Thursday, April 30, 2015

March 24, 1970, Pirate's World, Dania, FL (Truckin')


The traditional Grateful Dead concert lists all cite a Grateful Dead performance at Pirate's World, in Dania, FL, just North of Miami, on March 24, 1970. A 90-minute board tape with that date, apparently most of a complete show, seems to confirm the date. Yet this seemingly obscure event provides far more mystery than one might think. For one thing, Pirate's World was an amusement park, and the Grateful Dead didn't play a lot of shows at amusement parks. For another, it isn't even clear if March 24 was the correct date, and if it was, why was it changed? Finally, no matter what the date, the Grateful Dead spent some time that week sitting around the hotel pool. During those days, the Dead wrote "Truckin'", perhaps the band's most iconic song.

This post will look into the peculiar venue of Pirate's World, the ambiguous issue of the actual date they performed, and why exactly the Dead seemed to have enough time to sit around a hotel pool and write a song.

The Grateful Dead seem to have completed the basic tracks for Workingman's Dead from March 9-16, 1970, just before they went truckin' off to Buffalo
The Grateful Dead, Spring 1970
The first few months of 1970 were tumultuous for the Grateful Dead. They had been all over the country, from the Fillmore East to Hawaii and back, by way of New Orleans and St. Louis. They had fired their organ player, fired their manager, hired a new road manager and recorded an album. By March 8, they had already played about 34 shows (decide for yourself if they played Ungano's on February 12). As near as anyone can tell, the sessions for Workingman's Dead were February 16-19 and then March 9-16, when the basic tracks were completed.

The crazy touring schedule was a legacy of recently fired manager Lenny Hart, who--to put it kindly--did not have the best interests of the band in mind. By March, touring was under the control of new road manager Sam Cutler. Still, even Cutler's firm hand must have been tested by the peculiar concert schedule that the Grateful Dead were still obligated to fulfill. Somewhere around March, it started to become clear that Lenny Hart had ripped off the Dead for some serious money, $155,000 in fact, a huge sum for the time. Yet the Dead, always contrarian, chose to work their way out of trouble.

Having just completed basic tracks for what they must have known would be an excellent album, the Dead apparently decided they needed a "road song," like many other bands. Unlike other bands, however, like Canned Heat (whose "On The Road Again" had been a huge hit), the Dead had to bring their lyricist on the road with them. So for the March East Coast tour in 1970, the Grateful Dead were joined by Robert Hunter. Hunter had been backstage at many a Dead show, of course, but to my knowledge, he hadn't been on the road outside of California.

The projected tour was very brief:

Tuesday, March 17, 1970: Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo, NY
Quixotically, the Dead began their little tour with a show with the Buffalo Philharmonic.

Friday and Saturday, March 20-21, 1970: Capitol Theater, Port Chester, NY
The anchors for the tour were two double shows at the newly-opened Capitol Theater. The Capitol was in suburban Port Chester, in Westchester County. Westchester was within the New York Metropolitan area, but not at all the city per se.

Sunday and Monday, March 22-23, 1970: Pirates World, Dania, FL
The Pirate's World bookings appear to have been "routing gigs," paying shows at modest places that pay the hotel and travel bills between more lucrative events.

Friday-Sunday, March 27, 28 or 29, 1970: Winter's End Festival, Miami, FL
A major rock festival was planned for Florida. It's not clear which day the Dead would have played, but I think the promise of a good payday was what kept them on the road, and got them to Florida in the first place. It's likely that if the band wasn't expecting to play the Winter's End Festival, they wouldn't have booked Pirate's World.

After the band left New York, it seems that nothing went as planned. Thus the story that "Truckin'" was written by Garcia, Weir, Lesh and Hunter around a pool in Florida makes a lot of sense. The band thought they would be playing three shows in Florida, and they appear to have played only one. Thus there may have been far more time to sit around and write, rather than coming and going to and from various venues.

A newspaper ad for The Capitol Theater in Port Chester for March, 1970. Almost all of these bands played Pirate's World as well during the first half of 1970
The Grateful Dead On The Road
The existing ticket for Pirate's World (up top) suggests that two shows were originally scheduled. Tickets were probably printed some time in advance. Yet there is only one tape, from a different date. There are various eyewitnesses, and none of them refer to multiple shows. So it seems that the shows that were originally scheduled for Sunday and Monday, March 22 and 23, were converted to a single show on Tuesday, March 24. This change in schedule is logical for a variety of other reasons as well.

First of all, in order for the Dead to have played Pirate's World on Sunday, March 22, they would have had to load out of the Capitol in Port Chester, get to La Guardia, fly into Miami and load in to Dania, some miles to the North, in about 16 hours. A tall order indeed, even for the vaunted Dead road crew.

Secondly, a Sunday and Monday booking was fairly unprecedented for Pirate's World. There is an excellent, detailed list of Pirate's World shows (at the always exceptionally well researched Concert Archive), and almost all shows were only weekend shows. It does seem that the week of March 20-28 was some effort at a sort of "Spring Break" series, since there were concerts booked all week. However, this was never repeated, so it suggests that the promotion wasn't very successful. The scheduled bookings for Pirate's World that week were:
  • Friday and Saturday, March 20-21, 1970: Country Joe & The Fish, Rose Creek Band
  • Sunday and Monday, March 22-23, 1970: Grateful Dead
  • Tuesday and Wednesday, March 24-25, 1970: Youngbloods, Storm
  • Friday and Saturday, March 27-28, 1970: Chambers Brothers, New Society Band
So in order for the Dead to have played Tuesday, March 24, the Youngbloods would have had to be moved or canceled. Now, I don't know anyone who has a complete Youngbloods tour list--OK, I do (me), but it ends in 1969--but if the Dead were reduced to one show, it seems reasonable to assume that the Youngbloods were reduced or rescheduled as well. Perhaps the Youngbloods just played Wednesday (March 25). So for now, I'm pretty comfortable with the Dead having played Tuesday, March 24, 1970 at Pirate's World. They probably got into Florida Sunday night, and hung out for a Tuesday show in anticipation of the big festival the next weekend.
Ahoy, mateys. Note the aerial trams overlooking the buccaneer-filled water at Pirate's World.
Pirate's World
Pirate's World was an 87-acre amusement park that had opened in 1966, just North of Miami in Dania, Florida. It was located just East of US1, North of Sheridan Street (the community is now called Dania Beach, FL, and Sheridan Street is also FL822). Most of the rides were pirate themed, and there was a body of water, and one of the rides was a trip on an "actual" pirate ship. The amusement park was initially very popular when it first opened, until Disney World came on the scene in Orlando in 1971. Pirate's World closed in 1975, although it is fondly remembered by young people in the area at the time.

There had been a variety of efforts to find suitable rock venues in the Miami area in the 1960s, and the Dead had played a critical role, if to little avail. Early in 1968, the Dead had played Thee Image, Miami's own Fillmore, and the band had also kicked off a series of free concerts at Graynolds Park. Later in 1968, the band had played a rock festival in nearby Hallandale (Dec 28 '68) and then, after Thee Image had closed, at a rock festival on the Seminole Indian Reservation in West Hollywood (May 23-24 '69),and at a speedway in Hollywood (Dec 28 '69). By 1970, police and civic pressure had forced touring rock bands to play outdoors in the Pirates World amusement park in Dania, just North of Hallandale (and just South of Fort Lauderdale). Note that the ticket stub suggests that when purchasing a ticket "all rides free." I wonder how "The Other One" would have sounded on a roller coaster?

From the point of view of the park, it seems that the concerts were an effort to bring in teenagers. Certainly the events were memorable for those who went. An eyewitness recalls
The concert area at Pirates World was inside the large amusement park. Maybe 2,000 people? 100 feet of floor space between the stage and a row of wooden bleacher seats that faced the stage. Totally open air, don't even think there was a roof over the stage.
lived in Ft Lauderdale from 67-69...returned to NYC in 69 and went back to Fla. numerous times. Happend to be there when this concert was announced and holy shit!I was in a band in NYC during 65-67 and bass player was a huge Dead fan. He was with us in Fla and attended this concert, too.Prior to concert, 5 of us decided to take the ride across Pirates World, sort of an ore bucket thingy. While we're waiting to get into our cage, who's in front of us but Garcia amd his entourage...we wait and they get into the cage...a few mniutes later ( we had an abnormally long wait) we get into our cage...proceed to go 1/2 way across the grounds, about 50 feet in the air, and the ride stops...we decide it is the cops who want to bust us (Fla. in 1970 was, shall we say, intolerant of long hairs) so we start smoking everything we have...3-4 jointz each at a time...paranoid, the ride finally moves and we get to the end and the kid who opens the door says "Garcia told us there were a bunch of heads behind him, and to make sure you got a good long ride."
best ride of my life.
57 years old now and man, do I miss the 60s.


A flyer for the original iteration of the Winter's End Festival in Miami, scheduled for March 27-29, 1970. Originally planned for a site just north of Miami, eventually an abortive version of the event was held at a place called Bithlo.
Winter's End Festival
The big event, however, was the "Winter's End Festival" scheduled for the weekend of March 27-29. JGMF did some excellent work looking into this canceled event, and has some excellent links. He also found the flyer above, which shows us that the original site of the Winter's End Festival was North of Miami, but still South of Pirate's World. This may account for the Dead having reduced from two dates to one, if local fans were expecting a big festival the next weekend.

I have since found out, however, that the actual story of the Winter's End Festival was far more complex and crazy than JGMF's links suggest. It was the last in a line of Florida rock festivals that always kept moving due to local pressure. The promoter of the festival turns out to have been an infamous character named Tom Forcade. Forcade (1945-78) was either a provocative entrepreneur, or an entreprenurial provocateur, depending on how you see things. Saying that Forcade was "a character" does him a disservice. He is worthy of an entire book, which is apparently being written. Suffice to say, and I say this advisedly, the most mainstream thing that Forcade ever did was start High Times magazine. Just to reiterate--starting High Times was Forcade's straightest, most plausible venture. I hope the book comes out soon.

In any case, Forcade promoted the Winter's End Festival near Miami, and it fell apart and kept getting moved. It finally moved to a place called Bithlo, Florida, in between Miami and Orlando. While I'm sure Bithlo is a pleasant suburb now, at the time it was just empty county land. Nonetheless, apparently Orange County Sheriff's deputies made every effort to dissuade and arrest festival goers. Some version of the festival took place, but the Grateful Dead did not participate. There are many crazy memories, if you poke around. The JGMF comment thread has some good ones:

I attended this concert and Johnny Winter, Mountain and the Allman Brothers did play and were incredible, the hog farm was there and did their usual great job with what they could pull together. Locals caused some difficulties - breaking into cars/mini buses and stealing whatever they could find, causing some fights, etc. But overall it was a decent experience for a crowd in the hot Florida sun and cool evenings. Looking back now, amazing that no one died but leave it to youth..... 

I was there with 3 buddies that drove down on spring break from Indiana State. While I remember it being a generally epic time details are unclear do to the orange barrels. I remember about all the Hog Farm had was huge kettles of onion soup. Nutritious! Wavy Gravy took over emcee chores and continually extolled its virtues and thanks to the farm. I remember him voicing the warnings of bad mescaline going around and where the first aid tents were. I remember the Governor of Fl waking thru and declaring the site a disaster area to allow for food aid because the stores were wiped out. Remember the naked mud slide area! As for bands, clearly remember Johnny and Edgar Winter (first time I jeard them together), Leslie West and Mountain, Allman Brothers, and seems to me Tin House and Rush who I hadn't heard of before. Unlike previous post i remember bands for the whole 3days. Pretty big mess on sunday after it was over. Left after concert was over to head down to Lauderdale where the engine in my buddies Comet Blew. Hung for a couple days til the cash was gone and hitched back to ISU. Remember getting run off the road in TN by an 18 wheeler! Dang hippies! Great fun! Peace out!

Truckin' was written in March of 1970, made its live debut in August and was released on American Beauty in November.
Shot A Man In Reno?
McNally sets the scene:
In mid-March the Dead set off on tour, accompanied for the first time by Hunter, who had concluded that the band needed a road song, and that he needed to see the road to write the song...Later in the tour they reached Florida, and Hunter sprang the verses of "Truckin'" on them...Weir, Lesh and Garcia joined Hunter, and the four of them sat around the swimming pool with acoustic guitars and worked up the song (p364)

A few decades later, David Browne interviewed Robert Hunter for Rolling Stone, who added a few more details (Browne, not coincidentally, has just released his excellent new Grateful Dead book So Many Roads, which I can highly recommend)

Q: "Truckin'" also was completed on the road with the Dead, wasn't it?A: Yeah, I think it was in Florida, and I had been writing it for some time. I think I finished it there — it was not a song I just dashed off. And then I gave it to them. They were all sitting around the swimming pool, the guitars there, and they did a good job on it. I wrote all the lyric. "Sometimes the light's all shinin' on me" — I think that's Phil. It took me a couple of months to write and it maybe took 'em about half an hour to put it together
It is very tempting to look at the lyrics to famous rock songs and tie them to the biography of the writers. Certainly, when the band sings about getting "Busted, down on Bourbon Street," that very thing had happened less than two months earlier, and had been a famous event that fans were supposed to recognize, definitely an intentionally autobiographical reference. When they sing, "Dallas, got a soft machine, Houston, too close to New Orleans," we can look at the February schedule and see that the Dead had finally played Dallas (Feb 20) and Houston (Feb 22) just the month before. As for "Truckin', up to Buffalo," it's hard not to consider that Hunter and the boys were just in Buffalo less than a week before they wrote the song,

Nonetheless, biographical analysis does writers a great disservice. As a famous Classics professor once said, refuting the idea that the Roman poet Ovid's love objects were too realistic to be fictional, "raise your hand if you think Johnny Cash shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die." Writers make things up. Sometimes, the fictions are constructed from real occurrences in the writer's life, but ultimately they are still inventions. We cheerfully assume that Hunter did not "cut his buddy down, dug for him a shallow grave and laid his body down." Yet, whenever the whiff of reality strikes us, we suddenly wonder if writers are incapable of modifying real events for their art. 

In fact, the Dead weren't in Dallas in February 20, as they were actually in nearby Fort Worth. Although Ft. Worth has just two syllables, it doesn't sing as well, so it became "Dallas." "New York, got the ways and means, but just won't let you be," is a true enough statement, so it doesn't matter that Hunter had actually been in suburban Port Chester rather than Manhattan. "Truckin'" is a road song, and the phrase "long strange trip" will be Hunter's legacy long after we have all passed. It is appropriate that it was written on the road, at some no doubt seedy hotel in a Miami suburb, while the band waited around for a big gig that was never going to come. But it's still made up. The only pity is that Hunter and the guitarists did not sit around the pool another day and take a crack at some other lyrics. 

Pirate's World Today
The town of Dania is now called Dania Beach. I assume, like most of Florida, it is full of new construction, housing developments and malls, sprawling in every direction. Pirate's World closed in 1975, overwhelmed by Disney World. There was supposed to be a Biblical Theme Park in its place around 1978, but nothing came of it. The park was replaced by housing, and erased from all but childhood memories. Still, if you Google Map Sheridan Street (FL822) in Dania Beach, FL, just East of US1 (N Federal Highway), there is still a body of water. It is called West Lake. Could West Lake be the last trace of Pirate's World? Of course, since it was an amusement park, there wouldn't exactly be sunken galleons with untouched treasure at the bottom. But still. Maybe you can stand at the corner of West Lake, shut your eyes, and crank up the March 24 '70 tape on your iPod. Maybe, for a minute, all rides are free, the band is playing and everything is possible. Then, after the moment passes, you can get back truckin' on.


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Grateful Dead Live FM Broadcasts 1971 (FM IV)

A promotional poster for the Grateful Dead/NRPS show at the Easttown Theatre in Detroit, MI, on October 23 & 24, 1971. The cover to the new Grateful Dead album would have been provided as a "blank" to the promoter, who would have then had a local printer insert the concert details. Promoters could no longer afford to commission posters, but they would stilluse record company blanks. This is one indicator of Warner Brothers involvement in the Dead's fall '71 tour.
The Grateful Dead have been influential to the music industry in ways that are not always self-evident. One way in which the Dead have had a huge influence on the music industry was their enthusiasm for live FM broadcasts of their concerts. In the early 1970s, the Dead's willingness to broadcast their performances for free over the airwaves was in complete opposition to music business orthodoxy. Very rapidly, however, as the Dead started to sell records without benefit of a hit, the industry started to take notice. Live FM broadcasts became a staple of rock radio by the mid-70s, and they laid the groundwork for the explosion of music available on the internet, however distant that future might have been.

In the first installment of this series, I described the very earliest live FM broadcasts of rock shows.  The first Grateful Dead live concert broadcast was on KMPX-fm, from the Carousel Ballroom on February 14, 1968, and the resulting copies were foundational for Grateful Dead tape collectors over the years. There were a few other early experiments,including a live broadcast on Berkeley's KPFA-fm from the Avalon Ballroom on April 6, 1969, and a set from San Diego on KPRI-fm (106.5) on May 11, 1969. For my second installment, I analyzed how many of the Grateful Dead tapes from the 1960s that circulated in the 1970s and 80s were broadcast on San Francisco's KSAN-fm in the 1970s, although they were not in fact actually broadcast during the 60s. 

In my third post, I looked at all the live broadcasts by the Grateful Dead and various individual members from 1970.  None of the circumstances of any of the 1970 broadcasts were ever duplicated, but it made a good case study on how the Grateful Dead determined the best way to promote their music for their own benefit. In my fourth post, I looked at the Fillmore West broadcast of July 2, 1971. The Fillmore West broadcast was the basic blueprint for just about all the Grateful Dead concerts that were broadcast throughout the 1970s. KSAN-fm was the best rated music station in what at the time was the hippest music city in the United States. When a band played live on the air for nearly three hours, with no commercials (except during the setbreak), it was an unprecedented event. 

For this post, I will focus on the Grateful Dead's unprecedented Fall 1971 tour, where the band made 15 live broadcasts of complete concerts all across the country. Such an extravaganza was never duplicated again, neither by the Grateful Dead nor any other band. Yet it had far reaching implications for the Dead, as it ended up being essential to spreading their legend far and wide to young rock fans who would not otherwise have been able to see them.
A cover for one of the many bootleg LPs that were created from the Grateful Dead's July 2, 1971 Fillmore West FM broadcast on KSAN and KMPX. I had this bootleg--it was kind of an underground hit album in the Bay Area back in the day.
The Grateful Dead, Summer 1971
The Grateful Dead had delivered not just one, but two successful albums to Warner Brothers in 1970. While WB had initially considered the Dead a sort of prestige cult act in the 60s, the band had surprised the label by recording the very accessible Workingman's Dead. Workingman's was released in June 1970, just as FM radio was becoming a nationwide phenomenon. They followed it up with American Beauty in November 1970, which FM djs liked even better. 

The bulk of the rock audience  in 1970 was young people in suburbs and colleges. Many of them had probably heard of the Grateful Dead in a sort of legendary way, but the first music they heard by the Dead was most likely songs from Workingman's or American Beauty, played on the local FM station. Songs like "Uncle John's Band," "Casey Jones," "Friend Of The Devil" and "Truckin'" weren't exactly hits, but they were played often enough that rock fans recognized them. 

When the Dead discovered that manager Lenny Hart had been stealing from them in early 1970, they made the decision that they were going to tour their way back to solvency. With new road manager Sam Cutler heading up the wagon train, the band toured relentlessly throughout 1970 and '71. They found a welcome reception at college campuses all over the country. The schools had entertainment budgets, and they had students anxious to get a taste of a real Fillmore East band. The fact that the Dead kept releasing albums that actually got FM airplay only made them more attractive for concert bookings. 

The Dead seem to have considered the idea of a live album as early as October 1970. They finally took it seriously in the Spring of 1971, and recorded several shows on their Spring tour, with the idea of making a double live album. The band recorded shows at Manhattan Center and at Fillmore East in April 1971. They also recorded a show at Winterland on March 24, 1971. From the 9 shows, the band worked all summer to create a double live album.

The Dead had already released a double live album, of course, the immortal Live/Dead. Live/Dead, however, had been a pinnacle of sophisticated jamming that was modeled more on jazz albums than rock ones. The Dead's new album was structured more like a mini-concert. There would be one song from an old album ("The Other One") and a few new originals, but mostly there would be cover versions. The covers were both well-known and obscure, and all in all it represented a snapshot of the type of show the band was delivering across the country. 

As a result, the Dead had a fair amount of leverage with Warners, for a change: two hit albums in a row, rising concert receipts and yet still retaining some underground cachet. So at the end of the Summer, they told Warners that they wanted to release a double live album, which was surely good with the label. Popular road bands like The Who, The Allman Brothers Band and Grand Funk Railroad had released such albums, so it would have made sense to Warners. The Dead had an album and a cover, a version of a Kelly/Mouse skeleton-and-roses poster from 1966. They also had a proposal for a title: "Skullfuck." 
Grateful Dead, better known to Deadheads as Skull And Roses, was released by Warner Brothers in Fall 1971, and the company financed FM broadcasts at many cities where the Dead played.
Summit Meeting In Los Angeles
Warners had a complete cow over the proposed title, yet the Dead insisted. Ultimately there was a famous meeting between Warners and the band. The Dead insisted that "everybody" had to come, including crew members and girlfriends, so Joe Smith and the Warners team hired the Continental Hyatt House conference room, since they couldn't fit into any room at the WB offices. 

McNally describes the meeting in some detail. Smith ultimately persuaded the band that so few stores would carry the album with that title that it would be a financial debacle. Later Garcia and others said that it was all a big put-on, and they didn't really intend to follow through with it. The episode is very Grateful Dead, but it's worth noting that it was just the San Francisco hippie version of typical rock star behavior. People make fun of various bands for their requirements or excesses (brown m&ms, caviar, tvs thrown into swimming pools, etc) that their labels had to tolerate, and the Dead did the same thing. Admittedly, their version was less focused on the comfort of the band members and had a sense of humor, but ultimately it was rock starrish behavior nonetheless.

Nonetheless, Joe Smith prevailed, and the album title was changed to the cautious Grateful Dead. Smith correctly observed that ultimately the Grateful Dead were professionally ambitious, whatever other aesthetic values they may have had. Nonetheless, something critically important came out of the Hyatt House meeting. McNally:
[Another] piece of fallout from the meeting at the Hyatt House was a hefty promotional budget for the album, including about $100,000 for radio broadcasts of fourteen shows that fall, which would help make Skullf**k the Dead's first gold album. Their broadcasts were direct and effective, which was fortunate, because their other efforts would be less useful. [McNally, p.410]
The concept of free radio broadcasts in multiple cities was radical stuff, indeed. Up until this time, there had been relatively few live FM broadcasts of rock bands. The Grateful Dead, as usual, had been in the forefront. Their earliest live broadcast had been on February 14, 1968 (from The Carousel, via KPMX-fm), far before most other bands. Their most recent live broadcast had been intriguing, from the Fillmore West on July 2, 1971. Bill Graham had made an historic event out of the closing of the Fillmore, and record company support had allowed for the entire week of Fillmore shows to be broadcast in quadrophonic, on two radio stations at once. On July 2, entire sets were broadcast by The Rowan Brothers (with Garcia and Bill Kreutzmann as part of the band), the New Riders Of The Purple Sage (with Garcia) and both sets by the Dead.

Clearly, the Fillmore West shows were a model for the Dead. The substantial record company promotional budget was required because FM stations were not going to give up airtime for free. If a band played live on FM radio--this is still true, if bands still broadcast live on FM--somebody, usually the record company, had to pay for all the lost advertising time for the commercial free broadcast. Now, I suspect that record companies agreed in advance to a certain number of ads over the next month in return for free air time for their band, rather than a single cash payment, but it doesn't matter. It cost money to put a band on commercial FM radio, and Warner Brothers was willing to pay.

Economic Assessment
Using McNally's numbers, the Grateful Dead received a $100,000 budget to pay for broadcasts in 14 cities.  This amounts to around $7000 per broadcast. Some of that money would have gone to compensate the radio stations, and some would have gone to expenses, such as hiring local equipment and staff for the event. Live fm broadcasts were still new, and for many stations this may have been their first stab at it.

Record companies were not charities. The $100,000 they assigned to the Dead for promotional purposes would have been taken out of the Dead's future royalties. Using Ron Rakow's figure that the Dead were getting 31 cents per album from Warners (prior to going independent), this would have meant that the Dead would have had to sell about 323,000 albums to justify the costs of the broadcasts. I believe the Dead met that goal, but in an unexpected way that may not have been anticipated.

In formal terms, the band would have had to sell an extra 23,000 albums in each city that they broadcast. Its impossible to say whether they did or didn't, but it's not impossible that they met that goal in some of the larger cities. The real question would be whether the fans who heard the broadcasts and then bought the albums would have bought them anyway. However, it doesn't matter. Rather unexpectedly, one of the most important things that the tour did was create seeds for future Grateful Dead tapers. In many cases, the tapes stayed dormant for many years, but once taping took off, there were lost treasures from the 1971 tour to be found, and it added considerably to the excitement of accumulating Dead tapes in the later '70s.

In any case, thousands of rock fans all over the country heard their first Grateful Dead concert from the comfort of their own rooms, whether in the suburbs or the dorms. Plenty of those people got on the bus that very same night. It's hard to quantify how many tickets and albums were sold to people who heard those shows, but it was a lot--the $100,000 that the Dead gave up in royalties ended up being paid back many times over. In many ways, it could be argued that it was the best investment the Dead could have made in their own future musical success.

The Rolling Stones bootleg Liver Than You'll Ever Be, while not having huge sales, was reviewed in Rolling Stone and had a huge effect on the record industry. It was essentially a well-mic'd audience tape of the Stones, using an Owsley tuned Dead sound system, and it scared the daylights out of the music business. 
The Spectre Of Bootlegs
When looking backwards, it seems strange that other bands did not copy the Grateful Dead. FM airplay was the key to success in attracting attention in the early 70s, and it was hardly a secret. Here were the Dead getting 4 hours a night, and sucking people into their universe for good. Back in the 60s, the Dead had struck upon the idea of playing for free in a local park to attract attention for the evening's concert. Using better technology, they were now playing for free for the entire region. All the mostly young rock fans who couldn't get tickets were listening in their bedrooms. The Fall '71 Dead could really bring it, too, so every listener got the full dose.

There were lots of great bands touring in 1971--why weren't they all doing this? Traffic, J Geils Band, Ten Years After, The Byrds, Poco, The Faces--where were they? All of them had great live shows (check out sugarmegs if you don't believe me) and could have owned the audience in every town, and yet they didn't do it.

The resistance to live rock broadcasts in the early 70s seems to have been driven by fear of bootleg records. Since the late 60s, mysterious albums with white covers had shown up in record stores, featuring studio outtakes or live recordings. Some of them were less than stellar, but some of them opened fans up to an entire new universe. Record companies were in a complete panic over the idea that their monopoly over artists could be disintermediated, and they were generally against anything that encouraging bootlegging. Most bootlegs only sold in the thousands, at most, but when they got reviewed in Rolling Stone corporate boardrooms got very nervous indeed.

Now, some bootleggers may have had artistic motives, but they weren't compensating artists, either. Almost no rock bands, certainly not the Grateful Dead, were actually sympathetic to bootleg records being sold. Nonetheless, those bootlegs were tremendously influential in the early 70s record industry. The Dead played an inadvertent role in the first successful bootleg of an audience tape, a live recording of the Rolling Stones at the Oakland Coliseum on November 9, 1969. The "release" of Liver Than You'll Ever Be was supposedly responsible for the corresponding release of the Rolling Stones live album Get Your Ya-Ya's Out. Certainly, bootlegs indicated a public taste for live rock, and numerous live albums were released in the early 70s.

As a fellow scholar has documented, the Grateful Dead were heavily bootlegged in the early 70s, and the band went out of their way to interfere with them. It may even be that the release of Skull And Roses was intended as a counterweight to available bootlegs. Nonetheless, the Dead looked into the abyss and created potential bootleg material by broadcasting live. The gamble paid off in every way. If only Traffic had done the same when they toured in Fall 1971, behind Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys, music history could have had a different twist to it.

The poster for the Grateful Dead/NRPS show at the Allen Theater in Cleveland, on October 29, 1971. Once again the promoter has used the WB-provided blank.
An Evening With The Grateful Dead
The Fall 1971 Grateful Dead broadcasts were unique in so many ways, it is difficult to absorb them all. For one thing, in 1971 the Dead were still promoting their shows under the rubric of "An Evening With The Grateful Dead." Most rock shows back in the day had two or three acts, but the Dead brought their own opening act and then played two sets of their own. The New Riders Of The Purple Sage, who up until the Summer of '71 had largely been a mystery, had finally released their debut album on Columbia Records in September. Jerry Garcia's replacement on pedal steel guitar, Buddy Cage, was already around and rehearsing with the New Riders, but Garcia still played with the Riders initially in order to publicize their new album.

Think about this for a moment. The Grateful Dead, though peculiar outlaws of a sort, were bona fide rock stars by any accounting. Jerry Garcia was far and away the most famous member of the group. And yet here he was appearing with the opening act every night. Plenty of sixties rock stars made guest appearances on albums in the 70s, indeed record companies made a point of publicizing those appearances. Yet the stars did not appear with the bands, much less opening their own concerts. Neil Young, for example, worked with the band Crazy Horse, but they did not open for him with Neil on guitar.

For at least 8 of the 14 shows financed by Warner Brothers, the New Riders Of The Purple Sage performed on the radio as well. Now, I'm sure that the Riders were subsidized by Columbia rather than Warners, but once again here was another anomaly. The Grateful Dead would be on the FM airwaves for close to four hours, but the most famous member of the band was on the air for an additional hour as well with the opening act.

I have heard a tape of the initial broadcast of the tour, from Minneapolis, and the New Riders played 75 minutes. During the set break, there was an interview with Garcia and others, from earlier in the evening. On top of that there was a tape of a sort of prose poem from Robert Hunter, who at the time was quite a mysterious figure. Thus the Dead dominated KQRS-fm  in Minneapolis for at least five hours, probably six. How many Deadheads got on the bus that night, do you think? In some form or another, the same thing must have happened in every city. The Grateful Dead reaped the benefits for many years.

Live broadcasts around a Dead tour should have celebrated the release of each Grateful Dead album, but it was not to be. By the time of the next album, Europe '72, the Dead were leaving Warner Brothers, so it wasn't like the company was going to strive to make it a big hit. Subsequent albums were released by the cash-poor Grateful Dead label, so they could not afford the strategy that would have worked. The only other time it was attempted was for the miserable Steal Your Face album, when United Artists supported a series of broadcasts on the East Coast in 1976, but that is a story for another post.

Many years after the fact, a King Biscuit Flower Hour recording of the complete concert by  Kingfish at the Beacon Theater in Manhattan, on April 3, 1976 was released. When this was released in 1992, it was the only live Kingfish on the market from the band in their prime. That's still the case, sad to say.
Aftermath: The King Biscuit Flower Hour
The Grateful Dead released their Grateful Dead album ("Skull And Roses") in Fall 1971, and the cross-country radio broadcasts helped propel the album into gold record status. Once a hipster cult band, the Grateful Dead were now big business. However, just as few acts bought into the Dead's scheme of playing free concerts to publicize local concerts, even fewer--as in none--would broadcast live shows across the country. Whether this was out of fear that they would be implicitly conceding that every show was the same, or just fear of bootleg records, it didn't happen. The broadcasts of the Fall '71 Grateful Dead tour were a signpost to new space, but it was a freeway exit that was never taken by other bands. And more's the pity for that.

However, there was a sort of successor to the Grateful Dead broadcasts, namely the syndicated FM radio show The King Biscuit Flower Hour. The Biscuit, as it was known, taped live concerts in mobile recording trucks and put portions of the shows on the air. Each show was about an hour, and often the broadcasts took place within several weeks of the original concert. LPs (and later cds) were circulated to the subscribing FM stations, and they would broadcast them on a fixed schedule. KSAN used to have The Biscuit on Sunday nights, as I recall.

The King Biscuit Flower Hour began in February, 1973. There's no way the founders weren't aware of the Dead's experiment. The Biscuit was far more controlled: once ads were included, the actual music portion was about 50 minutes or so. Sometimes there would be two or three bands, so some of the "sets" were shorter. Bands or their management would choose what they considered to be a good overview, usually a couple of classic hits and some songs from the newest album. If there were some bad takes the night of the recording, they weren't used for the broadcast.

For fans like me, The King Biscuit Flower Hour was a glimpse into what was happening at concerts I couldn't go to, a taste of what bands actually sounded like live. For the bands, it was a chance to get heard in my bedroom or dorm room, a time when I would give a band a full hour of my attention. For tapers, of course, King Biscuit shows often provided the earliest circulating FM tapes of many bands. King Biscuit continued to broadcast until 1993. The Grateful Dead appeared on the show a number of times, and that too provided some widely circulating tapes. Although a 1982 fire destroyed many original tapes, the surviving Biscuit tapes can be heard at Wolfgang's Vault.

The poster for the GD/NRPS November 20, 1971 show at Pauley Pavilion was the only unique poster of the tour.
Appendix: 1971 Grateful Dead Live FM Broadcasts
July 2, 1971 Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/New Riders Of The Purple Sage (KSAN-fm, KSFX-fm)
As part of the closing of the Fillmore West, the entire week of shows was broadcast in Quadrophonic on KSAN-fm and KSFX-fm. The New Riders and Rowan Brothers were broadcast as well, though both were without records at the time. I have written about this show at length. It appears to be the template for all future Grateful Dead broadcasts, a complete show sent over the airwaves in its entirety, warts and all.

August 21, 1971 Mickey Hart's Ranch, Novato, CA: Shanti/(New Riders Of The Purple Sage)
Shanti was an Indian/American fusion rock band on Atlantic. There was an event at Mickey Hart's ranch that was either an FM broadcast or a TV/FM special. The New Riders also played, but it doesn't appear that they were broadcast. We remain in hope that audio or video survived, however. 

October 19, 1971 Northrup Auditorium, U. of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN: Grateful Dead/New Riders Of The Purple Sage (KQRS-fm)
The Grateful Dead's fall tour, and Keith Godchaux's debut, began in Minneapolis. The New Riders album had just been released the month before, so the broadcast opened with a 75-minute New Riders set, featuring Jerry Garcia on pedal steel guitar. The set break included a taped interview with Garcia from earlier in the day, with weird crew noises in the background, and some sort of Robert Hunter "tone poem." The Dead played two massive electric sets. All told, they must have been on the radio for at least five hours, and probably more. I do not know how often this exact format was repeated on the fall tour.

Note all the touring bands playing the Auditorium Theater in Chicago, besides the Dead: Traffic, Jeff Beck Group, Jethro Tull and Ten Years After most prominently. Why don't we have FM broadcasts of all of them? 
October 21, 1971 Auditorium Theater, Chicago, IL: Grateful Dead/New Riders Of The Purple Sage (WGLD-fm)
The Grateful Dead went on to play two nights at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago. The touring strategy seemed to be to advertise a show at a venue, and when it sold out they would add a second night. The first night in Chicago was broadcast on WGLD-fm, based in suburban Oak Park. Once again the New Riders were broadcast as well.

October 23, 1971 Easttown Theater, Detroit, MI: Grateful Dead (WABX-fm)
The Dead played two nights at the Easttown in Detroit, and once again the first night was broadcast. I am not aware that there was a New Riders broadcast that night.

The poster for the GD/NRPS shows at Rochester (Oct 26) and Syracuse (Oct 27). Since this design turned up again in New Mexico, it was most likely a WB-provided blank.
October 26, 1971 The Palestra, Rochester, NY: Grateful Dead
The Dead also played the Palestra in Rochester, and broadcast from there. Once again, the New Riders were not broadcast to my knowledge. I have to suspect that Columbia didn't want to pay up to promote the New Riders in smaller cities. I guess it didn't matter--the New Riders are unbelievably popular in Central New York unto this very day.

October 27, 1971 Onandaga County War Memorial Auditorium, Syracuse, NY: Grateful Dead (WAER-fm)
In the smaller cities, I don't think there ever was an expectation of adding a second night, so the Dead just played Rochester and relatively nearby Syracuse.

October 29. 1971 Allen Theater, Cleveland, OH: Grateful Dead (WMCR-fm)
Following the schedule, the Dead played one night in Cleveland and the next night in Cincinnati.

Once again, the Skull & Roses blank was used for the Cincinnati shows. Many of these were probably hung up in record stores, and only preserved because employee fans took them home instead of letting them be thrown out.
October 30, 1971 Taft Auditorium, Cincinnati, OH: Grateful Dead/New Riders Of The Purple Sage (W???-fm)
The Dead played two nights in Cincinnati, and broadcast the first one. The New Riders were also on the broadcast again. I don't know the name of the Cincinnati station.

November 7, 1971 Harding Theater, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead (KSFX-fm)
The Dead played two nights at the very tiny Harding Theater in San Francisco. You can't believe how small that place must have been. A second show was added the night before (November 6). The show on November 7 was broadcast on KSFX-fm, a sort of corporate sister station to KSAN, as far as I know.

I believe the New Riders opened these shows, although I am not certain. If that is so, then November 7, 1971 was Jerry's last appearance as a regular member of the New Riders. He would make a few guest appearances in later year, but he turned the pedal steel chair over to Buddy Cage after this.

Note that Howard Stein was promoting Traffic and the Grateful Dead consecutively in both Chicago and Atlanta. The Traffic tour was awesome, and no board recording survived, or was even made. There are a few crummy audience tapes. The sound that you hear is only the low spark of high heeled boys. 
November 11, 1971 Municipal Auditorium, Atlanta, GA: Grateful Dead/New Riders Of The Purple Sage (WREK-fm)
WREK is the Georgia Tech University student station, although it was far more powerful than typical college stations. In the early '70s, WREK appeared to have 3400 watts (KZSU-fm at Stanford, by contrast, had 10 watts).

The New Riders were broadcast as well, and Buddy Cage made his live debut with the band. That's pretty rare, when you think about it--a band member (of any band) makes his live debut on an FM broadcast.

The other blank turns up in New Mexico.
November 17, 1971 Civic Auditorium, Albuquerque, NM: Grateful Dead (????-fm)
After three dates in Texas, the Dead had another broadcast in Albuquerque. Why the Dead broadcast in Albuquerque but not Austin (Nov 15) or Fort Worth (Nov 14) is a mystery to me, but there must have been promotional cross currents of some kind that are now lost in the mists of time. JGMF has discovered that the Dead hoped to add a second night in New Mexico, but weak ticket sales prevented that. The show was broadcast, but I'm not sure on which station. I also believe that the only recording of the broadcast is from a microphone next to an FM radio, not a line recording at all.

November 20, 1971 Pauley Pavilion, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA: Grateful Dead (KMET-fm)
The Dead played their first concert at Pauley Pavilion. A lot of concerts in Pauley in those days were with restricted seating, so the band would have been playing to a smaller crowd than they would in later years. I don't believe the New Riders were broadcast. KMET was owned by the same corporation as KSAN (Metromedia).

December 2, 1971 Boston Music Hall, Boston, MA: Grateful Dead/New Riders Of The Purple Sage (WBCN-fm)
The Grateful Dead and the New Riders were both broadcast on WBCN on December 2. The bands had added another show the night before (December 1).

December 5, 1971 Felt Forum, New York, NY: Grateful Dead/New Riders Of The Purple Sage (WNEW-fm)
The Dead and the Riders also broadcast from the Felt Forum. The Dead's potential audience was still young in those days, and this broadcast had to have gotten tons of teenagers in Long Island, Westchester and Northern New Jersey on to the bus with an express ticket. I think the show was widely bootlegged however (I had one--it was great) and that was the sort of thing the New York-based record industry would notice. The band also played newly-written material that had not been released, and that must have seemed suicidal to New York record companies, even thought the opposite turned out to be the case.

December 10, 1971 Fox Theater, St. Louis, MO: Grateful Dead/New Riders Of The Purple Sage (KADI-fm)
The Dead and the New Riders also broadcast from St. Louis. If you map the Dead's broadcasts, you can see that much of the country was covered. How many albums were sold by these broadcasts? I feel confident that it was ultimately far more than 323,000.

December 31, 1971 Winterland, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/New Riders Of The Purple Sage (KSAN-fm)
The final broadcast of the year was the New Year's blowout at Winterland. This was probably not part of the original Warner Brothers budget, but it was broadcasts like this that popularized the idea that the Dead playing San Francisco New Year's was a thing.










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.
Aftermath
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.