The Inaugural GrateVille Dead Festival: The Good, The Beautiful, and Cultural Evolution

By Michael Palmer

The following commentary is based on events that occurred at the Inaugural GrateVille Dead Festival at Louisville’s waterfront park, a tribute to the Dead and their ability to entrain individual interior landscapes into a cohesive wave of fluid, danceable energy.  This event was also a local example of the immortality of the Dead and a snapshot of the cultural conditions of the city of Louisville, the context in which this event took place.  Magically, GrateVille was able to recreate with high fidelity the Beauty and Goodness that traditionally accompany the micro-culture of The Grateful Dead. This is my contribution to the tribute.

In our overly technologized modern world, where people are both strangers to themselves and others, where scientific materialism is deemed superior to Beauty and Goodness, and where the concept of divinity has been reduced to ‘the Big Sky Daddy,’ the general population helplessly interprets and responds to most experiences with dry eyes, vapid encounters with the novel, and vacuous interpretations of what’s real.  Experiencing aesthetics for the sake of seeing oneself, or bumming out smokes just to be good, are foreign motivations for being alive.

Hope, however, seeped through the cracks of my generally pessimistic evaluation of the ‘culture-of-the-masses’ while attending the inaugural GrateVille Dead festival at the Waterfront’s Brown-Foreman amphitheater, co-organized by Louisvillians Ashley Angel and Colonel Dennie Humphrey.

The presence and audacity of joy, the mutual exchange of goodwill, and the ability to have fun for fun’s sake sparked my curiosity: “could this event suggest a foreshadowing of what culture-at-large (at least in Louisville) could evolve into?”

If this event is even a hazy, translucent reflection of the current cultural attitude of Louisville, Kentucky I would argue that yes, yes it could!

My gentle ascension while attending GrateVille started when the two beers, half a joint, twilight atmosphere, and Dead cover set began to take effect.  This particular cocktail of conditions coaxed me to relax, to let go, to rely upon imagination and intuition as the dictators of reality, if only for a few moments. The music: my wings; the air: my sandbox.

When the band found their groove, my body responded with a humble bow and nod of assent to the spirit of the moment. My arms started to flap about, awkwardly adapting to the feeling of holding nothing, grasping for nothing – freedom.  As my eyes closed, my heart encouraged the rest of me to take flight.

Now floating a few feet above the ground, my sight receded inward, perceiving waves of color that danced along with me.

Hearing became listening, perceiving what was behind, beneath the music – a sprightly soul-, no doubt.  Thankfully, however, one of my sense organs responsibly agreed to stay back, to remain on the ground, to insure that the rest of me wouldn’t get lost in the dark or freak out from the fear of falling.  The kinesthetic sense of my bare feet rhythmically stepping and sliding about in the grass kept my psyche just grounded enough as to not pathologically conflate my current inner world with the typical quality of the everyday.

I was awash, no…absorbed in Beauty.  I found myself dancing not just because of the music, but also because the environmental conditions of that moment made it possible for Spirit to sense itself, drawing me upward, persuading me to let go of my little personality, and dancing in the dialectic between human profanity and Divine Bliss.

My abrupt descension occurred when a kind voice reached up to my cloud 9:

“Hey man, you wanna hit this?”

“Hell yeah!”

The generously sized joint, as it was passed, shared and  enjoyed by several, was a symbolic toast (and had an analogous effect) to The Dead’s gift of inducing direct experiences of Beauty on the collective level;  enhancing feelings and actions of goodwill.

The Beauty of the Dead’s music. The Good-inextricably associated with such Beauty- has inspired thousands to transcend the everyday and move into a shared, inter-subjective space that truly values the goodwill of humans. That awe-inspiring beauty of the Grateful Dead.

GrateVille was a living embodiment of these values within the larger context of Louisville culture.  It’s amazing and encouraging that the subculture of the Dead’s following has survived and flourished for 50 years.

Philosophers new and old have noted and disseminated the knowledge that there are three primary values that act as a compass for guiding the evolution of humanity’s culture.  These are the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.  The Good is the domain of the inter-subjective dimension of reality-a culture’s collective worldview and morals.

The True is the sphere of knowledge- of gaining understanding and clarity about the objective, exterior dimension of reality.

And the Beautiful describes the inner subjective- an individual’s subjective experience. Another dimension of reality.  They are the pointers that direct humanity’s quest for higher and higher modes of being-in-the world.

There is a principle force of the universe that pushes manifestation to reach higher orders of complexity, depth, and in this case, values.  This force is known as Eros, the self-unifying principle of the Universe, to enable Spirit to realize Spirit as Spirit as the culmination and Omega point of evolution.  So, as evolution advances, values shift to encompass more and more of the universe, from self-interest to collective interest and so on until the values that define us include all of the manifest Universe.

I am specifically concerned with the primary values of the Good and the Beautiful represented at the GrateVille event because it is these values that need to be bolstered, deemed convincingly significant, and actively lived out by culture-at-large, else the present state of affairs of our world will continue into oblivion.  The values of the world just don’t fit the conditions anymore; humans are irreversibly harming the Earth and each other, making it actually quite a ripe time for these values to shift.  It’s either adapt or die at this point.

Culture places too much emphasis on the True, as evidenced by our materialistic, atomistic mainstream worldview.  Truth isn’t intrinsically bad, but when it overextends its influence on the common psyche, pathology ensues. If evolution is just reduced to just one branch, the other two are crippled at expense of the whole.

I was witnessing the obvious presence and genuine expression of the Good and the Beautiful at the Grateville event and it gave me hope for the future- at least of the city of Louisville. It was a convincing display of values that will eventually become mainstream, thanks to the push of Eros.  I believe the power of The Dead comes from encouraging and embodying the values that accompany the leading edge of evolution, the values that society must adopt in order to survive.

GrateVille honored this truth. It was faithful to the tradition and it gave me the grandiose hope of continuation of the human race.   We Louisvillians could see the birth of a new culture- in our lifetime and in our city.

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