The Washington Times-Herald

Features

December 26, 2011

Exhibit features pieces of rock 'n' roll history

Indianapolis — Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay became the envy of Deadheads everywhere when he bought Jerry Garcia's "Tiger" guitar in 2002.

But upon getting the $850,000 instrument home and trying to play it, Irsay wondered if the venerable leader of the iconic rock band the Grateful Dead was sending him a disapproving message from the grave.

"I plugged in my amp cord, had my pick, turned on the amp, and nothing," Irsay remembers.

"I was like, 'What is going on here? Is the ghost of Garcia jinxing this? At this moment is he saying, 'No, you are not worthy to play my guitar'?"

Not so much.

After making a few calls, Irsay learned that the electric guitar needed a 9-volt battery he hadn't installed. Once it went in, the instrument worked just fine.

"But, for that moment, I was alone and I was really perplexed, you know, at what, exactly, was going on," said Irsay, who is worth $1.4 billion and ranks No. 312 on Forbes' list of the 400 Richest Americans.

The custom-made guitar — said to be the last one played by Garcia before he died in 1995 — will be on display at the Indiana State Museum soon as part of the exhibit "Chaos is a Friend of Mine: Cultural Icons From the Jim Irsay Collection," which runs Jan. 27 through May 6.

The eclectic, 36-piece exhibit, which also includes letters from Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson, Peyton Manning's Super Bowl jersey and Jack Kerouac's roughly 120-foot manuscript "On the Road," is part of Irsay's stockpile of hundreds of items. He is showing it in Indianapolis next year as part of the Super Bowl XLVI celebration.

It's a collection that is hard to categorize, even for Dale Ogden, the State Museum's senior curator of cultural history.

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