Thursday, February 5, 2015

August 4-5, 1979 Oakland Auditorium Arena, Oakland, CA: The Grateful Dead (Home Court Advantage)

The Oakland Auditorium Arena floor was filled with dancers on the opening night, April 30, 1915 
When the Grateful Dead played the last concert at Winterland Arena in San Francisco on December 31, 1978, it seemed like an era was ending. And in fact, an era was ending. Although Winterland was not Bill Graham's primary hall until 1971, the San Francisco bands like the Dead had been playing there since 1966. Winterland, at Post and Steiner, was two blocks from the old Fillmore Auditorium at Geary and Fillmore, so the shows that were too big for the Fillmore had gotten moved to Winterland. This pattern was continued when Graham opened the somewhat larger Fillmore West. It was a mile and a half away from Winterland, but still only half its size, so plenty of big acts had still played Winterland.

I saw my first Grateful Dead show at Winterland on December 12, 1972. At the time, much as I loved the show, I was convinced that everything really great had already happened at the Fillmore West, and I had been late for the train. Fortunately, I was quite wrong. By 1978, I considered a Winterland Grateful Dead show to be the most "authentic" kind of Dead show there was, the kind that all others would be measured against. I appreciated that Winterland was a conduit to the 60s, but it had its own status as rock had became bigger in the 70s. When Graham finally announced that he was closing the old hall, battered and run-down as it was, neither I nor anyone else knew what it would foretell for the Grateful Dead and their performances.

As it happened, although an era of the Grateful Dead was indeed ending in 1978, another one was beginning right under our noses. Like all such things, it was only easier to see in retrospect. Three big changes manifested themselves in 1979:
For the next seven years, both as the Oakland Auditorium and the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, the building was the primary host to the Grateful Dead's New Year's celebrations, and other shows besides (save for the years that the building was being remodeled). As the Grateful Dead moved from being Dinosaur-like fossils from a bygone era to heroic survivors of the Classic Rock genre, the shows at Oakland Auditorium were Exhibit A. By the end of 1987, of course, thanks to "Touch Of Grey," the New Year's party had to move to the much larger Oakland Coliseum, 5 miles away, although there were a few more Kaiser shows up until 1989. In that way, the Oakland Aud/Kaiser shows were the touchstone of the Brent Era, from Go To Heaven through In The Dark, and fondly remembered by almost everyone who attended a show there.

None of this seemed at all obvious in early 1979. The Grateful Dead's first two shows at the Oakland Auditorium were on the weekend of August 4-5, 1979. Almost no Deadheads had ever seen a Grateful Dead show there, and for that matter, most of us hadn't seen anything at the Oakland Auditorium, since the building had been largely underused up until 1979. After that weekend, however, it turned out that it appeared that Bill Graham had known he had the building available all along, and by Sunday night it was clear that the Grateful Dead's new home court was at 10 Tenth Street (at Oak Street), right next to Lake Merritt in Downtown Oakland.

The Grateful Dead album Shakedown Street was released by Arista Records in November 1978
The Grateful Dead In The Bay Area, Early 1979
In the ancient days of 1979, all we really knew about the Grateful Dead or any other rock band was what we saw in front of us, or what was occasionally published in magazines or newspapers. The band had released Shakedown Street in November, 1978, but it had stiffed. Rolling Stone had no interest in the Grateful Dead, and BAM (Bay Area Music) had cut down its Grateful Dead coverage as well, which left just the San Francisco Chronicle. Staff rock critic Joel Selvin liked the Dead well enough, and periodically mentioned their doings in his Sunday Lively Arts column, but that meant we got one paragraph of news every few months. Other than that, we gleaned what we could from seeing shows and talking to weird people who claimed to have seen the Dead elsewhere. There weren't even cheap long-distance phone calls to pass on information, much less an internet, just very vague rumors.

January 30, 1979 Keystone Berkeley, Berkeley: Reconstruction
The first public indicator that something was afoot was totally unnoticed by almost everybody, including me. I read all the ads carefully every week, so I recall seeing Jerry Garcia advertised as a "Special Guest" with a band called Reconstruction at the Keystone. I couldn't drink yet, so wouldn't have gone anyway, but it just seemed like another Garcia side gig. Some familiar faces were playing with Jerry, like John Kahn and Merl Saunders, so I just thought it was further extracurricular fun for Garcia, which it was. But had I been writing everything down--I didn't start that for another 18 months--I would have noticed that the Jerry Garcia Band with Keith and Donna had not played since November, and here was Jerry playing the Keystone with different people.

February 17, 1979 Oakland Coliseum Arena, Oakland: Grateful Dead
The first post-Winterland Dead show in the Bay Area was at the Oakland Coliseum Arena, where the Golden State Warriors played (and not very well that year, I should add). The Coliseum was big-ticket, the biggest indoor venue in the Bay Area at the time. And here was the Dead headlining a benefit. Was this the future? No more multi-night runs at Winterland, but instead one big show at the biggest venue in town?

The Coliseum show sold out relatively quickly. When we got there, there had been rumors floating around. I had heard that the Dead had played "China Cat" out in the Midwest. It was told to me by a bearded guy I met in a Mexican restaurant, however, so it was unverifiable (I will point out, in all fairness, that it turned out that he was correct). My friends had heard that Keith and Donna had left the band. In fact, Donna had skipped two shows in the Midwest, and they would in fact leave the group after the Coliseum show, but there they were on stage when Jane Fonda (yes) introduced the Dead, so that rumor, too was unverifiable.

New world or not, despite the size of the Coliseum, the show was great, and the Dead played all sorts of long-unheard gems, like "Big Railroad Blues," "Don't Ease Me In" and "Greatest Story Ever Told." Some weeks afterwards, Joel Selvin reported that Keith and Donna were leaving the Grateful Dead, but there was nary a peep about any replacements. Someone must have known, but that kind of information didn't circulate.

Spartan Stadium, at San Jose State University. 
April 22, 1979 Spartan Stadium; SJSU, San Jose: Grateful Dead/Charlie Daniels Band/Greg Kihn Band
The first post Keith-and-Donna Dead show had a strange, distant air. The Dead were booked for a mid-size college football stadium (capacity 30,000) in San Jose, with two opening acts. San Jose wasn't anti-Dead, really, but it had never really been Dead-friendly territory either. And there would be two opening acts, neither of them ones that particularly excited Deadheads. Spartan Stadium, at San Jose State University, had only been used for rock shows very rarely--the last one I could recall was a Rod Stewart and Faces show in 1975. Why were the Dead debuting their mysterious new keyboard player in such a place, a big venue that was still far from their own zone of control?

Many years later, it would turn out that the Spartan Stadium site was a result of some intra-promoter feud. In general, Bill Graham Presents promoted the Grateful Dead West of the Mississippi River, and John Scher's Monarch Entertainment promoted them in the East, although there were a variety of co-production arrangements with local promoters. For some reason, Monarch was promoting a Dead show in the Bay Area, very much Graham's territory, and had to use a non-BGP controlled venue. It's not clear what really happened--nor can Dead management be blameless in any of this--but somehow BGP ended up promoting the show anyway.

From the outside, however, the Spartan Stadium show had a strange, non-Dead like vibe. Were the days of the ballrooms finally gone? Were the Dead fated to play occasional shows at huge venues, with the usual random touring acts on the bill? No one said a word about Keith's replacement; until Brent walked on stage, no one in the crowd had any idea who it might be. I don't recall the Dead announcing him either, or if they did, it was late in the show. If my friend hadn't said "hey, it's the guy who played with Weir at the Roxy [in LA with the Bob Weir Band in 1978]," I wouldn't have known who it was.

In 1976, when the Dead had returned to performing, they had completely revamped their set list, bringing back old songs, rearranging some of them, dumping some of their most popular songs and generally surprising us with the setlists. It was disconcerting at the time--hey, no "Uncle John's Band" or "Truckin'"?--but all in all it was a good, daring thing to that had added a lot of life to the group. Yet here in 1979, in a bland outdoor stadium in the suburbs, the Dead debuted their new member with a blah show of the same stuff they had been playing. In general, the Dead played pretty poorly in San Jose. It wasn't Brent's fault, by any means, but it was hard to be optimistic.

June 28, 1979 Memorial Auditorium, Sacramento: Grateful Dead
In the Spring of 1979, the Dead had played a pretty good Eastern tour. The setlists were pretty stale, but they played pretty well and apparently went over well with the crowds. We knew none of this, of course. There were no reliable sources of information, and no easy way to even transmit rumors. All we had was the unsatisfying taste of the Spartan Stadium show, where the Dead had used their new keyboard player to tread water.

The Dead played a single show at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium on June 28. The venue was a 3000 seat arena that the band had played occasionally. Looking at their schedule in retrospect, we can see that the band was using it for a paid warm-up for two big shows in the Pacific Northwest (on June 30 and July 1). But we didn't know this. A friend with reliable ears did attend, and reported that the Dead had played another bland show, a routine setlist with no interesting jams. It was still hard to be optimistic.

Elvis Presley played two shows at the Oakland Auditorium Arena on Sunday, June 3, 1956. This ad from the June 1 '56 Oakland Tribune can be found at the Oakland Auditorium page about Scotty Moore, Elvis' guitarist. The page has the best historical overview of the Auditorium, with amazing pictures. 
The Oakland Auditorium, 10 Tenth Street, Oakland, CA 94607
Bill Graham Presents booked shows all over the Bay Area, but most of them were in or around San Francisco or Oakland. A brief glance at a map tells you why--the largest number of people could come to those areas. San Jose and its suburbs were not nearly as populous and wealthy as they would become, although there were starting to be signs of life. On March 24, 1979, BGP had moved a J. Geils Band show from the Oakland Coliseum Arena to a little-known venue called the Oakland Auditorium. The Geils Band show was surely moved because of weak ticket sales. It must have gone alright, because BGP kept booking shows there.

There were a few more shows at the Oakland Auditorium in the Spring. BGP must have figured out the venue, or maybe they had figured it out all along and knew they had it in their pocket. Starting in the Summer of '79, all sorts of band started playing the Aud: first Alvin Lee, then Patti Smith, and then in August, the Grateful Dead for two nights. We started to wonder: what was this place? I lived in Berkeley at the time, and I had never even known that the Oakland Auditorium even existed.

James Brown played the Oakland Auditorium on February 12, 1968. David Nelson attended the show, and there is a tale that goes with it, but it is too long to tell in a caption. 
The Oakland Auditorium had in fact been built in 1915. All sorts of acts had played there: Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, in 1915; Elvis Presley in 1956 and '57; James Brown in 1968; and Spade Cooley in '69 (look up Spade Cooley. It's instructive) just to name a few. For many decades, it had been the only major Oakland venue open to mixed race audiences. The Auditorium had a seated capacity of 5400, but it could be configured for sports as well, and the San Francisco Warriors had played a few games there in the early 60s. The ABA's Oakland Oaks--surely you recall Rick Barry and the Oaks--had used the Auditorium as their home arena in from 1967 through '69.

For rock shows, the arena was configured Winterland style, with general admission seats and an open floor. The rock capacity was probably something like 7,000, whereas Winterland was supposedly about 5500. The Auditorium's exterior was a beautiful Art Deco design, far different from the stone and metal blocks that characterized more recent arenas. There was a nice little park outside of it, and it was near downtown, accessible to the freeway and overlooked Lake Merritt.

The Grateful Dead played a sort of benefit for the Black Panther Party at the Oakland Auditorium on March 5, 1971
Almost no rock fans in the late 70s had even realized that the Oakland Auditorium even existed. In fact, we now know the Grateful Dead had already played there twice. On June 28, 1967, they had substituted for the recently-disbanded group The Sparrow at a Bill Quarry (TNT) promotion, headlined by The Young Rascals. Also on the bill were Country Joe And The Fish, the Sons Of Champlin and The Grass Roots. On March 5, 1971, the Grateful Dead were the featured musical attraction at a benefit for Oakland's controversial Black Panther Party. The Dead had met Panther leader Huey Newton on a plane, and Jerry and Huey hit it off, so the band agreed to play the show. However, there was not much crossover between the Dead's audience and the Panthers, so the show was very thinly attended, and apparently a rather strange event.The Auditorium was across the street from Laney Junior College, where some members of the Panthers had attended school. But really, with no Deadbase, we knew none of that at the time. All we knew was that Bill Graham had found some strange old arena, and the Dead were playing two nights. My friends and I were now cautiously optimistic.

Set the wayback machine.

August 4-5, 1979 Oakland Auditorium Arena, Oakland, CA: The Grateful Dead
It turned out that getting to the Oakland Auditorium was easy, and so was parking, which was free and across the street, in the Laney JC lot. This was a telling omen. As soon as my friends and I set foot inside the Oakland Auditorium Arena, we thought "this will work." We were right.

The Auditorium Arena had the Winterland layout, which was familiar, but it was a far more attractive building than the old ice rink. Of course, the Auditorium was kind of rundown, but don't let nostalgia get in your way here: Winterland was an absolute dump. Sure, it had been our dump and we loved it, but it wasn't a place you would take a date. So "beautiful and run-down" was a huge upgrade over "tacky and done for". Anyway, the Grateful Dead themselves, even though none of them were in fact even 40 years old, seemed like an aging institution in their own right, so the faded elegance of the Auditorium was a perfect fit.

The first night, Saturday, August 4, was not just an excellent show, it had the feel of a living band on the go. The Dead did two new songs, "Althea" and "Lost Sailor," and while I found both of them trivial, it meant that the band was thinking and playing. There was some great jamming on "Playing In The Band" and "Shakedown Street," and the Auditorium had that relaxed vibe where it seemed like there was a party at the Dead's house and we were all invited. Brent sounded great, and although the setlist was still typical, the arrangements had started to evolve. It was interesting to hear how Brent added organ or electric piano to different songs, and his excellent harmony vocals had a nice edge to them. My friends and I couldn't have been the only Deadheads to leave the Saturday night Oakland show feeling not only happy, but relieved. It looked like the Dead had a home court again. But we needed a good Sunday to be sure.

The Grateful Dead show on Sunday August 5 was not as good as the night before, but it didn't matter. There was one sequence that night that was so exceptional that it guaranteed to anyone present that the Grateful Dead's new home was now the Oakland Auditorium Arena. I am not generally a fan of audiences being encouraged to clap along to a rock band. It usually means that the drummer pounds out a heavy back beat, while the lead singer instructs everyone on how to clap their hands. It's a showbiz thing, and it's never really about music, so my patience for it is pretty limited.

Somehow, however, Mickey and Billy pulled off something remarkable coming out of the drum solo. They had been joined by Hamza Al-Din, whom many of us recognized from his appearance at the "From Egypt With Love" shows at Winterland in October 1978. They got everyone clapping along, not on the traditional 2-and-4 backbeat, but in some complicated 10- or 12-beat rhythm (I'm not a musician, so you'll have to figure it out from the tape). That was interesting enough. But as Hamza sang and played, accompanied by Mickey and Billy, the crowd continued to clap along to the rhythm. This wasn't a few diehards--this was a meaningful portion of the crowd clapping along to a complex rhythm, no longer guided by the drummers onstage.

It was a weird, hypnotic moment. The clapping is audible on the tape, but it isn't as loud on the recordings as it was in the hall. I should add that while I appreciate what Mickey Hart has brought to the Dead over the years, I am not a Rhythm Devils kind of guy, and yet I found the whole thing transfixing. Mickey, Billy and Hamza played along for several minutes, accompanied by hundreds if not thousands of people clapping out a difficult rhythm. Such a unique moment would only happen in the Dead's living room, so there was no longer any doubt: Oakland Auditorium Arena was the Grateful Dead's new home court, and it would remain that way throughout the Brent era of the 80s.

The Oakland Auditorium in 1917. Here's to hoping it looks this good again.
Throughout the balance of 1979, most of the cool Bill Graham shows came through the Oakland Auditorium (you can see a list below). The year ended with an epic run of five Grateful Dead shows, leading up to New Year's Eve. I have written about these shows elsewhere, but suffice to say, not only was the music great, but BGP manager Bob Barsotti let some visiting Deadheads camp out on the lawn outside the Auditorium, and the official birth of the "Shakedown Street" vending scene was inaugurated. Of course, hanging out and selling various products (ahem) around Dead shows had gone on for many years, but Oakland Auditorium initiated what amounted to a formal space for that.

However, after 1979, BGP booked very few rock shows at the Oakland Auditorium. In fact, between 1980 and '82, there were only 25 rock shows at the Auditorium, and 15 of them were Dead shows. So the Oakland Auditorium did in fact sort of become the band's private clubhouse. I don't know why Graham moved most of his shows out of the Auditorium, but a couple of factors stick out:
  • the rock industry was getting bigger, and the biggest acts could headline the 15,000 seat Oakland Coliseum
  • People who liked a smaller act were far more likely to pay to see them headline at the 2200 seat Fox-Warfield Theater  in San Francisco rather than as an opening act at a bigger show
  • The rock audience was getting older, and they liked having their own seats
  • Oakland Auditorium was pretty run down, and only Deadheads thought that added character
At the end of 1982, the city of Oakland closed the Oakland Auditorium, spending $11 million to refurbish it as the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center. The Dead temporarily had their New Year's run at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium. However, in February 1985, the Dead returned to the Kaiser (as it was then known), and played there regularly until 1989. Of course, as the Dead got bigger and bigger, they outgrew even the Kaiser. First the New Year's shows moved to the Coliseum in 1987, and after some February 1989 shows the Dead left the Kaiser for good. In the end, the Grateful Dead played the Oakland Auditorium (including as The Kaiser) 58 times. The Jerry Garcia Band still waved that flag, however, playing the Kaiser five times, as well, with the very last one on November 11, 1994.

There had been a fair number of shows in the Kaiser Convention Center after 1985, with a variety of bands, but as rock and the audience aged, the Kaiser became a less popular venue. Eventually, the Kaiser was so unprofitable that it was closed by the City of Oakland. The venue has been unused since 2007, too expensive to fix up, too big to tear down, a microcosm of the history of downtown Oakland.

But the Oakland Auditorium had its days, and better days than most buildings can even dream of: Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and Spade Cooley at their very end, Elvis Presley and Rick Barry at the very beginning, James Brown in his prime and then 58 shows with the Grateful Dead. In 2015, the building at 10 Tenth Street will be 100 years old.

The Scotty Moore page had a remarkable photo from 1957 of the Auditorium Theatre, then called the Oakland Opera House. I like the sightline; I wonder why the venue was rarely used for non-symphonic music events?
Appendix 1-The Road Not Taken: April 20, 1979 Oakland Auditorium Theatre, Oakland, CA The Jam/Dwight Twilley
Way back when, with few sources of information, I always tried to glean what I could from ads for concerts and clubs, even if they were events I would never attend. I certainly noticed when BGP started booking shows at the Oakland Auditorium Arena in 1979, soon after Winterland had closed. I had never heard of the venue. On March 24, there had been a J. Geils Band show at the Aud that had been originally set for the larger Coliseum. Certainly, the Geils Band were very much a Winterland band, legendary rockers with a very loyal audience, so it implicitly suggested that the Oakland Auditorium was a potential Winterland replacement.

The second BGP show booked at the Oakland Auditorium was far more intriguing, and it stuck in my mind for the next several years. Even the most hard-core 80s Deadheads seemed to have had little idea that not only were there two entrances to the Oakland Auditorium, but each of them lead to a different room. What most Deadheads think of as "the front" of the Auditorium was the East entrance, which lead into the familiar Arena where we saw the Grateful Dead so many times.

On the opposite side of the Auditorium--the "back" for Grateful Dead fans--was the West entrance, which lead to a small theater. That theater was officially known as the Oakland Auditorium Theatre. In prior decades, it had been known as the Oakland Auditorium Opera House. After the Auditorium was reconditioned, the theater was renamed the Calvin Simmons Theatre, after the late conductor of the Oakland Symphony. The Oakland Symphony's performance home had been in the Oakland Auditorium Theatre, but the young, promising Simmons had died in a boating accident in 1982. The theater was renamed in his memory.

I have never been able to determine the capacity of the Oakland Auditorium Theatre. It was somewhere between 500 and 1500, I guess, but I have been unable to pin it down. In any case, the Theatre took up about a 1/4 of the building, and the Arena took up the other 3/4. The difference between the Theatre and the Arena is why venue trainspotters--like me--always carefully refer to the Oakland Auditorium Arena, rather than just "The Oakland Auditorium," which technically refers to both the theater and the arena.

On April 20, 1982. for the second BGP show booked at Oakland Auditorium, there were actually two shows. At the arena was Roxy Music, touring behind their album Manifesto. It wasn't their best album, but they were still a great band by any accounting, a mid-level band on their way up, exactly the sort of band that used to play Winterland. Once again, the Oakland Auditorium Arena appeared to be a Winterland replacement.

At midnight on the same night, however, there was a show at the Oakland Auditorium Theatre. The Jam, a really good English "New Wave" band, touring behind their best album All Mod Cons, headlined the show. Also on the bill were an almost young band from Tulsa called the Dwight Twilley Band, who were (rightly or wrongly) lumped in with the American "New Wave." The message was clear. Check out Roxy Music, and then after the show, run around the building and relax at the Theatre, checking out the hottest New Wave bands.

Once the Dead played the Oakland Auditorium in August, I assumed it was just a matter of time before shows at Oakland Auditorium Theatre would become part of the equation. After New Year's 1979, it seemed even more logical. There were so many people from out of town, and even camping out in the little park. Why not give them another show? Can you imagine? A great Dead show, a breath of fresh air, chat with your friends, and then walk around the building (smoking optional) to catch Jorma or a Reggae show in a beautiful old little theater? Yeah, baby.

It never happened. I never talked to anyone who went to The Jam show. Did something go wrong? It wouldn't likely have been any issue with The Jam, as I had seen them the year before at Winterland and they were great. There was one more show at the Oakland Auditorium Theatre, in June, but not tied to a corresponding show at the Arena. The bands were Triumph and Missouri, both of whom I sort of remember, and both unimpressive would-be arena-rock bands, the kind that aspired to be REO Speedwagon. I waited eagerly throughout the 80s, but it never happened. Frankly, by the end of the 80s I would have been more likely to see Hot Tuna at midnight after a Dead show than the Dead show itself, but I never even had that choice, as I don't believe there was another rock show at the Oakland Auditorium Theatre. Sic transit gloria psychedelia.

The new era of the Oakland Auditorium began with a J Geils Band concert in support of their 1979 Best Of The J Geils Band album. The Geils Band, like the Dead, were a popular touring band with a loyal fanbase, but they had not yet sold a lot of albums, and they had left Atlantic Records. 
Appendix 2: BGP Shows at Oakland Auditorium, Oakland, CA 1979-82
All dates at Oakland Auditorium Arena except as noted

March 24, 1979: J. Geils Band/April Wine
A J.Geils/Southside Johnny show booked for Oakland Coliseum Arena on this night was canceled. Since the show was moved to the Auditorium, it had to be for lack of ticket sales (I assure you it had no connection to excessive ticket demand for the 78/79 Warriors--bonus points if you remember Warriors 1st round draft pick Raymond Townsend). The hard-touring J. Geils Band had reached a plateau as a mid-level band, in a way like the Grateful Dead. Their last studio album had been 1978's Sanctuary, and they were now touring behind their Best Of album on Atlantic. In 1980, the J. Geils Band would move to EMI, and massive success would follow, with hits like "Love Stinks" and "Centerfold." 11 months later (Mar 22 '80), the J. Geils Band would be headlining the Oakland Coliseum.

April 20, 1979: Roxy Music/Readymades
Roxy Music had returned from hiatus to tour behind their album Manifesto. Although it wasn't their best album, Roxy was a terrific live band, albeit in a structured, spooky way that was very different than the Grateful Dead.

This is the Western entrance to the Oakland Auditorium, what Deadheads would consider "the back." This entrance led directly to the Oakland Auditorium Theatre. 
April 20, 1979, Oakland Auditorium Theatre: The Jam/Dwight Twilley (midnight show)
The Jam were an English New Wave band, touring behind their best album, All Mod Cons.

June 6, 1979, Oakland Auditorium Theatre: Triumph/Missouri
I am not aware of another rock concert at the Oakland Auditorium Theatre after this show.

June 28, 1979: Alvin Lee and Ten Years Later/Blackfoot/SVT
Ten Years Later was Alvin Lee's second act, five years after Ten Years After had broken up. SVT was a New Wave band that featured Jack Casady on bass.

July 27, 1979: Patti Smith/Flamin' Groovies
Patti was touring behind the Wave album, produced by Todd Rundgren. It wasn't as memorable as its predecessor Easter but still a fine record.

August 4-5, 1979: Grateful Dead

August 12, 1979: Blondie/Nick Lowe
Blondie were still riding high on 1978's epic Parallel Lines album. Eat To The Beat would come out in October of 1980. Nick Lowe and his killer band Rockpile, meanwhile--and trust me, the name was apt, they were a pile of rockin'--were touring behind Nick's classic Labour Of Lust album. Unlike some shows at the Auditorium, this one featured hot bands in their prime.

August 24, 1979: The Tubes/Pearl Harbor And The Explosions
The Tubes live were awesome in their day, withVince Welnick on keyboards. If Jerry had stayed with us, it was inevitable that Quay Lewd would have finally joined the Grateful Dead on stage, and we could all have sung along with "White Punks On Dope."

August 31, 1979: Peter Frampton/Pousette-Dart Band
Peter Frampton had been the biggest touring act in the country in 1976, on the heels of Frampton Comes Alive. By 1979, after all the hype and the dreadful I'm In You album, Frampton played double shows at Oakland Auditorium. The price, as I recall, was nothing. I think you had to request a ticket from a radio station, or something, but it didn't cost money. I may have this memory somewhat wrong, but I don't think so.

September 5, 1979: AC-DC/Prism
Back In Black (released July 25 '80) sold over 40 million copies, and it's one of the best selling albums of all time. It's a long way to the top, if you wanna rock and roll.

October 12, 1979: REO Speedwagon/Molly Hatchett/Stoneground
I had no idea that Stoneground was active in 1979. They were still probably the best band that night.

October 27, 1979: Ramones/SVT/Shirts/Members
"Hey Ho Let's Go," The Ramones were already legends, but at this exact juncture they were probably at their high-water mark as a popular attraction. The movie Rock And Roll High School had just been released in August. Wikipedia summarizes the plot:
Set in 1980, Vince Lombardi High School keeps losing principals to nervous breakdowns because of the students' love of rock 'n' roll and their disregard for education
Sing it with me: "Rock, rock, rock, rock, rock, rock, rock, rock/Rock and roll high school."

November 7, 1979: Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow/Randy Hansen/John Cougar
The worst performance ever by a band that I saw in person--and this is saying a lot--was by Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow (Aug 3 '76 in San Jose). I wonder how "John Cougar" went over with this crowd?

November 30, 1979: Bob Marley And The Wailers/Betty Wright
What a night this must have been. Marley in his prime, and Betty Wright warning all the girls not to make it easy for the clean-up woman.

December 26-28, 30-31, 1979: Grateful Dead
The 1979 Oakland Auditorium schedule was a nice cross-section of rock acts touring America, particularly the ones who liked a rowdy crowd on their feet, rather than sitting in their seats. The broad spectrum was not repeated, as BGP moved acts to either the larger Oakland Coliseum (about 5 miles to the Southeast) or the smaller but more amenable Fox-Warfield Theater in San Francisco.

August 21, 1980: Charlie Daniels Band/Gus
The Charlie Daniels Band were huge at the time, behind their song "The Devil Went Down To Georgia," which had been part of the Urban Cowboy soundtrack. Man, that seems like a long time ago. A video of the entire concert is accessible on YouTube.

August 22, 1980: Foghat/Blackfoot/Point Blank
Foghat had headlined at the Cow Palace and at the Oakland Stadium, but they were starting the slow ride down.

October 7, 1980: The Kinks/Angel City
The Kinks' previous studio album had been 1979's very popular Low Budget (their 17th studio album), although they had since released One For The Road in March of 1980.

October 31, 1980: The Police/Iggy Pop
This was the 8th show of the North American leg of The Police's Zenyatta Mondatta tour. Iggy Pop was touring behind his Arista album Soldier, but I assure you that it was a side issue: in concert, Iggy is just Iggy, and everyone else is just a pale imitation.

Eyewitnesses report a great costume contest between acts (my eyewitnesses dressed as garbage, for reasons unexplained, and did not stand out in the crowd, which tells you something). A topless girl came on stage during Iggy's set, and he leered at her, and the place lost it. The Police were a surprisingly good live band, and were able to overcome the traditional San Francisco Halloween madness to put on a great show.

December 26-28, 30-31, 1980: Grateful Dead

October 27-28, 1981: Pat Benatar/David Johansen
Note that this weekend had the only BGP shows at Oakland Auditorium all year,  save for the Grateful Dead. For whatever reasons, the Auditorium was the venue of last resort. [Insert your own "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" joke here].

December 26-28, 30-31, 1981: Grateful Dead
The New Riders Of The Purple Sage opened for the Dead on December 31.

January 24, 1982: Molly Hatchett/Henry Paul Band/Lamont Cranston
Molly Hatchett was a Southern rock band, and Henry Paul had been in the Outlaws. Of the few acts that played the Oakland Auditorium, it's no surprise to see Southern rock bands, whose fans would have enjoyed the rowdier general admission vibe.

February 20, 1982: The Pretenders/Bow Wow Wow
This was the final run for the original Pretenders. Bassist Pete Farndon was fired in June 1982, and guitarist James Honeymann-Scott overdosed a few days later (Farndon would overdose the next year). Only Chrissie Hynde and drummer Martin Chambers remained for the future lineups.

Bow Wow Wow was Sex Pistols impresario Malcolm McLaren's latest project. Teenage singer Annabella Lwin was better than you might expect, but they were a sort of teen pop sensation. Bow Wow Wow's infamous song "I Want Candy" would not come out until later in 1982.

July 10, 1982: .38 Special/Prism/Frankie Miller
.38 Special featured lead singer Donnie Van Zandt, the younger brother of Ronnie Van Zandt, the late singer and leader of Lynyrd Skynyrd. I don't know Prism. Frankie Miller, an English singer, was really good, but I don't think he would have gone over well with the liquored-up Southern rock crowd.

November 15, 1982: April Wine/Uriah Heep
Remember the scene in This Is Spinal Tap where the band plays an Air Force officers' dance, and Fred Willard is the Air Force captain? That was about the Uriah Heep 1984 tour, when they were very much on their way down. They hadn't yet fallen that far, but they were no longer headliners in a big metro area.

December 26-28, 30-31, 1982: Grateful Dead/The Dinosaurs (NYE only)
After these shows, the Oakland Auditorium was closed for an $11 million renovation. It would reopen a few years later as the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center. The Grateful Dead returned to the Auditorium Arena on February 18, 1985. However, the first show at HJK was actually Wham! (with George Michael) on February 5, 1985.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

April 22, 1971 Bangor Municipal Auditorium, Bangor, ME: Grateful Dead/NRPS (Northern Excursions)

The Grateful Dead's concert at the Bangor Municipal Auditorium on April 22, 1971, was promoted by Music Productions of Boston in Association with Phonic Productions
By the 1980s, the Grateful Dead had conquered the entire Eastern seaboard, and in particular ruled the I-95 corridor from the DC Beltway on up. The Dead's popularity extended far beyond the big cities where they had originally made landfall. In the state of Maine, for example, at the very Northern end of I-95, one of the less populous states in the nation (ranked 41st), the band played no less than 15 times from 1979 through 1988. While they mostly played civic centers in Portland and Augusta, even on the West Coast we heard about famous shows at Lewiston and Oxford Plains. Now, sure, people from all over New England went to those shows, but they could have been held anywhere, yet they were held in Maine. The Dead had managed to carve out their own kingdom in distant Maine,  just as they had in New Jersey and Connecticut.

Yet far before the Grateful Dead became an established attraction in Maine and upper New England, there was an outlier: a single show in Bangor, Maine, at the Bangor Municipal Auditorium on April 22, 1971. We have an excellent board tape of this show, and it's pretty good, if a trifle short. Bangor, ME, then as now, was far from the centers of power and culture on the East Coast, and a very strange place for the Dead to make their first foray into upper New England. In return, a close analysis suggests that they played a rather strange show.

The band would not play New Hampshire, Vermont or Maine again until 1978, so it must not have had the desired affect. Yet the show was on one of Dead's most famous tours, less than a week after Princeton, and just days before the fabled five night stand at the Fillmore East, and still the show exists as a tape in a vacuum. This post will try and look at what we can discern about the Bangor show of April 22, 1971, and consider how strange the Grateful Dead must have appeared to the local fans.

St. Stephen, New Brunswick (Canada) is just a few hours East of Bangor. Downtown has free parking. 
The Grateful Dead, Bangor Municipal Auditorium, April 22, 1971
A fulcrum of the Grateful Dead's success were their Eastern tours in the Fall of 1970 and the Spring of 1971. The band was broke, but had decided to play their way back to solvency by touring relentlessly. The Dead had the foresight to record two accessible, classic albums just as FM rock radio was established nationwide, so Workingman's Dead and American Beauty made them a desirable concert attraction beyond the underground rock palaces of San Francisco, Manhattan and a few other big cities. In particular, many East Coast colleges had entertainment budgets and undergraduates who wanted to see a real Fillmore East band, and the Grateful Dead were ready to deliver. Legendary college shows followed, with tapes to prove their worth: Stony Brook, Temple, Princeton and on and on. The 70/71 Dead were just accessible enough for general rock fans, but still weird enough to remind them that the universe beckoned.

Bangor, ME is the last significant city on Insterstate 95, which traverses the East coast all the way up from Florida. Bangor is two hours north of Portland, ME, which in turn is two hours north of Boston. Beyond Bangor there is very little, save the small town of Orono a few miles north, the home of the University of Maine. It is another two hours of mostly empty driving up I-95 to the Canadian border (Deadheads may prefer to take Route 9 East to reach Canada at Saint Stephen, New Brunswick). Historically, Bangor was a center of logging, and the logs were turned to lumber that helped build Boston, New York and the whole East Coast. Bangor is at the confluence of some rivers, so the lumber went by boat, and Bangor was thus populated by loggers and sailors for a few hundred years. Bangor has had a population of about 30,000 since the 1960s.

The University of Maine was founded in 1862, in the town of Orono (pop. 8500), at a time when Bangor was the leading commercial city. The University of Maine is a well-regarded school, but it will come as no surprise that the biggest sport at the University is ice hockey, as the Maine Black Bears are a perpetual NCAA hockey power. In many ways Bangor appears to function as the "city" for the University, although the 10,000+ student body is bigger than Orono, and when the two are combined, they are not far smaller than Bangor itself.

The Bangor Municipal Auditorium was a 5948-capacity auditorium built in 1955 (and torn down in 2013). On Thursday, April 22, 1971, the Grateful Dead and the New Riders of The Purple Sage played a four hour show on a Thursday, in between shows in Providence and Durham, NC. 

The Show

One Bertha [5:31] ;
Me And My Uncle [3:06] ;
Next Time You See Me [3:23] ;
Loser [6:17] ;
Playing In The Band [4:28] ;
Cumberland Blues [4:23] ;
Hard To Handle [9:13] ;
Deal [4:54] ;
Me And Bobby McGee [5:42] ;
Casey Jones [5:01]
Two China Cat Sunflower [5:17] >
I Know You Rider [4:59] ;
Greatest Story Ever Told [2:37] >
Beat It On Down The Line [2:58] ;
Sing Me Back Home [8:42] ;
Good Lovin' [2:09] >
Drums [5:29] >
Good Lovin' [9:14] ;
Johnny B. Goode [3:26]

A cursory glance at the setlist suggests that the Bangor show was a typical '71 show. It was played pretty well, too, albeit a little more on the rock'n'roll side and away from spacey jamming, but that was characteristic of that period. The strangeness of the show doesn't set in until you think about it. The Grateful Dead were playing far north of their usual Boston territory, hours away from anywhere they had ever played. Probably few if any people in the auditorium had ever seen the band before. However, if there as any FM radio up in Maine at all--I don't know anything about that yet--some of the patrons had probably heard songs off Workingman's Dead and American Beauty. And there had to be a lot of students from the University of Maine, and you have to figure that people in the dorms found the guy with all the records (needless to say, in my dorm that was me) and said, "hey, play me something from this group that's playing in Bangor on Thursday." So people would have had an idea of what to expect.

The Grateful Dead played 17 songs at Bangor Auditorium. Four of them, just four, had been previously released on albums: "Cumberland Blues," "Casey Jones," "China Cat Sunflower" and "Beat It On Down The Line." The last two were pretty obscure in 1971, and would hardly have been played on New England FM radio. How many songs did the Dead play off their current hit album, probably getting a lot of play in Boston and points North? Um, zero. Really, zero: no "Truckin'", no "Sugar Magnolia," nothing anyone might have heard in the dorm, save for the two songs off Workingman's.

The Dead played five original songs that are completely familiar to us, but which would have been completely unknown in Bangor ("Bertha," "Loser," "Playing In The Band," "Deal" and "Greatest Story Ever Told").  To the audience, the most familiar song that the Dead played would have been "Me And Bobby McGee," then a hit single for the late Janis Joplin. It would have been hard for the crowd to fathom why the Dead played someone else's hit single, although perhaps they thought it was a tribute to Janis (and perhaps it was).

All told, the Dead did eight cover versions. However, the 70s weren't like the 80s or 90s--even if you were interested in such things, it could be very difficult to find out the names and histories of cover versions by any band. Certainly there wasn't big country or soul scenes in Maine, and I doubt there was too much radio. In any case, back then radio was pretty segmented, so if something wasn't a major AM hit, no one knew anything about other types of music. Songs like "Sing Me Back Home" or "Hard To Handle" had been Country and Soul hits a few years earlier, but it's unlikely that any but a few total music heads recognized them. "Johnny B. Goode" and perhaps "Good Lovin'" may have been known, but all in all the cover songs would have been quite obscure to the audience. Even the ones who owned a few Dead albums must have been pretty mystified.

As for the New Riders Of The Purple Sage, they were confusing enough to audiences in New York and San Francisco. They must have wondered to themselves "why was the star of the show appearing with the opening act, sitting down playing a strange instrument?" I don't know the Riders' set, but since they had no album yet, no one in Bangor could have recognized the original material. Once again, depending on the songs, a few people may have recognized "Lodi" or "Honky Tonk Women," but all in all the Riders were just another opening act. 

When the Grateful Dead recorded the shows that were used on the Skull & Roses album, their concerts were filled with songs that were unfamiliar to their audiences
Contemporary Set Lists
The Bangor set list was typical of that leg of the tour. We look at '71 set lists, and see many familiar songs, but in fact they are familiar because of the Skull And Roses album and a thousand tapes. In fact, 1971 Dead concert setlists were quite challenging compared to contemporary groups, who mostly played songs off their last few albums. Here is a brief survey of the shows right around Bangor, compared the same way:

April 15, 1971, David Mead Field House, Allegheny College, Meadville, PA
21 songs: 5 from albums, 5 newly written, 11 covers

April 17, 1971, Dillon Gym, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ
19 songs: 5 from albums, 5 newly written, 9 covers

April 18, 1971, Lusk Field House, SUNY, Cortland, NY
17 songs: 6 from albums, 3 newly written, 8 covers

April 21, 1971: Rhode Island Auditorium, Providence, RI
19 songs: 6 from albums, 4 newly written, 9 covers

April 22, 1971: Bangor Municipal Auditorium, Bangor, ME
17 songs: 4 from albums, 5 newly written, 8 covers

April 24, 1971, Wallace Wade Stadium, Duke U, Durham, NC
19 songs: 5 from albums, 4 newly written, 10 covers

In fact, the distribution of songs at Bangor is typical, but the Bangor combination is the most pronounced. I did not try to give a "credit score" to each event (you can decide for yourself), but some of the shows have a very different feel. The legendary Princeton show, for example, has only five songs that had already been released on albums, but they are "Truckin'," "Casey Jones," "Sugar Magnolia," "Beat It On Down The Line" and "Turn On Your Lovelight." Four out of five of those songs would have been among the Dead's best known, including the best known off the three prior albums.

Sly And The Family Stone were huge in 1970, and they had played Bangor before the Grateful Dead. They were still touring behind their epic album Stand!
60s Rock In Bangor, pre-Grateful Dead
The rock touring circuit was still very new in 1971. It had started to get out to colleges, because young people who had read about the Fillmores in Life magazine wanted to see those bands. Since it was common in those days for colleges to have entertainment budgets, once hippies took over the "Entertainment Committee," or whatever it was called in a school, booking agents could start sending Fillmore bands out. That accounts for many of the Dead's bookings in 1971. For example, in the above list, 5 of the 6 were at colleges (and a booked date at Hofstra in Long Island on April 19 was canceled, probably due to a conflict with Bill Graham Presents at the Fillmore East).

Yet Bangor was different, since it wasn't booked by a college. I do not know who Phonic Productions were, nor Music Productions of Boston. Nonetheless, I have to think the promoters depended on a lot of University of Maine students coming over from Orono, since they were just 9 miles up the road. Bangor Municipal Auditorium had 5948 seats, and the population of Bangor was only about 30,00 at the time. Even if we include the 10,000 (ish) UofM students, that's still just a population of 40,000 to fill a 5900 seat building. If you think about it in population terms, it's a tall order.

There doesn't seem to be much precedent for rock shows in Bangor or the University, although researching it is like finding needles in a haystack. I did find a little evidence of Moby Grape playing Augusta, ME in Winter 1968, but that has been impossible to confirm. The one really contemporary antecedent I can find appears to be a concert at Bangor Municipal Auditorium on November 9, 1970, with headliners Sly And The Family Stone. Apparently Sly was late (or out of it) and thus came on stage very late, common for him at the time, and it did not go over well with the crowd. Amusingly, the opening act was a then little-known act called The Faces, with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood, who could absolutely kill it in in those days, but no real recollections seem to survive beyond anger at Sly's tardiness.

The only other Fillmore band I can find a trace of was a performance at the University of Maine by Mountain, on September 26, 1970. I assume this was a college sponsored event, of course. Mountain was a great band in their day, the epitome of "heavy," and probably audible all the way to the Canadian border. So there had been at least a few rock bands in Bangor and Orono prior to the Grateful Dead, but not many. The harsh winters would not have been encouraging to touring bands.

Beyond the tape, we seem to know nothing about the show. Some between song chatter on the tape suggests that the Dead were told they had to end by midnight, accounting for the slightly shortened show. At 7:00pm, when fans were coming into the show, the temperature was 43 degrees, with a wind of 6.9mph. When the show ended, it was down to 39 degrees, with a windchill of 33, thanks to the 10mph wind. That sounds kind of chilly to me, but I think for Maine in the Spring it was a pretty nice day.

How many people attended the show? The capacity of 5948 was far larger than the typical places that the Dead played, and the band had never played anywhere near Bangor. When the Dead played colleges in Pennysylvania or New York, even in a rural area the dorms would have been salted with students from the Philadelphia or New York City suburbs, so there would have been some buzz. The University of Maine, however, was primarily filled with people from Maine, so there had to have been precious few who had actually seen the Grateful Dead in concert. I can't imagine that the show was sold out, but it's hard to fathom how well the show did. One thing to recall about places like Bangor, particularly in 1971, was that while the population was small, there wasn't so much to do. A show at the Fillmore East competed with other rock shows, NBA games and Manhattan nightlife in general. In places like Bangor, often people just went to things because it was something to do. Still, we know nothing about the success of the show, save that the Dead never played Bangor again.

There is one tantalizing hint on the Archive, from a Commenter called Sammo, who says:
A little shorter because of the threat of having the power cut off around midnight, but otherwise quite enjoyable. I got to sit on the stage right in front of Uncle Jerry for most of the show. Got lots of photos including Jerry with NRPS. This was just a few days before the Fillmore (Ladies & Gentlemen).
The only implication I can draw from this was that the show was mellow enough that a local was able to sit on the side of the stage. Of course, "Sammo", whoever he might be, might have been connected in some way, but generally speaking at packed shows security is tighter, even for people who are friends with the promoter. Thus I am taking his comment to mean the show at Bangor was pretty laid back. But other than that, we have nothing. If anyone knows anything, or even has a few unverified third-hand stories about the show, please put them in the Comments.

There is a similar tantalizing but inconclusive hint over at
The Dead played so long that they turned the lights on in the auditorium. When the band just kept on playing, the power was cut. Garcia said that they would never play Bangor, maine again know what?...they never did!! This was my first show, at the tender age of 13. i was never the same after that.
The Grateful Dead show at the Lewiston Fairgounds in Maine on September 6, 1980 rapidly became a legend from Coast to Coast. 
The Grateful Dead did not play upper New England until 1978, and they did not play Maine until 1979. When they played Maine again, they played in Portland. In the late 19th century, the city of Portland, two hours warmer, with a correspondingly less icy port, became the confluence of several New England railroads and grew in importance. Portland, with a population of 60,000 or so, surpassed Bangor 100 years ago, and remains the commercial center of Maine. Portland, per its name, is right on the coast, so it is a popular tourist destination, at least in those months when Maine's temperature is forgiving (I went to Portland, ME once, and I can vouch for the fact that it's a great city to visit).

By the late 1970s, the Dead were established touring legends. Even rock fans who were not necessarily fans of the band's music often wanted to see them once just to say they had done it. In between shows in the Dead's strongholds of big East Coast cities, the Dead and the Jerry Garcia Band started to play farther afield. The first Dead shows in upper New England were May 5, 1978 in Hanover, NH (at Dartmouth College) and May 6, 1978 at Burlington, VT (at the University Of Vermont). The next show in Maine was at Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, ME  (concert capacity 9500) on May 13, 1979. The Dead went on to play some more shows in Portland and nearby Augusta. Then on September 6, 1980, the Dead headlined an outdoor show at the Lewiston County Fairgrounds. The tape is fantastic, the show was by all accounts great, and the Dead seemed to own Maine and upper New England from then on. However, the locus seemed to have been in Portland, with Bangor left out of the loop.

The distinctive hyperbolic parabolic architecture of the Alfond Arena at the University of Maine in Orono, ME. The Grateful Dead played here on April 19, 1983
Coda: Alfond Arena, U. of Maine, Orono, ME April 19, 1983
The rock concert industry extended its tentacles throughout the 70s, but they seemed to have a hard time gaining a foothold in Maine. Now and again, as best as I can tell, a band would play Bangor or Orono. Aerosmith headlined a concert at Orono on September 30, 1973, but of course they were just a regional band at the time (their debut album had been released earlier that year). The New Riders Of The Purple Sage played a show at UM on November 6, 1975. While the Riders always put on a good show, their wave had crested by then, and I wonder if anyone had seen their earlier iteration in Bangor was still there.

Once the Cumberland County Civic Center was built, rock concerts started to come to Maine, but of course they were in Portland, two hours to the South of Bangor. While the first concert in Cumberland Civic was ZZ Top (in '77), the Dead made it a regular stop. Somehow, as near as I can tell, Maine became an East Coast version of Oregon, with a Deadheads-per-capita ratio far in excess of cities where the Dead played regularly. I don't know if the hippie communes were anywhere near Bangor--probably not--but there was one final reprise at the Northern edge of Interstate 95.

On Tuesday, April 19, 1983, the Grateful Dead played the Alfond Arena at the University of Maine. The Alfond had opened in 1977, built to bring the U. of M. hockey team back from Bangor. The Alfond Arena was recognizable for its "distinctive hyperbolic parabaloid architecture," so it was not at all a typical basketball arena, having been custom-designed for hockey. The 1983 Orono show was a classic "routing gig," a show booked to cover expenses for a band on the road. The Grateful Dead were far bigger than they were back in '71, but only in certain places. The weekend before Orono, the Dead had played two nights at The Meadowlands in New Jersey (Apr 16/17), and later in the week they had shows in Providence (Apr 20) and New Haven (22/23). But the band had to do something in between, and whatever money they made in Maine on a Tuesday was more than they would have made staying in a hotel in Secaucus, NJ. 

There are various tantalizing comments on
The bridge flooded out.
I remember hearing in the parking lot that the bridge south of Orono on I-95 had flooded out and that there were deadheads who couldn't get to the show. Apparently there was lots of rain the day before. I was just glad that we decided to leave the night before and get here early.
Security was uptight lots of
Security was uptight lots of people didn't get in till after the show started because security was slow and searched everyone to the max
First Acid Trip
Yes I waited and waited, but had to try it. I do remember people pushing and shoving to get in. Yes Security sucked. We missed most of Jack Straw. But the Acid was good. Fun, Fun.
Seemed to be allot of excitement
There was a feeling in the air that we were going to get a show like the one at UVM . Maybe because was a collage show or just the loooooooooooong ride in between shows. I was a bit let down at this one yes the on the road again was fun the Sugaree was hot and spanish jam was tight but still after it was over I thought we would get more at this one. oh well is why we went to every show never knew what night was going to be The night
And over on the archive
Remember going to this show -- lots of tickets for sale in the parking lot from Univ. of Maine students. The first one we spoke to tried to charge us more than the face value. "But there are LOTS of tickets for sale tonight," we said."Yeah, but I have to make SOMETHING off of this," he said, as we pulled away.
Something had evolved in Maine, and the Grateful Dead had conquered the state, just as they had intended a dozen years earlier. Even at the farthest end of I-95--just a few hours from Saint Stephen--the Grateful Dead had carved out their little kingdom.

The Wheel Keeps Turning, And You Can't Slow Down
Of course, the memorable concert in Orono in 1983 wasn't the Grateful Dead. On October 14, 1983. at the Memorial Gym, REM headlined over Let's Active and Willie B. Smith. REM's incredible debut album Murmur had been released earlier in the year, and Let's Active featured their producer Mitch Easter. REM was a great live band early in their career (not that they ever weren't) and anyone who saw them on this tour would still be bragging about it to this day. Once again, Orono was the far Northern end of a run around East Coast colleges and cities, and the story played out again. As the rock market expanded, Bangor and Orono finally became a regular stop, and the likes of Phish and Bob Dylan played there in the 90s, and I hear that Phish played a memorable show in 1994. Bangor was in the rock circuit by then, and once again the Dead were right, but early, having started up the train before the track was even ready.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

January 13, 1980 Oakland Coliseum Arena, Oakland, CA: Grateful Dead/Beach Boys/Jefferson Starship/Joan Baez/Carlos Santana (FM XIX)

A t-shirt from the January 13, 1980 Cambodian Refugee Benefit concert at Oakland Coliseum Arena that was headlined by the Grateful Dead
In general, this blog focuses on Grateful Dead concerts that have only faint evidence of their existence. For a show that is only known from long-ago newspaper listings, the biggest question is often whether the event actually occurred at all. Yet Grateful Dead history is so vast and has so many tentacles that many shows that are fully documented all but disappear from any historical accounting. Such is the peculiar fate of the Benefit for Cambodian Refugees held at the Oakland Coliseum Arena on January 13, 1980, headlined by the Grateful Dead. Many, if not most, Bay Area Deadheads went to the show, and it was broadcast on KSAN-fm, so great tapes were available the next day, but still the show is rarely recalled in any form.

In many ways, the January Coliseum show was a final whiff of some long-gone formats. In the 60s, Bill Graham had put on a number of high profile benefits with multiple acts, where bands like the Dead had usually played a shortened set. Although the Dead were the headliners by 1980, they still played a shortened set at the Coliseum that night, a configuration that would not occur at a major venue again. KSAN had broadcast many Dead shows, but the station was wobbling with new competition and a new format. Yet for one night the clock was turned back for a final time. January 13, 1980 was the last live Grateful Dead KSAN broadcast. An era was ending, although nobody seemed to notice at that moment. This post will take a closer look at the January 13, 1980 Grateful Dead show at the Oakland Coliseum Arena, in order to relocate it in its original context.

A postcard view of the Oakland Auditorium. 
The Grateful Dead, New Year's 1979/80
The Grateful Dead's 5-night stand at the Oakland Auditorium Arena from December 26 to 31, 1979, is rightly considered a watershed moment in Grateful Dead history. At the end of 1978, Bill Graham had finally closed Winterland, leaving the Dead not only with no home court, but no direct link to the Fillmore era. Shortly afterwards, following a great show at the Oakland Coliseum Arena, on February 17, 1979, Keith and Donna Godchaux had left the Grateful Dead. Many changes were afoot in the Grateful Dead universe.

The Dead's initial concerts with Brent Mydland on keyboards were relatively cautious. On August 4 and 5, 1979, the Dead had played two concerts for Bill Graham at the Oakland Auditorium Arena. Graham had started using the old Auditorium for rock shows earlier in the year, with the first show having featured the J Geils Band and April Wine on March 24, 1979. The Oakland Auditorium had been built in 1915 and numerous performers had played there over the decades, including Elvis Presley, James Brown and even the Dead on occasion. However, few Bay Area rock fans at the time even knew that the arena existed. From the very beginning of the August 4 show, however, it was clear that the Grateful Dead had a new home.

It was also plain to anyone paying attention that Bill Graham had known that he had access to the Oakland Auditorium, so he had a ready-made Winterland replacement for not only the Grateful Dead but any other bands who sounded better in a general admission setting. Although the old Auditorium was somewhat run down, that didn't matter at a Dead concert (nor for J. Geils, Alvin Lee or The Tubes, who were typical of the 1979 acts). The Auditorium was larger than Winterland, the parking situation was better, it was far easier to get to, and since it was across from a Junior College, it was a far more pleasant neighborhood to park in than Winterland circa-1978.

Brent seemed to find his sea-legs on a very well-received Fall '79 East Coast tour. To end the year, Graham booked four shows at Oakland Auditorium, and they sold out very quickly.  I went to the main outlet of the ticketseller BASS (a forerunner of Ticketmaster, more or less), and got in line at 8:00 am, and there was a huge line, and tickets were not even going on sale until noon. In 1977, just two years earlier, I had gone to the ticket outlet at a stereo shop in the suburbs after tickets had a gone on sale, probably at about 12:30 in the afternoon, stood in a line of three people, and bought as many tickets as I wanted for New Years and the other two nights. By 1979, that was a Lost World--if we had not stood in that line Sunday morning, we would not have had tickets.

After the instant sellout, an additional night was added for December 26. This show was a benefit for Wavy Gravy's charity SEVA, and that show too began a tradition of Grateful Dead support for that charity. It is worth noting, however, that in 1979 the Dead were still in the mode of headlining a specific show for a specific charity, which must have competition for their services fairly intense amongst their friends and associates. By 1982, the Dead had conceived of the Rex Foundation, and largely stopped doing benefits for individual charities, but in 1979 they were still in their original mode.

There are two other significant aspects to the '79 New Year's run, one hardly noticed and the other enshrined in Grateful Dead legend. What seems to have been elided in Deadhead history was that the New Year's '79 show appears to have been the formal beginning of the annual road trips to the West Coast by Eastern Deadheads. Obviously, many a Deadhead had made their Western pilgrimage in the past. But here was an extended run during a vacation period, not so hard to fit into work or school, and it was like a homing call. I went to all five nights in '79, and each night there seemed to be more and more people from outside the Bay Area. This gave each successive night a livelier feel, as the high energy Easterners saw the whole event differently than us locals. New Year's Eve, as I recall, was a wild, strange night indeed, a sort of party with representatives of every state of the Deadhead Nation. This phenomenon only became more pronounced with each passing year, but I recall New Year's Eve 79/80 as having a very strange, rowdy vibe, as if something was in the water (which it very well could have been...).

Of course, the famous (or infamous) historical aspect of the '79 run was the little lawn outside the Oakland Auditorium. A lot of Deadheads had shown up from wherever, and a few of them asked BGP manager Bob Barsotti if they could camp in the park, since the Bay Area weather was as balmy as always. He said yes, probably not really thinking about it, and the "Shakedown Street" vending scene was born right there. What has largely been forgotten was that your typical local Deadhead, like me, arrived shortly before showtime--parking was a breeze--and split immediately afterwards. The people who were the patrons of the nascent Shakedown Street were the Deadheads from out of town, who often had fewer places to be and were interested in soaking up the atmosphere. The camping scene at Oakland had a readymade audience from out of town, even if many of those Deadheads were staying elsewhere, and that dynamic made the little scene grow.

The 5-show run at Oakland Auditorium featured great shows in a comfortable setting, with an excited audience full of energetic out-of-towners. Tickets for the January Coliseum show went on sale after the Auditorium sold out. Most of the local fans, like me and my friends, cheerfully bought tickets. However, we more or less forgot about the Coliseum in the midst of the excitement over Oakland, so there wasn't much in the way of expectations.

The Kampuchean Refugee Crisis
I am not particularly a big fan of Joan Baez's music, particularly with the Grateful Dead, but she is always on the right side of history. By 1979, the world had become aware of the terrible rule of the Khmer Rouge and the genocide in Cambodia. The battle-tested Vietnamese army had moved in and kicked out the the Khmer Rouge and their leader Pol Pot, but Cambodia was a broken country with millions of starving refugees. There had been some high profile rock concerts in London, featuring Wings, The Who, Queen and others (December 26-29, 1979 at Hammersmith Odeon), and in turn Joan Baez had prevailed upon Bill Graham to promote a rock concert to raise money for the Cambodian refugees. Since the Vietnam War had only ended in 1973, the politics of Southeast Asia was still a fraught subject in the United States, but to her credit Baez focused on the suffering of actual humans, and the bands responded.

As I recall, the event was structured as a telethon, managed by KSAN-fm. This was in the early days of 800 numbers, and the idea was fairly new. Throughout the KSAN broadcast, there were various entreaties to call the pledge line. When Joan makes the remark at the end of the tape "we made mucho bucks tonight," that is what she is referring to (with the rather dated afterthought "and this is one time that I don't mind saying that," a whiff of the long-gone 60s). I assume that t-shirt sales and other merch had their profits directed towards the same charity. True to their roots, the Grateful Dead avoided explicitly political benefits, but they were generally on board when it was a matter of helping other people.

KSAN-fm had been a classical station prior to May 1968. KMPX-fm had become the first free-form "underground" rock station in early 1967, but the entire staff had walked out on March 18, 1968. It was an unprecedented strike by hippies, and a bunch of San Francisco bands showed up to jam out a rally in solidarity with the strike. Jerry Garcia, who came from a union family himself, showed up around dawn to jam with Traffic, who were playing Fillmore West that weekend.

KMPX Supremo Tom Donahue took the entire KMPX staff and format over to KSAN, and they started broadcasting rock music on May 21, 1968. KSAN was owned by Metromedia, a national chain, and the SF rock format soon spread to sister stations in Los Angeles (KMET) and New York (WNEW). The FM rock revolution was off and running, yet another San Francisco contribution to 20th century rock history. By the early 70s, KSAN was the number one station in the Bay Area for the valuable 18-34 demographic. The station was hugely profitable, and it stayed popular by staying hipper than its competitors, always playing new records, broadcasting live shows and having iconically cool djs.

By the end of the 1970s, however, the fm radio landscape had changed. KSAN's audience was older and didn't listen to the radio as much. The djs liked new wave music like Elvis Costello and The Clash, and that wasn't as popular as old Led Zeppelin records. There was also a well-funded competitor, KMEL-fm ("The Camel") and the truth was, KSAN didn't represent the hip counterculture anymore: it was the culture. So the handwriting was on the wall. Metromedia management didn't like the old djs, who in turn hated being asked to compete directly with the new Album-Oriented Rock format of KMEL, instead of just playing what they liked.

By early 1980, KSAN hardly played the Grateful Dead. The djs didn't want to play music by old fogeys like the Dead, and the managers didn't think the Dead were mainstream enough, compared to Fleetwood Mac or Journey. But for a day, KSAN turned back the clock and had a fundraiser for the Cambodian refugees, exhorting their listeners to call in and pledge. The big events of the night were broadcasts of the sets by the Jefferson Starship and The Grateful Dead.

The Beach Boys "comeback'" album, 15 Big Ones, which featured new material by Brian Wilson
The Bands
The Beach Boys had been nearly finished at the beginning of the 70s, but they had come back strong. In the middle of the decade, AM radio became more focused on oldies, and the Beach Boys classic hits aged very well. By 1980, the Beach Boys were actually more popular than they ever had been as a concert attraction, although that was mainly due to the expansion of the industry. Of the "classic" Beach Boys, four of the original five were still in the band (Carl and Dennis Wilson, lead singer Mike Love and guitarist Al Jardine). Along with original Brian-Wilson-replacement Bruce Johnston, the band was filled out with some pretty good live players (with Billy Hinsche on keyboards and a few other musicians).

Legendary genius Brian Wilson had reappeared in the studio in 1976 for the new album 15 Big Ones, and although his status was always shaky, he remained a part of the group. Intriguingly, he started to appear at some concerts in 1980, and was apparently playing at the Coliseum show. I'm not sure why The Beach Boys actually played this show. I have a feeling that the high profile Cambodian Refugee  concerts by Paul McCartney, The Who and others had inspired Beach Boys management to participate in a similar event.

The Jefferson Starship were in a strange window. On one hand, the band had sold a tremendous amount of records since they had arisen from the ashes of the Jefferson Airplane. Their current album, Freedom At Point Zero, was no exception. It had just been released in November of 1979, and it would rise to #14 on the Billboard charts, behind the hit single "Jane." Oddly enough, however, the Starship were a shrinking concert attraction, particularly in San Francisco. On New Year's Eve, they had played double shows for two nights at a nightclub (called X's, in San Francisco). Now, I'm sure it was sold out, but that was a far cry from the 5 packed nights at the 7000-plus capacity Oakland Auditorium that the Dead had headlined.

Although the Starship were seen as traditional San Francisco rock royalty, only Paul Kantner remained from days of yore, though David Freiberg, too, had been in Quicksilver in the 60s. The rest of the Starship (Mickey Thomas, Craig Chacuiqo, Pete Sears and Aynsley Dunbar) were relatively recent arrivals to the Marin scene, so it was hardly a reunion of the old days. Although Kantner was surely up for a benefit, not to mention hanging out with the Dead, I expect that RCA Records was interested in making sure that the band was involved in the seemingly high profile concert along with other major acts.

Joan Baez remained a committed activist, which looks better and better as the years were on, but she was more of a famous name than an important artist. Her most recent album had been 1979's Honest Lullaby on CBS. She would not release another studio album in the US until 1987.

Carlos Santana was as big a star as ever, and that never changed. He also was all but guaranteed to be at any major benefit or happening event, both because he has a social conscience and because
he liked to jam. As part of Santana's commitment to the lifestyle encouraged by guru Sri Chimnoy, Carlos often referred to himself as Devadip Carlos Santana. In the Bay Area at the time, it was generally understood that when Carlos was billed as "Devadip," patrons could expect something jazzier, spacier or more spiritual than the popular jams of "Well All Right" or "Oye Como Va" that typified the Santana band.

The cover of the Jefferson Starship's 1979 album Freedom At Point Zero, on RCA Records
The Show and The Broadcast
I know the January 13 show at the Coliseum was sold out. I myself had a ticket, but did not go because I was sick. I had not been well for the December run, but had gone anyway, which was well worth it, but I was paying the price two weeks later. Of course, the fact that the Dead set would be broadcast made my decision easier. My friends were indirectly pleased as well, since I had a tape in their hands the next morning. So my perceptions are a bit second hand, from the broadcast, my friends and a few other tidbits of information.

As near as I could tell, the show was "Dead-friendly," if you will, but not as much of a hard core Deadhead audience. The out-of-town visitors had probably all left town by then. There must also have been a few like me, who for one reason or another could not or did not want to make a Coliseum show after five nights at the Auditorium. At the time, the Bay Area was still full of people who had seen the Dead a few times over the years and liked them, but didn't consider themselves Deadheads. Those people weren't going to have spent four hours in line to get Auditorium tickets, so I suspect many of them took the opportunity to see the Dead at the Coliseum.

Based on a comment on Deadlists, it appears that there were almost no audience tapes made at the show. One partial tape seems to have finally turned up on the Archive, but its a sign that the hardcore were either not there or were treating it casually. Obviously, with an FM broadcast, the need for audience tapes was less critical, but that usually never stopped tapers.

I assume that Joan Baez opened the show with a few solo numbers. No one mentions it, probably because they were still in the parking lot. Joan has a huge voice, and the confidence to hold a giant crowd by herself, which is actually a rare thing in a folksinger. It appears that Carlos Santana also played solo. I saw him do this another time, several years later at the Kaiser Convention Center (the name for Oakland Auditorium when it got remodeled in '85). Carlos would go on to sit in with both the Starship and the Dead, so he was definitely part of the show, even if his own solo portion was probably brief.

I believe The Beach Boys came on next. I'm sure they played about an hour, playing mostly legendary hits and probably a few newer numbers. This was hardly the first time that the Beach Boys opened for the Dead, but it was the first time since a Day On The Green stadium show next door, at the Oakland Stadium, on June 8, 1974. That day, the Beach Boys easily won over the crowd, as it was hard not to enjoy "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "Help Me Rhonda" done by the original band, all of whom could still sing. I don't doubt that the Beach Boys were still just as winning in 1980.

The one big difference from 1974 would have been the presence of Brian Wilson himself. However, on the archive, reviewer Malbuff recalls
But what I remember most about that night was the Beach Boys' performance. Brian Wilson had finally ventured out on the road for the first time in years, and there he sat, a big hulking figure at the piano, while throughout the set, Mike Love pointedly teased and belittled him to the point of cruelty. The others just looked on, embarrassed. It was like watching a dysfunctional family.
We don't have to guess about the Jefferson Starship set, since it was broadcast on KSAN (somewhere I have a tape). They played about 75 minutes, with Carlos Santana joining in on the "Somebody To Love" encore.
Ride the Tiger, Girl with The Hungry Eyes, Stranger, Jane, Awakening, Things to Come, Have You Seen the Saucers?/bass solo, Light the Sky on Fire/drums, Rock Music, Dance with the Dragon, [Carlos Santa joins for] Somebody to Love
This seems to have been a typical Starship set of the time, perhaps a song or two shorter. I'm sure they went over fine with the crowd, and they must have had plenty of fans. However, for all the erratic nature of the old Jefferson Airplane, that band could really achieve liftoff when all the band members clicked, even if that didn't happen too often. The Starship was more reliable but ultimately considerably blander. Also, Mickey Thomas, while ultra-competent as a vocalist, was just another arena-rock dude compared to Marty Balin, much less Grace Slick. Note that this set didn't even have the really big Starship hits, either, like "Miracles." So it was hard to get excited about the 1980 model Jefferson Starship.

KSAN went back to their telethon, as everybody got ready for the main event. I do not recall precisely what time the Starship left the stage, but I do recall in general that it was not a late night. It was a Sunday, however, and I must have had school (and most of the audience must have had similar concerns). So the open question was how long the Dead would actually play. At the time, there was really no precedent in the Bay Area for a Dead show where they played less than a full show, with at least two sets. We faintly knew that there had been such things in bygone days but those had nothing to do with the Grateful Dead of 1980. The very few times that the Dead had played with multiple opening acts had been outdoor stadium shows where time wasn't a big factor, so in one way the evening was up for grabs.

The Grateful Dead played a stripped-down 90 minute set. In fact, the band played really well, and there are many highlights in this largely forgotten performance. For many more casual Dead fans, whether at the concert or listening on the radio, this would have been their first taste of Brent Mydland with the Dead. By Winter 1980, the Dead were cooking hard with Brent and he sounds great with the band. Carlos Santana and old friend John Cipollina joined in for "Not Fade Away" and "Sugar Magnolia," and Greg Errico was along for "U.S. Blues," so in the end there were some more Fillmore West faces after all.

One Jack Straw [5:42] >
Franklin's Tower [11:44] ;
New Minglewood Blues [6:56] ;
Tennessee Jed [8:21] >
Looks Like Rain [7:12] >
Don't Ease Me In [7:16] ;
Playing In The Band [10:41] >
Drums [7:15] >
Not Fade Away (1) [14:27] >
Sugar Magnolia (1) [7:30]
Encore U.S. Blues [#4:18]

The rare configuration of this event gives a good insight into what the band must have considered the essence of a Grateful Dead show. Drums and space are there, and some nice jamming before and after. There's some good rock and roll, too, but no Weir cowboy tunes.

At the show's conclusion, Joan Baez came out and led many members of the bands in a couple of songs. Her first number is usually listed as "Land Of A Thousand Dances," but really it is the "Na, na-na, na-nahh" from the Wilson Pickett song, with Joan singing modified spiritual lyrics on the top. This was a good vehicle for the Beach Boys to exercise their vocal chops. "Amazing Grace" followed, and KSAN signed off. It was probably about midnight.

The 1981 double-lp Concerts For The People Of Kampuchea, released on Atlantic. The album featured Paul McCartney and many other rock stars, and it had been recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon in London on December 26-29, 1979.
Last Calls
For many reasons, few people recall this show, or even realize that it existed. The December Oakland shows were rightly legendary, so even the locals forgot that the Dead played again two weeks later. The tape is really good, but there aren't really any unique songs or combinations that caused it to circulate too widely. Since there were few or no audience tapes, you didn't get the casual discovery of people's friends going "hey, what's this one sound like?" So, the January 13 1980 show stands as a somewhat forgotten signpost at a crossroads, looking to the past and the future.

  • The Grateful Dead played one more show with the Starship crowd, in May of 1982 in San Francisco. The last stands of the old Fillmore bands were at giant arenas, a far cry from the camaraderie of an elegant little room on Geary Avenue.
  • Mickey Hart and Joan Baez had probably met back in the day, but I have to think this event played a part in them becoming a couple in the next year. The Dead would go on to back Joan Baez in some studio recordings made at Hart's Barn studios in 1980. In December 1981, the band would back Joan for some acoustic performances with decidedly mixed results.
  • The only other time the Grateful Dead played a short electric set to accommodate a multi-act indoor show was at one of the performances with Baez. It was a very different beast than the Coliseum show, however: on December 12, 1981, the Dead played the relatively small pavilion at the San Mateo County Fairgrounds. Opening acts were Joan Baez, backed by the Dead, and also Mickey Harts' band High Noon, who also backed Joan (you can read about the show in great detail at the link).  The Dead did one more show sort of like this, with some variations, at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, on May 28, 1982. The bill was Jefferson Starship/Grateful Dead/Country Joe, with various guests (like Boz Scaggs, Pete Sears and John Cipollina), and the Dead played a shortened set there, too, but the old Fillmore West idea of big bands playing short sets at the same benefit pretty well faded away.
  • On November 15, 1980, KSAN-fm, once the mighty Jive 95, gave it up and went country. This was a good move from a radio standpoint, but the end of an era to aging hippies. The January 13 show was the last KSAN Dead broadcast.
  • The Grateful Dead soon got out of the habit of doing concerts for specific charities. By 1982 they had formed the Rex Foundation, and they could then share out the money to numerous causes, instead of having to decide to give it all to one entity in advance. The first Rex Foundation Benefits were February 16 and 17, 1982 at the Fox-Warfield. There were occasional high profile single-cause Dead benefits after that, but they were largely supplanted by Rex events. 
  • However trivial the Jefferson Starship seemed in 1980, they would go on to sell even more albums and become far more embarrassing--"We Built This City" indeed. Grace would return, Kantner would leave, eventually the Airplane had a desultory reunion, but finally Jorma and Grace declared "no more." Still, at the end of the line in 1990, Jefferson Airplane went out with a week at the Fillmore and a free concert at Golden Gate Park, thus ending in a way kind of as they began.
  • Highlights of the London Concerts for Kampuchea were released as a successful album. I suspect Bill Graham and others were interested in doing a similar thing for the San Francisco show, but no such thing happened. Nonetheless, the seeds of the massive Live Aid show can be seen in the footprints of the London and San Francisco benefit concerts for Cambodian Refugees.
  • As for Cambodia, the terrible rule of the Khmer Rouge had been ended by the invading Vietnamese army, with their combat skills honed from decades of war with the Japanese, French and Americans. The Vietnamese Army occupied Cambodia until the early 1990s, but eventually withdrew, leaving a form of stable democracy in the country, with the scattered Khmer Rouge hiding far off in the jungle.