Jon Koucky’s refurbished Volkswagen camper bus is a tubular time machine, a vibrant look backward into the halcyon days of the Haight-Ashbury 1960s, when free love and legal LSD dominated the cultural landscape and paved the way for bands like The Grateful Dead to stamp their names into the rock n’ roll lexicon.
Koucky has spent the past year restoring his wonderfully psychedelic 1963 VW bus, a rainbow of swirling colors and Grateful Dead-inspired airbrushed iconography. “I’ve been a deadhead all my life,” said Jon.
It shows. For those who don’t know, ‘deadheads’ are self-proclaimed Grateful Dead fanatics. Many follow the band on cross-country tours. Jon definitely fits the bill. Only a true fan would spend so many countless hours on a project of this scope.
Jon’s bus is like a deadhead’s dream: skull and lightning bolt symbols litter the bus like Easter eggs. Bumper stickers eulogize former bandleader Jerry Garcia, who died in 1995. It even has a name, Ted, short for ‘busted,’ as its vanity license plates spell out: BUSTD1. The black plate cover reads, “The music never stopped.”
It wouldn’t seem out of place in a museum — but this bus won’t stay put.
Its most recent destinations were Dallas and Denver, where Jon logged his 18th — yes, eighteenth — Grateful Dead show. Just like Jon’s bus, the band has changed drastically: now billing itself as ‘Dead and Company,’ the group consists of original members Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, and Bill Kreutzmann, in addition to already-famous newcomers like Oteil Burbridge and John Mayer.
The shows are nearly always packed. During concerts, parked in fields among ex-hippies and curious newcomers, Jon’s van is a beacon, a place for conversation and story swapping. Deadheads young and old find themselves flocking to the bus. “The fans appreciate it most,” said Koucky. “People always ask about the stickers, the paint job. Everyone stops by.”
Jon came to love the Dead because of his siblings. His older brothers first caught the fledgling band in Cincinnati in 1968, with an audience of only 800. Then came Woodstock. They were there for that, too. Jon was too young for those early shows, but by the time he was old enough, he knew he had to see them live.
In 1985, he finally did. Jon’s first Grateful Dead show was at the Blossom Music Center near Cleveland, and that’s where he first noticed the vans. “You saw a lot of similar vans at the shows in the 70s and 80s,” Jon recalled. “It became a sort of custom.
Now, it’s Jon’s turn to carry on tradition. It took a full year of hard work to finish his project — from a new A.C. unit and new speakers to, of course, that striking paint job: blue, gold, yellow and green paint swirl around numerous custom-made decals. A skeletal motorcyclist straddles one headlight; the other forms a shining yellow sun when lit, as green, fiddle-playing turtles orbit the yellow headlight-star. The top of a train forms around the ‘VW’ logo.
It’s almost too much to take in at once — kind of like a Grateful Dead show. “It’s just a personal thing,” noted Jon. “That’s what it comes down to. Going to the shows and being with everyone.”
Jon has invited our Storm Cloud Marketing team to take pictures of his bus and tell his story: he plans to continue traveling the U.S. when he can, proudly displaying his ride for anyone seeking inspiration. His bus is nothing less than a product of pure passion, a culmination of a year’s hard work, and – most of all — it offers a chance for Jon to bond with new faces, an opportunity for artists and fans from across the country to come together. It’s all very ‘1960s’ — and, as many deadheads would attest, peace and love are what it’s all about.