In June 1970, an article slugged "Memphis Flunks the Acid Test" was published by Tennessee Roc, an alternative newspaper of the day. "Memphis once again cheated itself out of a truly psychedelic experience," the article stated, describing the crowd's cool response to sets by Country Joe and the Fish and the Grateful Dead. "It seems like it just can't happen here," the author lamented.
Memphis may not have been ready for the "real freaks" of San Francisco, as the article suggested. And the Dead, who caught such a nasty vibe off the Bluff City they steered clear till 1995, certainly weren't ready for Memphis. But has Memphis ever really been short on freaks? Nearly 50 years after that first show, some of the city's Deadest players are making more occasions for tribes to congregate, have whatever kind of experience they want, and sing along to tunes like "Sugar Magnolia," "Friend of the Devil," and "Truckin." The latest installment — Christmas with the Dead — is a gathering of Dead-inspired bands including FreeWorld, Highway Hi-Fi, Devil Train, Left Unsung, and DAMFOOL.
"All the bands involved have a penchant for playing improvisational music," Christmas with the Dead organizer Jamie Davis says. The last time all these players came together, the goal was to play five hours of straight music with no set brakes — musical chairs with people coming in and out, one or two at a time. They played 45 songs over a stretch of six hours and 20 minutes.
Davis anticipates a similarly fluid approach this time around. "But we're going to break it up a little with an acoustic set," he says.