Legendary music photographer, author, and filmmaker Jay Blakesberg joined as guest setlist curator for this week’s episode of Guess the Year – the new game show podcast that celebrates the music of the Grateful Dead, and the incredible passion of Deadheads.
The episode, which dropped today (links below), sees Jay select personally significant tracks from the Dead’s vast live archive; five contestants ranging in age from 24 to 52, silently guess the year of those tracks. After each clip, Jay explains why that particular rendition was important to him, drawing on his multiple decades of experience as a photographer and die hard fan of the Dead. He picks a 1977 Eyes of the World at Raceway Park in Englishtown because it was his first Grateful Dead show (which he attended with 100k+ other fans, on a 100° day, without any water). He also selects a 1972 Black Throated Wind to highlight its lyricist, John Perry Barlow— a personal hero of Jay’s.
The contestants competed for a signed copy of Jay’s new book RetroBlakesberg, Volume 1: The Film Archives (Rock Out Books; Out now), a visual autobiography that details the development of Jay’s career while unearthing hundreds of incredible live shots and portraits of artists from Joni Mitchell to Jane's Addiction; from Led Zeppelin to Dr. Dre– and of course, the Grateful Dead.
Guess the Year is a new podcast that celebrates the music of the Grateful Dead – and the incredible passion of their fans, the Deadheads. Last week, Guess the Year hit #51 on the Apple Podcasts charts in the overall Music category, making it the most listened-to Grateful Dead podcast in the world, after only sixteen episodes.
The show is a lighthearted game show, featuring five contestants who join from across the world who join via Zoom. The contestants listen to a short clip from a Grateful Dead live track and then have to guess the year the performance took place, based on clues in each live version’s essential qualities– its vocals, musicians, instrumentals, recording quality, and the song choice itself. The contestants hear the song simultaneously, and submit a silent guess. The contestant who is furthest off is eliminated at the end of each round, and the winner is the last person standing. Like Jeopardy!, each episode's winner continues on to face the next batch of opponents- creating fan favorite contestants and recurring themes.
Guess the Year is hosted and produced independently by thirty one-year-old, Los Angeles-based writer and screenwriter Michael McClure, who was inspired to create the podcast after discovering the Sirius XM's Grateful Dead channel during the pandemic. "The Sirius station pulls from the Dead’s endless archive of live shows at random, and as each track came on, I found myself guessing what year it was from. Initially, I was always wrong. Nowadays I’m only mostly wrong. But it was an entertaining game to play when driving around town, and I figured others would enjoy playing it too. I quickly learned Deadheads have been playing Guess the Year since before I was born," he said. “What has been great is watching each episode kind of overcome any competitive tension and turn into a wider discussion of each Deadhead’s stories, what they specifically appreciate about the band and its community.”
While the show is ostensibly a competition, the show’s appeal is grounded in the way contestants show their intense fascination with and love of the Dead. Whether they are detailing the minute differences between Jerry’s guitar tone in 1972 vs 1977, or recounting insane stories from their time spent following the Dead on tour, the Deadheads that join Guess the Year bring incredible passion to the show.
The first twenty episodes of the show have seen no shortage of incredible moments, including:
The triumph of a college freshman who had only started listening to the Dead a year earlier over Deadheads who’d seen the band perform live a combined five hundred times
The Grateful Dentist – a New Jersey dentist who moonlights as the front person for a Grateful Dead tribute band wowing listeners with his near-encyclopedic knowledge of the Dead’s live catalog
A Brooklyn post-grad poignantly recounting how the Dead helped him overcome a deep depression amid the loneliness of quarantine, through long walks across the empty city listening to Dead sets
A former inmate detailing his joy upon discovering that the transistor radio in his cell picked up a distant radio station with a Dead-only program every Sunday night
As Deadheads look ahead to Dead & Co’s final tour this summer, Guess the Year stands to be a hugely meaningful resource for the Grateful Dead community. It is already proving popular in the Dead community. It has hit as high as #51 on the Apple Music Podcast charts.