|The Grateful Dead's scheduled show at Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium, planned for June 15, 1973, was canceled the day before. Nice to see Pigpen with the boys, even if he wasn't going to play with them. |
One of the pleasures of being a Grateful Dead fan is considering the difference between listening to the tapes of great shows versus actually attending them. Some shows have more depth every time you listen to them again, whereas others had their most magical moment in the very instant of creation. Yet some shows stand even above those comparisons, epically memorable shows for whom the tapes revealed extraordinarily powerful music that stood out on its own. During the Spring and Summer of 1973, the Grateful Dead played five huge outdoor dates in Iowa, Santa Barbara, San Francisco and Washington, DC, all of them memorable moments for everyone who attended. The tapes, too, circulated widely, and the Grateful Dead Archive released all five shows in their entirety in the Summer of 2023. Here Comes Sunshine, a 17-cd set box set, was released to great acclaim, and Grateful Dead fans can't get enough of the music or the memories.
Season 7 of Deadcast, the Grateful Dead's official podcast, tells the whole story of the Spring and Summer of 1973. Jesse Jarnow and Rich Mahan wrote and produced the saga of the great concerts, the great music, and all the events surrounding the Spring tour. Jarnow ends the final episode, however, with a tantalizing remark. After the stadium tour ended at RFK in DC on June 10, 1973, there was another concert scheduled for Nippert Stadium at the University of Cincinnati, just five days later. The Dead's crew were there, the sound system was being constructed, but technical problems caused the show to be canceled the day before the planned event.
So the Grateful Dead world almost had one more June '73 stadium show, two or three sets in the summer sun, epic jamming on new material on an 80-degree Ohio afternoon. At 3 pm on June 15, the Cincinnati airport reported 85 degrees and a 10 mph breeze. It would have been perfect weather, right about when the boys (and one girl) would have been cranking up a second set.
There have been lots of projected Grateful Dead shows that didn't happen. But once the band became headliners by 1970, there were very few where tickets were sold, the crew was in place and the show still didn't happen. Now, sure the Grateful Dead had canceled a huge outdoor show at Ontario Motor Speedway just the month before (originally scheduled for Sunday, May 27 with the Allman Brothers) but that was canceled on May 21, with a week to go. But nobody was camped out in the parking lot, and the crew hadn't rolled any semis. Cincinnati was different. It nearly happened. This post will try and unpack how the June 15, 1973 show at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati nearly made landfall, but didn't, and what it tells us about the history of Grateful Dead touring.
|Cincinnati Enquirer, May 31, 1973|
Risk And Reward
Enormous amounts of talk and writing about the Grateful Dead phenomenon have been proffered to the world, and I am as culpable as anyone for contributing to the huge volume of words. One aspect of the Dead's history that that receives less attention than it should, however, is the band's appetite for risk. Jerry Garcia himself had a higher risk tolerance than anyone in the band, but all members of the Grateful Dead organization had to sign on to a career of high-risk propositions. The Grateful Dead's constantly improvisational music was a moment-to-moment risk, and the commitment to it over the repetition of formally arranged songs was another inherent layer of risk. Even when the Grateful Dead had a popular song, if not a hit, they would not always play it, nor ever play it the same. Hardly a logical approach to success in popular music.
The Grateful Dead's tolerance for risk extended to their business practices. The Grateful Dead were regularly the first out-of-town band to play many of the new psychedelic ballrooms than sprung up around the country in 19l67 and '68. These new ballrooms were modeled, however vaguely, on the Fillmore and Avalon. Almost all of the proprietors of these establishments were inexperienced hippies who had little or no business experience. In most cases, they also didn't know anyone directly associated with the Dead, but just sounded persuasive over the phone. The Dead flew to these cities with no real guarantee of a payday, or a way to afford to get home if they didn't get paid. Yet the band took chances on new promoters nearly every month in the late 60s.
Other decisions by the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia also depended on extraordinary risk tolerance, particularly in the early 1970s. Touring Europe, starting their own record company, starting a second record company (Round Records) for less popular material, spending their touring profits on a better, sound system and starting a travel agency (all of which is explored by Jesse Jarnow in Deadcast 7:4), just to name a few things, were each by themselves not a risk most bands would take. The Grateful Dead took all of them, in the space of two years. The band took chances. Sometimes they worked. Sometimes they didn't.
As Jarnow documents in Deadcast Season 7, the Grateful Dead's audience was expanding quickly, and in order to capture the crowds, the Dead moved their shows to places even larger than the indoor basketball arenas that had been rock music's top tier up until that time. Also, the Dead did not hesitate to work with inexperienced promoters if they felt that they "understood" the needs of the band. Most of the Spring '73 shows had a large degree of new promoters, new venues or both.
- The Iowa State Fair Grandstand show (May 13, 1973: Des Moines, IA) was produced by some Iowa Record Store owners who had almost no concert promotion experience. Yes, they were ably assisted by Bill Graham and Barry Fey (from Denver), but the show was put on by rookies. The Iowa State Fair Grandstand, mainly a stock car track, had been used for country music concerts since 1970, but never for a rock concert on the scale of the Dead show.
- The Harder Stadium show at UC Santa Barbara (May 20, 1973) was put on by college students. They were supported by Sepp Donahower and the Pacific Presentations team, so there was professional involvement, but it was still a college show. Harder Stadium had been built in '67 for football, but UCSB had stopped playing football in 1971. There had been one rock show in the stadium (CSNY in '69) and it went poorly. So the Dead played an outdoor show run mostly by college students in an all-but-untried venue.
- The show at San Francisco's Kezar Stadium (May 26, 1973) was put on by Bill Graham Presents, of course, so there was no lack of professionalism on hand. Kezar, however, had lost its major sports tenant when the San Francisco 49ers had moved to Candlestick Park in 1971. There had been one peace rally/rock show in April, 1967, but in reality Kezar Stadium was totally untried as a rock venue for a big crowd. After a Led Zeppelin show a week later (June 1), Bill Graham would move big rock shows to the more modern Oakland Coliseum.
- The canceled show with the Allman Brothers at Ontario Motor Speedway in Southern California (May 27, 1973) was proposed by Bill Graham Presents. It would have been the first rock show at Ontario Motor Speedway. The next year, other promoters held the California Jam at OMS, on April 6, 1974, and it had the highest paid attendance of any rock concert up to that time (168,000-plus). So the idea was sound, but the Dead/Allmans show was just a little too soon.
- The twin shows at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC (June 9-10, 1973) were put on by the Electric Factory, Philadelphia promoters who had booked the Grateful Dead since 1968. The Electric Factory had used RFK before, as well, for the Rolling Stones (July 4, 1972), so there was some precedent for the event.
We don't have Jesse Jarnow and a Deadcast episode to query the Cincinnati event, more's the pity. But from what we know, the Nippert Stadium presentation was another attempt by the Dead to expand their concert footprint. A venue never before used for a rock show and inexperienced promoters sounds like a risky proposition, and indeed it was. But that was how the 1973 Grateful Dead rolled. If it sounded like a good time, and might make for good music and a good day, the band was down. Mostly it worked, so why not?
The Grateful Dead had constructed a bespoke sound system for outdoor stadiums on their 1973 tour. That gargantuan PA had to be trucked across the country, so it was not a coincidence that the touring schedule had gaps of at least one week between every show. The haul from San Francisco (after May 26) to Washington, DC (by June 9) was substantial. It makes sense to have tried to book a show on the way back. Even if the Cincinnati show might have turned out to be as profitable as some of the other shows, it would still make sense to have a payday on the way home.
Also, by 1973 the Grateful Dead were catching on to the fact that their big outdoor shows were drawing a regional audience. The Washington, DC concerts, for example, drew plenty of Deadheads from New York and Philadelphia. Cincinnati was 500 miles from DC and nearly 600 from Iowa. So a huge contingent of Midwestern Grateful Dead fans were going to see themselves as within traveling range. The Cincinnati location made sense just by looking at a map. The Grateful Dead had already played Cincinnati four times (six shows, in 1968, '69, 71 and '72). They had also played Cleveland three times. Cincinnati and Ohio seemed like a logical choice.
|The Cincinnati Comets of the American Soccer League opened their 1973 season with an exhibition game on May 20 at their home field, Nippert Stadium. They played (then 2nd Division) Bristol City, who beat them pretty handily, apparently. |
Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
Nippert Stadium was the home stadium for the University of Cincinnati Bearcats football team, and had been throughout the century. The Bearcats had first played on the grounds in 1915, when it was called Carson Field. The stadium seats were constructed in 1925, and expanded in 1928 and again in 1954. The football capacity was 28,000. Nippert Stadium had been home to the AFL Cincinnati Bengals in 1968 and '69, until they moved into the new Riverfront Stadium in 1970.
In 1973, rock concerts in stadiums was still a new concept. Stadiums that hosted major league baseball were unwilling to put their playing fields at risk, so that left football stadiums. In the early 1970s, however, the rage was publicly-owned "multi-use" stadiums, so many cities had a facility that hosted both NFL and MLB teams. Thus there were fewer stadiums willing to try on big rock concerts. In the case of the Grateful Dead's spring '73 tour, neither Harder Stadium in Santa Barbara nor Kezar had major sports tenants. RFK had lost its baseball team (the Washington Senators had become the Texas Rangers after the 1971 season).
|The Cincinnati Summer Pop Festival bill, held on June 13, 1970 at Crosley Field. Promoted by Mike Quattro and Russ Gibb from Detroit. The Reds had just moved to Riverfront Stadium. |
Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati hosted the baseball Reds, so it would not have made itself available. There had been one stadium concert in Cincinnati, at the old Crosley Field in Summer 1970. Crosley Field had been the home of the Reds for many years, but the Reds had moved to Riverfront mid-season. The Cincinnati Summer Pop Festival on June 13, 1970, an all-day event with numerous acts headlined by Grand Funk Railroad was hard rock madness at its 1970 worst. Iggy and The Stooges stamped their legend when Ig surf-walked into the waiting arms of the packed crowd. No one wanted a repeat.
Still, the University had signed up for a slate of six concerts in the Summer of 1970, of which the Grateful Dead would be the first. In 1970, the University had replaced the natural grass with astroturf. Cincinnati was not a public school, so they probably felt the revenue would help their bottom line. There was some risk, sure, but on the scale of things it wasn't much different than the UC Santa Barbara scenario. There was even a precedent in Ohio--sort of.
At the end of the Summer of '72, the University of Akron chose not to renew the contract with Belkin Productions. The shows had been profitable, but there had been tension between the city and the promoters, and rock concerts still made communities nervous. The Rubber Bowl would replace the natural grass with astroturf in 1973, too, but I don't know if that figured into the decision not to renew. In any case, the Grateful Dead had played for Belkin in Cleveland before, but there was no chance they could play for them at the Rubber Bowl in '73.
|Cincinnati Post June 7, 1973|
|Cincinnati Post, June 7, 1973 (cont)|
The June 7, 1973 Cincinnati Post reported on the upcoming show:
THE GRATEFUL DEAD, which comes to the University of Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium at 7 pm, June 15, to kickoff a series of concerts, will initiate a new method of staging quite different than anything ever seen in this area.I don't have any details about how Sam Cutler and the Grateful Dead made the connection to the University of Cincinnati. The show was promoted by the University itself (the UC Office Of Programs and Cultural Affairs), a similar arrangement to Santa Barbara. Maybe there was an experienced concert promoter in the background. I don't know who had promoted the Dead's prior 1970s shows in Cincinnati, but Belkin Productions would the Dead's next show in Cincinnati (on December 4, 1973) so I wouldn't be surprised if they had some involvement. In Santa Barbara, although the Dead were working with inexperienced young promoters, the (relatively) veteran promoter Sepp Donahower was assisting them. Probably there was a comparable arrangement in Cincinnati, with Belkin or someone.
Producers of the concert said that although Nippert Stadium seats approximately 30,000 persons, the stadium is being set-up for the Grateful Dead concert to handle a limited number of patrons.
Physically, the stage will be set-up between the 35 and 50-yard lines, playing into the horseshoe configuration of seats at Nippert Stadium. The astroturf immediately in front of the stage will be covered with a special new material to enable festival seating in front of the stage. Patrons in all locations will have an excellent view of the stage and a specially adapted sound system will provide stereo-type sound reproduction.
Although tickets to the concert are available on a general admission basis, producers of the concert said that since seating will be limited, patrons would be wise to purchase tickets in advance--once the supply of printed tickets is depleted, no more seats will be available.
The Grateful Dead had a five-day break between RFK (ending June 10) and Cincinnati. The band members probably flew home, anticipating a return to Cincinnati a few days later. It was probably cheaper for the band to fly home than pay for hotel rooms. In any case, the Dead had their own travel agency, so they could find a bargain on tickets. In Jerry Garcia's case, he actually had a bluegrass gig in Warrenton, VA on the afternoon of June 11, so I assume he flew home a day later than the rest of the band.The crew, meanwhile, would have torn down the sound system at RFK, loaded it up and driven to Ohio. Figure it took a full day to deconstruct the sound system and load it up, and another full day to drive there. So the crew would have arrived in Ohio on Tuesday night, and would have begun setting up on Wednesday. That seems to be when trouble set in.
|Cincinnati Enquirer, Thursday, June 14, 1973|
The June 14, 1973 Enquirer had the mournful headline "Grateful Dead Off At Nippert."
The Grateful Dead concert, set for Friday at UC's Nippert Stadium, has been canceled. Reason for the cancellation, according to promoters, were "insurmuoutable problems connected with the staging of the event."
The technical problems were twofold. The size of the stage needed to accommodate the full Grateful Dead show posed a problem. So did the fact that the stadium is located directly behind the UC physical plant, which according to the Dead's road manager, Sam Cutler, makes entirely too much noise. He feared it would be a distraction.
It is believed the show will be rescheduled later in the summer when there some more time to prepare fully for it.
In general, when road managers in the 1970s explain why concerts had to be canceled, particularly road managers named Sam Cutler, they did not usually tell the truth, or much of it. In this case, however, I think Cutler's explanation was likely mostly true.
- The principal reason that concerts were canceled was because of poor ticket sales, and given the Grateful Dead's popularity in 1973, I don't think that was the case.
- The second most likely reason for bands to cancel concerts is that they don't think they will be paid. The University of Cincinnati was not some cigar-chewing mobster, however--any check from the school was going to clear the bank.
- The other reason that bands canceled concerts was that some members weren't able to play. Usually, however, the band would state it as such, and in any case we know so much about the Grateful Dead. All the band members were fine, so that wasn't the problem either.
The Deadcast made clear how much effort went into the groundbreaking Grateful Dead sound system, fine tuned for every venue. If the stage was really in front of the "physical plant," which I take to mean the University power station, I can see how it might undermine the Dead's state-of-the-art sound. I did think that a member of the Dead's sound team (such as Bob Matthews) visited all the venues beforehand, but somehow this got missed.
In any case, since the report was in the Thursday paper, the show was effectively canceled on Wednesday, June 13. Given the putative schedule I described above, the crew would have been begun building the stage on Wednesday, and soon identified the issues. The band was still in San Francisco, presumably scheduled to fly on Thursday (June 14), so they never left home.
The Nippert Stadium show didn't happen. The Here Comes Sunshine box set was just 17 discs, not 20. he Grateful Dead returned to action the next week in Vancouver, on June 22, 1973. The Dead played Cincinnati, indoors, on December 4, 1973 at Cincinnati Gardens. On October 2, 1976, they would return to the city again to play the 16,000 seat Riverfront Coliseum, but they
never played outdoors there did not play a stadium in Cincinnati, although they played the Rubber Bowl with Bob Dylan and Tom Petty on July 2, 1986.
There were two concerts in Nippert Stadium in the summer of 1973, however. Presumably the bands weren't as finicky as the Grateful Dead about the technical issues or the size of the stage.
July 22, 1973 Nippert Stadium, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH: Edgar Winter Group/James Gang/Peter Frampton's Camel (Sunday)
Attendance was apparently between 5000 and 7000. The Edgar Winter Group had scored a big hit in '72 with the instrumental "Frankenstein," and would soon score an even bigger one with bassist Dan Hartman's "Free Ride." Guitarist Ronnie Montrose had been replaced by Jerry Weems.
The James Gang featured singer Roy Kenner and guitarist Dominic Troiano, as Joe Walsh had left the band. Peter Frampton had left Humble Pie at the end of 1971, and was making his first American tour with his band, Frampton's Camel.
July 29, 1973 Nippert Stadium, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH: Grand Funk Railroad/Ball'n Jack (Sunday)
Grand Funk Railroad, about to have a mid-career boom with their newly-released "We're An American Band," drew about 8000.
August 3, 1975 Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, OH: Aerosmith/Black Oak Arkansas/Blue Oyster Cult/Styx/REO Speedwagon/Nitty Gritty Dirt Band/Foghat/Mahogany Rush/Outlaws (Sunday) Ross Todd Productions and U.S. Concert Board present the Ohio River Music Festival
Two years later, there was a big outdoor show at Nippert Stadium, headlined by Aerosmith.
Belkin Productions, out of Cleveland, booked nine concerts at the Akron Rubber Bowl in the Summer of 1972. For a complete look at the history of the shows, with pictures and all, see the Akron Beacon-Journal article here. The shows were financially successful and fondly remembered by fans, but the University of Akron chose not to renew the contract.
June 16, 1972 Akron Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH: Three Dog Night/James Gang (Friday) estimated crowd- 12,000
July 3, 1972 Akron Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH: Faces/Badfinger/Cactus (Monday) est: 17000
July 11, 1972 Akron Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH: Rolling Stones/Stevie Wonder (Tuesday) est: 50000
July 17, 1972 Akron Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH: Black Sabbath/Humble Pie/Edgar Winter/Ramatam (Monday) est: 18000
July 21, 1972 Akron Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH: Osmonds/Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods (Friday) est: 20000
August 5, 1972 Akron Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH: Alice Cooper/J Geils Band/Dr. John (Saturday) est: 20000
August 11, 1972 Akron Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH: Yes/Mahavishnu Orchestra/The Eagles (Friday) est: 20000
August 20, 1972 Akron Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH: Chicago (Sunday) est: 19000
August 21, 1972 Akron Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH: Jefferson Airplane/Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen (Monday) est: 21000