Dead reckoning at Merriweather Post
Longtime Columbia residents are unlikely to forget when the Grateful Dead performed in town for three summers in a row back in the 1980s. Throngs of the band’s followers trucked into town clad in headbands and colorful tie-dye shirts and skirts. They then proceeded to camp out in Symphony Woods and bathe in the fountains at the Mall in Columbia.
To use a Deadhead expression, this “freaked out” a lot of locals. After one too many weird Deadhead sightings, disgruntled residents held meetings with local police, reporters wrote news stories, and opposing opinions flew back and forth in the pages of the Columbia Flier.
Talk of all this controversy still goes on in places like the Facebook page “You know you grew up in Columbia Md when…” where it’s rumored the Dead were eventually banned from Merriweather.
All of which begs the question — Is the band back because the ban was lifted?
No, because “there was never a ban,” says Jean Parker, Merriweather’s longtime general manager. “That is not accurate.”
Part of the reason the rumor has been kept alive all these years is because when people Google the topic, what comes up is a Los Angeles Times article from June 6, 1990, titled “Pavilion bans Grateful Dead.” But that article was factually incorrect, says Times’ historian, Ralph Drew, by email. “On Friday, June 8, 1990, the Los Angeles Times printed a correction,” he notes.
A Pavilion official first dispelled this rumor in a letter after being queried by Columbia resident John Sybert in 1994. “Merriweather has never banned any acts from performing at its venue and, to my knowledge, neither has the community,” wrote customer relations manager Julie M. Kershner.
The reason the band didn’t return to Merriweather after 1985 (save for a 1989 solo Garcia appearance) was because they had outgrown the venue.
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