|The Gym at Middlesex County College in Edison, NJ as it looked in February 2012 (photo-Corry)|
I do not know why the Soto list began in January 1970, rather than earlier, but I can make a pretty good guess. Prior to 1970, the Grateful Dead's touring schedule was chaotic, and manager Lenny Hart had a vested interest in making sure that as few people as possible had any access to any paperwork that might say what the Grateful Dead were actually being paid. However, in February 1970, former Rolling Stones tour manager Sam Cutler took over the same duties for the Grateful Dead, and beneath his cool English bravado he was both organized and honest. I believe that the Soto list dates only from 1970 because it was only then that Cutler started keeping accurate records of Grateful Dead contracts, particularly for live performances.
Over the years, the Soto list has shown itself to be a remarkably accurate document. Shows that were not on the list turn out to have been added at the last second, probably without a contract (such as the Monday, November 16, 1970 show at Fillmore East), and shows on the list that did not occur turn out to have been canceled, which means there must have initially been a contract. Over the years, I have looked into some obscure events on the list, only to discover that they do indeed appear to have happened.
For example, the Soto list had an entry for May 17, 1970 in Fairfield, CT. For years, I wondered about this show. May 17 was a Sunday that year, and there were no major rock venues in Fairfield. Due to the miracle of the Internet, I was able to find out from alumni of Fairfield College that the Grateful Dead appear to have played a legendary Fairfield college event on the beach called "The Clam Jam." The Dead would have been contracted for the show, but the show would not have been needed to be advertised, which would have honored the Dead's obligations to Bill Graham at the Fillmore East (on Friday May 15). An unadvertised Sunday college date, while paying less than the Fillmore East and a stadium in Philadelphia (on Saturday May 16), would have been an extra payday for the band that they would have sorely needed in their financial state.
With that in mind, I am looking at a hitherto unnoticed event from the original Soto list, in the hopes that we will unearth some eyewitnesses or at least plausible rumors. According to the Soto list, on Sunday, November 22, 1970, the Grateful Dead performed at Middlesex County Community College in Edison, NJ. While this show appears on every Grateful Dead performance list, to my knowledge nothing is known about this event. I have done enough research to make a plausible case for the concert, which I will present here, in the hopes that others will have more to contribute.
Middlesex County College, Edison, NJ
After 1946, the GI Bill allowed the many military veterans of World War 2 to attend college. The subsequent Baby Boom and the vast numbers of drafted soldiers meant that more and more institutions of higher education were needed in every area of the country. Besides a vast expansion in state university systems, most states also rapidly expanded community colleges (often called junior colleges), allowing local residents to attend the first two years of college effectively for free. The most successful of those students could move on to a four-year college. Most of the junior colleges were planned in the 1950, and they in turn opened for instruction in the late 1950s and early '60s.
Middlesex County College was founded in 1964. Middlesex County is about 30 miles Southwest of Manhattan. The principal city in the county is New Brunswick, home of Rutgers University. There are a large number of towns in the County, from Perth Amboy at the northern end, all the way down to Plainsboro in the south, next to Princeton (which is in Mercer County). Edison is in the center of the county, around towns like Metuchen, Woodbridge and Piscataway. My cousins actually grew up in Piscataway, so I know a little about the history of the area. Up until the 1970s, that part of central New Jersey was a somewhat decaying industrial area--the big employer in Piscataway was the Trojan factory (yes, that Trojan). However, since Edison is on the Northeast Corridor rail mainline, all the towns like Edison have largely become New York City bedroom communities, and there are also extensive offices near places like the Metropark Train Station in Iselin. Thus Edison and surrounding communities are much better off today than they were in the early 1970s.
Today, with public education under tremendous financial pressure, and presidential candidates suggesting that school janitors should be replaced by 9 year old students, it seems otherworldly to think that America used to value and fund public education, but such was the case. Middlesex County College must have been planned in the 1950s, and by the time it opened in '64 it would have provided an opportunity for Middlesex County students to go to college for free. The only criteria for admission would have been residency, and there would have been practically no fees. My New Jersey cousins had moved to California by the time they were of college age in the 1970s, but they all would have gone to Middlesex County College had they stayed. They were all smart and hard working, and junior college allowed them to attend the first two years of college essentially for free (in their case, Foothill College in Los Altos, birthplace of the Chocolate Watch Band). Having succeeded, my cousins could get financial aid to go to an established four year school. Without places like Middlesex County College, many of the less well-off students in the County would have had no opportunity to progress.
College Entertainment Budgets
Up until the mid 1970s, the assumption of almost all colleges was that there was more to student life than merely attending class. Most colleges had some kind of budget for student entertainment. Many performers of all types made good money playing the college circuit, and certain booking agents specialized in these sorts of engagements. Outside entertainment was considered especially important for colleges that were somewhat isolated from big cities, particularly in places where cold weather made travel ill-advised. It was taken for granted that colleges would bring in "name" entertainment for student enjoyment. This included drama, jazz, folk and other kinds of events, and from the mid-60s onwards it often included rock music as well.
The Grateful Dead were always looking for paying bookings, and they rapidly caught on to the benefits of playing colleges. In the 1960s, a common dynamic was that a few longhaired hippies would get themselves put on the college "entertainment committee" and get their favorite band booked. This often lead to the Grateful Dead (and other groups) playing small places for a modest number of students, such as at Alfred State College (May 1, 1970), because the show was paid for from university funds, not ticket sales per se. By 1970, with Cutler managing the Dead's touring schedule, colleges were a regular part of any Dead tour.
The college bookings for the Dead in 1970 were
May 1, 1970: Alfred State College, Alfred, NY (Friday)(I have not counted free or unscheduled concerts at MIT (May 6) and possibly at Paterson (Oct 12), as this post is about bookings)
May 2, 1970: Harpur College, Binghamton, NY (Saturday)
May 3, 1970: Field House, Wesleyan College, Middletown, CT (Sunday)
May 7, 1970: Dupont Gym, MIT, Cambridge, MA (Thursday)
May 8, 1970: Farrell Hall, SUNY, Delhi, NY (Friday)
May 9, 1970: Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA (Saturday)
May 14, 1970: Merramec Community College, Kirkwood, MO (Thursday)
May 16, 1970: Stadium, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA (Saturday)
May 17, 1970: 'Clam Jam', Fairfield University, Fairfield, CT (Sunday)
June 21, 1970: Pauley Ballroom, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA (Sunday)
October 10, 1970: Colden Auditorium, Queens College, New York, NY (Sat)
October 11, 1970: Marion Shea Auditorium, Paterson State College, Wayne, NJ (Sun)
October 16, 1970: Irvine Auditorium, Penn University, Philadelphia, PA (Friday)
October 23, 1970: McDonough University, Georgetown University, Washington, DC (Friday)
October 30-31, 1970: Gym, SUNY Stony Brook, Stony Brook, NY (Fri-Sat)
November 20, 1970: Palestra, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY (Friday)
November 21, 1970: Sargent's Gym, Boston U, Boston, MA (Saturday)
November 22, 1970: Middlesex County College, Edison, NJ (Sunday)
While some of these college events were on weekends at schools in major metropolitan areas, and no doubt included many non-students in the audience, some of the events are considerably more out of the way. JGMF discovered, for example, that the Alfred State show was a term-ending event attended by a few hundred people. Junior college shows at Kirkwood, MO (May 14) and Wayne, NJ (October 12) show that the Dead were willing to take paying gigs any time it fit their schedule. Some of the events were unique to the schools, as well: the Fairfield "Clam Jam" was a giant beach party, and the Penn show (October 16) was actually the homecoming dance for nearby Drexel University (alternate rows were reserved for Drexel students and their apparently stunned dates, while regular Philly Deadheads filled the rest of the seats).
Thus, however, unlikely a show at tiny Middlesex College in sleepy Edison, NJ, may seem from this distant remove, it fits in very snugly with the Grateful Dead's college heavy touring schedule at the time. What might the event have been?
Middlesex College had only been opened in 1964. Although the school serves 11, 800 students today, it probably served considerably fewer in those days. The current configuration of Community Colleges tends to orient towards a lot of part-time and returning students, often taking classes in a variety of professional skills that are not always directly related to degree programs. In their initial formulation, however, junior colleges were still more focused on the full time student body that was making academic plans to continue onwards with their education. Many, if not most, junior college in the 1960s would have had budgets for student entertainment. Thus a Sunday night show at Middlesex, probably in a relatively tiny gym, was probably an end-of-term dance. I doubt there was any advertising except in the school paper, and the event was probably not reviewed except perhaps there as well.The event probably started at 7pm--it was Sunday--and the Dead probably played a couple of sets, with no opening acts, and the event was probably over by 11:00pm. While I can only speculate, I doubt that the New Riders of The Purple Sage were booked for a set. My own guess is that the Dead got $5000 or less. If my supposition is correct, why would the Dead plan an unpublicized event for well below their usual fee? The answer seems to lie in their touring schedule for November 1970.
The Grateful Dead Touring Schedule, November 1970
Sam Cutler's reorganization of the Grateful Dead's touring (described in his 2008 book You Can't Always Get What You Want) was helping the Dead climb out of the financial hole that Lenny Hart had put them in, but the band was far from out of the woods. The group had released the successful Workingman's Dead album in June, and that, along with the newly released American Beauty, would help to introduce the band to a new and broader audience. However, those records had not yet reaped the financial rewards that they would later, so the band was still struggling. A mark of that struggle was the fact that the November 1970 Eastern tour was, to my knowledge, one of the last tours where the Dead would go out without their own sound system. Most rock bands saved on expenses by not touring with a sound system, but most bands were far more willing to be at the mercy of whatever sound reinforcement the promoter provided.
The Dead were apparently very unhappy about touring without their own PA (they would have had their own amps and guitars, of course), but it meant that the band was touring with considerably fewer crew members and the related expenses. The key booking on this tour was a four-night stand at the newly-opened 46th Street Rock Palace in Brooklyn, a new competitor to Bill Graham's Fillmore East. The band was playing there from November 11-14, Wednesday thru Saturday. The terms of the contract would have prevented them from playing an advertised show within a certain radius of New York City, a radius that certainly would have included northern New Jersey. The next weekend the Dead were playing Rochester (Friday Nov 20) and Boston (Saturday Nov 21), well outside of the restricted area. However, the Dead's last date on the tour was on Monday, November 23, playing at New York's old Anderson Theater at a party for the Hell's Angels. While the Angels party would have been nominally open to the public--although many cautious civilians would have been unwilling to attend such an event--it would not have been advertised as a Grateful Dead show, just as a Hells Angels party.
More importantly, the Hells Angels would have paid cash to the Grateful Dead, cash that the Grateful Dead would have very much needed at the time. Given that the band was playing a show in Boston on Saturday night (Nov 21) and Manhattan on Monday (Nov 23), they would have had to spend Sunday night somewhere. Any money they earned Sunday night would have covered travel expenses that would have had to be paid anyway. Even if the Dead played a junior college dance at well below their usual fee, earning a few thousand dollars was a few thousand more than they would have earned hanging around Manhattan.
Geography: Newark Airport
Edison, NJ is less than half an hour down the New Jersey Turnpike from Newark Airport (Edison is Exit 10, the airport is Exit 13). Since the Grateful Dead were touring without a PA, the band would merely have had to fly from Boston to Newark, and get themselves on down to Middlesex College. There would have been no concern about the equipment truck and possibly daunting winter weather, just a short plane ride with the guitars and amps as luggage. The band was going to have to fly to New York anyway for the Monday night show, so by flying into Newark and playing the gig in Edison, the evening's work was close to free money, even if it didn't pay that much. Thus it seems the shrewd Cutler found a gig for the band on an open Sunday night that minimized travel and travel expenses, and turned even a layover into a winning financial proposition by playing some sort of Junior College dance.
I feel confident that there was little or no publicity for the Grateful Dead's appearance at Middlesex County College on Sunday, November 22. It is likely that only Middlesex College students and their guests were allowed in, and tickets were not sold to the general public. My cousin, then a High School junior in Piscataway, NJ, was certainly not aware of the event. He would not become a Dead fan until he moved to California 18 months later (I took care of that, with a little help from the show at Maples Pavilion on February 9, 1973). Nonetheless, if he and his friends had been aware of a major Fillmore East rock band playing one town over, they would have been there, because no one played New Jersey save for Asbury Park, and they would have found a way to sneak in. I realize that this doesn't constitute definitive proof of anything, but its at least an indicator that the teenage population of Middlesex County was unaware of a Grateful Dead show.
|A shot of the interior of the Middlesex County College gym in February 2012. I think the scale and footprint of the gym are probably the same as they were in 1970, but I think the gym has long since been remodeled|
Did the Grateful Dead play a show at Middlesex County College, in Edison, NJ on Sunday, November 22, 1970? At this time, I cannot definitively say whether they did or not. However, the primary purpose of this blog is to assess the uncertain, and to try and analyze what was more or less likely to have actually occurred, so with that in mind, let us consider the context of the presumed Edison show, since context is all we have:
- The November 22, 1970 Edison show appeared on the original Janet Soto list, and shows on that list appear to have been based on contracts. Thus it is very likely that the Edison show was scheduled, and fairly likely that it actually occurred
- It is likely that the Edison show was an unpublicized school event at a junior college, but those sorts of shows were still common for the Grateful Dead during 1970
- The Grateful Dead's touring schedule in November 1970 left them with an open Sunday night on the 22nd, where even a low-paying gig would have made financial sense
- Since the Dead were not touring with their own sound system, probably for the last time, a quick trip from Newark Airport to Edison was a viable proposition even in the winter