The music never stopped — and the posters seem pretty endless, too.
“Grateful Dead: The Vintage Posters, 1966-1995” opens at Fall River’s Narrows Center for the Arts on Friday, in what the venue bills as the “largest collection of Grateful Dead concert posters ever exhibited.”
The exhibit of 77 posters is curated by Ted Bahr, whose Bahr Gallery is known for its psychedelic poster collection. Whether or not the Fall River show is Guinness world record-eligible, it looks to be one helluva party.
On Feb. 5, the Narrows hosts an opening art reception — the unticketed event is free. At that event, Bahr will have a slide presentation and talk, while David Gans — a musician and oral historian who has published several books about the Dead — plays live tunes.
Strolling the art, you’ll see many rare and first-printings. Artists include Stanley Mouse, Robert Rauschenberg, Rick Griffin, Alton Kelley, Wes Wilson, Bonnie MacLean, Peter Max, Arlene Owseichik, David Singer, Randy Tuten, Lee Conklin, Phil Garris, and John Van Hamersveld. (You might bring your checkbook: The posters are for sale for a pretty penny; part of the sales benefits the Narrows.)
Pieces range from funky full-on psychedelia — a first-edition of Griffin’s 1969 “Aoxomoxoa” advertising shows at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco — to the minimalist black-and-white Boston Tea Party lithograph by Bob Driscoll advertising a run of December 1969 shows on Lansdowne Street.
Other highlights include a ‘66 first-printing Mouse and Kelley machine lithograph of “Skeleton & Roses,” which became cult symbols of the band; a rare 1970 blue-and-black image that looks like a trippy hand X-ray advertising the Dead and the Miles Davis Quintet at Fillmore West, by David Singer; a 1980 first-printing “Radio City” machine lithograph by Dennis Larkins and Peter Barsotti.
Bahr, 64, began collecting in the early 1980s in San Francisco, “the epicenter of interest in psychedelic posters.” He opened the Bahr Gallery in Oyster Bay, N.Y., in 2018. His mission, he says, is twofold: “To find new foster homes for these amazing vintage posters, and in a broader sense, to share this art with the world.”
A Dead fan for some 40 years, Patrick Norton, executive director of the Narrows, loves the “spirit, vibe, and music” and “free-spirited improv” of the band, and admires the “Dead ethos.” “We’ve tried to incorporate that kind of culture at the Narrows,” he said.
He also appreciates that the posters run through 1995. “A lot of times these poster exhibitions are ‘66-’69: the sweet spot. So this takes us through the years, the evolution.”
Concert posters were a staple of the psychedelic era, Bahr said, but their sun set in the 1970s: “Mainstream newspapers were now covering rock, FM radio exploded. But the Grateful Dead and their fans never really abandoned the principles of the psychedelic era.”
Gans, coauthor of “This Is All a Dream We Dreamed: An Oral History of the Grateful Dead” (2015), says he’s no poster expert, but he is a poster lover. As a teenager in the Bay Area in the ‘60s, “posters were a huge part of the attraction, along with the music, of course.”
When “Heads meet for the first time, they’ll often compare stories and discover they’ve been in the same place any number of times,” said Gans, the longtime cohost of Sirius XM’s “Tales from the Golden Road.” “Walking through Ted’s collection is like that: The posters commemorate many of the best days of my life.”
Opening reception: Feb. 5, 5-8 p.m. 16 Anawan St., Fall River. Details and gallery hours at narrowscenter.org.