Thursday, April 5, 2012

January 15, 1978: Selland Arena, Fresno, CA (January 1978 Tour Itinerary)

My ticket stub from Selland Arena, Fresno, CA January 15, 1978
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the Grateful Dead's Winter touring pattern was pretty well established. They would have an extended stand in Oakland leading up to New Year's Eve, and then take about six weeks off. There would be a couple of shows in February, and then they would hitch up the wagon and start touring the East Coast some time in March. Most of January and February were vacation time for the extended Grateful Dead touring operation, except of course for Jerry Garcia who generally tried to jam in as many of his own shows as he could during the winter break.

However convenient and sensible this touring pattern was, the Dead did not fall into it lightly. At least once they tried a completely different approach to the winter. In January of 1978, instead of going on break, the Grateful Dead toured the West and upper Midwest. It made for a very different year, and they played some great music. Of course, all the evidence suggests that the little tour was not a financial success, so nothing like it was ever done again. This post will focus on perhaps the finest of those January '78 shows, and certainly the strangest Dead show I ever attended, the concert at Selland Arena in Fresno on Sunday, January 15, 1978. As an appendix, I will include a brief itinerary of the tour to put the show in context.

The handbill from the Grateful Dead/Country Joe And The Fish concert at Selland Arena from February 17, 1968
The Selland Arena, Fresno, CA
California's San Joaquin Valley is one of the great agricultural centers of the world. Highway 99 runs up and down the center of the state, and it did so long before Interstate 5, and all the towns along 99 are important centers of agricultural commerce. Although Fresno was not always a particularly large town, it was always an important center for dairy and farm products. By virtue of being roughly between Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Francisco, the city of Fresno became the biggest of the Valley cities. While its population was only 133, 929 in the 1960 census, by 1980 it had nearly doubled to 217, 129 (in 2010 it had doubled again, reaching 494, 665). By 1961, Fresno State College had joined the California State College system, and Fresno was starting to become a real city. Real cities, of course, build convention centers with an arena for sports, concerts and entertainment.

The Selland Arena, at 700 M Street in Fresno, was built in 1966, as part of the Fresno Convention and Entertainment Center. The arena had a capacity of about 6, 500, somewhat larger than Winterland, and quite large for the 1960s. Even though the city of Fresno was not large in the 60s and 70s, there were a lot of towns surrounding it, so there was a built-in audience for rock concerts. Also, touring rock bands discovered that they could play Fresno on an off-night between weekends in San Francisco and Los Angeles, so a lot of good bands played Fresno on school nights, particularly in the 1970s. In any case, once the Selland Arena was built, Fresno got its share of concerts.

The Grateful Dead played Selland Arena four times. The Dead had played the tiny Marigold Ballroom on May 12, 1967 (at 1833 E. Hedges, for you geocoders), but the first time the band played the Selland was February 17, 1968. They shared the bill with Country Joe and The Fish and a local band, Valley Fever. This was part of the tour that was mostly recorded for Anthem Of The Sun, but for whatever reasons, the Fresno event was not itself recorded. Back in 1968, the touring circuit wasn't fully built up yet, and San Francisco and Los Angeles bands would play shows in Fresno because it was an easy drive (for the roadies, anyway), and it filled up a night on the gig sheet. One of the many Valley teenagers who attended the show was Bob Weir's half-brother Jim Parber, then living in Merced, although neither Weir nor Parber knew of their relationship at the time.

The Grateful Dead came back on Friday, June 13, 1969. Deadlists shows the venue as "Fresno Convention Center," but its just another name for the Selland Arena. The Dead were supported by Aum and Sanpaku, both of whom were booked by the Millard Agency, as were the Dead. Members of both bands joined the group on stage at various times (Aum guitarist Wayne Ceballos and Sanpaku flautist Gary Larkey for certain), which suggests a rather loose evening.

The Grateful Dead returned again to the Selland Arena on Friday, July 19, 1974. The band was headlining at the enormous Hollywood Bowl on Sunday, July 21, so a Fresno booking made touring sense.  A friend of mine went to the show and said that the event was relatively thinly attended, for a Dead show, and the band was spacey and the vibe was very weird. At one point, Phil Lesh even left the stage during "U.S. Blues." Because of the enormity of The Wall Of Sound, the Dead had to have two days between venues, so they could not have played anywhere between Fresno (Friday) and Hollywood Bowl (Sunday).

The California Tour, January 1978
In December, 1977, the Grateful Dead played the first of their extended New Year's runs. They headlined Winterland for three nights on December 29, 30 and 31, and when those shows sold out--it took a couple of days--they added an additional show on December 27. At the time, there was no particular precedent or expectation for this. It was the third time in the year that there had been a three night run in Winterland, but there was nothing special yet about the December run-up to New Year's.

Soon after the New Year's shows sold out, Bill Graham Presents announced a string of dates in California throughout January. The band avoided many major Southern California venues and played some more out of the way places. The Grateful Dead had been able to successfully play some out of the way places in New York, like Hamilton, Rochester and Binghamton and perhaps Graham felt that there was pent-up Grateful Dead interest in the California hinterlands. In any case, the Dead played  San Bernardino, San Diego, Los Angleles, Santa Barbara, Bakersfield, Frenso, Sacramento and Stockton (see below for details).

Touring California in the winter made good business sense, because unlike other parts of the country, there wasn't a serious threat of snow, so audiences would be willing to drive longer distances. This was important in the valley, where there were a fair number of rock fans, but spread out over a wide area. Now,  I believe that the San Diego, San Bernardino and Los Angeles shows were successful, and the Santa Barbara show was a benefit in a relatively small theater. However, the San Diego, Sacramento and Stockton shows, while sold out, were in relatively small 3000-capacity venues, much smaller than anywhere the Dead could play on the East Coast, and not necessarily worth their time. Finally, the  Fresno and the Bakersfield show were financial debacles. The band never played either city again (if Bakersfield had decent attendance, the venue would still have fallen into the "tiny" category of Stockton or Sacramento). It's hard to say how much the financial bath the band took at the two valley shows discouraged Bill Graham or other promoters from booking another January California tour,  compared to other perhaps more prosaic reasons for not touring, but the fact is there was never any touring between New Year's and February after 1978, except to make up for canceled dates.

I was fortunate enough to attend the Grateful Dead show at Selland Arena on Sunday, January 15, 1978. It was one of, if not the, strangest Dead show I ever attended, and if I was forced to pick a show that was 'my favorite Dead show,' I would go with that Selland Arena show.

The back of my ticket stub from Selland Arena, Fresno, CA, January 15, 1978
The Grateful Dead, Selland Arena. Fresno, CA January 15, 1978
The Grateful Dead were still a popular group in early 1978, but they seemed a little old hat. Winterland was a mid-sized hall, and they had shown they could sell out four nights, but the implication seemed to be that it was the same people coming over and over. The biggest acts, like Eric Clapton, played the Oakland Coliseum or the Cow Palace, and the Dead didn't seem to have that kind of heft. One dynamic that I was only dimly aware of at the time but am acutely aware of now was the willingness of East Coast Deadheads to get on the road to see the Dead. The Dead could draw in places like Binghamton or Hamilton because Eastern Deadheads were willing to get in the cars and go up and down I-90 and I-95 in order to see as many shows as possible.

Its my belief that Bill Graham promoted Grateful Dead shows in Bakersfield and Fresno because he thought that West Coast Deadheads would travel like East Coast ones, and that turned out not to be the case. Eastern Deadheads bought the traveling ethos into the Deadhead universe--Westerners didn't do it. In my case, although I was a poor college student at the time, the Grateful Dead had played ten shows at Winterland in 1977, and I had seen seven of them. What was the urgency to travel? I had gone to Santa Barbara to visit a friend and see the Dead (February 27, 1977), but it hadn't even occurred to me that I should go to the San Bernardino show the night before.

Starting about 1980, I met more and more people at Dead shows who had moved to San Francisco for better access to the Dead, and those were the people who thought nothing of driving to Los Angeles or Portland, or both, just to catch a show or two. That's what they had been doing in New Jersey or Chicago, so it was no change for them. Locals like me got sniffy about attending Dead shows outside my own county, but the Easterners made the Deadhead traveling circus a reality. Yet no one had figured that out at the time, and Bill Graham's promotion was a bit ahead of the curve.

The big rock event in San Francisco on that weekend was the Sex Pistols show at Winterland on Saturday, January 14. It turned out to  be the last show of the Sid Vicious-era Pistols, and a legendary San Francisco rock moment. However, since I was going to see the Dead in Fresno on Sunday night, I had a paper to write, so I stayed home from the Sex Pistols even though my sister had an extra ticket, and thus missed one of the all-time rock events. Fortunately, my choice turned out to be worth it. However, my friend Jeff, who attended the Fresno show with us may have been the only person in history to have seen the Sex Pistols and the Grateful Dead on consecutive nights.

Fresno was about 3 hours from San Francisco, mostly on easy-to-drive Interstate 5. Even though we had all seen the Dead for three or four nights in December, it seemed exciting to actually adventure out into the valley to see the Dead. Of course, had we been Easterners, we would have gone to Santa Barbara (Friday Jan 13), Bakersfield (Saturday Jan 14) and then Fresno, but we didn't have that mindset yet. We also had tickets to the Wednesday night show in Stockton (Jan 18), about 90 minutes from Berkeley, but we were skipping the Sacramento show the night before (Tuesday Jan 17). Anyone from New Jersey or Boston or Utica would have thought we were nuts, but we were used to the Dead playing constantly, and missing a show didn't seem catastrophic.

One of the things that made the Fresno trip viable was my friend Jeff, whom I knew from the dorms. My other friends were from Los Angeles, and neither they nor I had ever set foot in Fresno. However, Jeff was from Fresno and had been to Selland Arena many times, so by bringing him with us we had a native guide. In the era before google maps and GPS, this was no small consideration. In any case, we grooved on down the road and made it to Fresno well before the start of the show, thanks to Jeff's expert directions. Although Jeff was from Fresno, he didn't express any pleasure at being back in his hometown, which he dismissed as hicksville.

When we got to the Selland Arena, we were in for a surprise. The place was your typical multi-purpose sports-enterntainment arena, used for basketball at Fresno State College and rock concerts for the city. Even if the Grateful Dead were only popular in an enclosed little universe, in San Francisco that universe was pretty intense. In 1977, Bill Graham Presents would open the doors at Winterland at 5:00pm because so many people were waiting in line, and there were volleyball games and movies to keep people entertained until the putative 7:00 pm start (which was often closer to 8:00). Thus it was a shock to get to Selland Arena a half-hour before show time and to find the arena largely deserted.

Now, if you've ever been in a large arena with a small crowd, it seems more barren than it really was. We were convinced that there were only a few hundred people there, but that is probably our minds exaggerating the emptiness. Still, even accounting for people who arrived late, people who were nestled in the dark seats far from the stage and people dancing around the lobby, there couldn't have been more than 2000 people there, tops. Most of the people didn't really seem like Deadheads, just people who lived in Fresno who liked rock music, and would go to see Johnny Winter or Kenny Loggins or whoever was playing (which my friend Jeff assured me was typical of Fresno at the time).

The Selland show was strange indeed: an arena the size of Oakland Auditorium, bigger than Winterland, with a very modest crowd that mostly sat bored in the seats, leaving the floor near the stage utterly deserted. You know those t-shirts that they used to sell at Dead shows that had a logo and words to the effect of "Grateful Dead 1966-1980: Sold Out!"? They didn't go to Fresno.

I have always been one who felt that the much-discussed symbiotic relationship between the Grateful Dead and their audience has received far too much attention, and that the Dead were more about music than their audiences self-declared insistence that there would be no Grateful Dead without their own presence. I still think that Deadheads overrate themselves, but the first set at Fresno gave me a major dose of what the Dead were like to an indifferent audience. They must have played a lot of gigs like Fresno in the 60s, out in the hinterlands. There were a few devoted Heads up front, and a bunch of bored locals, going "why are these guys so popular?"

Set One, Selland Arena, Fresno, CA January 15, 1978
Bertha>;
04:47




Good Lovin' ;
05:55




Dire Wolf ;
03:39




Mexicali Blues >
03:28




Big River ;
05:59




It Must Have Been The Roses ;
06:09




Passenger ;
04:37




Brown Eyed Women ;
05:17




The Music Never Stopped ;
07:53




set music:
0:47:44


 The first set at Fresno was the most lifeless, boring Grateful Dead set I have ever seen. There were a few people dancing up front, but just as an experiment my friend Mike and I walked up and leaned on the front of the stage barrier without touching another human being. I'm glad we did it, because we never got to do it again. The lack of enthusiasm in the crowd was palpable, and I got a unique glimpse of how the strange clunky energy of the Dead's improvisational style depended on an attentive audience, as every note seemed wrong. The fact that Garcia's voice was still very weak from a lingering illness added to the lethargy and strain of the performance. I swear that Garcia's solo on "Mexicali Blues" was so lifeless that he dropped his hands for the last several bars, since it was such a failure. The band made a little effort for 'The Music Never Stopped," but we wondered why we had made the effort to drive three hours through the Valley just to hear the worst Dead set in our lives.

Set Two, Selland Arena, Fresno, CA January 15, 1978
Samson And Delilah ;
07:45




Friend Of The Devil ;
08:21




Sunrise %
03:14


End
Terrapin Station>;
09:57




Playing In The Band>;
27:05


Middle
Wharf Rat>;
10:53




Sugar Magnolia ;
09:29




set music:
1:16:44







show music:
2:04:28

Having driven so far, however, we stuck around for the second set. "Samson And Delilah" wasn't terrible, and "Friend Of The Devil" was OK, although I never cared for the slow version anyway. The first sign that something was afoot was "Sunrise," a song I largely paid no attention to. It had some life to it, and when the little solo came, Jerry played with surprising intensity, and the dripping notes rang around the echoey, empty arena. The band marched straight into "Terrapin," and despite the lifeless crowd and strange, boomy sound, no doubt caused by unexpected emptiness, they were killing it. My friends and I looked at each other with surprise and relief--the three hour drive may have turned out to be worth it after all.

After "Terrapin," the Dead launched into "Playing In The Band," and when the singing ended, Jerry, Bob and Phil huddled in front of the drummers and played the jam for themselves. There was practically no crowd there, and the band was getting nothing from them, so they just played weird, spacey music for their own pleasure. The lengthy jam that followed was the wildest, weirdest, spaciest jam I have ever heard at a Dead concert, and I went to a few. The surviving audience tape, while enjoyable, cannot capture the intense, self-absorbed weirdness of that jam.

The net effect of going from "worst Dead set ever" to "most far out jam I have ever seen" had a dramatic effect. Physics tells us that dramatic acceleration leads to escape velocity, and we definitely burst through the ionosphere, swirling in orbit far above the earth. The lengthy "Playing" was followed by an intense "Wharf Rat." Garcia's nearly broken voice was used to great effect, and his emotional solo was the capstone to the intense "Playin" jam that had preceded it. When it ended, a relatively brief "Sugar Magnolia" ended the show, and the band left the stage. The crowd was too small to cheer for an encore, as many of the locals had left, but in any case those of us who had been listening were too stunned to care. This was a clutch performance by the Grateful Dead: a mostly-empty venue in the middle of nowhere, no excitement from the crowd, and still delivering a show for the ages.

It goes without saying that I never saw another Dead show like Fresno. For one thing, I occasionally went to a Dead show that wasn't sold out, but I never went to one again that was deserted. In subsequent years even casual audiences had heard about expected behavior at Dead concerts, but in 1978 Fresno the Grateful Dead were like Marshall Tucker or Wishbone Ash, just another Winterland headliner trying to win over fans outside of their regular market. They couldn't do it, either, so they just made music. Maybe it was more about the Grateful Dead than the Deadheads after all.

All my friends were exhausted, but I was elated. One of my friends had seen the Dead in Selland Arena in 1974, and he opined that perhaps it was the same that time, with a small crowd and weird self-absorbed music, but that he didn't understand it. He promptly fell asleep, as did everyone else but me, as I happily drove my friend's car back to Berkeley up Interstate 5, knowing that I had seen something that would not pass my way again.

Appendix: January 1978 Grateful Dead Tour Itinerary
January 6, 1978: Swing Auditorium, San Bernardino, CA Grateful Dead
The Swing Auditorium in San Bernardino was at the edge of greater Los Angeles, because it had been the terminus of the Pacific Electric Railway. The Swing had a capacity of 10,00, and was actually one of the biggest places that the Dead headlined in California. Garcia had a fever and laryngitis, and his voice gave out after the first set, leaving all the second set songs to Weir.

January 7-8, 1978: Golden Hall, Community Concourse, San Diego, CA Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead had played the Community Concourse at 202 C Street a number of times over the years, but the complex was part of a maze of buildings, and I do not believe they actually played the same rooms each time. Garcia's voice was shot for these shows, and Weir and Donna Godchaux handled all the vocals.  I believe that Golden Hall was a Warfield-sized theater, with a capacity of 2500 or so.

January 10-11, 1978: Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA Grateful Dead
There are actually two venues at the same address at the Shrine, the Shrine Auditorium and the Shrine Exposition Hall. I do not know which one the Dead actually played this time out. If it had seats, it was the Auditorium (where the Oscars are sometimes held) and if it didn't it was the Expo. Since the shows were on a Tuesday and a Wednesday, it seems more possible it was the actual Shrine Auditorium. The show opened with "Bertha," assuring the crowd that Jerry was back singing, even if his voice was shaky.

A number of commenters on the Archive describe shows similar to Fresno, with far out meltdown jams in the second set.

January 13, 1978: Arlington Theater, Santa Barbara, CA Grateful Dead
I believe the Arlington was a fairly small, Warfield-sized theater. This show was some sort of anti-nuclear benefit. The jamming in the second set is quite amazing; Fresno was no fluke.

January 14, 1978: Civic Auditorium, Bakersfield, CA Grateful Dead
By all accounts, Bakersfield was as weird as Fresno. We heard a rumor that Bakersfield was so empty, people were told that anyone with a Bakersfield stub could get into Fresno for free. I doubt that story was true, but I take the rumor as an indicator that it was not a typical Dead show. Bakersfield Civic had been used for many rock shows over the years, but I believe it was smaller than Selland Arena, so a modest crowd might not be so notable.

According to numerous commenters on the Archive, the Dead's soundman was arrested during the show by the Bakersfield police. The Dead apparently wrapped up the show quickly and declared their unhappiness with it from the stage.

January 15, 1978: Selland Arena, Fresno, CA Grateful Dead

January 17, 1978: Civic Auditorium, Sacramento, CA Grateful Dead
Even though this was a Tuesday night, Sacramento was only 90 minutes from the Bay Area and the Civic had a capacity of about 3,000, so it was like a regular show for the locals. 

My ticket stub from Stockton Civic Auditorium, January 18, 1978
January 18, 1978; Civic Auditorium, Stockton, CA Grateful Dead
My friends and I also attended the Wednesday evening Stockton show (well, except for the guy from Fresno). We had heard nothing about the other shows, of course, and were half-expecting a deserted auditorium and weird jamming, so we hauled ass to get there after class. We made the show minutes before it started, and naturally the place was packed to the rafters. Stockton, too, was just 90 minutes from the Bay Area, and while I'm sure there were many people from the local area it felt like a regular Winterland Dead crowd.

The Dead started out on a very high note with "Mississippi Half-Step," and despite Jerry's ragged voice, by the time he was taking us across the Rio Grande-io the place was going crazy. So much for a replay of Fresno. Still, it was a very lively show, even though Garcia's energy level gave out with his voice, as he was clearly not well. Garcia left the stage during "Playing In The Band," I believe for the drum solo, and when the band returned and started "Passenger," Garcia did not immediately come on stage. The band played the first verse without him, although he slowly made his way out there and managed to take his big solo, but it was plain that he was struggling.

January 22, 1978: McArthur Court, Eugene, OR Grateful Dead
Whatever weakness the Grateful Dead may have had drawing an audience in Central California in the Winter meant nothing in Oregon. On a population-to-attendance basis, the Dead's biggest market was Oregon. McArthur Court was the U. of O's basketball arena (where the Ducks would quack under pressure), and the Dead had been packing the joint for nearly a decade. As far as I know, the January '78 show was a huge financial success, too, and fans were rewarded with a great show that included the unique "Close Encounters" jam. 

January 30-February 1, 1978: Uptown Theater, Chicago, IL Grateful Dead
Why would the Grateful Dead play Saturday night in Eugene, and then take an eight day break in order to play Monday-thru-Wednesday in a 2000+-capacity movie theater in Chicago in the depths of winter? If a band is going to play Chicago in the winter, why not play a bigger place on the weekend? This strange itinerary only makes sense if there was a canceled weekend show.

I have to think that the Grateful Dead were scheduled to play the weekend of January 28-29 in either Seattle or Vancouver or both, and the shows must have fallen through. There may have been mid-week shows planned in the Northwest as well. Three dates in Chicago on a weeknight, followed by three dates in the frozen north (Madison, Milwaukee and Cedar Falls, IA) only make sense as part of a continuous tour. I have no idea how or why other Northwest dates fell through, and it's even possible they were supposed to play Denver or Salt Lake or Omaha, not Seattle, but in any case it doesn't seem to have worked out. Combined with the debacles in Bakersfield and Fresno, the Grateful Dead did not try a winter West Coast tour again.




























































11 comments:

  1. Wow - sounds like quite the show! I'll have to check out the recording despite the fact that hardly any recording can capture the energy of the actual performance.

    Great timing on this post too - yesterday I started the 1968 Selland Arena entry for my GoogleEarth/Venues project. I'll link to this post. BTW, I found a nice photo of JG and MG backstage at the 2/17/68 show at http://www.vintagerockphotography.com/.

    And where'd you find the address for the Marigold Ballroom? I had to suss out the location based on a post at garagehangover.com. I got pretty close to the actual location, though.

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  2. http://archive.org/details/gd1978-01-15.fob.holwein.motb-0132.106182.flac16

    Just popped this set II on, inspired by your post. You can hear someone in the crowd yell something and Jerry, from this very upfront audience recording, says "All right, all right." Weir strums Blackbird in the tuning before Samson, which he introduces as "a song of religious significance" befitting a Sunday.

    I am with you on the slow FOTDs, by the way.

    Anyway, thanks! Looking forward to checking out this PITB.

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  3. There is, apparently, a soundboard of the first set out there somewhere... I wonder if the soundboard of the second set might also be lurking .
    http://db.etree.org/shninfo_detail.php?shnid=13252

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  4. It's a strange and unique tour that doesn't sound like late 1977 or the rest of 1978. Some of the jams are longer and more open than anything played during the rest of those two years. There's a lot of meandering and slowness to my ears and memory, but I will give the Fresno PITB a listen. Also no Scarlet > Fire until they reach the midwest.

    The next tour was something else altogether, with those long full-band percussion jams and the arrival of The Format in earnest.

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  5. Some quick comments:
    IM, about seven years ago I did a bunch of internet research about the street addresses of long ago California venues. Fortunately I wrote it down, since for whatever reason some of that information seems to be lost in the intertoobz

    JGMF, I'm not surprised that Garcia made some remark to a heckler (although I don't actually recall it). Between songs it was deathly quiet. I was near the stage, and while I never have any desire to "let bands know what I think," there was no question that if you yelled, it would be audible on the stage.

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  6. According to the Top Boxoffice column in Billboard Jan 21, 1978, they sold a total of 7,766 tickets to the two shows at Golden Hall, and raked in $56, 326. They don't list any other shows from that run, but usually shows at Sacramento Memorial (not Civic) Auditorium sold out at 4,400 or 4,500, and the Stockton Civic at 3,600.

    Growing up in Sacramento, my friends and I didn't consider it odd at all to drive a couple hours to see a concert. But like you said, the people we'd meet that lived in the bay area thought it was strange to go that far for a show.

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  7. You wrote, "the much-discussed symbiotic relationship between the Grateful Dead and their audience has received far too much attention, and the Dead were more about music than their audiences self-declared insistence that there would be no Grateful Dead without their own presence."

    Though this is much-discussed (even by the Dead themselves), it seems to me to be seldom-studied. For all the reports at the time of how the audiences affected the playing, it's not something you can really tell on tape. And it's hard to say whether a poor night was the result of an indifferent audience, or an indifferent band. More comparative studies are needed.

    For instance, here you describe how the Dead were strangely affected by an empty arena and a bored crowd.
    Yet, as you note, they'd played the same arena three times before. The 2/17/68 show is sadly lost; but the 6/13/69 show is a fine, non-spacey, hard-rocking show that featured Ronnie Hawkins singing with Pigpen. And though the 7/19/74 show is described here as "thinly attended, for a Dead show, and the band was spacey and the vibe was very weird," it's widely regarded as one of the best shows of the year.
    Yet were the Fresno audiences in '69 or '74 that much different than the modest, bored crowd of '78? Had the Dead's fanbase in the area declined in 10 years? A strange case indeed.

    As you mention, the Dead played lots of shows "in the hinterlands" in earlier years, trying to win an audience in new places. The tapes from '68-70 suggest that even when a minimal audience showed up, they'd still blast the place with full fervor. Perhaps 10 years later, they could no longer try as hard, or just didn't feel up to it some nights, or needed to lean more on the support of a friendly audience.

    You also bring up an interesting sidepoint, which is the extent to which long jams onstage were in fact self-absorbed withdrawals from the audience, or could be perceived as such.
    There are many reports from the early '70s that the long jams could "lose" part of the audience as much as they enthralled others, and the Dead always kept in mind that many people were there to boogie to the rock tunes, not drift in space.
    Indeed, with no audience, the Dead could have been quite a different band.

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  8. Wow, LIA, that's powerful stuff right there.

    On Fresno, I agree with everything you say. 6/13/69 and 7/19/74 have their rough spots, but it's never for lack of manic creative effort. I consider 7/19/74 one of the true masterpieces of that justly-legendary period of the Dead.

    On the more general point of playing hard and well in unlikely-seeming contexts, I again totally agree with you. Part of what gives the GD shows of early February 1969 - trekking into Minneapolis in February? Are you fucking crazy? - is that vibe. "You motherfuckerrrrs" Phil yells into the mic at the end of a "Doin' That Rag", and at some point early on Jerry or someone talks about what a "beat" situation they're in with that tour. But they play their asses off, dropping the Angry Dead on the yokels and frat bros.

    I like that about the Dead in its earlier manifestations. Garcia was always saying, from the early 80s, that the difference between old days and then (ca. 15th anniversary, ca. 5/15/80 and 6/7/80 interview with Tamarkin) was that now, on their bad nights, they were at least competent. The problem with competence is that it's boring. I'd rather see them run full speed off a cliff and fall ten feet short of landing it -- with attendant splat following requisite pause-- than amble safely along flat, solid ground.

    The 1960s GD could take something like a little vibe out of a slightly hostile crowd --Fresno can be a weird, intense town-- huddle up, and play. Even in 1978, when they were clearly on the downhill jog to 8/9/95. The 80s Dead would aenesthetize, play the gig, and cash the check on the way out. (Too harsh, but you get it.)

    One last thing: I agree with the "more mentioned than studied" thing around Deadheadiana. I know there's a small scholarly literature, but I barely know it. It strikes me that in the same way that all of us are trying, among many other things, to check the "known" against the "true", understandings of band-fan relations could use more of that sort of thing.

    But the negative is

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  9. "But the negative is..." JGMF, you've left us hanging!

    One thing about the Dead is that they were attracted to the midwest in winter like moths to flame. They headed to Michigan in March '68, and had to cancel a show due to snow. But did they learn any lesson? No! Back to the midwest & northeast in Nov/Dec '68, Feb '69, Dec '71, Feb '73, Feb '78, Jan/Feb '79...

    This little tour of California in Jan '78 is actually consistent with the Dead's earlier touring patterns. They had done little tours of California/Oregon/sometimes Washington in Jan '68, Jan '70, and Jan '71.
    Granted, that was years earlier; but McNally suggests that it was financial necessity that drove the Dead on the road in winter '78 and even longer in winter '79. They had been off the road in summer '77; and partly due to the Egyptian trip, McNally says that in late '78 they "had major financial troubles." Thus fall '78 saw an unusual trip through the Deep South, including their only-ever show in Mississippi...

    One thing alluded to in this post is Garcia's desire to stay on the road despite severe health problems (like, not being able to sing, or stand up through a show...). In Jan '78 this was new to audiences; but it was just the prelude to what would happen in Nov '78 and later Dead tours.
    Garcia had a professional instinct for putting on a show no matter what - not always to the audience's benefit, or his.
    But I think it's related to his frequent comments in the '80s that the Dead were "better" now, more consistent - they could always turn out a halfway decent show, he felt. (And they could stay in tune, and play less mistakes, not like in the bad old days!)
    While I disagree with his reasoning, it shows he did still feel obligated to make each gig a good one (even if the standards of "good" kept dropping).

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  10. As I recall from the late 70s, long, spacey jams were kind of an acquired taste that did not go over well with most of the audience. Only those people who had either been to a lot of Dead shows or had access to decent tapes--usually the same people--could really appreciate them. Most people, even people who loved the Dead, much preferred "China Cat" or "Scarlet Begonias" to a 20 minute space out on "Playing In The Band."

    Once it got easier to hear a lot of tapes, and more people had seen more shows, more people came to appreciate the power of the jamming. My friend's point about the '74 Fresno show was that in 1974 he simply didn't appreciate all the weird jamming, and by 1978 he did.

    Interestingly, my friend made this point a few days after the 1978 Fresno show, not ever having heard a tape of the '74 show. Once the tape of 74 got out there, it turned out he was right, but in 1978 he simply recognized that he just wasn't ready for it for the first time. I suspect my friend's experience was paralleled by many other people's--the first few shows they saw, they simply couldn't comprehend all the weird stuff. For my first Dead show, just for example (Dec 12 '72), my favorite songs were "Sugar Magnolia" and "Johnny B. Goode."

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