Category: The Grateful Dead

Remembering Owsley "Bear" Stanley (1935-2011) [Audio]

956070267Owsley_and_Jerry The obituary for Owsley "Bear" Stanley ran in the news pages of the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday, but it spiritually inhabits the music section. Though he never received the cult of his contemporary, Timothy Leary, the eccentric Stanley did his part to incite the '60s.

He may have lacked a pithy mantra like "turn on, tune in, drop out," but Stanley knew how to produce results in the lab, alchemizing myriad trips of LSD after matriculating at UC Berkeley in 1963.

They don't write résumés like Stanley's anymore. He had a weird and wild career arc matched only by those of Gore Vidal and Aaron Burr. The scion of a prominent Kentucky family, Stanley racked up stints in the U.S. Air Force and the professional ballet, as well as Berkeley. But the academic world rarely holds rewards for those with such occult sensibilities, so Stanley started cooking.

Soon linking up with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, Bear became the go-to guy for the acid tests, ultimately receiving an indelible portrayal in Tom Wolfe's portrait of the scene, "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," and a sterling reputation for the "Owsley Acid" flooding the West Coast. But his most memorable contribution was to the music world, as sound engineer/guru for the Grateful Dead.  He became their chief sound engineer and pioneered the practice of taping their shows -- thus, preserving practically the entirety of their catalogue for posterity. He also persuaded the band to adopt his all-meat diet for a brief time.

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Live: The Dead at the Forum and KIIS-FM’s Wango Tango at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine

It’s a day of tie dye and top 40 as the faithful descend upon the two L.A.-area arenas.

Jerry Garcia might have died 15 years ago, but ambling through the parking lot of the Forum on Saturday night, you'd have been hard pressed to know he's gone. Two hours prior to the Dead's first L.A. show in more than a half-a-decade, the sun-scorched asphalt was already swarming with people. The scene was a cross between a Renaissance Faire, a Bedouin crossing and the world's most pot-addled family reunion.


Limousines ferrying baby boomers idled next to withered Winnebagos still following a band that first formed nearly 45 summers ago. Rusting school buses cloaked in rainbow Day-Glo paint were packed to the gills with AARP-aged hippies - the strains of "Scarlet Begonias" mingling with the smoke from dirty windows.

Not so far away, at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine, a very different kind of arena show was underway: KIIS-FM's Wango Tango, a top-40 blowout featuring Lady GaGa, Kelly Clarkson and the Black Eyed Peas, in addition to a host of other radio-friendly favorites, attended by hordes of screaming teenage girls.

The weekend concerts illustrated two opposing approaches to being a devoted music fan in today's pop culture landscape: Either embrace every genre and artist with the same open-minded ardor or single-mindedly invest all your energies into the one performer, group or style that defines you.

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