The Truth About The Grateful Dead's Run-Ins With The Law

"What a long, strange trip it's been," sang The Grateful Dead on their November 1970 hit "Truckin'." And it seemed like no matter where they went, authorities were ready to turn that trip into a bad one. That classic single from the band's extensive repertoire alluded to the Dead's most infamous run-in with the law, which occurred in New Orleans, of all places. "Busted, down on Bourbon Street / Set up, like a bowlin' pin / Knocked down, it gets to wearin' thin / They just won't let you be, oh no," goes one of the verses. `

Nine months before they released that song, the Dead had been arrested for drug possession after a concert in the Crescent City. According to Ultimate Classic Rock, the guys knew it was coming, as guitarist and vocalist Jerry Garcia had been tipped off when they arrived at their hotel. Fellow spaced-out '60s rockers Jefferson Airplane had also gotten arrested there just a few weeks prior. Manager Lenny Hart told Rolling Stone in March 1970 that the cops seemed to revel in the bust, making a whole show of it. "They detained the band, handcuffed them all together and lined them up in front of the building for press photos," he said, adding that they "were enjoying it, just getting their own thing on." From then on, the Dead were no fans of New Orleans, a town which theretofore had an anything-goes type of reputation.

The Grateful Dead added another show in New Orleans to pay their legal fees

Although New Orleans was known for being a party town, it apparently wanted the parties to remain based on alcohol, and not the new hippie drugs that were becoming popular at the time. The city of jazz-based debauchery was starting to look a bit too much like San Francisco for the police's liking. That Rolling Stone article said that the "New Orleans police seem to fear that their good town will become the next Haight-Ashbury." They were cracking down in order to keep the long-haired freaky people from feeling welcome there.

After the ordeal, even Houston, Texas — as they sang in "Truckin'" — was "too close to New Orleans" for The Grateful Dead. But they didn't pack up and hit the road right away. Hart ended up using the $37,500 the band had earned from their gig to bail out all 19 members of the touring party who had been arrested. The Dead stayed to play their second scheduled show and added another to raise funds for their legal fees and to help out other musicians who had similarly become victims of the country's war on drugs.

But New Orleans wasn't the only town with a certain reputation that was unwelcoming to the Dead. They had already been busted for drugs in their hometown hippie hideaway, San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, three years earlier.

The Grateful Dead's major bummer after the 'Summer of Love'

The summer of 1967 has gone down in history as the Summer of Love due to the rise in popularity of the hippie counterculture and the attendant music and drug use. The Grateful Dead were obviously at the helm of the cultural movement, and in October of that year, authorities in San Francisco decided to strike back. According to the SF Gate, they raided the house where the band lived and found over a pound of marijuana and hashish. At a press conference on October 6, the band's co-manager, Danny Rifkin, gave a speech railing against the police, in which he said that "marijuana is the least harmful chemical used for pleasure and life enhancement." He called the country's marijuana laws "out of touch with reality" (possession could land you in jail for up to 30 years back then), and said that "[i]f the lawyers, doctors, advertising men, teachers and political officeholders who use marijuana were arrested today, the law might well be off the books before Thanksgiving."

Although they were originally charged with felonies, the guys from The Grateful Dead pleaded down to misdemeanors and merely paid fines of a couple hundred dollars. But that was just the beginning of their run-ins with the law over illegal drugs. And New Orleans wasn't their last. As Ultimate Classic Guitar reports, Jerry Garcia was arrested in New Jersey in 1973 for possession of marijuana and cocaine.