Dreadheads: Portrait of a Subculture
directed by Steven R. Hurlburt and Flournoy Holmes
Mutant Girl Films
I have to say that I found this film a rather daunting task as this subject matter hasn’t ever interested me in the least. This disc sat on my to-do list for weeks before I could bring myself to sit down and immerse myself. I never understood their lives, their passion for Jerry Garcia, Phish and a transient lifestyle but I was determined to watch it, absorb it and see what I could ‘phish’ out of it.
Co-director Flournoy Holmes is one of the top graphic designers for the music industry, crafting pieces of culture for the Allman Brothers, Ted Nugent and Christopher Cross, so his working knowledge of the scene seems to have given his team the all access pass on their journey. His son, Fletcher, who also edited this work, was main camera and has also directed several short films. Hurlbert, the executive producer and co-director, did the original soundtrack for this film with his side project, Spunhoney, and some help from Jimmy Herring of Phil Lesh & Friends and Dave Schools of Widespread Panic. All in all, it is a lineup that can handle an undertaking like this.
It begins with a voice-over “My dreads are my art”, no… you faux deep artsy whiner, they are your hair. It begins like a music video vibe with random shots of people in dreads while the music is pumping behind. The various dread wearers in this montage talk about how the dreads are their energy and how beautiful they think dreads are. I’m trying really hard to get into this, but they aren’t making it easy.
Dreadheads follows this tribe of nomads from concert to concert all across the country. Their lifestyle of concerts, love, peace and the barter system is a throwback to the communal times of the 60’s. There are white-collar people who gave it all up to join this traveling dreadlocked caravan. They speak of how they are making their own way through free trade and since I find that to be an admirable quality, I begin to warm up to this troupe. I’m curious how they can be broke but afford gas to cruise the country and score tickets to all these concerts. They show images of entire dreadlocked families, even their kids are sportin’ the do. Then -*cue ominous music*- they start discussing the bathing, washing and hygiene, how they got the dreads, how the posers use products in their hair to get them and the real diehards just nat it up and dirty it up. The syringes full of Nix to combat the mighty head lice and getting mildew put the nail in the coffin for me.
Interviews with musicians such as Bob Weir (Grateful Dead) and Dave Schools (Widespread Panic) give another side to this lifestyle from the eyes of their idols. Adding a touch of validity to this whole project are the interviews with Noel Leo Erskin (PhD) on Rastafarianism and how this chunk of society differs vastly from the true Rastas. He discusses the religious aspects of the hairstyle and what a true Rastafarian follows and believes. It’s clear that the nomadic group who are into the Dead are far from Rasta but there are some dreadheads who feel that not only did Jesus wear dreads, but that their dreads are a spiritual symbol for themselves.
All in all, it was an interesting piece of work focusing on a lifestyle that most of us wouldn’t see in our daily travels. On that note alone, it’s worth a watch. My favorite bit was a very giggly dread wearer who says, ” I’m not homeless, I’m homeMORE, everywhere I go is home really”. I suppose in that respect, we must all be dreadheads.