Grateful Dead Radio City, 1980

Grateful Dead poster 1980 Radio City Music Hall NYC

Dennis Larkins & Peter Barsotti

Grateful Dead, Radio City, 1980


first printing, lithograph, Condition: Near Mint


Framed: 34" tall x 28" wide





close-up of frame

frame at angle

Close-up of frame at angle

Close-up of image showing the band waiting on line!

detail, left side

Fans waiting for Dead tickets outside Radio City Music Hall. Rado City Management was horrified.   Photo by Ebet Roberts


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This famous Grateful Dead poster was banned by the Radio City Music Hall but some of the posters that had already been printed were stashed away instead of destroyed and here is one of those.The poster features a pair of skeletons leaning against the front of Radio City with a long line of people waiting to get in to hear the concert – among them, the Grateful Dead themselves! The cover of a video made of the final two days of the tour, Dead Ahead, featured the image on this poster.



In September and October 1980, the Grateful Dead did a 15th Anniversary tour of shows with three sets each, one acoustic set followed by two electric sets. The acoustic sets were the first the band had performed regularly since the early '70s. The tour comprised 15 shows at The Warfield in San Francisco, 2 shows at the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans, and 8 shows at Radio City in New York. The following year, songs from the tour were released as two live albums, the all-acoustic Reckoning and the all-electric Dead Set.



But by the late 1970s, with New York City in fiscal freefall, Radio City’s future was shaky; attendance dropped, and plans to convert it into an office building or parking lot loomed. But the interior of the building was granted landmark status in 1978, and its famed art-deco lobby and other interior design elements were refreshed for $5 million. During talks to save the building the idea of booking rock acts came up, and by the fall of 1980 Radio City had presented Linda Ronstadt. Now it would host the Dead, for eight nights, October 22 to 31.



According to the book, So Many Roads, by David Browne, by the first night at Radio City, the nerves of the theater’s owners were frayed. Deadheads had lined up around the block to buy tickets, preventing some Rockefeller Center employees from getting into the buildings. “The fans surrounded the place and took over,” said Event Director Len Dell’Amico, who was observing from the sidelines. “They’re doing drugs on the street. Management was freaking out.”



The Rockefeller Corporation decided to retaliate. They ordered the band to stop selling a commemorative poster for the event. The move took everyone aback: no one had thought the artwork would be a problem. Dennis Larkins, Bill Graham’s stage designer and art director, had been assigned the task of illustrating a poster for the run of shows at the Warfield. He and Peter Barsotti, one of Graham’s right-hand men, settled on featuring the iconic Dead male-and-female skeletons. The poster was so well received by the Dead that Larkins was told to design a similar one for the Radio City run.



Interpreting the skeletons as a death wish for the hall and claiming the facade was a copyrighted logo, the corporation insisted the poster “suggests the Music Hall’s impending death and is unpatriotic.” The Dead were stunned. “Here we are, saving Radio City Music Hall from its demise,” said Dead Manager Richard Loren, “and they’re suing us for doing it.”  “The figures weren’t intended to be threatening, more like benevolent guardians,” said Larkins. “They weren’t intended to imply the death of anything. It was Dead iconography.”



The original 1st printing run for the Radio City poster was 3,000. 500 were sent to NYC before the lawsuit from Radio City Music Hall stopped the rest from being distributed. Those 2,500 were kept in the basement of the Grateful Dead Productions at 5th and Lincoln in San Rafael. The settlement of the suit was that all of the remaining 2,500 posters were to be destroyed. The archivist for GDP verified that they were destroyed but they were not. As reported by Steven Marcus, Manager of Grateful Dead Ticket Sales, a few weeks after he started working at GDP, the archivist asked him to help move some boxes into a new storage facility. There were five boxes each containing 500 copies of the Radio City Poster. The archivist told him that she just couldn't destroy them but told the band that she had.  And aren't we glad!

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