours. But don’t expect wall-to-wall concert footage. (If that’s your preference, Shout Factory released a splendid blu-ray edition of <em>The Grateful Dead Movie</em>.) Using never-before-seen footage and interviews, Bar-Lev’s warts-and-all approach fits a band that backed into fame in spite of itself. On a lighter note, the group had a habit of lacing the Craft Service beverage cart with a batch of acid so strong Jimi Hendrix wrote “Purple Haze" in its honor. Ever wonder what it’s like to film under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs? Clips from a turned-on appearance on Playboy After Dark and a planned documentary that some accuse Garcia of spiking to the point of sabotage are a scream to behold. If you’re not a fan of the Dead, chances are you’ve stopped reading this. But if you are, pack your Owsley Bear and edibles for what’s bound to be a long, strange, and — for grateful Dead fans — wonderful time at the movies.

Find showtimes

My initial interest in the band had more to do with the venue in which they appeared than the music they produced. According to Cinema Treasures, Chicago’s Uptown Theatre was the 12th-largest picture palace ever built in the United States. In the late ’70s, special-events producers Jam Productions began booking concerts in the dilapidated 4381-seat barn.

A coworker with connections happened to have a spare ticket. At the time, the joke went something like this: “What did the Grateful Dead fan say after the pot wore off? This music sucks!” I thought I’d go, enjoy the buzz, and laze in the glory of what once considered the best moviegoing experience in town. (The Uptown was located in what your parents would call a “bad area,” and as such, little Scotty was forced to make do with the smaller 3443-seat Granada located up the road in the Safe Zone. I saw more Grateful Dead concerts in the Uptown than I did movies — nine, to be exact.)

Sponsored
Sponsored

Little was done to preserve the interior. Damaged or missing seats were covered by Hefty lawn bags. The audience was turned on, the once-sparkling fountains in the lobby were not. Even before pot smoke permeated every crevice, the place gave off the impression of life as viewed through a dirty windshield.

My first viewing was from the first row of the balcony. A surge of tie-dyed tees thrummed below. Fans would spontaneously take to the aisle and begin Dead-dancing, a form of joyously unbridled up-and-down motion. Think anthropomorphism in reverse; humans doing Snoopy’s Happy Dance.

Once the smoke cleared and the crowd settled, I was immediately impressed by how tight the band was. Bass player Phil Lesh calls it “collective improvisation.” And while I was never fortunate enough to see them perform outdoors at the foot of their legendary wall of sound, the group brought their own audio experts and equipment to each venue. The sound was more than just that of an average concert. It was an experience, one that included the reliable appearance of a 20-minute patch about two-thirds of the way through each show where the group went all weird on you. According to drummer Mickey Hart, the band “liked to take the song so far out you didn’t know what song you were in.”

With Long Strange Trip, Bar-Lev had no intention of compiling another concert film. (Shout Factory has already released a splendid Blu-ray edition of The Grateful Dead Movie.) Using never-before-seen footage and interviews, Bar-Lev’s warts-and-all approach fits a band that backed into fame in spite of itself.

It was Jerry Garcia who gathered together six musicians, all of whom came from different places musically, and somehow managed to make it work. Garcia began as a banjo player but felt bluegrass was too concerned with technique and found the music he produced “sterile and inhuman.” He soon traded in his banjo for an electric guitar.

The first thing you learn is how an otherwise trendsetting band arrived at its name through the most conventional of ways and means. While flipping through a Britannica World Language Dictionary, Garcia dropped a finger on the following definition: “Grateful Dead: The soul of a dead person...showing gratitude to someone who, as an act of charity, arranged their burial.” Garcia was roused by what he called, “A striking combination of words.”

Warner Bros. Records wanted to turn the group into a rock band. It was the swinging ’60s, and at the time, the wildest act the label had under contract was Trini Lopez, who had scored a hit with “Lemon Tree.” No wonder the band turned to LSD to escape the straightness of the world that surrounded it.

It takes but one unscheduled trip for anyone involved with a Grateful Dead production to learn not to sip from any cup that’s handed them. Leave it to the wacky pranksters to regularly spike the beverage cart with a batch of acid so strong Jimi Hendrix wrote “Purple Haze” in its honor. Ever wonder what it’s like to film under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs? Clips from a turned-on appearance on Playboy After Dark and a planned documentary that some accuse Garcia of spiking to the point of sabotage are a scream to behold.

From Karloff to Cutler, the film is populated by all different types of showbiz characters. Garcia had a thing for the power and fear of Frankenstein, and Bar-Lev expertly laces his footage with perfectly timed clips from the Universal horror series. And speaking of horror, road rage is but one of the more endearing qualities of former tour manager and occasional on-screen narrator Sam Cutler.

Deadheads may not be the smartest folks on the planet — the tomb of keyboard player Pigpen is covered with guitar picks — but they sure are loyal. If you’re not a fan of the Dead, chances are you stopped reading after the first paragraph. If not, pack your Owsley Bear and edibles for what’s bound to be a long, strange, and for Dead fans wonderful time at the movies.

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The latest copy of the Reader

Please enjoy this clickable Reader flipbook. Linked text and ads are flash-highlighted in blue for your convenience. To enhance your viewing, please open full screen mode by clicking the icon on the far right of the black flipbook toolbar.

Here's something you might be interested in.
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Hullabaloo, Stick Figure, Beat Farmers Hootenanny, Josh Weinstein, Adam Wolff

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