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Movie about the Grateful Dead turns 40 on the pot-smokers holiday

RICHMOND, Va. -- It just so happens that the 40th anniversary showings of "The Grateful Dead Movie" fell on 4/20, the unofficial pot-smokers holiday.

It was also the day of the great (or not-so great) weed giveaway in Washington DC.

Perhaps more than any other band, the Grateful Dead symbolized the 60s spirit - freedom; marching to a different moral and philosophical tune; if it feels good, do it. All wrapped around a danceable, dreamy fog of blues, folk, rock and country, frequently peppered with long and legendary impromptu jams that would magically drift around until they collided with another of their songs.

PHOTO: Chris Stone http://tiny.cc/dead

PHOTO: Chris Stone http://tiny.cc/dead

It's likely no other band toured as widely and as often, for a full generation and more.

Its fans were, and are, like a tribe.

"Oh, it's definitely a tribe," said Tiffany Villa, who came to see the anniversary movie with friends at the Virginia Center Commons Regal Cinema.

"It's like a big family - just a bunch of love," she added.

Friend Larry Spencer agreed. "And it is an instant bonding kind of thing," he said. "People have seen the same experience in a lot of different places."

Tiffany said she sees the movie every year. "It's always fun when you get together with your family."

Larry brought along the promotional (and iconic) Grateful Dead T-shirt he got when the movie first opened in California 40 years ago. (See video.)

Plenty of sober folks have become Deadheads, but If ever a band served as ambassadors for recreational drug use, it was the Grateful Dead.

Beyond the oft-reported drug troubles of some of the band members, many Deadheads had a reputation for partying, shall we say.

The band played here on several occasions in the 70s and 80s.

(The only street art that has been allowed to live on in the James River Park - for a generations now - is our famously painted and repainted Grateful Dead Rock.)

During the big, two-day concert here at the Richmond Coliseum in 1985, there were so many people arrested on the first day for pot and narcotics violations (more than 220), the city had to open a special court the next day to process them all.

I was at that fragrant show, and reviewed it for the paper. It was a great show that rainy evening, but I couldn't help but note in my review that "a cloud of marijuana smoke inside the Coliseum was thicker than the rain clouds outside…"

During the next day's performance (Nov. 2, 1985), some fans rushed the doors, creating a mini-riot that was quelled by police horses and more arrests. The band was subsequently banned from performing here - for a while.

But for nearly all of its history, the Grateful Dead has been synonymous with laid-back good times, a giant dance around a cultural maypole that quietly and slowly influenced our society.

It's so hard to believe it's been 40 years since that movie came out, and 32 years since our little fracas here in Richmond.

What a long, strange trip it's been.

Look how much our society has changed, how much our attitudes towards drugs have changed.

Pretty soon, marijuana will likely be legal across the country.

And on that day they'll be playing Grateful Dead songs.