July 08, 1996 12:00 PM

SHORTLY AFTER JERRY GARCIA’S heart stopped beating last August, the surviving members of the Grateful Dead, the band he had led for 30 years, decided to let the group die with him. All agreed, recalls guitarist Bob Weir, that without Garcia, “it’s silly to call it the Grateful Dead. I’ve seen groups do that, and I don’t like the way it looks, I don’t like the way it sounds, and I don’t like the way it smells.”

For the band’s faithful, however, the Dead by any other name would smell as sweet. And so, 15,000 Deadheads, the nomadic tribe of ’60s-redux fans who turn tours into movable meccas, were on hand June 20 in Atlanta to find out if, in the words of Dead drummer Mickey Hart, “there is life after the Dead.” They flocked to hear Weir’s new band Ratdog (will fans be called Ratheads?), Hart’s new band Mystery Box and frequent Dead sideman Bruce Hornsby as they kicked off their 31-city summerlong Further Festival tour.

With the sweet smells of burning hemp and incense wafting through the Lakewood Amphitheatre and fans dervish-dancing in tie-dyed and India-print Deadhead regalia, the seven-hour concert, which also featured sets by Los Lobos and Hot Tuna, captured some of the old magic. “It feels like a Grateful Dead show,” said one wowed fan. But not everyone felt that “Dead-a-palooza,” as fans call the tour, lives up to the name. “It’s not the same,” another said. “There’s one essential element missing.”

If Garcia’s weeping guitar lines and high-lonesome vocals were missed mightily, his image was everywhere, emblazoned on T-shirts, carved on hash-pipe bowls and conjured onstage. “I heard a sweet guitar lick,” Hart sang in “Down the Road.” “It sounded like Garcia, but I couldn’t see the face/ Just the beard and the glasses and a smile on empty space.”

In fact, Garcia’s presence is almost palpable to some of his bandmates. “I don’t know how to tell you this, but the guy’s not dead,” says Weir, 49. “Jerry’s not here anymore, not physically. But he lives in my heart, he lives in all the music that I play.” Besides Weir’s work with Ratdog, the group he hopes will “carry on the Dead spirit,” the guitarist has been busy composing a musical based on the life of famed black baseball pitcher Satchel Paige, and he collaborated with the Dead’s Phil Lesh, Vince Welnick and Hart on the avant-garde orchestral piece they performed with the San Francisco Symphony last month. For Weir, a bachelor who lives in Marin County, Calif., the work has “kept me from moping.”

Hart, who shares a Sonoma County, Calif., home with wife Caryl Ohrbach, daughter Reya, 2, and son Taro, 13, has also found hard work—arranging and producing a highly praised world music album, Mickey Hart’s Mystery Box—therapeutic. “After Jerry died, I went into the studio big-time,” he says. “I just went in and stuck my head in the sound. The music was healing.” Like Weir, Hart, 52, doesn’t grieve for the head Deadhead as much as he communes with his spirit. “He is constantly with me,” Hart says. “His guitar is ringing in my ear. I can’t get it out. It’s harder for some people to cope. But I have my music, I have my memories, and I had a great time. It was one hell of a ride.”

While fans hoped that Lesh would join the Further tour in Atlanta, the bassist and classically trained composer remained back in his Marin County home, where he lives with wife Jill and their two boys, Grahame, 9, and Brian, 6. For Lesh, 56, life after the Dead has its compensations. “I can spend more time with my family and have a certain amount of stability in my life,” he says. “That’s a wonderful thing after 30 years of touring.” Lesh adds that, while he’s pleased that the Further tour provides “Deadheads with a place to congregate,” he has no interest in joining it. “My band was the Grateful Dead,” he says. “I don’t need another one.” He keeps tabs on Deadhead doings via the Internet and sends e-mail messages to his former bandmates, including drummer Bill Kreutzmann, 50, who is laying back in Hawaii, studying oceanography and playing drums in a pickup band. “Of all of us,” Lesh says, “he’s the one having the most fun.”

For a time, Welnick, 45, was having the least. The keyboardist says Garcia’s death plunged him into the “worst depression of my life. I couldn’t get out of bed, I didn’t smile, I didn’t laugh.” Playing with Weir’s band helped bring him out of it, says Welnick, who lives with his wife, Lorie, near Hart’s home in Sonoma County.

But for some, there is little relief. “I loved him dearly and hated being taken away from him,” says the second of Garcia’s four daughters, Annabelle Garcia McLean, 26, who despairs that her father died before her wedding last December to sound technician Scott McClean, 28. “It was sad not to have him give me away,” she says. “I hoped he’d stick around a bit longer, at least until he had a grandchild.”

A graphic artist in Eugene, Ore., Annabelle was upset last April when filmmaker Deborah Koons, 46, who became Garcia’s third wife 18 months before his death, scattered some of his ashes over India’s Ganges River. “Dad never went to India, never studied Buddhism,” she says. “He was more into UFOs.”

Though Annabelle always preferred Neil Diamond to the Dead, she speaks for legions of Deadheads who continue to follow her father’s star. “Late at night, working in my studio, I think of him,” she says. “He’s gone, but not gone. I miss my dad like crazy.”


GABRIELLE SAVERI in San Francisco and KRISTA REESE in Atlanta

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