A group of Grateful Dead fans, or “Deadheads,” have made the back room of the library their practice space for the Grateful Dead chorus, and though you might expect a fledgling music group to have trouble, according to chorus organizer John Flores, the first days have not been the hardest days.
It all began when the library ran their annual adopt-a-book program that raises money for library expenses not covered by town funding. The library purchases books and puts them up for adoption before they can be checked out for free, meaning the first patron to take the book out pays a specific price, and those who take the book out afterward can do so for free. Flores has been Dover’s library director for 15 years and says that in past years the program has brought in as much as $1,500.
This year, local veterinarian Miles Powers and his son Leif adopted “The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics,” by David Dodd, a book that is a Deadhead’s dream come true. It not only provides the lyrics from the Grateful Dead’s 40-year history, but illustrations, background, and information about specific lyrics and songs.
Flores became inspired by the book’s contents and although he had not sung since high school, asked his wife and some friends if they would be interested in forming and participating in the chorus. “You see programs on PBS once in a while where older folks go around singing rock songs,” said Flores. “I thought, ‘well, hey, if they can do it, why can’t we?’ There’s really no musical skills required for joining, it’s about coming and trying to sing these songs and just having a great time.”
Flores has been a Deadhead since 1967 when he first heard the San Francisco countercultural icons in his native Los Angeles in 1967 at the famed Wallichs Music City record store. “A high school friend and I used to hang out there (Wallichs) on Hollywood and Vine where movie stars and all these other people hung out, and you could hear music that had just come out. My friend put on the Grateful Dead’s first album and just said ‘Listen to this.’”
Since he heard “Cold Rain and Snow” in Wallichs that day, and until 1993, Flores caught every Grateful Dead show he could in the LA area, attending shows at places now famous in Grateful Dead lore such as the Greek Theater, the Hollywood Palladium, the Avalon Ballroom, and the Shrine Auditorium.
In the 1970s, some of these venues would allow attendees in for $2, and if you couldn’t afford it, would open the doors for free after the first set of music was finished. This communal spirit is something Flores says is missing from music, and what makes a group like the Grateful Dead chorus a fantastic way to put the community back in music.
“This is free music you can participate in and have a good time with, and meet your fellow friend, neighbor or human, instead of always being on the Internet,” says Flores. “It’s always fun, and this is the kind of music you can sing with that kind of attitude.”
February 16 was the chorus’ first meet, and seven singers came to try their hand, or throat, at Dead classics like “Cassidy,” “Fire on the Mountain,” “Row Jimmy,” and the beautiful Jerry Garcia ballad “Mission in the Rain.” Flores hopes word of mouth will help the group gain more members as more local Deadheads find out.
Jill Robart, who joined the chorus with her husband Will, brought her guitar to the first meet and along with another guitarist, is working on figuring out the oft-complex compositions of Grateful Dead guitarists Garcia and Bob Weir. “We (locals) live in an isolated place so if you have something going on like this, hopefully you can draw in folks who have common interests,” said Robart. “If anyone is interested, come down, bring an instrument, it’s totally low-key fun, the way it should be.”
“I think it’s really nice that John tries to think outside the box,” continued Robart. “He tries to bring all different kinds of people in, and I don’t think you would find this kind of group anywhere else.”
Flores is already thinking for the future, and says that if the group sings well enough, he would like them to perform at events such as Dover Day, and the library’s 100th anniversary celebration on July 13.
Robart says the Dover library is a great location for music lovers because of the wide selection of a genre of books that cater to a wide variety of music lovers.
The Grateful Dead spent large portions of their concerts improvising or “jamming,” seeing where the music would take them rather than where they took the music. Flores says the Grateful Dead chorus was created in that vein because: “Even just sitting in a room where there’s seven of us, people just enjoy it and it’s communal because originally when everything happened back in those days, it was music that really was communication.”
The Grateful Dead Chorus meets again on March 16 at 12 pm. So truck your voice and guitar to the Dover Library and beat it on Down the Line.