Saturday, February 13, 2010

March 5, 1971 Oakland Auditorium, Oakland, CA Huey Newton Birthday Celebration with The Grateful Dead

Oakland Auditorium Arena, at 10 10th Street right near Downtown, looms large in Grateful Dead history. After Winterland closed in 1978, the Auditorium became the Grateful Dead's "Home Court," and there were many great shows there. The building was remodeled and renamed the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, and much improved, but the Dead were still its most memorable tenant throughout the 1980s. In many ways the Grateful Dead can get credit for showing that the venue was a viable concert venue after all, since it was hardly used for rock music between 1967 and 1979, and the city of Oakland was the beneficiary.

One Grateful Dead show at the old Auditorium that is generally missing from most chronologies (including Deadlists) was the band's appearance at a Black Panther Benefit celebrating Huey Newton's birthday, among various other things. The Black Panther Party were a crucial cause celebre in the East Bay and throughout the Nation, and Oakland Auditorium was about a mile from the Panthers birthplace just across the Grove Shafter freeway. The story of the Black Panthers and their complicated relationship with hippies and liberals is well outside the scope of this blog, but suffice to say that the normally non-political Grateful Dead could feel comfortable supporting the Panthers since they were seen as trans-political: supporting the Panthers at the time was like opposing the Vietnam War or being pro-Ecology, a moral position that superseded any immediate political issues.

I do not know what the social connection between the Grateful Dead and The Black Panthers might have been. Nonetheless, there they are on the flyer, effectively headlining the party. The Black Panthers were always under heavy police pressure, and they responded to it by being heavily armed. For most white hippies, even the most liberal, a trip into Oakland to attend a Panther event would have been daunting indeed. Its not surprising there are no audience tapes or reviews of the event, to my knowledge. Given the number of speakers and the 4 hour running time, the Dead would not likely have played a full show.

The only thing I ever heard about this show, 10 years later and about fourth hand, was that "it was strange" (I'll bet) and "some member of the Dead didn't show up." I later realized that Mickey Hart had just left the band in New York, so a fan who showed up at the Oakland show would simply have perceived at as Mickey not being present. I realize there was apparently a Fillmore West show two days earlier, and Mickey wouldn't have played there either, but without an Internet it took a long time for that kind of information to circulate widely.


  1. Grateful Dead show on March 3, 1971 is not at the Fillmore West but at the Winterland (this is listed on your site "Chicken On A Unicycle").

  2. Mickey Hart left Grateful Dead right after their gigs at Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York, on February 18-21 and 23-24, 1971.

  3. I am confused about the 3/3/71 gig, to follow on Bruno's comment. I have it listed as "Fillmore West", advertised as "Carousel Ballroom", based on Chicken on Unicycle's Carousel listing.

    What's more, there was a Garcia/Saunders gig listed for 3/3/71 at the Matrix in Good Times v.4 n.8 (2/26/71), p. 20.

    Also, I seem to remember the story of the social connection between the GD and the Panthers being that they shared an airplane ride at some point, got to talking, and just connected in that way.

    Oh yeah, one more thing, since we are in this timeframe: I show that Bob Weir's mother died on March 4th. FYI, FWIW, and all that.

  4. The March 3, 1971 gig has always been a mystery to me. The source seems to be Deadbase, but the trail goes cold. I wouldn't be surprised if its a sort of phantom, and the setlist associated with it belongs to something else.

    Weir's mother's death lends an interesting tone to the rumor I heard--maybe Weir didn't show up (nor Mickey Hart, obviously), and it was just sort of a jam. I doubt they played as a quartet (Pig, Jerry, Phil and Bill), so maybe someone else sat in? I have to say that Merl Saunders seems like the most candidate, for any number of practical reasons.

    Given the schedule on the poster, I figure the Dead were scheduled for about 45 minutes. Boy, what if Pig actually sang "Expressway To Your Heart?"

  5. An old copy of Deadbase says the March 3, 1971 show was an "Airwaves Benefit," with Shades Of Joy opening, plus some theater and dance acts. Martin Fiero was in Shades of Joy, among other players.

  6. The poster of the March 3, 1971 gig showed on this site.....
    ....says: "Carousel Ballroom".

  7. The poster is also here.....

  8. Yes, I think its a joke. The Dead, or somebody, rented the Fillmore West from Bill Graham for a Wednesday night benefit, so the Dead used its prior name. Just having a laugh at the fact that they ran it prior to Graham. Any idea what it was a Benefit for? I know it says "Airwaves," and "People's Radio," but do you know what that means.

    In any case, the Carousel Ballroom marquee was up there until the end.

  9. I have no idea about who they were "Air Waves" and/or "People's Radio". The only thing I know is that about two months before on January 17, 1971, there was another "Air Waves Benefit" at the Alternative Futures in San Francisco with The Wildflower and Straight Funk. Ah Corry, what do you think about the possibility that even The New Riders Of The Purple Sage played (unbilled because they're not on the poster) on March 3, 1971 benefit?

  10. I think its pretty unlikely that the New Riders played. They were signed to CBS and had a following of their own by this time. One reason to play a Benefit was to get your name out there and build new fans, and that wasn't going to happen if they were unbilled.

    Also, the Dead tape that exists seems short for a show, not surprising if it was a Benefit with another band, and various dance and theater troupes. I doubt there was time for the Riders to play, and weeknight shows usually ended earlier than weekend ones, for obvious reasons.

  11. This post reminds me of a Merl Saunders interview in which he talked about a different show: "We were asked to do a benefit concert for a black student organization at UC Berkeley. I basically told them we couldn't because I knew that Jerry had to be on the East Coast. When I asked Jerry he said 'fuck it, I'll do it anyway.' Jerry flew in, played the benefit, went back to the airport, and flew back to the East Coast."
    (This was apparently Garcia/Saunders' show at the 9-22-72 Farmworkers' Benefit, where the Dead were playing in CT the next day.)

    That reminds me of yet another benefit - the 6-21-70 American Indian Benefit in Berkeley, which fell between a 6-19 Memphis show and the 6-24 Port Chester shows....

    Anyway, back to the subject - this page has a bit of discussion (and a link) about the Panther band the Lumpen (along with someone who saw the 3-5-71 show, but makes no comment on it) -

    One Panther on another site makes the comment:
    "The connection with progressive musicians in the Bay Area has been longstanding. We always had people doing benefits for us: the Jefferson Airplane, you know, before they became the Starship. The Grateful Dead opened up three or four shows for The Lumpen, before they did Truckin’." [I'm skeptical of this last claim, though!]

    There's a bit more info on the connection between the Dead & the Panthers in Peter Doggett's book There's A Riot Going On. Actually, page 411 of that book has a very long discussion of the Dead's 3-5-71 appearance!
    Apparently the Dead played a short show featuring Lovelight. Lesh recalled that during one quiet jam, the crowd shouted "Free Bobby Seale!"
    There are also two different posters - the one you show is the first one, where the Dead are in tiny print, but then another one was printed where they're much more prominent! (It can be found online.)

    The Dead met Huey Newton on a plane trip from California to New York in September '70. Garcia said: "We had a nice long rap, we liked the cat and were pretty impressed with him. We thought that if there was ever anything we could do for him, we'd try to do it."

    Garcia said in an interview after the show: "We have some loose semi-association with the Black Panthers because we met Huey and got along well with him. We don't deal with things on the basis of content, the idea of a philosophy or any of that shit - mostly it's personalities. The show did what it was supposed to do - it made them some bread. [He added that the Dead admired some of the Panthers' programs, like the free breakfasts for children.] But it's not our concern what they're doing or why they're doing it." (He then went on a rant about the uselessness of politics: "an empty, futile bullshit trip!")

  12. McNally also mentions this show in his book (page 395). Apparently the Dead & Panthers didn't get on well, as the Panthers had them & their crew patted down for weapons!

    From the various brief accounts I've seen, it doesn't sound like Merl Saunders was involved at all.
    Anyway, this was quite a month for benefit shows - on the 24th the Dead played a Sufi benefit at Winterland.

    More from Garcia on the Panthers, in 1970: "They have a rhetoric trip going on, but what they're doing is actual, practical things. They've got a free breakfast trip, and they're starting a free shoes thing... We don't have any affiliations with any specific organizations, but if there's a righteous [benefit to play], no matter who's doing it, we'll do it."

  13. LIA, I have seen those Garcia quotes, but can't remember where. Can you cite the sources they are drawn from? Thanks!

  14. I got the Garcia quotes from Peter Doggett's and Blair Jackson's books - but I don't know what the original sources were.
    There ought to be a complete Garcia interview archive somewhere....

  15. Yeah, I have been thinking there should be a "Garcia interviews project", inviting folks to digitize their old tapes, etc. Fidelity is so much less an issue with spoken word things, even nth gen tapes would typically be fine.

  16. Actually, the poster for the 3/3 Air Waves benefit show has the date March 3, 1970, NOT 1971. You can see it clearly at, bottom center of the poster. I'm not sure where the 1971 date came from. I suppose the year could have been printed wrong but I'd be more likely to accept that if it was early January (like putting the wrong year on a check). None of the usual lists have a show listed on 3/3/70 so I'm going to assume the poster is correct and the reported year has been wrong all this time. FWIW, according to one auction site ( the show was scheduled on short notice.

  17. The possibility of 3/3/70 is pretty fascinating, and I think the date would fit both the touring schedule and the Fillmore West.

    The 3/3/1971 date comes from the tape, I think. There's a 1971 tape with that date, clearly with 1971 material. What is it? Its kind of a short show, although there are two sets...maybe its the 3/5/71 show?

  18. I can confirm that the 3/3/71 date is correct despite the mislabeled poster. I did not go but friends did. I believe Hot Tuna (unbilled) played as well.

  19. I can say that the march 3, 1971 show is in fact real. My mom was at the show and went into labor to have me. She was rushed out to hospital and disappointed that she missed the Dead portion of the show.

  20. I'm not sure why the 3/3/71 tape is always shown as two sets. Its a short show at a benefit and as there's no verbal mention of taking a break, shouldn't we assume its 1 set?

  21. I can offer a first hand report on the Panther benefit, and an explanation for why there seem to be few of the same: it seems that the overlap between Panther supporters and Dead fans was not large, and certainly smaller than the Panthers expected, since the turnout was a only in the low hundreds. Most of the audience were Panthers, with a small hippy SDS contingent, my friends and I. It's also possible that the Panthers' forbidding reputation in the Bay Area at the time had some negative influence (touched on in the recent Michael Chabon novel, "Telegraph Avenue". The only memory I have of the evening is of the Dead's set (no memories of the Lumpen and the Vanguard). I still remember the embarrassment I felt for the Dead as their shambling approximations of "Midnight Hour" and "Lovelight", characterized by Pigpen's faux black man delivery, failed to connect at all. I remember thinking the band had to know that any black cover would be compared to the originals, probably well known to most of the Panthers. "Lovelight" was especially grievous in comparison to the razor sharp groove of the Bobby Bland original. The Panthers stood aa a mass at the back of the auditorium, as far as possible from the stage, with the hippy SDS cohort a few feet in front of them, a vast, empty of chasm of space separating our two groups from the band. I think everyone, the band, in particular, was relieved when their set ended. Funny how their loose feel for the backbeat never bothered me as it did that night. It was one of the strangest evenings ever, I'm sure, for the band, and defintely for the few fans that were there.

    1. Dj, thanks so much for the eyewitness account from this obscure event.

      A lot of young people in 1971 were supportive of the Black Panthers politically, but would not likely have attended a Panther event in Oakland. Your experience seems to have borne that out.

      A secondary factor may have been the use of the Oakland Auditorium. Although Deadheads came to know the building well, the old Auditorium had not been used for rock shows for a number of years ('67 is the last I can think of), so any Deadheads outside of Oakland probably had no idea where it was. In fact, it is in a nice location on Lake Merritt, but fans didn't know that, and it would have added to the uncertainty.

      For all of the Dead and Pigpen's love of early 60s R&B, its true they didn't really play in that style (however much it was inspired by R&B), so I can see how "Turn On Your Lovelight" would have come off as decidedly unfunky.

  22. On the Dead covering R&B songs, Ralph Gleason brought up that subject in his 1967 interview with Garcia -

    Q: This whole business of blues; do you get any heat on the racial question?
    GARCIA: "No, we haven't... We've played some pretty hard-edge places too, we played the Job Corps, where it's all spade kids. We played in a spade show, in fact, like a rhythm & blues show... I think we were a shock to them, because the music we were playing was heavy blues, certainly heavier than any of the spade guys were doing; they were doing the lighter stuff... There are certain guys who are into the whole black nationalist thing about spade music, and about jazz and so forth, and they say things like, 'Oh, why don't these white boys stop trying to play colored music?'
    ...But I don't feel that's my orientation. The ideas that I've pulled from blues musicians and from listening to blues are from my affection for the blues, which is since I was a kid; and I've been listening to rhythm & blues as long as there's been rhythm & blues around here - that was one of the first kinds of music I was turned on to...
    I don't feel unnatural [or] uptight about it... The stuff that we're doing, if you look at it, it's got those blues ideas and spade kind of dance ideas and stuff like that, but really musically, in as far as moving yourself goes, those are some groovy ideas and they turn us on. But a lot of other things turn us on as well, any kind of well-performed stuff...
    Pigpen has his own style, that is perhaps the sum of lots of styles, but it's nonetheless consistently Pigpen. He doesn't, like, flash from James Brown to Smokey Robinson. He stays Pigpen. And that's because his attitude towards the blues [has] been so long and slow, and it's a mellowing process. At the very beginning, his big vocal influence was Lightnin' Hopkins...if he wants to, he can sing exactly like Lightnin' Hopkins, and play the guitar like [him]... But Pigpen has been into that for such a long time that it's no longer an effort, it's no longer something that he tries to do. When we give him a song to sing, it comes out Pigpen's way."

    1. LIA, this is a completely fascinating quote. I wonder what the first two references are referring to?

      "We've played some pretty hard-edge places too, we played the Job Corps, where it's all spade kids. We played in a spade show, in fact, like a rhythm & blues show."

      What was the "Job Corps" show? And what R&B revue did the Dead play?

    2. I wondered about that, too.
      Since the interview was in March 1967, he was probably referring to shows in 1966.

      The Job Corps show may be untraceable - perhaps that was some local benefit or free show. But when he says the Dead played in an R&B-type show with black artists, it must be one of the Fillmore events, or at any rate some show known by a poster.

      By far the most likely candidate, I think, is the 11/20/66 SNCC benefit with the James Cotton Blues Band, and Johnny Talbot & De Thangs. Jon Hendricks was an MC, and Stokely Carmichael also appeared, so I believe this event may have drawn a large black audience from the area.

      Other times black artists played on the bill with the Dead up to then (pardon any errors):
      Big Mama Thornton - Fillmore 12/9-11/66, Freeborn Hall 1/6/67
      Otis Redding - Fillmore 12/20/66
      Junior Wells Blues Band - Fillmore 1/13-15/67
      Sly & the Family Stone - Fillmore 2/12/67 (the Council for Civic Unity benefit)
      Otis Rush & his Blues Band - Fillmore 2/24-26/67
      Chuck Berry, Johnny Talbot - Winterland 3/17-19/67

    3. I realize that it was 1967, but reading a quote from Jerry where he casually uses a word like spade is quite jarring. I understand that colored was still used back then but I didn't know that spade was ever anything but a racial slur.

    4. I've seen quite a few '60s musicians use the term, not in a derogatory fashion; so I gather it was acceptable within that scene, but soon went out of style.

      More to add to the list:
      Lightnin' Hopkins - Fillmore 10/21-22/66
      And the 9/11/66 Both/And Jazz Club benefit at the Fillmore, in which several jazz bands & Big Mama Thornton opened for several SF rock bands.

  23. I was also at the Black Panther Benefit show on 3/5/71. I was tripping pretty heavily and it was a long time ago but I will share what I remember. I was a student at UC Berkeley at the time and went with a girl from my apartment building. We split a tab of acid and drove down to Oakland. The room was very large and pretty empty; there were only a couple of hundred people there. The only song I remember them performing was “Lovelight”. Maybe because I had never heard them play it before I thought it sounded pretty good. The performance was short, less than an hour and as soon as they were done, we split. The Panther contingent was not interested in the music but I didn’t get any ill feelings from them. Paul Ayers

  24. This is interesting. Pacifica Recording Archives lists a 30 minute KPFA recording they have (Duplication cost $17.95)from this benefit.


    On March 5, 1971, the Black Panther Party held an event at the Oakland Auditorium called "Revolutionary International Day of Solidarity" for Bobby Seale, Ericka Huggins, Angela Davis, and Ruchell Magee, and also to honor Party Minister of Defense Huey P. Newton on his release from prison. Huey P. Newton was the featured speaker. This event advertised an appearance by Kathleen Cleaver, too, but the female voice on this recording was noted by the recorder as being Elaine Brown. The event also included live performances by the Reverend Charles Bronson, the Grateful Dead, The Lumpen, and The Vanguards, some of which appear on this recording.

    I wonder if anyone has checked into this to see if any of the Dead portion appears on the recording.

    1. What on earth? Anyone want to check it out for $17.95?

      While I doubt any of the Dead's show is on this half-hour tape, it might offer some insight into the event.

    2. Ok, I coughed it up and it finally arrived. It is a fairly interesting audio snapshot of the event, but there's no Grateful Dead, or even mention of them.

      The disc is 35:45 long.

      Track 1 (7:02) is a brief introduction of the history of the Black Panther Party by Elaine Brown, who introduces Huey Newton. Huey speaks all the way through Track 2 (6:03). Honestly, it's sad to say that his remarks are still relevant.

      Track 3 (11:40) has more introductions, and then at about 5:30, the band Vanguard are introduced, playing rather loose 60s Oaktown soul (think Tower Of Power, but not as tight). The Lumpen are introduced, who appear to be a choir

      Track 4 (11:00) begins with an Invocation by the Rev Charles Bronson (no, not the actor), the transcript of which can be seen here:
      backed by The Vanguard

      From about 6:10 onward there is more music by The Vanguard and The Lumpen

      All in all pretty interesting. I assume the Grateful Dead came on after all of that. Not your typical Grateful Dead event.

    3. Glad you could check it out! It must have been an uncomfortable (but short) evening for band and audience.