Friday, November 20, 2009

August 21, 1971 Midway Stadium, St. Paul, MI The Who/Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead (canceled)


This intriguing notice in Andy Mellen's weekly Youthscene column in the Winnipeg Free Press of Wednesday, August 18, 1971 refers to a scheduled Grateful Dead concert on Saturday, August 21, 1971. I find it unlikely that the show actually occurred, but its interesting to know it was scheduled, and the planning for the event does explain some anomalies in the Dead's 1971 touring schedule. The paragraph says
The rock festival scheduled for St. Paul-Minneapolis this Saturday is definitely go. The festival will be held at Midway Stadium, and headlines The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna, Grateful Dead, folksinger Leo Kottke and several others. If you haven't got any wheels and don't feel like hiking, Terry Michalsky of the Music Market has chartered a bus to the Twin Cities. Total cost, including festival tickets, is $20; the bus leaves Friday night. To reserve a seat, telephone Terry.
The hopeful phrase "definitely go" suggests the event was in doubt. Midway Stadium in St. Paul was a minor league baseball stadium, home of the AAA St. Paul Saints from 1957-60. After the Minnesota Twins came to town and used Metropolitan Stadium in Minneapolis, the Saints moved and Midway Stadium was used for lesser events and as a Minnesota Vikings (NFL) practice field. The stadium was at 1000 North Snelling Drive. It was torn down in 1981. A new facility called Midway Stadium was built in 1982 (at 1771 Energy Park Drive) and remains in use today.

Although I do not believe the "festival" took place. It does fit the touring schedule of all three major bands. The Who were touring America behind Who's Next. According to The Who Concert File book, their tour ended in Chicago on August 19. According to the book, there were efforts to end the tour with open air concerts in Red Rocks (August 22 and 24) and a free concert in New York on August 29. All three events were blocked by civic authorities. The St. Paul event isn't mentioned, but it makes sense that The Who were trying to plug a hole in their itinerary, even if they eventually gave up and returned to England.

The Jefferson Airplane were also touring the Midwest. On August 20 and 21 the Airplane played Cobo Hall in Detroit, MI, one of them apparently a makeup date for a canceled show in May. Whatever last second plans may have had to be changed, its at least plausible for the Airplane to have considered an outdoor show in St. Paul, as the Airplane tour also ended at Detroit on August 21.

As for the Grateful Dead, they were free on the weekend of August 21 as well. The band had played a weekend gig at Berkeley Community Theater on August 14-15, and their next gigs were in Chicago 8 days later (August 23-24), on a Monday and a Tuesday. Then they played a Thursday gig (October 26) in New York City (at Gaelic Park in The Bronx), and then returned home. These gigs have never made any sense to me. Why would the Dead have flown to Chicago for weeknight gigs, played another weeknight gig in The Bronx, then returned home? Since the New Riders were booked at the Longbranch in Berkeley on August 27, it seems fairly certain that they returned home in a hurry.

I believe that the planned Grateful Dead itinerary for the week was as follows

  • Saturday August 21-Midway Stadium, St. Paul, MN with The Who/Jefferson Airplane
  • Monday August 23-Auditorium Theatre, Chicago, IL
  • Tuesday August 24-Auditorium Theatre, Chicago, IL
  • Thursday August 26-Gaelic Park, The Bronx, NY
  • Sunday August 29-free concert, New York City with The Who

It hardly would have been a coincidence that The Dead planned to be on the East Coast when The Who were planning a free concert in New York City, so I'm sure the Dead planned to play.

Based on the uncertainty of this newspaper listing, and the fact that the Who and the Airplane seem to have been elsewhere, it seems unlikely that the Dead played Midway Stadium on August 21 or that St. Paul event even occurred. Nonetheless it looks like the Chicago and Bronx gigs were booked as filler between two big outdoor dates, the second a big one in New York with The Who (and I'll bet the Airplane wouldn't have missed that party). According to The Who Concert File, Roger Daltrey told Melody Maker "the Mayor wouldn't have us" (p.175), so obviously well-laid plans had to be scuttled.

The Mayor of New York City (John Lindsay) probably had a point: while The Who, The Grateful Dead and The Jefferson Airplane playing for free in Central Park (or anywhere in the Five Boroughs) in 1971 would have been one for the ages, the idea of Watkins Glen with subway access would have made Woodstock look like a picnic. Still...

(Note: I am aware that there is a recording from Mickey's Barn with various Dead members dated August 21, 1971, but even if the date is accurate,  I don't think it proves much beyond the fact that the band probably hadn't left yet for Chicago).

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