If his name sounds familiar, you're spot on. Artist Justin Helton has been part of the family since 2016 when he was our Dave's Picks Artist-In-Residence and he's had so much fun re-envisioning the iconic vibes of the Grateful Dead that we thought we bring him back for our JUNE 1976 boxed set. Here he talks about his work on JUNE 1976 and a few of his personal favorites from the Dead.
We’re huge fans over here. In fact, you were our Dave’s Picks 2016 Artist-In-Residence and have been cranking out a series of high quality Grateful Dead prints under your company Status Serigraph ever since. What were your initial thoughts about coming aboard for the JUNE 1976?
There were no real thoughts other than... hell yes! To be given the opportunity to work on such a cool project was an immediate yes reaction and an incredible honor!
When working on a Grateful Dead project, what elements come into play? Era, location of shows, color?
I think the era has a lot of influence on the art for sure... especially when it comes to using certain staples of the Dead’s traditional Imagery (i.e. Stealie, bears, etc.). But no matter what I feel like the colors must be in abundance... the bands sound and history just lends itself to colors in so many deep underlying ways.
What about creating cohesion over 5 shows?
That was definitely a challenge, but luckily there was an underlying theme across the board on these shows. This batch of shows were performed in smaller and sometimes very ornate theaters whose decor and aesthetics lent the inspiration to the overall look and concept.
What are some of your favorite elements of the JUNE 1976 design?
My favorite overall is the doors on the front of the casing that fold open to reveal the cover art. Being able to design so that it resembled a pair of ornate theater doors opening up to what’s inside, was the jumping point for the rest of the packaging and really was a fun concept to build from.
JUSTIN HELTON’S GRATEFUL DEAD
First exposure to the Dead/first show:
Jerry passed away when I was 14 so sadly I never got the chance to see the Grateful Dead live. When I was in high school I had listened to the band through various friends, but the most pivotal moment I can remember was working at a local family owned pizza joint as a bus boy and washing dishes in the back while listening to music. My boss Rick, was a huge deadhead and he would talk to me about the band, tell me certain releases and tapes to check out... and at a certain point have me a huge box of his live tapes. It was like Christmas Day... I tore through probably 100 tapes of shows from different eras and really got a taste of what the Grateful Dead was all about. My first live experience came soon after with seeing Phil & Friends, Ratdog, and later on.. Furthur and The Dead.
Favorite Dead Song/Songs:
It’s really hard for me to pick favorite songs with the Grateful Dead because there seem to be so many songs I love and so many aspects of certain songs I like for certain reasons... I will say one of my favorite collections or segues of songs is St Stephen>Cryptical>The Other One. That string of songs together always gets me going... the entire band shines!
Favorite Dead Era/Years:
Early to mid 70’s for sure... I have always loved Pigpen’s contributions to the band... and I think the experimentation from that era was really moving into some new and exciting territory for the band.
Desert Island Dead:
Probably my favorite, and what I would consider a desert island recording would be Dicks Picks Vol. 8 Harpur College in Binghamton, NY on 5/2/70. The opening acoustic set and the electric that follows is what I consider essential Dead in what is probably my favorite lineup and era.
Being A Dead Head Means…
Obviously it means being a big fan of one of the greatest bands to ever grace this earth... but I also think it means so many other things. Deadheads have and adventurous nature... traveling and seeing the world. Deadheads also tend to be kind in their ways and look out for their friends and neighbors. But again, at the core of it, is a real love for what the band created and the community that has organically grown from that... it’s really an amazing thing.