The “Images of the Grateful Dead and Deadheads” exhibition at Tate Street Coffee House has been 30 years in the making. The show is an impressive survey of photographs by North Carolina artists spanning decades of Grateful Dead performances and fan culture. But the real story behind this exhibit is one of community.
Co-curators Rebecca Adams and Lena Rodriguez-Gillette, along with Tate Street Coffee House owner Matthew Russ, embody an intergenerational network of fans from across UNCG and beyond who are united by their love of the Dead.
“I couldn’t have done this by myself,” says Dr. Adams, the nation’s preeminent scholar on Deadhead culture. “This is an example of how the Deadhead community works, which is if you can do something, you do it whether you have the title or not. And eventually, you know, good things come back to you.”
Dr. Adams is professor and director of the Gerontology Program at UNCG. Her research on aging, communities, and Deadheads dovetails perfectly with this exhibition – and it’s literally part of her life’s work.
“This was my effort to bring all of the Deadheads affiliated with UNCG or who live around this area together into an intergenerational community because it’s part of my retirement plan to live in that community. I stuck with gerontology and was studying Deadheads long enough for the two things to come together.”
Rodriguez-Gillette is a recent alumna of UNCG. Part of the younger generation of Deadheads, the artist reflects on interconnectedness: “It’s interesting how Greensboro and everything comes around full circle. Everything connects for me with this community.” The logo Rodriguez-Gillette created for the Deadheads exhibition illustrates the mix of influences from her involvement in the art and music communities in and around UNCG.
You could say that all of this started because of Matthew Russ. While majoring in sociology at UNCG, he spotted Adams at a Dead concert in 1987. He eventually convinced Adams to study Dead fans. Soon after, Adams created one of the first-ever courses dedicated to the subject and in 1989 took her class on tour with the band to study fan culture at their concerts. Russ had graduated from UNCG by then, but he says of his influence on Adams, “There’s a great line by Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter: ‘My job is to shed light not master it’. So I was like, here’s the idea. Now you run with it.”
The importance of community for Russ is clear when he describes Tate Street Coffee as a space that nurtures diversity, art, and music. “I wanted it to be a place where the university could kind of meet the community. Tate Street is like the front line, you know, where the university ends and the community starts. And I wanted people to coalesce. Tate Street Coffee was going to happen. I just volunteered for the job. I paraphrase Jerry Garcia when I use his expression.”
The exhibition runs through the end of April. On April 27, a full day of “UNCG Dead Scholars Unite!” will take place in the Elliott University Center. An exhibition closing celebration will take place at Tate Street Coffee House from 6 to 8 p.m., including music by local musician Jon Walters and David Gans, co-host of Sirius XM’s Grateful Dead channel Tales of the Golden Road.
By Matthew Bryant
Photographic artwork copyright © Lloyd Wolf / www.lloydwolf.com; photo of Adams, Russ and Rodriguez-Gillette by Matthew Bryant