The Grateful Dead had an East Coast road trip in November 1970 that has captured the imaginations of Deadheads over the years, primarily due to some amazing tapes that have memorialized those events. However, there are a few other shows that have little or no taped evidence that shed some interesting light on the Dead's rising but still shaky professional status at the time. While not unknown, the week of shows from Monday, November 9 through Monday November 16 are largely overlooked events. If only because I have found ads for some of the events (thanks to the fantastic Its All The Streets You Crossed So Long Ago blog about New York rock prosopography), some of these less remembered events deserve a second look.
The Eastern leg of the Dead's Fall 1970 tour was:
- October 30-31, 1970: SUNY Stony Brook, Stony Brook, NY (early and late shows)
- November 1 or 2: Lion's Share, San Anselmo, CA (Janis Joplin wake)
- November 2: Harding Theater, San Francisco, CA (NRPS--unconfirmed)
- November 5-8, 1970: Capitol Theater, Port Chester, NY
- November 9-10, 1970: The Action House, Island Park, NY
- November 11-14, 1970: 46th Street (Brooklyn) Rock Palace, New York, NY
- November 15, 1970: The Armory, Albany, NY (GD did not play)
- November 16, 1970: Fillmore East, New York, NY
- November 20, 1970: The Palestra, U. of Rochester, Rochester, NY
- November 21, 1970: Sargent's Gym, Boston U., Boston, MA
- November 22, 1970: Middlesex Community College, Edison, NJ
- November 23, 1970: Anderson Theater, New York, NY
Grateful Dead Finances
In March 1970, the Grateful Dead had been forced to fire manager Lenny Hart, since he was stealing from them. He had taken something like $155,000 from them, a lot of money back then, effectively bankrupting the band. They had no choice but to tour relentlessly to retire the various debts they had accrued. Amazingly, they had recorded an album that was receiving huge airplay on FM radio, but Workingman's Dead had only been released in June 1970. Although the album was a big success, the nature of the record business was that the band would see little or no money from the record for some time, since it would initially just retire the substantial debts the group had accrued in the previous 3 years of recording for Warner Brothers.
With the help of their new road manager Sam Cutler, the Dead streamlined and normalized their touring, crisscrossing the country in an orderly fashion, trying to work every weekend and as many nights as possible in between. The group was making money on a cash flow basis, but they still had substantial obligations, and thus no choice but to maximize their touring revenue. In 1970, almost all rock concerts had two, three or four acts. One advantage for the Dead for touring with the New Riders of The Purple Sage was that by providing their own opening act, the band could ask for more money. No one had heard of the New Riders, of course, but the main purpose of opening acts was to encourage people to come early so that they would buy popcorn and soda.
As the 1970s and 80s wore on, both Bill Graham and the Grateful Dead were heavily invested in the idea that they had been partners since the early days of the San Francisco underground, but that isn't really borne out by the facts. While I think that the members of the Grateful Dead genuinely liked Bill Graham personally, they did not hesitate to compete with him by opening the Carousel in 1968, and Graham in turn snatched the Carousel away from them to start the Fillmore West (admittedly, it was losing money under the Dead's management). Professionally, the Dead understood that while Graham paid his bands--not true of every promoter--he had a business to run that did not always stand to favor the Grateful Dead. Thus when the Dead obtained bookings from promoters competing with Graham, the band did not hesitate to take them. The Dead always needed the money, and they had few illusions about Graham's willingness to use them to profit himself, if fairly enough.
New York City, Fall 1970
New York City has always been America's live entertainment capital, and of course live rock and roll has been popular in New York since the days of Alan Freed in the 1950s. Nonetheless, when Graham opened the Fillmore East in Greenwich Village in March, 1968, he imported the San Francisco notion that live rock music was Art, just like Jazz, Ballet and the Symphony. The Fillmore East was more like a Broadway theater (in an East Village kind of way) than a dingy dance hall, and it made rock music Serious Business.
By 1970, however, Graham's approach to rock music was the coming industry standard, and well capitalized competitors were coming into the New York market. The Fillmore East was the prestige booking in town, but it was not particularly large, so by 1970 Graham wasn't guaranteed to get every rock band who came to New York. New York's great public transit allowed teenagers from all over the Tri-State Area to come into the Village to see shows at Fillmore East (at least the early show, assuming their parents were compliant or ignorant). However, New York City suburbs themselves were the source of a lot of rock fans, and promoters were starting to see that shows could be promoted in the suburbs, as there was already a huge rock audience there.
Howard Stein's Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York was one of Bill Graham's fiercest competitors. Port Chester is about 35 miles Northeast of Manhattan--about 90 minutes driving in traffic--on the Northeast side of Long Island Sound, right near the Connecticut border. Numerous teenage rock fans who could not or would not be able to come into Greenwich Village, particularly for a late night event, suddenly found major rock acts accessible in Port Chester. The Dead, like many other groups, played both the Capitol and the Fillmore East, but there was overlap in the bookings and Graham and promoter Howard Stein were rivals for the Dead's East Coast appearances.
The Dead's Halloween booking at SUNY Stony Brook was in Long Island, far by road from Manhattan and all but inaccessible to Port Chester. In any case, SUNY students would have been a big part of the Stony Brook audience. In the week between Halloween and the Capitol, Jerry Garcia and probably the rest of the Grateful Dead appear to have flown back to San Francisco for Janis Joplin's wake, and the band probably even played (NRPS may have played a show too). When the Dead returned for the Capitol show on Thursday, November 5, however, they began a brief frenzy of shows that has remained largely unnoticed.
Capitol Theater, Port Chester, NY November 5-8, 1970 (Thursday thru Sunday)
The Dead's four night stand at Port Chester has been fairly well analyzed, thanks to some fine audience tapes that have endured, so I will not belabor it here. Suffice to say that instead of playing two shows each night, the band played one long show each night, opened by the New Riders. Port Chester seemed to have little concern about curfew, and the shows were famously long.
The Action House shows seem to have been almost under the radar, but they definitely happened. Only some fragmentary tapes survive, some of which appear to from other dates altogether, but advertisements for the show confirm the existence of these two shows.
The Action House, near the Southern shore of Long Island, was essentially a discoteque with live bands, a common 60s configuration. The Action House had played a big role in the 60s rock scene in New York, particularly in the Summers when it would be open most nights of the week. The house band in 1966-67 had been The Pigeons, who became the very successful Vanilla Fudge. As The Fudge moved up the ladder, they were replaced by The Vagrants (from Queens) who featured guitarist Leslie West, who became famous in Mountain (surely you recall the great "Mississippi Queen"?). For a look at some of the interesting acts who played The Action House, see Its All The Streets You Crossed.
The Voice ad listed up top is from November 5, the first day of the Capitol booking, and Island Park (on the Southern shore of Long Island) is a long way from Port Chester. My guess is that the promoter's agreement with the Dead was that the shows would not be publicized until shortly before. This would insure that the Capitol shows would do well with advance sales. Also, the Village Voice ad (up top) only promotes a show on Tuesday, November 10. However, we know from the ad from Deadlists (above) that there were two shows. I have to assume that both shows were always scheduled, and first one (Tuesday Nov 10) and then the other (Monday Nov 9) were added as ticket sales warranted.
In the Fall, I doubt the Action House was open most weeknights. However, it would make business sense if a headline act was willing to play. Although the Dead's motives for playing weeknight gigs are plain--they needed the money--it might seem surprising that the promoters of both the Capitol Theater and the Brooklyn venue would not contractually prevent a weeknight booking in Long Island by their headline act. Of course, those who read widely know that Action House owner Phil Basile appears in (non-fiction) books like Wise Guy (the Nicholas Pileggi book that was the basis for the Ray Liotta/Joe Pesci Goodfellas movie). His business associates were not friendly people, and perhaps Basile had leverage where other promoters did not. In any case, it does seem that the Dead played two nights at a disco in Long Island between weekend engagements, but I'm not aware of a lot of eyewitness accounts.
The 46th Street Rock Palace (at 46th and New Utrecht, near Borough Park) seems to have been a brief but substantial effort to compete directly with the Fillmore East. Brooklyn is accessible via Subway just like the East Village, so it presented a direct threat to Bill Graham. The Capitol Theater in Port Chester encroached on Graham's territory, leaving room enough to co-exist, but a converted movie theater in Brooklyn was a direct assault. However history has been smoothed over, the Dead could hardly have been in Graham's pocket if they signed up to do shows for his biggest potential threat. I can't imagine this went over well with Bill.
A tape only endures from the first night (Wednesday Nov 11). We know surprisingly little about the other nights, besides fragmentary reports of some setlist highlights. The same suspects who attended Fillmore East shows must have seen these shows, but we know almost nothing. Its another sign of how much we depend on surviving tapes, and how skinny are information is without them.
The Armory, Albany, NY: November 15, 1970 (Sunday)
The Grateful Dead and the Buddy Miles Express were booked to play a Sunday night concert in Albany. During the show, a bomb threat was phoned in, and the police cleared the building. The Grateful Dead did not return to the arena, however, and Buddy Miles announced from the stage that the Dead were no longer present, much to the audience dismay. I have written elsewhere about the Dead's curious departure, and the Comment thread has some interesting (if unprovable) speculation.
Fillmore East, New York, NY: November 16, 1970 (Monday)
Given the competition going on between Bill Graham and his rivals, how did the Grateful Dead come to play the Fillmore East on Monday, November 16? First, it should be noted that the Fillmore East was never open on Mondays. The fact of a Monday night show in itself raises a flag of interest.
The Monday night show appears in no ad or handbill that I am aware of. During the Mothers Of Invention concert at Fillmore East on Saturday, November 14, a very pregnant Grace Slick came on stage and announced that the Dead and the Airplane would be playing Fillmore East on Monday night (the evening was hardly over--John Lennon came out to jam later in the show). Intriguingly, a flyer exists advertising Jefferson Airplane at the 46th Street Rock Palace on Monday, November 16. A careful look at the ad from the Village Voice (from October 15, 1970) shows the odd text "due to circumstances beyond our control, all shows cannot be publicized call theater for listings."
Since the Airplane were booked at Fillmore East on November 25-27, I think that their booking at 46th Street violated their contract with Graham. Graham asserted himself by taking the Airplane back from his competitors. He booked the Dead as well, probably just to show that he still had some pull with them, and knowing they could not turn down a paid gig. As it happened, Grace's pregnancy prevented her from performing, and Hot Tuna took over the Airplane's part of the Fillmore East show. What evidence exists suggests that Jack Casady, Jorma Kaukonen and Papa John Creach played with the Dead in the first set.
In the second set, it appears that Steve Winwood and Ramblin Jack Elliott and possibly others (like Will Scarlett) performed with the Dead as well. Traffic was in town to play Fillmore East (starting Wednesday Nov 18), so it made for an amazing night. Although I am no expert on tape provenance, a tape that circulated for years as "Anderson Theater Nov 23" appears to actually have been from Monday November 16 (a mis-dated but fantastic Traffic tape was actually from Nov 18 rather than Nov 23).
The Grateful Dead appear to have played ten out of twelve nights from November 5 through 16, and I think there must be many great memories and insights from those missing days, even if tapes never surface.
Aftermath: November 20-29, 1970
November 20, 1970: The Palestra, Rochester, NY (Friday)
This rightly famous night is well documented, with Jorma Kaukonen sitting in for an entire set, and John Dawson stepping up to sing a song as well.
November 21, 1970: Sargent's Gym, Boston, MA (Saturday)
Ned Lagin sat in with the Dead for the first time this night. Meanwhile, the Allman Brothers were playing the Boston Tea Party across time. Early on the morning of the 22nd, Duane Allman, Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir drop by WBCN-fm in Boston and play a little acoustic music over the air (the shy Pigpen demurs). Even more strangely, the opener for the Dead and the Riders was a trained Chimpanzee act. Apparently, the poor chimps were very upset with the firecrackers and noise of the rowdy Boston rock crowd.
November 22, 1970: Middlesex Community College, Edison, NJ (Sunday)
This show is unknown save for the date itself. It has always fascinated me. Of course, it fascinated me mainly because I lived in Middlesex County for some time, and I would see signs for the Community College (now County College) on Route 1 or I-95 as I went through Edison, and I would think "the Dead played here in 1970?"
The Dead simply needed money, and adding a modestly paying night in what was probably a Community College gym was worth it, a clear sign of their dire financial situation. If anyone knows anything at all about this show, or would just like to speculate about the Dead in Middlesex in 1970, please Comment.
November 23, 1970: Anderson Theater, New York, NY (Monday)
The Grateful Dead and The New Riders played a Hells Angels party on their last Monday night on the East Coast. The Dead had a Friday show in Chicago, so they would have had to finance their trip to the Midwest, and playing an Angels party was probably fairly lucrative. The Anderson was a former Yiddish Theater in Greenwich Village, not far from the Fillmore East. Whereas the Fillmore East had gotten fixed up and become a rock palace, however, the Anderson was still fairly run down. As such, however, it was easy to rent. The show would not have been advertised, except in the most casual sort of way, so the existing handbills were suitably vague.
The interesting consideration about The Anderson, however, is how our assumptions about the show have been upended. For many years the event was generally known as a "Hells Angels Benefit" (itself a misnomer), and some great tapes circulated of Traffic and the Grateful Dead, with Steve Winwood and others sitting in. It sounded like a fantastic Greenwich Village party, and most knowledgeable heads contemplated the event in their minds as they listened to the tapes.
I'm sure it was an interesting night, but none of the things we imagine were necessarily the case. The Traffic tape that circulates (with Ric Grech on bass--great stuff) was actually from Fillmore East on November 18. The Dead tape was finally determined to be from Fillmore East on November 16. What happened on Monday, November 23? No eyewitness actually seems to know, or recall. Suburban kids wouldn't have come on a Monday night and perhaps a lot of regular Heads took a pass on a Hells Angels party, but the Village Voice did review it (thanks to JGMF for uncovering this). It seems that Traffic didn't play at all, and a mime (Joe McCord?) opened for the Dead and the Riders. Does anyone really know anything else about the November 23 show that isn't misrepresented from some other date (usually Nov 16)?
November 27, 1970: The Syndrome, Chicago, IL (Friday)
The Dead played The Syndrome in Chicago on a Friday night. It seems odd that there the Dead had no Saturday night show booked anywhere. I have to think that some event was canceled.
November 29, 1970: Club Agora, Columbus, OH (Sunday)
There was a Club Agora in Cleveland, so I assume this was an affiliated venue. I don't think the Cleveland venue was that large. This seems like another show that the Dead took on to make Sunday a paying night, perhaps to make up for a canceled show (somewhere) the night before. The surviving tape suggests that it was long, but not a marathon, appropriate for a college town on the last night of Thanksgiving weekend.