Nearly 50 years ago, when Rosie McGee told people, “I’m with the band,” she was telling the truth. From 1964 to 1974, McGee, now 68 and living in Cotati, traveled with the Grateful Dead.
“I was the girl who danced onstage right behind Jerry Garcia,” she said. “I never regarded myself as a performer, or thought anyone was watching me.”
But it was behind the scenes that McGee made her most important connection with the band and its cult following.
“I was the girl who took photographs,” she said. “People were drawn to my photos. The word got out that I was the keeper of this treasure trove of early Grateful Dead photos. I was well-known within the Grateful Dead community. Who else had a photo of Jerry Garcia on a horse?”
She took so many pictures of the band, both onstage and offstage, that friends and fellow Grateful Dead fans urged her to put all her pictures and stories into a book.
Now she has done that — three times over. Her online e-book edition of “Dancing With the Dead” came out two years ago, followed by the paperback version last year and the audio book earlier this year. The book, running 328 pages in print, includes more than 200 photos.
“It’s a memoir,” she said of her book. “It’s really a series of stories.”
McGee’s own life story began in Paris, where she was born in 1946. In 1951, when she was 5 years old, her family moved to New York, where her father hoped to work at the United Nations. When that prospect didn’t work out, the family moved again, this time to San Francisco.
McGee grew up in the city, and by 1963, she was one of thousands of teenagers seen on the streets packing guitars and hanging around the edges of San Francisco’s burgeoning music scene.
A turning point came when she met Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead in late 1965 at the Muir Beach Acid Test, one of the public LSD parties that were popping up around town.