Thursday, February 5, 2015

August 4-5, 1979 Oakland Auditorium Arena, Oakland, CA: The Grateful Dead (Home Court Advantage)

The Oakland Auditorium Arena floor was filled with dancers on the opening night, April 30, 1915 
When the Grateful Dead played the last concert at Winterland Arena in San Francisco on December 31, 1978, it seemed like an era was ending. And in fact, an era was ending. Although Winterland was not Bill Graham's primary hall until 1971, the San Francisco bands like the Dead had been playing there since 1966. Winterland, at Post and Steiner, was two blocks from the old Fillmore Auditorium at Geary and Fillmore, so the shows that were too big for the Fillmore had gotten moved to Winterland. This pattern was continued when Graham opened the somewhat larger Fillmore West. It was a mile and a half away from Winterland, but still only half its size, so plenty of big acts had still played Winterland.

I saw my first Grateful Dead show at Winterland on December 12, 1972. At the time, much as I loved the show, I was convinced that everything really great had already happened at the Fillmore West, and I had been late for the train. Fortunately, I was quite wrong. By 1978, I considered a Winterland Grateful Dead show to be the most "authentic" kind of Dead show there was, the kind that all others would be measured against. I appreciated that Winterland was a conduit to the 60s, but it had its own status as rock had became bigger in the 70s. When Graham finally announced that he was closing the old hall, battered and run-down as it was, neither I nor anyone else knew what it would foretell for the Grateful Dead and their performances.

As it happened, although an era of the Grateful Dead was indeed ending in 1978, another one was beginning right under our noses. Like all such things, it was only easier to see in retrospect. Three big changes manifested themselves in 1979:
For the next seven years, both as the Oakland Auditorium and the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, the building was the primary host to the Grateful Dead's New Year's celebrations, and other shows besides (save for the years that the building was being remodeled). As the Grateful Dead moved from being Dinosaur-like fossils from a bygone era to heroic survivors of the Classic Rock genre, the shows at Oakland Auditorium were Exhibit A. By the end of 1987, of course, thanks to "Touch Of Grey," the New Year's party had to move to the much larger Oakland Coliseum, 5 miles away, although there were a few more Kaiser shows up until 1989. In that way, the Oakland Aud/Kaiser shows were the touchstone of the Brent Era, from Go To Heaven through In The Dark, and fondly remembered by almost everyone who attended a show there.

None of this seemed at all obvious in early 1979. The Grateful Dead's first two shows at the Oakland Auditorium were on the weekend of August 4-5, 1979. Almost no Deadheads had ever seen a Grateful Dead show there, and for that matter, most of us hadn't seen anything at the Oakland Auditorium, since the building had been largely underused up until 1979. After that weekend, however, it turned out that it appeared that Bill Graham had known he had the building available all along, and by Sunday night it was clear that the Grateful Dead's new home court was at 10 Tenth Street (at Oak Street), right next to Lake Merritt in Downtown Oakland.

The Grateful Dead album Shakedown Street was released by Arista Records in November 1978
The Grateful Dead In The Bay Area, Early 1979
In the ancient days of 1979, all we really knew about the Grateful Dead or any other rock band was what we saw in front of us, or what was occasionally published in magazines or newspapers. The band had released Shakedown Street in November, 1978, but it had stiffed. Rolling Stone had no interest in the Grateful Dead, and BAM (Bay Area Music) had cut down its Grateful Dead coverage as well, which left just the San Francisco Chronicle. Staff rock critic Joel Selvin liked the Dead well enough, and periodically mentioned their doings in his Sunday Lively Arts column, but that meant we got one paragraph of news every few months. Other than that, we gleaned what we could from seeing shows and talking to weird people who claimed to have seen the Dead elsewhere. There weren't even cheap long-distance phone calls to pass on information, much less an internet, just very vague rumors.

January 30, 1979 Keystone Berkeley, Berkeley: Reconstruction
The first public indicator that something was afoot was totally unnoticed by almost everybody, including me. I read all the ads carefully every week, so I recall seeing Jerry Garcia advertised as a "Special Guest" with a band called Reconstruction at the Keystone. I couldn't drink yet, so wouldn't have gone anyway, but it just seemed like another Garcia side gig. Some familiar faces were playing with Jerry, like John Kahn and Merl Saunders, so I just thought it was further extracurricular fun for Garcia, which it was. But had I been writing everything down--I didn't start that for another 18 months--I would have noticed that the Jerry Garcia Band with Keith and Donna had not played since November, and here was Jerry playing the Keystone with different people.

February 17, 1979 Oakland Coliseum Arena, Oakland: Grateful Dead
The first post-Winterland Dead show in the Bay Area was at the Oakland Coliseum Arena, where the Golden State Warriors played (and not very well that year, I should add). The Coliseum was big-ticket, the biggest indoor venue in the Bay Area at the time. And here was the Dead headlining a benefit. Was this the future? No more multi-night runs at Winterland, but instead one big show at the biggest venue in town?

The Coliseum show sold out relatively quickly. When we got there, there had been rumors floating around. I had heard that the Dead had played "China Cat" out in the Midwest. It was told to me by a bearded guy I met in a Mexican restaurant, however, so it was unverifiable (I will point out, in all fairness, that it turned out that he was correct). My friends had heard that Keith and Donna had left the band. In fact, Donna had skipped two shows in the Midwest, and they would in fact leave the group after the Coliseum show, but there they were on stage when Jane Fonda (yes) introduced the Dead, so that rumor, too was unverifiable.

New world or not, despite the size of the Coliseum, the show was great, and the Dead played all sorts of long-unheard gems, like "Big Railroad Blues," "Don't Ease Me In" and "Greatest Story Ever Told." Some weeks afterwards, Joel Selvin reported that Keith and Donna were leaving the Grateful Dead, but there was nary a peep about any replacements. Someone must have known, but that kind of information didn't circulate.

Spartan Stadium, at San Jose State University. 
April 22, 1979 Spartan Stadium; SJSU, San Jose: Grateful Dead/Charlie Daniels Band/Greg Kihn Band
The first post Keith-and-Donna Dead show had a strange, distant air. The Dead were booked for a mid-size college football stadium (capacity 30,000) in San Jose, with two opening acts. San Jose wasn't anti-Dead, really, but it had never really been Dead-friendly territory either. And there would be two opening acts, neither of them ones that particularly excited Deadheads. Spartan Stadium, at San Jose State University, had only been used for rock shows very rarely--the last one I could recall was a Rod Stewart and Faces show in 1975. Why were the Dead debuting their mysterious new keyboard player in such a place, a big venue that was still far from their own zone of control?

Many years later, it would turn out that the Spartan Stadium site was a result of some intra-promoter feud. In general, Bill Graham Presents promoted the Grateful Dead West of the Mississippi River, and John Scher's Monarch Entertainment promoted them in the East, although there were a variety of co-production arrangements with local promoters. For some reason, Monarch was promoting a Dead show in the Bay Area, very much Graham's territory, and had to use a non-BGP controlled venue. It's not clear what really happened--nor can Dead management be blameless in any of this--but somehow BGP ended up promoting the show anyway.

From the outside, however, the Spartan Stadium show had a strange, non-Dead like vibe. Were the days of the ballrooms finally gone? Were the Dead fated to play occasional shows at huge venues, with the usual random touring acts on the bill? No one said a word about Keith's replacement; until Brent walked on stage, no one in the crowd had any idea who it might be. I don't recall the Dead announcing him either, or if they did, it was late in the show. If my friend hadn't said "hey, it's the guy who played with Weir at the Roxy [in LA with the Bob Weir Band in 1978]," I wouldn't have known who it was.

In 1976, when the Dead had returned to performing, they had completely revamped their set list, bringing back old songs, rearranging some of them, dumping some of their most popular songs and generally surprising us with the setlists. It was disconcerting at the time--hey, no "Uncle John's Band" or "Truckin'"?--but all in all it was a good, daring thing to that had added a lot of life to the group. Yet here in 1979, in a bland outdoor stadium in the suburbs, the Dead debuted their new member with a blah show of the same stuff they had been playing. In general, the Dead played pretty poorly in San Jose. It wasn't Brent's fault, by any means, but it was hard to be optimistic.

June 28, 1979 Memorial Auditorium, Sacramento: Grateful Dead
In the Spring of 1979, the Dead had played a pretty good Eastern tour. The setlists were pretty stale, but they played pretty well and apparently went over well with the crowds. We knew none of this, of course. There were no reliable sources of information, and no easy way to even transmit rumors. All we had was the unsatisfying taste of the Spartan Stadium show, where the Dead had used their new keyboard player to tread water.

The Dead played a single show at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium on June 28. The venue was a 3000 seat arena that the band had played occasionally. Looking at their schedule in retrospect, we can see that the band was using it for a paid warm-up for two big shows in the Pacific Northwest (on June 30 and July 1). But we didn't know this. A friend with reliable ears did attend, and reported that the Dead had played another bland show, a routine setlist with no interesting jams. It was still hard to be optimistic.

Elvis Presley played two shows at the Oakland Auditorium Arena on Sunday, June 3, 1956. This ad from the June 1 '56 Oakland Tribune can be found at the Oakland Auditorium page about Scotty Moore, Elvis' guitarist. The page has the best historical overview of the Auditorium, with amazing pictures. 
The Oakland Auditorium, 10 Tenth Street, Oakland, CA 94607
Bill Graham Presents booked shows all over the Bay Area, but most of them were in or around San Francisco or Oakland. A brief glance at a map tells you why--the largest number of people could come to those areas. San Jose and its suburbs were not nearly as populous and wealthy as they would become, although there were starting to be signs of life. On March 24, 1979, BGP had moved a J. Geils Band show from the Oakland Coliseum Arena to a little-known venue called the Oakland Auditorium. The Geils Band show was surely moved because of weak ticket sales. It must have gone alright, because BGP kept booking shows there.

There were a few more shows at the Oakland Auditorium in the Spring. BGP must have figured out the venue, or maybe they had figured it out all along and knew they had it in their pocket. Starting in the Summer of '79, all sorts of band started playing the Aud: first Alvin Lee, then Patti Smith, and then in August, the Grateful Dead for two nights. We started to wonder: what was this place? I lived in Berkeley at the time, and I had never even known that the Oakland Auditorium even existed.

James Brown played the Oakland Auditorium on February 12, 1968. David Nelson attended the show, and there is a tale that goes with it, but it is too long to tell in a caption. 
The Oakland Auditorium had in fact been built in 1915. All sorts of acts had played there: Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, in 1915; Elvis Presley in 1956 and '57; James Brown in 1968; and Spade Cooley in '69 (look up Spade Cooley. It's instructive) just to name a few. For many decades, it had been the only major Oakland venue open to mixed race audiences. The Auditorium had a seated capacity of 5400, but it could be configured for sports as well, and the San Francisco Warriors had played a few games there in the early 60s. The ABA's Oakland Oaks--surely you recall Rick Barry and the Oaks--had used the Auditorium as their home arena in from 1967 through '69.

For rock shows, the arena was configured Winterland style, with general admission seats and an open floor. The rock capacity was probably something like 7,000, whereas Winterland was supposedly about 5500. The Auditorium's exterior was a beautiful Art Deco design, far different from the stone and metal blocks that characterized more recent arenas. There was a nice little park outside of it, and it was near downtown, accessible to the freeway and overlooked Lake Merritt.

The Grateful Dead played a sort of benefit for the Black Panther Party at the Oakland Auditorium on March 5, 1971
Almost no rock fans in the late 70s had even realized that the Oakland Auditorium even existed. In fact, we now know the Grateful Dead had already played there twice. On June 28, 1967, they had substituted for the recently-disbanded group The Sparrow at a Bill Quarry (TNT) promotion, headlined by The Young Rascals. Also on the bill were Country Joe And The Fish, the Sons Of Champlin and The Grass Roots. On March 5, 1971, the Grateful Dead were the featured musical attraction at a benefit for Oakland's controversial Black Panther Party. The Dead had met Panther leader Huey Newton on a plane, and Jerry and Huey hit it off, so the band agreed to play the show. However, there was not much crossover between the Dead's audience and the Panthers, so the show was very thinly attended, and apparently a rather strange event.The Auditorium was across the street from Laney Junior College, where some members of the Panthers had attended school. But really, with no Deadbase, we knew none of that at the time. All we knew was that Bill Graham had found some strange old arena, and the Dead were playing two nights. My friends and I were now cautiously optimistic.

Set the wayback machine.

August 4-5, 1979 Oakland Auditorium Arena, Oakland, CA: The Grateful Dead
It turned out that getting to the Oakland Auditorium was easy, and so was parking, which was free and across the street, in the Laney JC lot. This was a telling omen. As soon as my friends and I set foot inside the Oakland Auditorium Arena, we thought "this will work." We were right.

The Auditorium Arena had the Winterland layout, which was familiar, but it was a far more attractive building than the old ice rink. Of course, the Auditorium was kind of rundown, but don't let nostalgia get in your way here: Winterland was an absolute dump. Sure, it had been our dump and we loved it, but it wasn't a place you would take a date. So "beautiful and run-down" was a huge upgrade over "tacky and done for". Anyway, the Grateful Dead themselves, even though none of them were in fact even 40 years old, seemed like an aging institution in their own right, so the faded elegance of the Auditorium was a perfect fit.

The first night, Saturday, August 4, was not just an excellent show, it had the feel of a living band on the go. The Dead did two new songs, "Althea" and "Lost Sailor," and while I found both of them trivial, it meant that the band was thinking and playing. There was some great jamming on "Playing In The Band" and "Shakedown Street," and the Auditorium had that relaxed vibe where it seemed like there was a party at the Dead's house and we were all invited. Brent sounded great, and although the setlist was still typical, the arrangements had started to evolve. It was interesting to hear how Brent added organ or electric piano to different songs, and his excellent harmony vocals had a nice edge to them. My friends and I couldn't have been the only Deadheads to leave the Saturday night Oakland show feeling not only happy, but relieved. It looked like the Dead had a home court again. But we needed a good Sunday to be sure.

The Grateful Dead show on Sunday August 5 was not as good as the night before, but it didn't matter. There was one sequence that night that was so exceptional that it guaranteed to anyone present that the Grateful Dead's new home was now the Oakland Auditorium Arena. I am not generally a fan of audiences being encouraged to clap along to a rock band. It usually means that the drummer pounds out a heavy back beat, while the lead singer instructs everyone on how to clap their hands. It's a showbiz thing, and it's never really about music, so my patience for it is pretty limited.

Somehow, however, Mickey and Billy pulled off something remarkable coming out of the drum solo. They had been joined by Hamza Al-Din, whom many of us recognized from his appearance at the "From Egypt With Love" shows at Winterland in October 1978. They got everyone clapping along, not on the traditional 2-and-4 backbeat, but in some complicated 10- or 12-beat rhythm (I'm not a musician, so you'll have to figure it out from the tape). That was interesting enough. But as Hamza sang and played, accompanied by Mickey and Billy, the crowd continued to clap along to the rhythm. This wasn't a few diehards--this was a meaningful portion of the crowd clapping along to a complex rhythm, no longer guided by the drummers onstage.

It was a weird, hypnotic moment. The clapping is audible on the tape, but it isn't as loud on the recordings as it was in the hall. I should add that while I appreciate what Mickey Hart has brought to the Dead over the years, I am not a Rhythm Devils kind of guy, and yet I found the whole thing transfixing. Mickey, Billy and Hamza played along for several minutes, accompanied by hundreds if not thousands of people clapping out a difficult rhythm. Such a unique moment would only happen in the Dead's living room, so there was no longer any doubt: Oakland Auditorium Arena was the Grateful Dead's new home court, and it would remain that way throughout the Brent era of the 80s.

The Oakland Auditorium in 1917. Here's to hoping it looks this good again.
Throughout the balance of 1979, most of the cool Bill Graham shows came through the Oakland Auditorium (you can see a list below). The year ended with an epic run of five Grateful Dead shows, leading up to New Year's Eve. I have written about these shows elsewhere, but suffice to say, not only was the music great, but BGP manager Bob Barsotti let some visiting Deadheads camp out on the lawn outside the Auditorium, and the official birth of the "Shakedown Street" vending scene was inaugurated. Of course, hanging out and selling various products (ahem) around Dead shows had gone on for many years, but Oakland Auditorium initiated what amounted to a formal space for that.

However, after 1979, BGP booked very few rock shows at the Oakland Auditorium. In fact, between 1980 and '82, there were only 25 rock shows at the Auditorium, and 15 of them were Dead shows. So the Oakland Auditorium did in fact sort of become the band's private clubhouse. I don't know why Graham moved most of his shows out of the Auditorium, but a couple of factors stick out:
  • the rock industry was getting bigger, and the biggest acts could headline the 15,000 seat Oakland Coliseum
  • People who liked a smaller act were far more likely to pay to see them headline at the 2200 seat Fox-Warfield Theater  in San Francisco rather than as an opening act at a bigger show
  • The rock audience was getting older, and they liked having their own seats
  • Oakland Auditorium was pretty run down, and only Deadheads thought that added character
At the end of 1982, the city of Oakland closed the Oakland Auditorium, spending $11 million to refurbish it as the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center. The Dead temporarily had their New Year's run at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium. However, in February 1985, the Dead returned to the Kaiser (as it was then known), and played there regularly until 1989. Of course, as the Dead got bigger and bigger, they outgrew even the Kaiser. First the New Year's shows moved to the Coliseum in 1987, and after some February 1989 shows the Dead left the Kaiser for good. In the end, the Grateful Dead played the Oakland Auditorium (including as The Kaiser) 58 times. The Jerry Garcia Band still waved that flag, however, playing the Kaiser five times, as well, with the very last one on November 11, 1994.

There had been a fair number of shows in the Kaiser Convention Center after 1985, with a variety of bands, but as rock and the audience aged, the Kaiser became a less popular venue. Eventually, the Kaiser was so unprofitable that it was closed by the City of Oakland. The venue has been unused since 2007, too expensive to fix up, too big to tear down, a microcosm of the history of downtown Oakland.

But the Oakland Auditorium had its days, and better days than most buildings can even dream of: Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and Spade Cooley at their very end, Elvis Presley and Rick Barry at the very beginning, James Brown in his prime and then 58 shows with the Grateful Dead. In 2015, the building at 10 Tenth Street will be 100 years old.

The Scotty Moore page had a remarkable photo from 1957 of the Auditorium Theatre, then called the Oakland Opera House. I like the sightline; I wonder why the venue was rarely used for non-symphonic music events?
Appendix 1-The Road Not Taken: April 20, 1979 Oakland Auditorium Theatre, Oakland, CA The Jam/Dwight Twilley
Way back when, with few sources of information, I always tried to glean what I could from ads for concerts and clubs, even if they were events I would never attend. I certainly noticed when BGP started booking shows at the Oakland Auditorium Arena in 1979, soon after Winterland had closed. I had never heard of the venue. On March 24, there had been a J. Geils Band show at the Aud that had been originally set for the larger Coliseum. Certainly, the Geils Band were very much a Winterland band, legendary rockers with a very loyal audience, so it implicitly suggested that the Oakland Auditorium was a potential Winterland replacement.

The second BGP show booked at the Oakland Auditorium was far more intriguing, and it stuck in my mind for the next several years. Even the most hard-core 80s Deadheads seemed to have had little idea that not only were there two entrances to the Oakland Auditorium, but each of them lead to a different room. What most Deadheads think of as "the front" of the Auditorium was the East entrance, which lead into the familiar Arena where we saw the Grateful Dead so many times.

On the opposite side of the Auditorium--the "back" for Grateful Dead fans--was the West entrance, which lead to a small theater. That theater was officially known as the Oakland Auditorium Theatre. In prior decades, it had been known as the Oakland Auditorium Opera House. After the Auditorium was reconditioned, the theater was renamed the Calvin Simmons Theatre, after the late conductor of the Oakland Symphony. The Oakland Symphony's performance home had been in the Oakland Auditorium Theatre, but the young, promising Simmons had died in a boating accident in 1982. The theater was renamed in his memory.

I have never been able to determine the capacity of the Oakland Auditorium Theatre. It was somewhere between 500 and 1500, I guess, but I have been unable to pin it down. In any case, the Theatre took up about a 1/4 of the building, and the Arena took up the other 3/4. The difference between the Theatre and the Arena is why venue trainspotters--like me--always carefully refer to the Oakland Auditorium Arena, rather than just "The Oakland Auditorium," which technically refers to both the theater and the arena.

On April 20, 1979, for the second BGP show booked at Oakland Auditorium, there were actually two shows. At the arena was Roxy Music, touring behind their album Manifesto. It wasn't their best album, but they were still a great band by any accounting, a mid-level band on their way up, exactly the sort of band that used to play Winterland. Once again, the Oakland Auditorium Arena appeared to be a Winterland replacement.

At midnight on the same night, however, there was a show at the Oakland Auditorium Theatre. The Jam, a really good English "New Wave" band, touring behind their best album All Mod Cons, headlined the show. Also on the bill were an almost young band from Tulsa called the Dwight Twilley Band, who were (rightly or wrongly) lumped in with the American "New Wave." The message was clear. Check out Roxy Music, and then after the show, run around the building and relax at the Theatre, checking out the hottest New Wave bands.

Once the Dead played the Oakland Auditorium in August, I assumed it was just a matter of time before shows at Oakland Auditorium Theatre would become part of the equation. After New Year's 1979, it seemed even more logical. There were so many people from out of town, and even camping out in the little park. Why not give them another show? Can you imagine? A great Dead show, a breath of fresh air, chat with your friends, and then walk around the building (smoking optional) to catch Jorma or a Reggae show in a beautiful old little theater? Yeah, baby.

It never happened. I never talked to anyone who went to The Jam show. Did something go wrong? It wouldn't likely have been any issue with The Jam, as I had seen them the year before at Winterland and they were great. There was one more show at the Oakland Auditorium Theatre, in June, but not tied to a corresponding show at the Arena. The bands were Triumph and Missouri, both of whom I sort of remember, and both unimpressive would-be arena-rock bands, the kind that aspired to be REO Speedwagon. I waited eagerly throughout the 80s, but it never happened. Frankly, by the end of the 80s I would have been more likely to see Hot Tuna at midnight after a Dead show than the Dead show itself, but I never even had that choice, as I don't believe there was another rock show at the Oakland Auditorium Theatre. Sic transit gloria psychedelia.

The new era of the Oakland Auditorium began with a J Geils Band concert in support of their 1979 Best Of The J Geils Band album. The Geils Band, like the Dead, were a popular touring band with a loyal fanbase, but they had not yet sold a lot of albums, and they had left Atlantic Records. 
Appendix 2: BGP Shows at Oakland Auditorium, Oakland, CA 1979-82
All dates at Oakland Auditorium Arena except as noted

March 24, 1979: J. Geils Band/April Wine
A J.Geils/Southside Johnny show booked for Oakland Coliseum Arena on this night was canceled. Since the show was moved to the Auditorium, it had to be for lack of ticket sales (I assure you it had no connection to excessive ticket demand for the 78/79 Warriors--bonus points if you remember Warriors 1st round draft pick Raymond Townsend). The hard-touring J. Geils Band had reached a plateau as a mid-level band, in a way like the Grateful Dead. Their last studio album had been 1978's Sanctuary, and they were now touring behind their Best Of album on Atlantic. In 1980, the J. Geils Band would move to EMI, and massive success would follow, with hits like "Love Stinks" and "Centerfold." 11 months later (Mar 22 '80), the J. Geils Band would be headlining the Oakland Coliseum.

April 20, 1979: Roxy Music/Readymades
Roxy Music had returned from hiatus to tour behind their album Manifesto. Although it wasn't their best album, Roxy was a terrific live band, albeit in a structured, spooky way that was very different than the Grateful Dead.

This is the Western entrance to the Oakland Auditorium, what Deadheads would consider "the back." This entrance led directly to the Oakland Auditorium Theatre. 
April 20, 1979, Oakland Auditorium Theatre: The Jam/Dwight Twilley (midnight show)
The Jam were an English New Wave band, touring behind their best album, All Mod Cons.

June 6, 1979, Oakland Auditorium Theatre: Triumph/Missouri
I am not aware of another rock concert at the Oakland Auditorium Theatre after this show.

June 28, 1979: Alvin Lee and Ten Years Later/Blackfoot/SVT
Ten Years Later was Alvin Lee's second act, five years after Ten Years After had broken up. SVT was a New Wave band that featured Jack Casady on bass.

July 27, 1979: Patti Smith/Flamin' Groovies
Patti was touring behind the Wave album, produced by Todd Rundgren. It wasn't as memorable as its predecessor Easter but still a fine record.

August 4-5, 1979: Grateful Dead

August 12, 1979: Blondie/Nick Lowe
Blondie were still riding high on 1978's epic Parallel Lines album. Eat To The Beat would come out in October of 1980. Nick Lowe and his killer band Rockpile, meanwhile--and trust me, the name was apt, they were a pile of rockin'--were touring behind Nick's classic Labour Of Lust album. Unlike some shows at the Auditorium, this one featured hot bands in their prime.

August 24, 1979: The Tubes/Pearl Harbor And The Explosions
The Tubes live were awesome in their day, withVince Welnick on keyboards. If Jerry had stayed with us, it was inevitable that Quay Lewd would have finally joined the Grateful Dead on stage, and we could all have sung along with "White Punks On Dope."

August 31, 1979: Peter Frampton/Pousette-Dart Band
Peter Frampton had been the biggest touring act in the country in 1976, on the heels of Frampton Comes Alive. By 1979, after all the hype and the dreadful I'm In You album, Frampton played double shows at Oakland Auditorium. The price, as I recall, was nothing. I think you had to request a ticket from a radio station, or something, but it didn't cost money. I may have this memory somewhat wrong, but I don't think so.

September 5, 1979: AC-DC/Prism
Back In Black (released July 25 '80) sold over 40 million copies, and it's one of the best selling albums of all time. It's a long way to the top, if you wanna rock and roll.

October 12, 1979: REO Speedwagon/Molly Hatchett/Stoneground
I had no idea that Stoneground was active in 1979. They were still probably the best band that night.

October 27, 1979: Ramones/SVT/Shirts/Members
"Hey Ho Let's Go," The Ramones were already legends, but at this exact juncture they were probably at their high-water mark as a popular attraction. The movie Rock And Roll High School had just been released in August. Wikipedia summarizes the plot:
Set in 1980, Vince Lombardi High School keeps losing principals to nervous breakdowns because of the students' love of rock 'n' roll and their disregard for education
Sing it with me: "Rock, rock, rock, rock, rock, rock, rock, rock/Rock and roll high school."

November 7, 1979: Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow/Randy Hansen/John Cougar
The worst performance ever by a band that I saw in person--and this is saying a lot--was by Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow (Aug 3 '76 in San Jose). I wonder how "John Cougar" went over with this crowd?

November 30, 1979: Bob Marley And The Wailers/Betty Wright
What a night this must have been. Marley in his prime, and Betty Wright warning all the girls not to make it easy for the clean-up woman.

December 26-28, 30-31, 1979: Grateful Dead
The 1979 Oakland Auditorium schedule was a nice cross-section of rock acts touring America, particularly the ones who liked a rowdy crowd on their feet, rather than sitting in their seats. The broad spectrum was not repeated, as BGP moved acts to either the larger Oakland Coliseum (about 5 miles to the Southeast) or the smaller but more amenable Fox-Warfield Theater in San Francisco.

August 21, 1980: Charlie Daniels Band/Gus
The Charlie Daniels Band were huge at the time, behind their song "The Devil Went Down To Georgia," which had been part of the Urban Cowboy soundtrack. Man, that seems like a long time ago. A video of the entire concert is accessible on YouTube.

August 22, 1980: Foghat/Blackfoot/Point Blank
Foghat had headlined at the Cow Palace and at the Oakland Stadium, but they were starting the slow ride down.

October 7, 1980: The Kinks/Angel City
The Kinks' previous studio album had been 1979's very popular Low Budget (their 17th studio album), although they had since released One For The Road in March of 1980.

October 31, 1980: The Police/Iggy Pop
This was the 8th show of the North American leg of The Police's Zenyatta Mondatta tour. Iggy Pop was touring behind his Arista album Soldier, but I assure you that it was a side issue: in concert, Iggy is just Iggy, and everyone else is just a pale imitation.

Eyewitnesses report a great costume contest between acts (my eyewitnesses dressed as garbage, for reasons unexplained, and did not stand out in the crowd, which tells you something). A topless girl came on stage during Iggy's set, and he leered at her, and the place lost it. The Police were a surprisingly good live band, and were able to overcome the traditional San Francisco Halloween madness to put on a great show.

December 26-28, 30-31, 1980: Grateful Dead

October 27-28, 1981: Pat Benatar/David Johansen
Note that this weekend had the only BGP shows at Oakland Auditorium all year,  save for the Grateful Dead. For whatever reasons, the Auditorium was the venue of last resort. [Insert your own "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" joke here].

December 26-28, 30-31, 1981: Grateful Dead
The New Riders Of The Purple Sage opened for the Dead on December 31.

January 24, 1982: Molly Hatchett/Henry Paul Band/Lamont Cranston
Molly Hatchett was a Southern rock band, and Henry Paul had been in the Outlaws. Of the few acts that played the Oakland Auditorium, it's no surprise to see Southern rock bands, whose fans would have enjoyed the rowdier general admission vibe.

February 20, 1982: The Pretenders/Bow Wow Wow
This was the final run for the original Pretenders. Bassist Pete Farndon was fired in June 1982, and guitarist James Honeymann-Scott overdosed a few days later (Farndon would overdose the next year). Only Chrissie Hynde and drummer Martin Chambers remained for the future lineups.

Bow Wow Wow was Sex Pistols impresario Malcolm McLaren's latest project. Teenage singer Annabella Lwin was better than you might expect, but they were a sort of teen pop sensation. Bow Wow Wow's infamous song "I Want Candy" would not come out until later in 1982.

July 10, 1982: .38 Special/Prism/Frankie Miller
.38 Special featured lead singer Donnie Van Zandt, the younger brother of Ronnie Van Zandt, the late singer and leader of Lynyrd Skynyrd. I don't know Prism. Frankie Miller, an English singer, was really good, but I don't think he would have gone over well with the liquored-up Southern rock crowd.

November 15, 1982: April Wine/Uriah Heep
Remember the scene in This Is Spinal Tap where the band plays an Air Force officers' dance, and Fred Willard is the Air Force captain? That was about the Uriah Heep 1984 tour, when they were very much on their way down. They hadn't yet fallen that far, but they were no longer headliners in a big metro area.

December 26-28, 30-31, 1982: Grateful Dead/The Dinosaurs (NYE only)
After these shows, the Oakland Auditorium was closed for an $11 million renovation. It would reopen a few years later as the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center. The Grateful Dead returned to the Auditorium Arena on February 18, 1985. However, the first show at HJK was actually Wham! (with George Michael) on February 5, 1985.


  1. I was at most, if not all of the dead shows you note here. The memory I wanted to share was at Spartan Stadium. Jerry was invited to sit in with Charlie Daniels Band. Charlie hemmed Jerry in with a plethora of notes, to such a degree that I saw Jerry actually wave his hand in apparent disgust, seemingly saying, "no thanks boys, I'm outta here...'

    My memory of Oakland is a little fuzzy but wasn't there a funky bar upstairs that got a lot of our direction?
    Robert Sommers

    1. Robert, there was indeed a very funky bar upstairs. There was a video feed into the bar, too, so you could drink beer and watch the band. I recall going up there when I realized I would have to sit through Joan Baez for the third time in a month (Dec 31 '81).

      However, I was at the Spartan Stadium show, and relatively near to the stage. I paid close attention to the Charlie Daniels Band, because I kind of like them, and I just don't recall Jerry anywhere near the stage.

    2. He played. One song, left in disgust. Remember the hand motion distinctly.

    3. Wow. What a strike against this show. Jerry came out and played, and no one even noticed. Even though I didn't see him, it actually fits in. The suburban crowd was so indifferent to CDB they weren't even paying attention, so Jerry came and went without notice.

      I can really see how Jerry couldn't find a place in the CDB's sound. I like them, but they have this wall of notes without much breathing room, so I can see how there wasn't a place. Jerry and Daniels had probably met before--believe it or not, Daniels opened for Garcia/Saunders at the Lion's Share back in '71.

    4. The great thing about the Spartan show was the great shakedown at the end. It was dusk and the energy was very high. The propeller topped hog farmers were scurrying around handing out trash bags encouraging everyone to clean up after themselves. Maybe my favorite shakedown.

  2. Nice!
    That looks like quite a crowd in the Auditorium in that 1915 photo, all dressed up too....I wonder what music was playing.

    The Scotty Moore site is outstanding. I wish there was a Dead site like that!

    So, David Nelson saw James Brown on 2/12/ the tale too long for a comment? ;)

    1. The New Delhi River Band came back from a gig and discovered that James Brown was playing in Oakland, so they took off to the show in the band's station wagon. However, their equipment was still in the car. When they left the show, they discovered that all their gear was stolen.

      This wasn't the reason that the NDRB broke up, but it meant that they couldn't play any gigs for a while. They never really got back on their feet, and the band drifted apart.

  3. 1979 was the pinnacle of my Dead following
    Starting with January in New England (I Need A Miracle -> Shakedown followed by the first six of Brent's East Coast shows in May from Charlotte to Binghampton, then Portland, then move to California for the summer for 4 Reconstruction shows, and all of these Dead Shows 6-28, 8-4 and 8-5. After the last Jerry Reconstruction show at Temple beautiful, I was back in Maine in time for 9-2-79 (Terrapin Station->Let It Grow), and Cape Cod etc. A very fun year David from I have be commenting briefly on my shows from 1975 to 1994, but I will never exact the great posts of Corey here


    1. David, nice to have you aboard. I enjoy your blog--the East Coast perspective makes a nice counterpoint to all the things us West Coasters took for granted.

  4. I saw all the Kaiser shows from 2/18/85 to 2/14/88. Great times, though many of these February shows were lackluster, mid-week, "dust off the cobwebs before a hot east coast tour" kinds of deals. I particularly enjoyed the Fall '85 and Spring '87 runs. I remember an interview with the drummers where they recalled fondly the audience participation in the 8/5/79 show. Kaiser also had an early (?) incarnation of Shakedown Street in the park across from the venue. For one of the shows, Bill Graham told 15 deadheads to write their name on a dollar bill and put it into a hat. Then he drew a name, and the lucky winner got a ticket. Another aspect of the Kaiser was the speakers set up in the hallways for dancers who didn't care to see the band but wanted lots of room for spinning....

    1. Yeah, The Spinners. They drove me up the wall, although I don't know why, since I only noticed them when I went to the bathroom during the drum solos (well, except on Aug 5 79)

    2. Interview with the drummers reference:

      ! ref: Hurwitz, Miles. 1979. A World of Drums: A Candid Interview with Grateful Dead Drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart. (Photos by Ed Perlstein) BAM no. 62 (August 17, 1979), pp. 36-37, 43-44, at p. 37.

    3. Nice find JGMF. I saw it excerpted in Grushkin's Book of the Deadheads (p. 167).

  5. per Billboard, August 18, 1979, p. 35, shows grossed $55,250 each.

    1. which means that an exactly identical number of people paid for tickets, and there were identically sized guest lists each night, or there was some rounding going on.

    2. Or that Bill Graham reported that amount regardless of the actual sales?

    3. even more likely. Remember, there were no ticket stubs from Winterland (none), because BGP staff took your whole ticket at the door. When you bought tickets at the door the night of the show--paying cash of course--it was always a Ticketron ticket. So Graham made a point of reselling the tickets--funny accounting much?

  6. Oops, my imprecise language may be leading you astray. I don't have a copy of the Billboard table, but I suspect it actually listed the shows together, showing a total of 13,000 tickets sold and $110,500 gross, which I cut in half in my accounting.

    1. No problem--it was more fun our way, being suspicious and all

  7. I have that June 28, 1967 program for the concert you mention above that the Dead played for Bill Quarry Presents at the Oakland Auditorium if you'd like me to post it.

  8. I was at the Roxy Music show and the midnight Jam show as well (and still have my Jam ticket stub). I remember really liking the theatre and was surprised that it didn't get further use. The crowd was quite enthusiastic and were upset that they were told to remain seated as it was a reserved seat show. The crowd rushed the stage as soon as The Jam came on & I don't think the staff was happy about that.

    1. Mack, thanks for this fascinating eyewitness account. I still think it would have been a winner to have midnight shows there on a regular basis, but hindsight is 20/20...

      Can you recall what the approximate capacity of the theater might have been?

  9. I didn't remember it being that big but I did some checking and found an article about a recent restoration attempt and it mentioned a capacity of about 1,900. Also, if you see the photo on the Scotty Moore site or the link below, the covered area in front of the stage was actually uncovered (an orchestra pit?) and fans were upset that they couldn't enter that area to get right up close to the stage.

    Some good photos:

    1. Mack, thanks for the research and the great links. Boy, 1900 seats in the Theater, bigger than I thought.

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  11. A recent news article reported that the Henry J. Kaiser Arena would not be a part of the future plans for the building. The Calvin Simmons Theater was likely to be remodeled and stay active. Sic Transit Gloria Alameda, and all that

  12. A recent news article reported that the Henry J. Kaiser Arena would not be a part of the future plans for the building. The Calvin Simmons Theater was likely to be remodeled and stay active. Sic Transit Gloria Alameda, and all that