Long, strange trip for Grateful Dead archive

Sure, Haight Street smoke shops probably seem like they possess more Grateful Dead memorabilia than anywhere else on the planet.

But McHenry Library at UC Santa Cruz are keepers of the official Grateful Dead archive, and they’re getting ready to put many items on display to the public starting this Friday.

Four years after living Dead members Bob Weir and Mickey Hart announced the school would house the band’s archived memorabilia, UC Santa Cruz will open the exhibit “A Box of Rain: Archiving the Grateful Dead Phenomenon.”

The exhibit, which shows off part of the “scholarly archive” the library has been building, will open with a party-on-the-green outside the library with — what else — a Dead-inspired jam band.

A classroom-turned-1,400-square-foot exhibit space, Dead Central will show off 250 cataloged pieces from the priceless archive. SFGate’s Sam Whiting writes that thousands of items have been added to the archive, and pieces are still coming in.

Thanks to a $500,000 donation and avid fans, UC Santa Cruz counterculture historian Nicholas Meriwether has been able to assemble material for the collection. Meriwether tells SFGate that the Dead:

“were a working band … and the idea of archiving it the way I am doing here was not something they were going to put their money behind or put their time into.”

In addition to ticket stubs, backstage passes, and the ever-popular concert posters, the sprawling archive includes guitar chords and song lyrics written by the band members on pieces of binder paper. The exhibit kicks off with a hand-written letter from Jerry Garcia, chronicling his childhood in the San Francisco’s Excelsior district.

And there’s even an homage to fan art. The Dead encouraged their fan base to decorate the envelopes they sent their fan mail in, with promises of free tickets for the best artwork. The UC Santa Cruz archive currently holds 14,000 envelopes, with expectation that there are still more out there.

A celebration of the exhibit and the grand opening of the Dead Central exhibit space will start at 1 p.m. this Friday, with a free performance by Dead-inspired band Moonalice, in front of the McHenry Library on the UC Santa Cruz campus.