Thursday, December 15, 2011

Grateful Dead New Year's Eve Opening Acts 1970-79

The 2003 video of the 1978 New Year's Eve concert, Closing Of Winterland
When the Grateful Dead had played New Year's Eve concerts in San Francisco in the 1960s, they had been part of legendary bills that supposedly played from 9pm to 9am. These all-night affairs were somewhat scaled down as the 70s started, and by the end of the decade, the Dead were usually the sole major attraction. This post is an overview of the configuration of each Grateful Dead New Year's Eve concert from 1970 to 1979, with respect to the schedule and the opening acts. The live performances of the Dead on these dates are well-known and well-documented, so I won't comment on them here. Rather, this post is about considering the organization of the events themselves.

December 31, 1970: Winterland
Grateful Dead/New Riders of The Purple Sage and assorted friends/Stoneground
From 1966 through 1969, Bill Graham had had legendary New Year's Eve events at the Fillmore, Fillmore West and Winterland, that were scheduled to go from 9pm to 9am. No one remembers anything about them. The Grateful Dead had played The Fillmore in 1966, sharing the bill with the Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service. The Dead played New Year's again in 1968 at Winterland, sharing the bill with Quicksilver, and supported by Its A Beautiful Day and Santana. In 1969, the Grateful Dead had played Boston, while the Jefferson Airplane had headlined New Year's Eve at home.

For New Year's Eve 1970, the Dead returned home to headline Winterland. The Jefferson Airplane were off the road, due to a very pregnant Grace Slick, but with two hit albums under their belt the Dead were now big enough to headline Winterland on their own. This New Year's show seems to have been a much smaller production than previous years, and indeed, quite different than any New Year's which followed.

Stoneground was a San Francisco-based group that was backed by KSAN chief Tom Donahue. Stoneground was put together from various defunct Bay Area outfits, and played a lively kind of soul-influenced rock. They featured no less than five lead singers, including lead guitarist Tim Barnes (ex-Immediate Family). Stoneground had been the "house band" for Donahue's Medicine Ball Caravan traveling rock festival and movie, which the Dead had dropped out at the last minute. The tour had ended up in England, where pianist Pete Sears (who also had a Donahue connection) joined the group. Stoneground had recorded a planned debut album at Trident Studios in London, with Bob Matthews and Betty Cantor producing, as Alembic had been contracted for the Medicine Ball tour. However, the album was re-recorded in San Francisco with different engineers. Sears returned to the Bay Area with the band, however, and I believe he was still in Stoneground when they played New Year's Eve.

The New Riders of The Purple Sage were familiar to most Deadheads by this time. The December, 1970 iteration of the band still had Jerry Garcia on pedal steel guitar, but Spencer Dryden (ex-Jefferson Airplane) had taken over on drums. John Dawson, David Nelson and Dave Torbert anchored the band.

The poster lists the show starting at 8pm. I assume Stoneground began at 8:00pm, followed by the New Riders. I think the Grateful Dead came on at midnight and played a single extended set (of about 100 minutes and change). After the Dead set, Hot Tuna came out, joined by Bob Weir, and played about five songs. Hot Tuna at that time was Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady, Papa John Creach (electric violin), Joey Covington (drums) and Will Scarlett (harmonica).

There are many oddities about Hot Tuna's appearance, not the least being that they appeared after the Dead. The timing of the entire show is uncertain, but while it probably extended past official San Francisco "closing time" at 2:00am, it was was not an all-morning extravaganza, just an extended night at the Fillmore. Also, for hard core fans, the Dead had apparently played a benefit at Winterland just eight days before (Dec 23), and the bill included the Riders and Hot Tuna, so it wouldn't have been that different a night (not to say that I wouldn't have enjoyed both of them).

December 31, 1971: Winterland
Grateful Dead/New Riders of The Purple Sage/Yogi Phlegm
The 1971 New Year's Eve show started to establish the basic format for the balance of Grateful Dead New Year's Eve shows, although it evolved somewhat over the years. In 1971, there were two opening acts to get the party started, and the Grateful Dead came onstage at midnight. The Dead's set was broadcast in its entirety on KSAN, as was the New Riders'.

Yogi Phlegm was the new name of The Sons of Champlin. The band believed they no longer had the rights to the name The Sons Of Champlin, and they had changed their sound to emphasize jazzy improvisation. The name was a joke about gurus, which no one got, and most people called them 'The Sons' anyway (Bill Graham hated the name and insisted on calling them The Sons). Although Yogi Phlegm's music sounds incredibly contemporary now, they were generally disliked compared to their previous, more danceable incarnation as The Sons. The members of Yogi Phlegm were Terry Haggerty (lead guitar), Bill Champlin (organ, guitar, vocals), Geoff Palmer (piano and various), Dave Schallock (bass and guitar) and Bill Vitt (drums). Vitt was the main drummer for Garcia-Saunders at the time.

The Winterland New Year's performance would have been the first time that locals would have seen Buddy Cage on pedal steel with the New Riders. Cage had replaced Garcia out on the road. His first show had been in Atlanta on November 11, 1971. Given that the NRPS album had just been released, many fans were probably surprised and dismayed that Garcia was no longer in the group. The same would probably have been true of the Bay Area listening audience. They would have tuned in expecting to hear Garcia with his "new" group, having heard the NRPS album on KSAN, only to discover that he had left the band.

As a side note, the Dead and the New Riders record companies would have paid for KSAN to broadcast the band. Warner Brothers (for the Dead) and Columbia (for the Riders) would have compensated KSAN for the amount of ads that they would have lost by broadcasting an uninterrupted live show. Yogi Phlegm did not have a record company at the time, so there was no entity to underwrite a broadcast of them. In that respect, the fact that the New Riders were broadcast and the Sons were not had nothing to do with KSAN's "feelings" about The Sons (Yogi Phlegm) vs the Riders, as it would have been strictly a business decision.

The configuration at Winterland was different that year, with the stage on the right side of the arena instead of the rear. It would return to its "conventional" set-up by the next Fall.

December 31, 1972: Winterland
Grateful Dead/New Riders of The Purple Sage/Sons Of Champlin
New Year's '72 was structured just like the 1971 show. The same two bands opened, although The Sons were back to calling themselves The Sons Of Champlin. Their lineup was the same as the previous year, although old friend Tim Cain joined in on saxophone for much of the show. The Sons played a long set, captured in a glorious Betty board, and the New Riders played a long set as well. Once again, the Dead started their first set at midnight and played two extended sets. The Dead were broadcast on KSAN, as were the New Riders, but not The Sons.

Both the Dead and the New Riders had new albums (Europe '72 and Gypsy Cowboy, respectively). Both the New Riders and The Sons were booked by Sam Cutler's agency, so this was definitely a family affair. New Year's Eve 1972 also inaugurated the tradition of playing "Sugar Magnolia" at midnight.

December 31, 1973: Cow Palace, Daly City
Allman Brothers Band/Marshall Tucker Band/Charlie Daniels Band
As early as 1976, at a lecture in Wheeler Hall in UC Berkeley, I heard Bill Graham tell his oft-repeated story that he called the Dead in the studio and offered them $75,000 to play the Cow Palace, and they refused. They counter-offered with the idea that they would play a party at Bill Graham's Marin County house. This is a great story, but I feel there has to be more to it. I wonder why the Dead turned Graham down? Perhaps they felt there sound system wasn't ready yet. In any case, the Dead played Winterland three nights in February and the Cow Palace in March, so I can't fathom what their specific objection might have been to a New Year's Eve Cow Palace show.

The Allman Brothers Band, perhaps the most popular touring attraction of 1973, headlined the Cow Palace instead for New Year's Eve in the Bay Area. Their performance was broadcast nationwide on a network of FM stations. Jerry Garcia, Bill Kreutzmann and Boz Scaggs showed up to jam sometime after midnight, giving everyone in the country the impression that this was what happened every night in San Francisco. The Allman Brothers and The Grateful Dead had headlined the biggest rock concert ever that Summer in Watkins Glen, so there was a lot of symbolism embedded in Garcia's guest appearance. The nationwide network went off the air at 1:00am (4:00 am Eastern), but KSAN listeners were happy to hear 'Big Daddy' Tom Donahue's voice-over telling everyone that KSAN would stay on the air until the end, which they did. The event still ended before 2:00am, as far as I know.

Oakland Tribune Keystone Berkeley ad for Dec 29 '74
December 31, 1974: Keystone Berkeley
Garcia-Saunders/Lucky Strike
With the Grateful Dead on hiatus, Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders played New Year's Eve '74 at Jerry's main haunt, the Keystone Berkeley. One peculiar fact about this show is that we seem to know nothing about it. There is no tape, no review, no eyewitness account, and the show was never advertised, to my knowledge. The listing in the Oakland Tribune, for example (above), simply lists the local band Lucky Strike as playing the Keystone Berkeley on New Year's Eve. At times, I have wondered whether Garcia and Saunders actually played Keystone Berkeley on New Year's Eve '74.

The source of the date was Dennis McNally's original Garcia list (through me to Deadbase IX). McNally was scrupulous about sources, so I am confident the date was scheduled. Paradoxically, the lack of a headliner on the Keystone ad makes me think Garcia was booked that night, albeit stealthily. I find it highly unlikely that the Keystone Berkeley would leave New Year's Eve to a local band with no cover, when they had acts like Kingfish (Sunday Dec 29) and Van Morrison (Mon Dec 30) on other weeknights. I think Lucky Strike, a popular East Bay club band, was just a placeholder. I do suspect that Lucky Strike actually opened for Garcia, however, because they would have been counting on a paying gig for New Year's Eve.

Why, then, was Keystone Berkeley so stealthy about publicizing Garcia's New Year's Eve performance? I think there were three reasons:
  • They were confident that the show would be packed via word-of-mouth. They probably just put Garcia's name on the marquee on the day of the show, and perhaps made sure there was an announcement on KSAN, and let the buzz take care of itself
  • The Keystone Berkeley would have been more concerned that too many people rather than too few would show up, particularly on a New Year's Eve when everyone had been drinking. New Year's Eve would be exactly the sort of night that some rumor would get started that the Grateful Dead were playing the Keystone, and unprofitable madness might ensue
  • I also suspect that the guest list was huge, because it would have been like a private party for many people in the Dead's extended family. With a huge guest list, the Keystone might not have been concerned about ticket sales, since they may not have wanted to oversell the place. This would also account for the fact that there seem to be no eyewitnesses and no tapes, as there were relatively few civilians who actually bought tickets
It still begs the question--does anyone know anything about the December 31, 1974 Keystone show?

December 31, 1974: Stanford Music Hall, Palo Alto
Kingfish/Osiris
I have written about this concert at length, so I won't recap it all here. Suffice to say, with the Grateful Dead on hiatus, Bob Weir and Kingfish used New Year's Eve to break in a new rock venue, formerly (and now again) known as The Stanford Theatre, an old movie house built in 1925. The downtown Palo Alto theater was pretty run-down at the time.  A good time appears to have been had by all.

The opening act was Osiris, featuring as its lead singer Pigpen's younger brother Kevin McKernan. Kevin was a dead ringer for his brother (I saw him once, riding by on his bike--he looked like Pig on the cover of Live/Dead), and he sang just like him too. An eyewitness reported a dead-on cover of "Hard To Handle," just like Pigpen's version with the Dead.

Hayward Daily Review Keystone listing for Dec 26 '75
December 31, 1975: Keystone Berkeley
Jerry Garcia Band/Grayson Street/Lucky Strike
Once again, the Jerry Garcia Band played the Keystone Berkeley for New Year's Eve. We do have an excellent tape. It appears that the JGB played a first set around 10:00pm, and then started the second set at midnight. However, once again we have no advertising, no review and no eyewitnesses. I have to think that the same conditions applied as they did the year before. Since the Dead had actually played a few shows in 1975, a rumor that they were playing could get started easily, and hundreds of people on University Avenue, trying to get into a sold out club on the basis of a false rumor, would not have done the Keystone any good.

Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Matt Kelly joined Garcia onstage at the Keystone. I have to think that Kingfish could have easily found a New Year's Eve gig, somewhere, but Weir seems to have chosen joining Jerry at Keystone Berkeley instead. This is one of the clues that leads me to think that the '74 and '75 Keystone Berkeley NYE shows were sort of like private parties.

Grayson Street and Lucky Strike were listed as openers. Grayson Street was also a popular East Bay club band, a blues rock band with a whiff of soul. Their one constant was saxophonist Terry Hanck, who worked with many Bay Area bands. Once again, I feel confident they actually played, probably starting at 8:00pm, because working bands need to work. The Keystone Berkeley, by the same token, would have wanted to encourage people to come early and drink beer.

December 31, 1976: Cow Palace, Daly City
Grateful Dead/Santana/Sons Of Champlin [replaced by Soundhole]
For New Year's Eve 1976, The Grateful Dead co-headlined the Cow Palace with Santana, and The Sons of Champlin opened the show. Santana had opened for the Grateful Dead on New Year's Eve before, in 1968, when Santana was still a popular but unsigned local band. By 1976, Santana was actually a bigger concert attraction than the Dead. However, Santana, although they had just come off a hugely successful European tour, seems to have accepted the premise that "traditional" New Year's Eve in San Francisco consisted of the Grateful Dead playing at midnight, so Santana appeared prior to the Dead. 1976 was the last New Year's Eve show where the Grateful Dead had a true co-headliner.

By 1976, The Sons of Champlin had backed away from their more jazzy experiments and veered back toward a funkier, more danceable sound. The Sons' current album was A Circle Filled With Love (on Ariola). The Sons's lineup for New Year's Eve '76 included old hands Bill Champlin, Geoff Palmer and Terry Haggerty, along with Rob Moitoza (bass), Jim Preston (drums), Steve Frediani (sax) and some other horn players (probably Mark Isham and Mike Andreas). Santana had just released their 10th album, Festival (on Columbia). Santana's Fall '76 lineup, besides Carlos, was Tom Coster (keyboards), Pablo Tellez (bass), Graham Lear (drums), Raul Rekow (congas), Chepito Areas (timbales) and Luther Rabb (vocals).

The concert started at 7:00pm, with the Sons [update: an eyewitness report by Jerry Moore himself, in an old Relix, available on the Grateful Dead Online Archive, reports that the Sons were replaced by Soundhole. John Cipollina sat in with Soundhole for their encore, as his brother Mario played bass in the band], and Santana came onstage around 8:00 pm and played a full 75-minute set. The Grateful Dead locked in the structure of New Year's for the next 15 years or so, as they played their first set at 10:00pm, returning to the stage at midnight for "Sugar Magnolia." Both the Santana and Grateful Dead sets were broadcast on KSAN in their entirety (the Dead's set became a Vault release). The show ended before 2:00am.

December 31, 1977: Winterland
Grateful Dead/New Riders of The Purple Sage
The Grateful Dead returned to Winterland with the New Riders for New Year's Eve 1977. The innovation of 1977 was that the Dead played a run of shows that culminated on New Year's Eve. This too became a regular tradition. For what it's worth, I bought tickets for New Year's Eve 1977 and two other nights the day they went on sale. I arrived about an hour after the BASS window opened (at Pacific Stereo in South Palo Alto), stood in a line of three people and bought as many tickets as I wanted. The Dead were popular at this time, but still basically a cult act.

The structure of the show was fairly conventional. The New Riders played at 8:00pm, and the Dead played their first set at about 10:00pm. The New Year's Eve celebration, and the beginning of the second set, were delayed until 12:30 so Bill Graham could come over from the Cow Palace, where Santana, Journey and Eddie Money were playing. Graham had been the "star" of that celebration, and he wanted to "star" in the Dead's as well (I think he rode down to the stage in a giant papier-mache joint, or something).

Little flyers were apparently passed out to some people warning about the delay until 12:30, but no one on my side of the crowd got any, and the crowd was pretty confused and unruly about the apparent delay. Fortunately, the second set was great, so it didn't matter. The show ended before 2:00am, as there was no third set.

The New Riders of The Purple Sage were kind of on an uptick that year. Their new album Marin County Line was their best in some time. New bassist Stephen Love added some new life to the band, and Dawson, Nelson and Cage were still lively. Drummer Patrick Shanahan had replaced Spencer Dryden, who had become the band's manager. However, in the spirit of the night, Dryden sat in anyway, giving the Riders two drummers. The New Riders set was released by the NRPS archives.

December 31, 1978: Winterland
Grateful Dead/Blues Brothers/New Riders of The Purple Sage
The New Year's Eve '78 show was the last show at Winterland, and as such a very nostalgic event. Winterland was the last direct link to the 60s. The Fillmore itself was still intact, but was hardly ever used for rock shows, so it had not been part of the rock scene for almost 10 years. The Fillmore West had become a car dealership (still is), so it too played no role in late 70s rock music. Winterland was a dump, but it was a rockin' dump, and it was sad to see it be squeezed out of the market for not being either big enough or nice enough. A big to-do was made about the closing of Winterland, and of course the Grateful Dead had to be the final act.

New Year's Eve 1978 was not only broadcast on KSAN and KQED-TV (the local PBS station), it was immortalized in an official video release. Although I am tremendously grateful to the people who got me a ticket (thank you Geoff W and Steve M), I am one of a minority who thought the whole show was a letdown, poorly organized and without much great music. Yes, the "Dark Star" that began the third set was truly magical, and the recording does not do it justice, but Weir ruined it by veering off too soon into "The Other One." Still, everybody but me (and Geoff W) remembers it fondly, so it must have been a great show, right?

I am a big New Riders fan, so I was looking forward to seeing them. We arrived at 7:45, about 15 minutes before showtime, to discover that the New Riders had been onstage since 7:30. It turned out that the last night at Winterland was the only show held there to actually start early. The New Riders were actually in a kind of down period at that time. Buddy Cage had left the band earlier in the year, replaced by Bobby Black from The Lost Planet Airmen, but he was also a fine player. Stephen Love had gone, too, replaced by Allan Kemp, who had been in the Stone Canyon Band with Pat Shanahan. The Riders weren't great, but they weren't bad, and I had wanted to see the whole set.

The New Riders had been moved up to accommodate televising the Blues Brothers' set at 9:00pm. The Blues Brothers are iconic now, but at the time they were a very hip and high profile addition to the New Years Eve bill. John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd were the newly popular stars of Saturday Night Live, and Animal House had just been released, so they were both huge stars. They had done their Blues Brothers schtick a few times on SNL, and then did a few Universal Amphitheatre shows in Los Angeles as The Blues Brothers, opening for Steve Martin, in order to record the album. Their album Briefcase Of Blues had just been released to huge acclaim, and the Winterland New Year's performance was The Blues Brothers' first show after the release of the album. At this juncture, Belushi and Ackroyd were much bigger stars than Jerry Garcia or the Grateful Dead.

To be fair, the Blues Brothers were absolutely great. All of the things which we have now seen a million times in the movies, or on SNL or YouTube, were done live and in person, and it was all totally new and surprising. The album had been released, but it wasn't ground into our skulls yet. The band was truly All-Star, including Steve Cropper (guitar) and Duck Dunn (bass) from The MGs, Matt Murphy (lead guitar) from James Cotton's band and Paul Shaffer (keyboards) and Steve Jordan (drums) from the SNL band. The horn section was led by the mighty Tom Scott, whom Deadheads will recall took the sax solo on the studio version of "Estimated Prophet." The band absolutely rocked the house, and although Ackroyd is a weak harp player and Belushi can't really sing, it didn't matter--Belushi in person was a star with a gravitational pull that can't be described, and he absolutely owned the place. The Blues Brothers played about an hour, and it was broadcast on radio and TV. I had to admit that I had reservations when they were booked, but they were absolutely great.

However, as a result of the Blues Brothers, the schedule for the New Years Eve show had been changed, which apparently was why the New Riders went onstage early. The Blues Brothers had come on at 9:00pm, so they would be on at the most advantageous time for TV. However, that left a two-hour gap from 10:00pm until midnight. It was filled by KQED reporters going around to very goofy, wasted people in the crowd and "interviewing" them for the TV audience at home. If you were in Winterland itself, however, after a very exciting set by the Blues Brothers, we stood around for two hours doing nothing. There was nowhere to sit at Winterland (unless you came realllly early and snagged a seat) so standing around was tiring. By the time the Dead came on, the crowd was both rowdy and tired, and honestly I felt the band was the same. Apparently the backstage party, with Belushi and Ackroyd among others, was pretty insane, and I don't think it improved the Dead's playing.

The Grateful Dead came on at midnight to play "Sugar Magnolia," like in days of yore. For all the talk of exciting guests, only old pal John Cipollina showed up, and great as he was, we had just seen him jam with the Dead two months before. Fortunately for the last night at the old ice rink, however, the Dead begat another New Year's Eve tradition and played a third set. For this night, the third set began at 5:00am. The Dead opened with "Dark Star" and I erased all my complaints, at least until Weir wrecked it. A touching "And We Bid You Goodnight" closed the old ice rink at about 5:45am. Then there was the much-heralded breakfast, the organization of which left much to be desired, but that is too trivial a subject for this blog.

An era had ended with the closing of Winterland, but supposedly there had been 500,000 ticket requests. From being a sort of cultish party the year before, New Year's Eve with the Grateful Dead became a must-see event.

December 31, 1979: Oakland Auditorium Arena
Grateful Dead/Flying Karamazov Brothers
All had seemed lost when Winterland closed, but of course BGP had known they had the Oakland Auditorium in their pocket. The old Auditorium was of the same vintage as Winterland, nicer, but still enough of a dump to have that old time psychedelic feeling. The venue was a bit larger than Winterland (7,000 vs 5,400), but it had a comparable atmosphere. The five-night run in December of '79 cemented the Oakland Auditorium as the new Home Court for the Grateful Dead, and as such it was the site of New Year's Eve 1979. This show cemented the format that would follow with few variations for the next dozen years of Grateful Dead's New Year's Eve shows. The structure was
  • A run of shows culminating in New Year's Eve
  • An New Year's Eve opening act chosen to be enjoyable, but with no concern for selling extra tickets (since NYE would sell out instantly anyway)
  • The Dead would play their first set around 10:00pm and start their second set at midnight, usually with "Sugar Magnolia"
  • The Dead would play a third set, often the platform for special guests or uniquely rehearsed songs
  • Although the show would go past 2:00am "closing time," the concert would be over by 3:00am
Every subsequent Grateful Dead New Year's Eve show generally conformed to this pattern. Here and there a few alterations occurred (For example, the Dead played an acoustic set for 1980 shows with no opening act; Joan Baez was the guest in 1981, but she came on before the first set rather than the third set, and so on), but in general the 1979 show took the realities and innovations that had been worked out by the preceding decade's worth of shows and built them into a format.

The Grateful Dead New Year's Eve performance was now an established Bay Area "Event." The run of shows made it well worth the while of Deadheads who lived elsewhere to come out and see all the shows, and Bay Area weather made it all the more attractive. The December runs was where I first started to realize just how many people from the East Coast were just as fanatical Deadheads, if not more so, than those of us out West. The Dead no longer needed a co-headliner on New Year's Eve. The main purpose of the opening act was to entertain excited people who had often attended most or all of the other shows, and were looking forward to a giant blowout to end the week.

The Flying Karamazov Brothers were a troupe of juggling performance artists who had started out in 1973 in Santa Cruz. There were four of them, all long haired and goofy, and they would do amazing feats of juggling while carrying on amusing patter with the crowd (I should add that they were neither brothers nor Russian). It sounds really dumb, but in fact it was really impressive and funny, and they quickly won over the revved-up New Year's Eve crowd in Oakland. Part of their act was to juggle all these crazy objects--champagne bottles, bowling pins, meat cleavers, burning torches--while carrying on with funny dialogue. By the end of the show, there would be four guys spread out on stage about 30 feet apart, juggling a combination of a dozen or more completely insane objects. As their New Year's Eve show peaked, with objects flying all over the stage, and half of them constantly in the air, Jerry Garcia appeared from stage left with his guitar and casually walked across the stage, passing right through the semi-circle of juggling Karamazovs. The Brothers never missed a beat, as no objects hit either the ground or Jerry, and he casually sauntered off on stage right. The crowd, needless to say, lost their minds.

In December, 1979, the Flying Karamazov Brothers were in the process of moving from being 'Street Performers' to 'Legitimate.' I had already seen them, perhaps in Sproul Plaza in Berkeley, but never in a full performance. By 1981, the Karamazov's were playing in London's West End, and they even made an encore appearance with the Grateful Dead. On March 28, 1981, in Essen, Germany, the Flying Karamazovs made an appearance during the Rhythm Devils section of a Grateful Dead show, so obviously the Dead were amused and impressed. In the intervening decades, the Flying Karamazovs have appeared on Broadway many times, and they are starring in London once again as of this writing.

The Grateful Dead, New Year's Eve, 1980-1991
There were many fine moments yet to come in Grateful Dead New Year's Eve performances over the next dozen years. After the 70s, however, the general parameters were set. Indeed, many people's fondest memories of New Year's shows were when the Dead actually diverted from their script, such as the time in 1981 when Bill Graham requested "Aiko Aiko" at midnight, instead of "Sugar Magnolia." When Graham died, it is not surprising that the Dead simply gave up the New Year's tradition, as it had become somewhat ossified. Still, it was fun while it lasted, and as time keeps slipping, slipping, slipping into the future, seeing the Grateful Dead on New Year's Eve--any New Year's Eve--seems all the more remarkable.

8 comments:

  1. Excellent, thank you.

    Not having attended, I find 12/31/78 to be a rather sloppy mess.

    I also agree with, and seem to lament more than you do --you keep a nice analytical distance from it, and/or accept it more gracefully than I can-- the institutionalization of a fixed format by ca. 1980. This is, of course (I think I can presume it to be self-evident) a microcosm of the overall Grateful Dead universe, from the placement of songs in the set sequences, to the alternation of Jerry and Bobby, to the set structure itself, to the institutionalization of spaciness in the middle of set II (talk about a self-defeating proposition ... I dunno) ... I understand it couldn't go on wild and crazy and all-night and unpredictable forever, but by the time I came around (second half of the 80s), we were left to hope for and cherish the slightest deviations from a quite rigidly fixed pattern as evidence of something special. Rather than magic all around, from the perspective of hindsight it seems like I experienced the occasional needle of magic (to be cherished, for sure, given its overall absence in late 80s America) in a haystack of regimentation, fixity, habit, inertia. And, of course, that's a little like life itself.

    All that said, I wouldn't have swapped out what I was doing during those days in late December 1987, 1988 and 1989 for any other alternative ... thanks for a great post.

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  2. Thanks for the kind words. In a way, the whole post is really about my experience on 12/31/78. It was super-hyped, and a big letdown. Most of the praise for the event comes from people who weren't there, or people who were in no condition to remember. "Dark Star" was magical, and the Blues Brothers were exciting, but that's 73 minutes out of 12 hours.

    The best Grateful Dead New Year's Eve show is the one you just missed. My older sister went to 12/31/72, and she described it all to me the next day, and I thought "I've got to be there!" I was convinced that New Year's 78 was going to be one for the ages, and it really wasn't. Some of that was hype, some of that was me, some of that was breakfast (I could easily write a 1500 word screed on that), but some of it was just that the Dead didn't play that well, with the exception of a brief "Dark Star."

    Now, I went to NYE 77, 78, 79, 80, 81 and 82, and I'm not sorry, that's for sure. Still, there's a strange sort of frustration in many people's experiences, where NYE often never quite lives up to the moment.

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  3. And for me that's a microcosm of my GD show-going experience. You know magic is possible at all times. You get glimpses of it. But by the time I was seeing shows, getting 73 outstanding minutes would take 12 shows, not 12 hours. At least that's my perspective. It was still the best thing going, for me.

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  4. About 1977 or so there was a joint interview in Melody Maker with Jerry Garcia and Carlos Santana--I don't recall why. They asked about Woodstock, and Carlos talked about how proud he was and what a great moment it was, and Garcia was just embarrassed by the Dead's performance. At the time he said (paraphrase) "we always blow the big ones." And that was BEFORE I saw the Dead blow all the big ones.

    On the other hand, I saw a magical show in Fresno, and I saw magical shows in Oakland Auditorium, just not on New Year's Eve.

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  5. Garcia said once:
    "New Year's Eve was usually our worst show of the year. It's the night when everybody you've ever known is there and you can't even say hello to most of them and everybody's also partying their asses off. So everybody's drunker than shit or wired or whatever...and we're working. You would love to be able to party, but you can't get too fucked up because you can't play. There'd be times when all the balloons would fall on stage and then...you can't hear anything. It sounds awful. I have real mixed feelings about the New Year's Eve things. They're great parties. Everybody loves 'em, but we've never played worth a shit on New Year's Eve. Just passable, you know? Passable is usually the way it goes."

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  6. would love to get a copy of the Yogi Phlegm set from 1971, originally broadcast on KSAN.
    Can anyone help me out???

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  8. I guess this is as good a place as any to drop this Garcia quote from ca. 1974:

    "It has to end sometime. Or else we'll be like Guy Lombardo, every New Year's, for another generation."

    Quoted in "The Year of Recycled Rock Stars," Oakland Tribune, December 29, 1974, p. 2-RAP.

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