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By 1974, Jerry Garcia wanted to stop touring and take a break from performing with the Grateful Dead. Before beginning a hiatus of uncertain length, a five-show farewell run was set for October 16-20, 1974 at Winterland in San Francisco. An idea developed to film the shows and then send the movie out on tour as a substitute. The movie premiered June 1, 1977, at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City.
To document the Grateful Dead experience, the film showcases the fans more than was usual in a concert movie at the time. They are shown enjoying the show, discussing the music and the band, and what it was like to be a Deadhead in the mid-1970s. The film also includes interviews with members of the Dead and vintage footage from their colorful history and early days in the band. The film opens with a uniquely Grateful Dead psychedelic animated sequence created by Gary Gutierrez who also designed this cool poster advertising the movie. The animation was all done by hand, frame by frame.
The opening animation sequence cost approximately as much as the rest of the movie, which together brought the Grateful Dead organization to the brink of bankruptcy. To cover costs the band took out loans, signed a distribution deal with United Artist Records and self-released a string of albums: Robert Hunter's Tiger Rose; Garcia's Reflections; the Godchaux's Keith & Donna; Lesh & Lagin's Seastones; Old & In the Way; and the Dead's Blues for Allah and Steal Your Face.