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Obama Meets Privately With the Dead

First Family
Musicians Phil Lesh and Bob Weir of the band The Dead perform in NYC, March 30, 2009. (Bryan Bedder/Getty Images )

The surviving (and formerly feuding) members of the Grateful Dead had a secret impromptu meeting Monday evening with the man they credit with reuniting them: President Obama.

The president welcomed all the members of The Dead, who are performing tonight at the Verizon Center in Washington, to the Oval Office just before dinner last night. They didn't talk music as much as they did history - history about the Oval Office, and the president's desk.

Apparently the band was quite taken with how tidy the president keeps his desk. And how down-to-earth he seemed, according a source who was there.

"The president was so gracious. Really, really nice and so welcoming. It hit you: you're in the Oval Office, but it was so normal," the source told us.

The entourage included the four surviving members of the Grateful Dead - Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann - plus keyboardist Jeff Chimenti (from Weir's Ratdog) and Warren Haynes, who is joining the Dead on their 2009 spring tour as lead vocalist and guitarist. Some of them had their wives in tow.

As if chatting with the president in the Oval Office weren't cool enough, something remarkable happened on their way out. Just outside the Oval Office, Phil and his wife, Jill Lesh, spotted a vase full of Scarlet Begonias sitting on a table.

For the uninitiated, "Scarlet Begonias" is one of the late Grateful Dead band leader Jerry Garcia's most famous songs. (Check out a youthful looking Jerry Garcia singing "Scarlet Begonias" in this 1977 video, and be sure you have a tissue.)

After admiring the Scarlet Begonias, the band went next door to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building to meet with the most prominent Deadheads in the Obama White House: senior advisors David Axelrod and Pete Rouse, and deputy chief of staff Jim Messina. All three are planning to go to tonight's one and only Dead show in Washington, we're told.

After leaving the White House, the members of the Dead - none of whom, surprisingly, wore tie-dyed t-shirts to the Oval Office - walked over to their favorite Washington restaurant, the Old Ebbitt Grill, for dinner.

Given that the Dead sparked the "Deadheads for Obama" movement when they reunited during the 2008 presidential campaign to play a fundraiser for Obama, we expect to see plenty of happy Deadheads at the show. We'll give you a full update, so check back.

By Mary Ann Akers  |  April 14, 2009; 3:22 PM ET
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Next: The Dead in D.C., a Stirring, Smoky Bipartisan Show


"Obama Meets Privately With the Dead"

Even for an Obama supporter (me), there are so many joke lines here I don't know which way to turn! Please don't do that to me again!

Posted by: unchurch | April 14, 2009 6:14 PM | Report abuse

I wonder who had the better grade of coke.

Posted by: PowerBoater69 | April 14, 2009 6:29 PM | Report abuse

Coke? Gee, I would have thought someone would mention drinking the Electric Kool-Aid. After all it's what the right-wing(nut) kooks keep saying we're drinking. Me I prefer a nice shot of espresso.

Posted by: derbycityespresso | April 14, 2009 6:34 PM | Report abuse

PowerBloater thinks Bush is still preznit.

Posted by: mahnkenstein | April 14, 2009 8:06 PM | Report abuse

I see this as an act to divert attention away from the Fox News sponsored tea party.

Posted by: zachrd99 | April 15, 2009 1:34 AM | Report abuse

Must be nice being the commander in Thief! Seems Obama bin Lyin is no different than those before him!


Posted by: clermontpc | April 15, 2009 6:52 AM | Report abuse

Cannot get over this 'hook" Obama meets with the "Dead" now where are the ghosts?

But about the tea party, someone mentioned tea? That actually made the headlines as a grass roots blow back? Sorry, all that was meant to be a joke? Right?

For the next round of high tea.. I will go with mint or ginger. Organic all the way, and no 'artificial' ingredients.

Now,lets continue the conversation-- tax day is here and tea time is just about over! Guys better luck next time!

Posted by: Victoria5 | April 15, 2009 7:41 AM | Report abuse

Cannot get over this 'hook" Obama meets with the "Dead" now where are the ghosts?

But about the tea party, someone mentioned tea? That actually made the headlines as a grass roots blow back? Sorry, all that was meant to be a joke? Right?

For the next round of high tea.. I will go with mint or ginger. Organic all the way, and no 'artificial' ingredients.

Now,lets continue the conversation-- tax day is here and tea time is just about over! Guys better luck next time!

Posted by: Victoria5 | April 15, 2009 7:43 AM | Report abuse

Cool story, but still not enough to get me to buy a ticket to John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, where the Dead are playing tonight, even though it's just a few blocks away. The Dead that's touring this year is not a group - it's a bank account. What I paid to see the real band with Jerry at Lake Placid in '83 isn't enough in today's dollars for a nosebleed seat to see this nostalgia act. The Dead, unfortunately, are less than the sum of their parts. Phil Lesh and Friends, Allman Brothers, Government Mule, Mickey Hart Band - hell, even Ratdog - I'll cross state lines to see. But not this configuration.

"That's the way it's been in town
Ever since they tore the juke box down;
Two-bit piece don't buy no more,
Not so much as it done before..."

Posted by: treetopflyer | April 15, 2009 9:26 AM | Report abuse

My goodness. When we used to say "we are everywhere," I never thought it was going to be in the Oval Office. But a quick shout out to Senator Leahy, regardless, as one of the pioneers in DC...:)

Posted by: shava | April 15, 2009 10:36 AM | Report abuse


This is welcome news. Now we feel "included."

Now how about declaring "Brian Wilson Day" on June 20th, the Beach Boy's 67th birthday...

That would bring more "Good Vibrations" to the Boomers.

Also a "war on drugs" tie-in here.

Posted by: scrivener50 | April 15, 2009 10:37 AM | Report abuse

As a veteran of a fair amount of shows
(15 or so IIRC)from '83 to '91, I understand the skepticism many people hold regarding this tour.
I saw the opening show in Greensboro Sunday, and strongly advise anyone in the path of this tour to grab a ticket if they can. They are dusting off some classics,and playing them with new energy.

Of course I miss Jerry, but I also missed the groove. Jerry's not coming back, but I found the groove three nights ago. If these guys can avoid feuding, I hope to see more tours. I know I'll be there if I can.

Posted by: mw11385 | April 15, 2009 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Where's the photo? Somebody has to have a picture of that get together!

Posted by: paulchouinard | April 15, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

what is wrong with the republicans they talking about tea parties when some people cannot afford to buy tea and they want to play with it, sad sad on your. you need to be talking about the economy not taxes. your did not think about taxes when the republicans was in white house or your was sleep at the switch. you can not win with this going on, your need more than republicans to win victoy and your starting off wrong,because we do not care about nothing your do or say. it want change a thing. to bad

Posted by: charlesv28 | April 15, 2009 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Some of you look at the Dead a bunch of aging baby boomer hippies trying to make a comeback. But you know what, they never went away, in fact, they are the last 60's band standing, when all the others have broken up or retired. And who doesn't have squabbles in their work? I've heard some of their recent music without Jerry, and it's tighter and more rehearsed and has a fresh new energy that the new members bring to the band. And they always put on a great show, without all the gimmickry surrounding the like of Britney Spears, haha. I'm not a big Obama fan, and I am skeptical of his financial plans for the country. But at least he had the taste and sense to associate himself with some people I really DO respect, for their tenacity and longetivity.

Posted by: bluelizard | April 15, 2009 11:54 AM | Report abuse

@charlesv28: You are a blathering imbecile that can't manage to put words together to complete a sentence. The heavy, graduated income tax we now despise was a plank of Marx's Communist Manifesto (in the 1800's), and it succeeds in its purpose of transferring power away from the people and ceding it to government. In heavily socialist countries like Sweden and Norway, they have had to ROLL BACK taxes and downsize government to keep their economies functional, and at some point we will have to do the same here in the US, that is, to scale back government. Obama is preparing to increase it, and that can't be a good thing. If you were a small business owner like me, and you are already being pinched tightly, then you would see where I'm coming from.

Posted by: bluelizard | April 15, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Blue have never read Marx, so don't front. There is absolutely no mention of progressive taxation in the Communist Manifesto. It is OK, you are confusing the great theorists of the conservative movement....the Marx Brothers!!

Posted by: Joe51 | April 15, 2009 1:36 PM | Report abuse

My first show was closing of the Fillmore west and saw the Grateful dead 25 of it's last 26 years and also the last 14 years after Jerry and Garcia band in 78 The one year I missed the GD -so a grand Total of 37 years in a row - and I am very picky --- they have almost always been spotty - The last Hour of the Greensboro show was actually outstanding - Help slip frankins was stunning -Yea , we all miss Jerry, but these guys were kicking . Some lackluster moments and the Space after awesome drumz was the worst ever - but if you are at all inclined -you may find it very worthwhile .

Posted by: Bgbuzman | April 15, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

I have been following the Dead for decades and last night they gave one of the most disappointing shows I have ever seen. It is the first time I have walked out before the end.

Maybe their visit with the President threw them off

Posted by: rcc_2000 | April 15, 2009 4:00 PM | Report abuse

In response to Derbycityespresso the "right wing kooks" are referring to the poisonous koolaid that the cult leader made his followers drink to commit mass suicide a few decades ago. NOT to LSD or electric koolaid, just another uninformed liberal making assumptions!

Posted by: Marie420 | April 15, 2009 4:30 PM | Report abuse

In response to Joe51
Quoted from the Communist Manifesto:

These measures will, of course, be different in different countries.

Nevertheless, in most advanced countries, the following will be pretty generally applicable.

1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.

2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.

3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.

4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.

5. Centralization of credit in the banks of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly.

6. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the state.

7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the state; the bringing into cultivation of waste lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.

8. Equal obligation of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.

9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.

10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children's factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, etc.

Posted by: sungenis | April 15, 2009 5:19 PM | Report abuse

The nice thing about taste is there's no accounting for it. I don't have to account for my desire to skip the Dead tonight and no one else has to account for their desire to go see them. I will just say that my decision is only reinforced by the fact that last year's Obama benefit (where I was introduced also to the seamier side of campaigning, PA style - that might have been a factor) is the only Dead, Grateful Dead or Dead-related show that I walked out on. It was during Unbroken Chain, just as the band was finally kicking into high gear because Warren was finally let loose to do what he does best, instead of catering to the "make it sound like Jerry" crowd. I'll go see any of the members' individual band - that's where the vibe lives on, because they're ongoing, going concerns, comfortable with risk-taking and experimentation. I've heard very little of that from this overly-rehearsed, over-structured band.

Posted by: treetopflyer | April 15, 2009 7:08 PM | Report abuse

Oh yeah! Wednesday is party day at the Obamas! This done nothing sure is full of himself! The "One Term Wonder" is living up to his name!

Posted by: vgailitis | April 16, 2009 9:51 AM | Report abuse

@ Bluelizzard. Before name-calling your should do a little reading. The highest tax rates ever were under Eisenhower. The current tax policy grants tax cuts to 95% of working families. Unless you are a millionaire, Obama's tax plan treats you pretty good. A graduated tax is fair simply because of the amount of money one needs to survive measured against how much more than that an individual can reasonably spend. I am one of those who feels 8 years of Bush giving away an additioal 20% of America's assets to the top 1% of the income scale needs a little correction in the other direction. You go back to that fictional world where you live. It must comfort you when the entire world seems to love the guy you just can't stand. Suck your thumb, that helps my two-year old.

Posted by: thoughtful11 | April 16, 2009 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Anyone with adverse reaction or comments to this has never been to a Dead concert and experienced the total loving,peaceful, and spiritually energizing effects that well from the diverse fans who attend. I attended my first concert at 45 years old, in 1993, it was The Dead. I have never been the same. I gained a renewed hope for humanity because of the experience. At all Dead events I find the acceptance of diversity and sharing from the great span in age that attend as well as the diverse class (and obvious race)of people who attend. I look forward to yearly attendance to at least one Dead event to replenish my soul. I am extatic that this summer I have already booked 2 Dead events! I am 60, and a grandmother of 9 and will take one with me to each event for the love and experience!

Posted by: mettarose49 | April 16, 2009 5:58 PM | Report abuse

Warren Haynes is a great guitarist and his playing is a natural fit in the Allman Brothers.
I just hope he can channel some Jerry soul for these shows as I have some big expectations. You can play the right notes, but Jerry played the right notes right. I think most of Jerry's Kids know what I mean.

Posted by: JJChrisTano | April 16, 2009 10:44 PM | Report abuse

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