gifts they might actually want

The Best Gifts for Grateful Dead Fans, According to Deadheads

Photo: 2016 Jeff Kravitz

Though the Grateful Dead may have hit its stride in the ’70s, it’s safe to say the band has never been celebrated by as varied a range of fans as it is today. Within the past few years, John Mayer began fronting the group’s latest incarnation, Dead and Company; Jimmy Fallon played G.D. trivia games on The Tonight Show; and unofficial Deadhead merch provider Online Ceramics (whose wares are seen frequently on GQ style editors and Jonah Hill) received its very own New Yorker profile. To find out what you should get the Deadheads in your life this holiday season, we asked some of today’s biggest fans — from Harvard Law students, to cactus farmers, to NFL players, to librarians — for the 16 gifts they’d most like to receive, from an Artists for Bernie Sanders windbreaker to a limited-edition Be Here Now tee.

Olivia Burr, an artist in California, is forever repurchasing “active ferments and functional condiments” from the Los Angeles–based, fermentation-focused condiment brand Darkhorse Organic. The brand sells turmeric-infused ketchup and mustard, but Burr says, “The Umami Bouillon and Probiotic Vinaigrette are top of my list.”

In the late 1960s, before Be Here Now cemented his fame, American spiritual teacher Ram Dass opened for the Dead on tour. Long before his book reached Steve Jobs’s desk, it was printed and distributed by the Lama Foundation. Burr also has her eyes on the Foundation’s hand-dyed, organic cotton tee, which celebrates the book’s iconic cover design.

Nicholas Hine, a Dead follower and Harvard Law student, is hoping for a Red Aglaonema. “I saw one in a small plant shop in Beacon Hill, Boston, a few weeks ago and have been thinking of it ever since. I’m relatively new to the plant game, but the red leaves make it more beautiful than your average pothos, and it’s (apparently) just as easy to take care of.”

Artist Timothy Uriah Steele has followed the Dead since he was in high school and Jerry Garcia was still alive. This holiday season, Steele has his sights set on a pair of Red Wing Iron Rager boots. “I used to work as a carpenter building staircases” Steele says, “And the old journeyman carpenters always wore Red Wing boots.”

Steele is also hoping for a jar or two of this Weed Sport rub, which he swears by for aches and pains (his generally stem from high-intensity Muay Thai classes and his daily cycling commute to his Sunset Park studio). The balm, which “lets the hemp do the heavy lifting,” comes in a satisfyingly cannabinoid green.

He’d also like a hoodie from Filson. “I wear a lot of Filson,” Steele says. “Everything from there lasts forever, and their products only get better with age. If I got this C.C.F. Pullover Hoodie, I’d immediately bleach tie dye it myself at the studio.”

Aaron Schafer, a host of No Simple Road, a podcast for devoted Dead and Company followers, says “this recorder is something any old Head would love to have. All of us fans have old bootleg cassette tapes in a box collecting dust somewhere. This little gadget allows you to convert those old bootlegs to MP3 on a USB drive. Pretty nifty for preserving the memory of those shows.”

Once those cassettes are converted, Schafer says this Sonos system would be the perfect thing to play them through at home. “So many Deadheads are audiophiles. We love our sound quality. Sonos speakers have that clarity, solid bass response, and can be controlled with a word. As the Dead sang, ‘Let there be songs to fill the air.’”

Max Martin, the owner of The Cactus Store (which operates year-round in Los Angeles, and throughout the summer in New York City) and devoted Deadhead, is eyeing a trio of “super efficient, thoughtfully-designed, warm light-emitting grow lights” that make it possible for desert plants to thrive indoors in the winter months. “Gone are the days of insane blue and red lights,” he says.

“I play the Dead most often while I’m cooking,” says painter Nell Brookfield, currently a student in Pratt’s M.F.A. program. “I fantasize about owning an orange Le Creuset pot, to imitate my dad and all the things he makes with it back in England.”

Gordon Kenny’s Instagram, @bernyourface, is primarily a showcase for his tie-dye shirts, which feature images of both Senator Bernie Sanders’s face and the Grateful Dead. “All I want for Christmas,” Kenny says, “is the “Artists for Bernie Sanders” windbreaker from his official website.

In recent years, Online Ceramics shirts and hoodies have become the unofficial uniform of the Dead. It’s no surprise, then, that a number of fans we spoke to shouted their pieces out as holiday holy grails, including artist and Dead fan Justin Cole Smith, and both of the No Simple Road hosts. All of them say the brand has “single-handedly changed the aesthetic of Grateful Dead culture.”

$20 for 4

Smith would also like to receive a couple of Pentel P200s, which he says are his favorite mechanical pencils for drawing and design. “These are a safe bet for any artists and designers in your family and friend group,” he says.

Hoodies and tees from UC Santa Cruz’s web store featuring the university’s Banana Slug mascot in Dead Head attire sit at the top of rare-book librarian Jessica Pigza’s holiday wishlist. “Purchases support the preservation of the Grateful Dead Archive,” she adds.

And lastly, Romeo Okwara, a defensive end for the NFL’s Detroit Lions (and frequent Dead and Company show-goer) is hoping for a Hypervolt massage device. “It’s an athlete’s best friend,” he says. “It really helps relax those tight muscles that need tending to.”

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

Deadheads on What Gifts They Want