By Jennifer Pund
With Dead and Company performing at Boulder’s Folsom Field, July 2-3, Deadheads from around the state will be reminded of their touring days long past. Revisit those days of life on tour with the Grateful Dead with Gilpin County resident Brian O’Donnell’s 25-year-old documentary Deadheads, which is now available to view for free on Youtube.
The 60-minute video, provides viewers a glimpse into the “artisans, magicians, musicians and lunatics” who dedicated themselves to Grateful Dead tour. O’Donnell looks at why these fans leave school, family and jobs to be a part of this community. “The ritualistic tribal celebrations of dance, drugs and community is a 20th-century American cultural phenomenon captured in this time-capsuled video,” he said.
In 1972, the filmmaker hitchhiked from the east coast to San Fransisco chasing the summer-of-love dream. “The hippies had all moved out to the country, and the scene in the Haight District had dissolved,” he said. “I did, however, get to see the Grateful Dead for the first time at Bill Graham’s Winterland. It was their return from the Europe ’72 tour, and was a life changing event for me.”
By the end of that year, he was living in Gilpin County where he began raising a family. “In each passing year our family would catch the Dead whenever they came to Colorado—especially Red Rocks—and would plan road trips to see them play at other venues around the country,” he said.
In 1983, O’Donnell moved to South Carolina to work in the film industry. This expanded the locations his family could see the band, including his favorite: Hampton Coliseum. “My job put me on many feature films working around the country. It wasn’t long before I purchased a movie camera,” he said.
After completing his first project, O’Donnell began documenting the scene that unfolds outside of every Dead show. “Since I was attending 5-10 shows a year anyway, I simply incorporated a little filmmaking into my trips. I would end up shooting footage for 10 years before [taking] it all into an editing suite.”
The documentary won “Best in Show” at the Charleston Film Festival and was shown across the country with Dead cover bands and on college campuses.
O’Donnell now lives in Russell Gulch where he operates Ghost Town Disc Golf and surrounds himself with the Grateful Dead. “I’m now in my mid-60s, and still get out once or twice a year to whatever compilation the guys have put together,” he said.
Check out Deadheads on YouTube.