Jerry Garcia guitar raises more than $3 mln for rights group

 01 Jun 2017 - 9:39

Jerry Garcia guitar raises more than $3 mln for rights group
Jerry Garcia's guitar is auctioned on May 31, 2017 in Brooklyn, New York. AFP / ANGELA WEISS

AFP

New York: A guitar of Grateful Dead legend Jerry Garcia on Wednesday raised more than $3 million at an auction to support a leading civil rights group.

Known as Wolf, the custom-made electric guitar was a constant concert companion of Garcia until the jam rock icon died in 1995.

The original buyer put the guitar back on auction to raise money for the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Alabama-based group which wages legal battles against white supremacists and other hate groups.

At a charity concert in New York, Brian Halligan, the CEO and co-founder of marketing firm HubSpot, bought Wolf for $1.932 million including the premium.

An anonymous charity matched his pre-premium $1.6 million bid, bringing the total donation for the Southern Poverty Law Center to $3.2 million.

Halligan is one of the legions of "Deadhead" fans, who for years journeyed from concert to concert to experience the band as part of a welcoming community of fellow travelers.

The Grateful Dead officially disbanded last year with a series of farewell concerts, but the fan base remains fervent.

"Somewhat priceless"

Halligan - who co-wrote a book on the Grateful Dead's lessons for marketing -- promised to take good care of the guitar and to lend it upon request.

"I don't plan on selling it or trading it, and so it's somewhat priceless," the entrepreneur told AFP.

"I doubt this will sell anytime soon, if ever," he said.

The auction comes as the Southern Poverty Law Center voices alarm at a rise in hate crimes, especially targeting Muslims and immigrants, since Donald Trump began his presidential campaign.

The group, founded in 1971, tracks activities of hate groups and hits them with legal challenges.

Morris Dees, the co-founder of the center who is credited with driving hate groups into financial hardship, vowed to put the money from the guitar "to good use." 

"We will not stop until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream," he said, quoting civil rights leader Martin Luther King's 1963 speech on the National Mall in Washington.

Odyssey for guitar

The auction took on a party atmosphere at a music venue, the Brooklyn Bowl, as artists including Nels Cline of Wilco and folk rocker Cass McCombs put on Grateful Dead-inspired winding jam rock.

Wolf has a long history. It was constructed by luthier Doug Irwin, with Garcia debuting it at a 1973 concert with Hell's Angels bikers in New York.

He bequeathed the guitar back to Irwin, who had fallen destitute in the intervening decades, but the move set off a battle within the Grateful Dead who initially objected and said Wolf belonged to the band rather than Garcia personally.

After Irwin won out, it was bought for $789,000 in 2002 by Dan Pritzker, a Deadhead philanthropist and heir to the Chicago family behind the Hyatt hotel chain.

Pritzker decided to put the guitar back on sale to support the center amid alarm at the direction of the United States since Trump's victory, said Arlan Ettinger, president of the Guernsey's auction house behind the sale.

The guitar's auction price, while high, does not top the 2015 record of $2.4 million paid for a Gibson guitar on which John Lennon played "Love Me Do" and other early Beatles songs.