Friday, April 19, 2024

Special Guests of The Grateful Dead at The Human Be-In: January 14, 1967 Polo Grounds, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA


Marvin Boxley playing harmonica behind Jerry Garcia, at the Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park's Polo Grounds, on Saturday, January 14, 1967. Boxley can be heard on "Viola Lee Blues."

At this seemingly infinite distance from the genesis of the Grateful Dead, it's startling that there are still undiscovered countries in that land. Yet there are, and even more remarkably, we can still unpack some mysteries that initially seemed impossible to resolve. The Grateful Dead played at the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park on Saturday, January 14, 1967, as did their friends, amidst "acid, incense and balloons," to quote Paul Kantner. The Grateful Dead did a 30-minute set, playing three songs. Over time, a decent tape surfaced, and those in the know were able to confirm that the dating was accurate. On the last number, there's some flute playing and apparently an extra vocalist.  For reasons I will shortly dismiss, the flute and vocals were incorrectly attributed to the great jazzman Charles Lloyd.

In recent decades, some photographs and videos from the Human Be-In have surfaced and circulated, too. So we had a photo of an unnamed African-American blowing harmonica behind the Dead, albeit inaudibly. Was he also the guest vocalist? Furthermore, a video capture of some silent footage of the Grateful Dead shows us the flautist. Who were these guests? Given the importance of the event, this is no small quest. Scholarship is an iterative process that happens over time. In this post I will answer one question definitively, and at least reflect on the other question for further scholarship to ponder. 

The African-American blowing harp in the photo with the Dead was a pal of the band from the College Of San Mateo named Marvin Boxley. He was later in the band Petrus, with Peter Kaukonen (Jorma's brother), and he appeared on stage at other times with both the Grateful Dead and Mickey and The Hartbeats--yes, we have tapes and you can listen for yourself. 

The flautist remains unknown. I will raise and reject some obvious possibilities, but maybe someone will see a flaw in my reasoning. In any case, partial victory is still a victory. If anyone has suggestions, corrections, insights or amusing speculation, please include them in the Comments. Flashbacks welcome.

January 14, 1967 Polo Grounds, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service/Sir Douglas Quintet/The New Age/The Charlatans (Saturday) Human Be-In
In the early 60s, politically active students at campuses like UC Berkeley and the University of Michigan began protesting by holding "Sit-Ins," where students would sit down in protest and wait to be removed by the police. They were inspired by the efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, who in turn had been inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. As the Vietnam War heated up, Sit-Ins were followed by Teach-Ins and other variations. The "-In" suffix would now be recognized as a Social Media meme, but no such concept existed then.

In the Fall of '66, the San Francisco rock bands that played the Fillmore and the Avalon ballrooms began playing for free in San Francisco. Sometimes they played in Speedway Meadows in Golden Gate Park. At other times they played in a grassy strip in the Haight-Ashbury, on several blocks between Fell and Oak Streets, known as The Panhandle. The Panhandle abuts Golden Gate Park, but is not actually part of it. Bands like the Grateful Dead would rent a flatbed truck and some generators, play for an hour in the afternoon, and split before the cops showed up. No permits, no permission, no matter. 

Half A Million Strong by Gina Arnold (U of Iowa Press, 2018) includes a definitive look at how "free concerts in the park" evolved into rock fesivals (she's my sister but you should read the book)

The concept of the Human Be-In was to link Political Action, Higher Consciousness and Free Rock Music into one unstoppable force. Certainly, the entire hip undergrounds of Berkeley and San Francisco heard the clarion call, and were astonished to find they had 20,000 compatriots. To the dismay of political activists, however, rock music decisively won the day. The Human Be-In, with its national publicity, was one of the central inspirations for 60s rock festivals. That rapid evolution is a vast subject covered well by Gina Arnold in her 2018 book Half A Million Strong: Crowds and Power from Woodstock to Coachella (Iowa Press), so I will not discuss it here. 

As a result, however, the Human Be-In is often recalled for the famous rock bands that played. From an historical perspective, the Be-In offers an interesting historiographical problem. If you know people of the right age, who were in Berkeley or SF at the time, it's not hard to find people who went. They are proud to brag that they were there. But--eyewitness accounts? Well, no. No one remembers a thing, except that it was a nice day and everyone had a nice time. Who they saw, who they went with, how they got home--not a single clue. So we are left with more formal methods of research.

The tape box for Owsley Stanley's recording of the Grateful Dead at the Matrix on December 1, 1966. In the right hand column, four lines down, the ever-meticulous Owsley notes (MARVIN), to identify Marvin Boxley as the harmonica player. It worked, albeit 56 years later.

Harmonica and Vocals: Marvin Boxley--One Mystery Resolved
It has been good to put a name to Marvin Boxley's face after all these years. Deadheads of long standing may recall that one of the first circulating Mickey and The Hartbeats tapes, from the Matrix on October 10, 1968, had a guest come out of the audience and play some tunes. When I first heard the tape, around 1981, I was absolutely astonished to hear a Dead show so casual that a friend could be invited up on stage to jam with Jerry Garcia. It remains astonishing today. 

There are two other taped Boxley appearances, besides the Human Be-In:
December 1, 1966 The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead (Saturday)
Marvin Boxley can also be heard with the full Grateful Dead at the Matrix, from December 1, 1966, leading the entire band through "Yonder's Wall." Owsley taped that night at the Matrix, and wrote "Marvin" on the tape box.

October 10, 1968 The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia and Friends (Thursday) "Mickey and The Hartbeats"
The Matrix recording with Mickey and The Hartbeats was two years later, on October 10, 1968. The Hartbeats, in that incarnation, were Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart. The goal was to provide a platform for open ended improvisation, as well as a vehicle for inviting friends to jam.

On the tape, after an initial opening jam, and then the blues "It's A Sin," sung by Garcia, the band pauses. Someone, likely Mickey Hart, says "does anyone want to get up and sing a song?" After some indecipherable chatter in the tiny club, Garcia says "oh, Marvin's here--did you bring your harmonica?" Boxley comes on stage and leads the musicians through two instrumental blues shuffles, and then sings  Elmore James' classic "Look Over Yonder's Wall." Ross Hannan, Runonguinness, Hawk Semins and I managed to solve this mystery after 40 years of wondering.

Petrus opened for the Grateful Dead at the Carousel Ballroom (and also free in the Panhandle) on the weekend of May 31-June 2, 1968. The poster has the dates wrong (May 30-June 1) and also spells the band's name as "Petris." We have to assume Marvin Boxley sat in at least once.

On The Trail Of Marvin Boxley
Marvin Boxley (1946-2003) seems to have played music most or all of his adult life, although he probably made his living in other ways. His 2003 obituary in the Marin Independent-Journal summarizes his life:

Marvin Dean Boxley
Was called home to God on September 20, 2003. He was born on May 5, 1946 in Tyler, TX, moved to Denver, CO in 1948 and in 1962 the family moved to San Mateo, CA. He was a scholar athlete and remains Class President of Poly Technical High School Graduating Class of 1964. He attended the College of San Mateo and University of California, Berkeley where he mastered the guitar, prompting a life-long career in Rock-n-Roll, Jazz and Fusion. He was also a talented harmonica player, singer and poet. 

In the course of his career he founded several bands, including J4, and played with scores of other musicians such as the Jazz great Lenny McBrowne, Carlos Santana, Jerry Garcia, Esther Phillips, Jefferson Starship, Elvin Bishop, George Duke, Pointer Sisters, Merl Saunders, Sheila Escovedo and Steve Miller, to name a few. He had a long-time love for the outdoors and nature, and spent much of his time hiking the trails of Mount Tamalpais.

In the summer of 1982 he moved his family to Tiburon, California where he continued to live until his passing. He is survived by his wife, Nancy Beaudry-Boxley, and three children, Althea Boxley, Serafina Miller and Harold Boxley. 


Recipients of three scholarship awards [of] the Faculty Wives Club of College of San Mateo are (left to right) Sharyn Colquhoun, Maija Gudrala and Marvin Boxley, who were honored recently at a luncheon club at the Castaways Restaurant, Coyote Point (San Mateo Times March 31, 1965)

My first clue about Boxley came from researching a forgotten (except by me) band called Petrus, based near tiny Half Moon Bay, CA, and led by songwriter Ruthan Friedman (famous for "Windy") and Peter Kaukonen, brother of the Airplane's Jorma, and later a long-time recording artist in his own right. Eventually I discovered the names of the rest of the band in a concert review, and that they were a quintet that included Marvin Boxley on guitar and harmonica. 

After some elaborate exchanges, Ross Hannan discovered Marvin Boxley's obituary, and connected the dots between Boxley and the "Marvin" on both the Hartbeats tape and the '66 Matrix tape. I went on to find the newspaper clipping above about the College Of San Mateo (above), and that provided a photo of Boxley. From that, I could not only identify Boxley on stage with the Dead, but have confidence that he would have been invited to play with them. 

The linchpin of Boxley's connection to the Dead has to be the College Of San Mateo. The two fulcrums of the early 60s Peninsula folk music scene were Palo Alto and Stanford at one end, and the College Of San Mateo at the other. Rodney Albin, his younger brother Peter, and Peter's best friend (David Nelson) had a folk club in San Mateo called The Boar's Head. Rodney was a student at CSM, and was the central figure on the folk scene there, hanging out and playing music on the lawn. When Marvin Boxley showed up and could play, probably in Fall 1964, no doubt he was discovered in about ten minutes. From Rodney and Peter Albin it would have been a direct line to Jerry Garcia and Pigpen. 

Unlike all the members of the Grateful Dead, Marvin Boxley seems to have successfully completed his college studies. Thus it makes sense that he doesn't appear in a full-time group until early 1968, likely about when he graduated from UC Berkeley. Petrus only lasted a few months, however. They did open for the Dead one weekend at the Carousel, however (May 31-June 2 1968), so there's good reason to assume Boxley sat in again with the Dead. 

"Hey Baby" by Percy BB, Ashbury Records 1974. Marvin Boxley guitar, vocals, songwriting.

In 1974, Marvin Boxley seems to have released a single on Ashbury Records. The record is credited to "Percy BB." He is listed as guitarist, vocalist and songwriter for the tracks "Handyman" and "Hey Baby." Keyboards are credited to Nick Buck. Buck would later play for Hot Tuna and then SVT, Jack Casady's post-Tuna band.

A search through Discogs captures Marvin Boxley on  a 1978 Elektra Records album by jazz violinist Micheal White, The X-Factor. White had played with John Handy and then the band Fourth Way in the sixties, before leading his own ensembles. The X-Factor album includes a number of heavyweight players, like George Duke, Michal Babatunde and Frank Zappa's horn section. Even if Boxley was a friend of White's--he very well may have been--you don't get invited to such a session unless you can bring it. Boxley also played on a 1979 Babatunde album.

The obituary alludes to the group J4, which seems to have been mostly a studio project. Boxley's partner in J4 was Roger Saunders (1948-2006), who played guitar and other instruments. Saunders' best known outfit was the 60s Avalon band All Men Joy, perpetually confused historically with the Allman Brothers (Duane and Gregg Allman were in Los Angeles during the 60s, leading a band called The Hour Glass). So Boxley had a lengthy musical career, even if he did not fly as high as some other San Mateo compadres like Garcia or the Albins. It's nice to finally be able to connect some of these dots after all these years, and give him his due. I'm glad the Hartbeats found a harmonica for him that night at the Matrix.

A video capture of the guest flautist with the Grateful Dead on January 14, 1967

Open Mystery: Who Played Flute With The Grateful Dead at The Human Be-In On January 14, 1967?
We have long had the tape of the Grateful Dead's performance at The Human Be-In, so we have known for decades that a flute player sat in with the Grateful Dead and played on "Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl." As has been traditional in Grateful Dead scholarship, the guest flute was always assigned to Charles Lloyd. This is incorrect, as the video capture above makes clear, but I want to make the point that every single attribution on a Grateful Dead tape to Charles Lloyd--yes, that's correct, every single one--is incorrect. Lloyd had apparently jammed with the Dead, but it was never captured on tape, not once (see below for some rabbit holes in that area). In this case, we have a fairly clear photo capture of the flautist, But I don't recognize him. I will run through some other possibilities, mainly to eliminate them, but the question remains open. 

Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson remains perhaps rock's most iconic flute player (shown here in 1969)

A Note About Flutes In 1960s Rock
Scholarly Deadheads will note a number of guests sitting in on flute with the Grateful Dead throughout the 60s, and various rock ensembles were surprisingly heavy on flutes. The most obvious example would be Jethro Tull, but Andy Kulberg was featured on his famous instrumental "Flute Thing" for the Blues Project (and later Seatrain). Chris Wood of Traffic was another performer who took his share of flute solos. It's worth reflecting briefly on why the Grateful Dead had more guests on flute in the 1960s than on saxophone.

Loud, high-quality sound amplification was in its infancy in the 60s. Bands like the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd and a few others were just figuring out how to properly amplify and reinforce basic rock instrumentation--electric guitars, electric basses, drums, electric organ and vocals. Integrating the amplification of acoustic instruments into a full electric setting was challenging. When you hear 60s bands that had grand pianos and acoustic guitars combined with electric instruments, actual audience tapes suggest pretty suspect results. In the case of pianos and acoustic guitars, at least a lot of rock bands wanted to include those instruments. Saxophones and wind instruments were a different matter. 

There were electric pickups for saxophones in the 60s, but I don't think they worked that well. More importantly, bands like Blood, Sweat & Tears or Chicago Transit Authority, whose horn sections were integrated into the band's soundscape at every show, had to figure out the pitfalls. But for a band like the Grateful Dead, including a saxophone wasn't like including another guitar--the Dead's system wasn't designed for wind instruments. 

Another factor was that most saxophonists focus on tenor and alto sax, and roughly speaking the range of those instruments was about the same as a guitar. A tenor sax with a loud rock band, less than perfectly amplified, just sort of blares, as the sax and the guitar kind of merge. Soul music has a more rhythmic, distinct role for the electric guitar, leaving room for the sax, but most rock bands weren't designed that way. Flutes and soprano saxophone, however, find their own register above the electric guitar. So both instruments fit much better with an electric band with prominent guitars. Note that Branford Marsalis typically played soprano sax when he sat in with the Dead. The flute, too, carefully floats high above the guitars, and assuming good live sound--a fair assumption with the Dead--that flute will be fairly audible. 

Finally, a simple note: flutes are played at the same elevation as a singer. So a flute player stepping up to jam can simply blow into a vocal mic, not having to unscrew and lower the stand, perhaps messing with a carefully constructed configuration. In 60s rock, a reed player with a lot of instruments would find it easiest to play flute casually with a rock band, for both audio and practical reasons. 

Who Didn't Play Flute With The Grateful Dead at the Human Be-In?
I don't know who played flute with the Grateful Dead at the Human Be-In on January 14, 1967. But let's run through some possibilities. Some of them can be actively eliminated, and some others can be shown as unlikely. 

The Daily Cal from September 29, 1967 ran a promotional photo of Charles Lloyd. Lloyd's quartet opened for the Grateful Dead at the Greek Theatre on October 1. 1967, and he didn't sit in.

Charles Lloyd
We can see that the guest flute player was a white guy, so it's simple to outright reject Charles Lloyd as the guest. Given the persistence of assuming Lloyd's presence, however, it's worth making a few key points. Lloyd was a prominent West Coast tenor saxophonist who was also proficient on flute. He replaced Eric Dolphy in the Chico Hamilton Quintet in 1960, which in itself was a huge mountain to climb. He went to New York in 1964, where he played with Cannonball Adderley for two years, and also released his first albums as a leader. By 1966, Lloyd was leading his own quartet, with Keith Jarrett on piano, Jack DeJohnette on drums and Ron McClure on bass. The Charles Lloyd Quartet was among the first jazz groups to regularly play the Fillmore and The Avalon.

Love-In, by the Charles Lloyd Quartet, released by Atlantic Records in July 1967. The album was recorded at the Fillmore on January 27, 1967. The Jim Marshall cover photo gives a rare color impression of what the Fillmore stage really looked like back then.

Charles Lloyd was billed at the Fillmore with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in January, 1967. The album Love-In was released in July, recorded on January 1967. It was notable that an established player like Lloyd was playing uncompromising jazz at the Fillmore. In late March 1967, Lloyd's quartet would open for the Grateful Dead at the Rock Garden. Sometime after that, Ralph Gleason alluded to Lloyd jamming with the Dead there. It's important to note, however, that this was after the Be-In, and after Lloyd had been booked at the Fillmore. While Lloyd was likely at the Human Be-In, as he was booked in town, he didn't know any of the hippie rockers. He probably hung out with Dizzy Gillespie, who was definitely there. Yet Lloyd is perpetually mentioned as a likely guest flute player with the Dead, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Susan Graubard
As a footnote, although I can flatly reject Susan Graubard as the flautist, I should point out that she was there, and had already known Jerry Garcia for years. Graubard played flute and koto with the Berkeley band The New Age, who performed at the Be-In. A few years earlier, Graubard's older sister Phoebe had dated Jerry, and Jer took a liking to Susan. When he found out that Susan wanted a koto--a Japanese stringed instrument--he bought her one. Susan Graubard emailed me her story of standing in a circle behind the stage at the Be-In, playing flute for Dizzy Gillespie, so she would have recalled if she had sat in with the Dead. 

Andy Kulberg on stage playing flute with the Blues Project, somewhere in 1966 or '67

Andy Kulberg
One of the critical points to consider about our mysterious guest flautist is that he had long hair. That may seem counter-intuitive, since we are used to photos of the Grateful Dead and their friends in 1967, and plenty of the men had long hair. But the fact is that long hair on men was not common in early 1967. Now sure, by '67 young men had Beatle haircuts, or so-called "Prince Valiant" haircuts, but long, flowing hair just wasn't that common. That means the Dead's guest was already a serious hippie by then. OK--if you were at the Human Be-In, likely tripping hard and invited on stage with the Dead, you probably already were a serious hippie. I am just making the point that trying to find a professional musician with "straight gigs" who may have sat in isn't likely a fruitful path, since long hair would have been a professional barrier. Just to eliminate a few other considerations, it's not Jeremy Steig, nor Herbie Mann, nor some other even less obvious choices.

Plain Dealer Jan 6

One very likely candidate for me was Andy Kulberg. Kulberg was the bassist for the Blues Project, who had already played the Bay Area many times and likely knew the Dead. Kulberg played flute as well as bass, and (as noted) the song "Flute Thing" was the big rave-up for Blues Project in concert. For that song, Kulberg played flute and guitarist Steve Katz would switch to bass. It's a great theory, but it turns out that Blues Project was playing Cleveland all weekend (h/t Bruno). I mean, I guess they could have canceled, but what would Kulberg then have been doing in San Francisco?

Steven Schuster on stage with the Keith & Donna band at Winterland, October 4, 1975. I don't think he was the Dead's guest at the Human Be-In, but I'm open to suggestion.

Steven Schuster
Another very likely candidate would have been Steven Schuster. I'm no good at faces, and I don't have a photo of Schuster prior to 1975, but it just doesn't look like the same guy to me. Now--Steven Schuster: he came to California from NYC in '62, played tenor and flute. Ended up as roommates with Paul Kantner, David Freiberg and David Crosby in Venice Beach in '63. By 1965 he was hanging out in Palo Alto, trading quips with Ken Kesey when they saw Mother McRee's Uptown Jug Band Champions at the Tangent. He was Quicksilver Messenger Service's equipment manager ("Qwippie"), so he was involved in every QMS/Dead adventure between 1966 and '68. It's almost an afterthought that he ended up recording with Jefferson Starship, the Grateful Dead ("Sage and Spirit") and Jerry Garcia (Cats Under The Stars), and touring with the Keith and Donna band in 1975. But I don't think it's him.

Incidentally, when David Gans (at my behest) asked Schuster about another possible sit-in with the Dead (August 3, 1969 at the Family Dog) he replied "it was the 60s, so of course I don't remember."

San Francisco Examiner, Saturday, May 7, 1966
Noel Jewkes
Another likely candidate would have been veteran San Franciscan jazz musician Noel Jewkes. Jewkes is a fine tenor saxophonist, and he plays excellent flute as well. In 1966, Jewkes was a regular in San Francisco jazz clubs, though he hadn't yet expanded beyond the local scene. In the above ad, Jewkes' quartet plays the off nights at the popular Both/And club on 350 Divisadero in the Haight-Ashbury (Andrew Hill and Sam Rivers, woo-ee, I would like that tape).

The 1998 Arhoolie reissue of the 1967 album Ara-Be-In. (L-R), Michael White (violin), Noel Jewkes (ts, fl), Hahn (gtr), Jack DeJohnette (dr), Ron McClure (bs)

In the next few years, Jewkes would go on to play in the Jerry Hahn Quintet, who released an album in 1967 (Ara Be-In, on Berkeley's Arhoolie Records). Hahn was a Kansas guitarist who had played with saxophonist John Handy. The players in his quintet were veterans of the Handy group, save for Jewkes. In 1967, Jewkes would also play in an ensemble called Light Sound Dimension, which attempted to merge light shows with a jazz group. Psychedelic legend Bill Ham presented the light show, and the music was provided by Jewkes, drummer Jerry Granelli and bass guitarist Fred Marshall. They had their own venue, eventually (at 1572 California, at Polk). Light shows had lost their cachet, however, and it never caught on.

By 1969, Jewkes had married Denise Kaufman, the guitarist and singer in the all-woman rock band Ace Of Cups. The Aces, as the only all-female band on the Fillmore scene, had a fascinating if frustrating career in the 60s, which I have discussed at great length. Ace Of Cups were tied to the management of Quicksilver Messenger Service, and so Denise wrote a song that was used on Quicksilver's Shady Grove album in late 1969. The song? "Flute Song." The un-credited flute is pretty likely Noel Jewkes. So there's no doubt that Noel Jewkes was super-wired to the Fillmore scene and the Grateful Dead. 

Noel Jewkes in the 21st Century

But here's the thing--I don't think the flute player is Noel Jewkes. Now, I don't have an early 1967 photo--all I've got is the Jerry Hahn album and a 21st century photo. He just doesn't look like the guy in the Be-In photo. If you think he does, we're onto something. Put it in the Comments.

Who Was It?
The guy playing flute with the Grateful Dead at the Be-In. Who was he? Long-haired white dude--rare for January '67--good enough to jam with the Dead, enough of a head to deal with all the circulating Owsley product, and friends enough with the band to get invited on stage. He didn't come from nowhere. We figured out Marvin Boxley, after just 40-some years after I first heard the Hartbeats in my Berkeley apartment on Haste and Telegraph. So let's get to solving this one. 

January 14, 1967 Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead

01. Dancing in The Streets
02. Viola Lee Blues ; w/Marvin Boxley-harmonica, vocals
03. Good Morning Little Schoolgirl* w/?-flute, ? (Boxley?)-vocals

Friday, December 22, 2023

Jerry Garcia Live on KZSU-fm, Stanford University, 1973-89 (KZSU II and FM XV)

The two May '73 Garcia/Saunders shows at Homer's Warehouse were broadcast on KZSU-fm

Jerry Garcia had a long and storied history as a performing artist, in numerous aggregations, the most famous of which was the Grateful Dead. One of the many innovations that the Dead popularized for rock music were live performance broadcasts. A few legendary radio stations, like KSAN-fm in San Francisco, KPFA-fm in Berkeley and WNEW-fm in New York, have a particularly legendary status amongst Deadheads for their historic and widely circulated  broadcasts of Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia concerts. Yet the first, seminal and arguably longest broadcaster of Garcia performances has gone largely unnoticed. KZSU, the Stanford University radio station, not only broadcast Jerry Garcia as far back as late 1962, they broadcast him regularly until 1988. The only comparable station in Garcia or Dead history might be KPFA-fm in Berkeley, which has an equally storied Jerriad saga, which I will get to eventually. I wrote an extensive post on Jerry Garcia's performance history on KZSU in the early 60s.  

Appropriately enough, Jerry Garcia's first studio recording was broadcast on KZSU in Fall 1962, and the Garcia Estate has released that long lost recording as Folk Time. The story of KZSU and Jerry Garcia, however, went far beyond the early 1960s, so in this post I will unravel the tale of Garcia's 70s and 80s performances on KZSU.

KZSU-880 AM and 90.1 FM
Stanford University radio station KZSU had been founded in 1947. Initially it was only accessible on 880-AM on the Stanford campus dorms and fraternities. Throughout the 1960s, however, almost all Stanford undergraduates lived on campus. Undergraduate women were required to live in campus in the dorms, as sororities had been closed some decades earlier. Thus, while KZSU had limited range, it had an outsized importance to campus life. In 1964, KZSU added an FM frequency. 90.1 FM was accessible to all, but since the transmitter had only 10 Watts, KZSU-fm was only audible in Palo Alto and Menlo Park. In the 1960s, however, FM receivers were rare, and usually confined to the type of guy--always a guy--with an expensive "Hi-Fi" stereo receiver (for more detail about KZSU, see Appendix 1 below). 

Two restless young doctors had started a Folk Club above The Tangent deli at 117 University Avenue in Palo Alto. It was near the campus, and serious folk music was usually directed at college students. Stanford student Ted Claire arranged to tape the weekend shows at the Top Of The Tangent for a weekly Tuesday night broadcast on KZSU called "Flint Hill Special." Although only audible in the dorms (and frats), the Flint Hill Special is why there were tapes of Jerry Garcia in various ensembles in 1963 and 1964 (some later released as Before The Dead). KZSU broadcast live tapes of folk music from the Top Of The Tangent at least as late as the Summer of 1964 (for a summary of the early days of live broadcasts on KZSU, see the summary in Appendix 2, and see my earlier post for more detail).

The July 4, 1967 Stanford Daily described the Grateful Dead's appearance at a Be-In at Palo Alto's El Camino Park on Sunday, July 2

Live Rock Music In Downtown Palo Alto

Folk music was popular at Stanford and in Palo Alto, but it disappeared in a cloud of funny smelling smoke. This happened in college towns and Universities all over the United States, particularly on the West Coast and the Northeast. In Palo Alto, however, unlike every other place, these strange influences weren't some mystery wind blowing in from out of town. The call, as they say, was coming from inside the house. The Top of The Tangent crowd were right in the thick of the psychedelic revolution. Ground Zero was Ken Kesey's cottage on Perry Lane in Menlo Park, within easy walking distance of the Tangent. The doors of perception were busted open a few miles South of the Tangent--but still in Palo Alto--at the Palo Alto Acid Test at The Big Beat on December 18, 1965.

In 1966, Stanford University held numerous rock concerts, featuring legendary acts in their prime. Yet the Grateful Dead had played the Tresidder Student Union on October 14, 1966 and there were no more concerts in Stanford facilities. Big Brother and The Holding Company headlined a "Happening" at the Wilbur dorm complex on December 3, 1966, and no such events were ever held again, at least officially. Good times were being had, very good times, and Stanford University was definitely not down with it.

Two things happened in downtown Palo Alto in the Spring and Summer of 1967, within a few blocks of each other. First, in April of 1967, a fish-n-chips joint at 135 University (at High Street), just two doors from the Tangent, added live bands and a light show. In 1967, Fish-and-Chips was exotic foreign cuisine (I swear I am not making this up--the competing shop was called H Salt), so that made the Poppycock suitably exotic for must-be-cool Palo Alto. Also, there were no bars in downtown Palo Alto (nor would there be until 1981), so a place that served foreign food and beer to hippies was enough for a hip music hangout. 

The second thing was that some rebellious University types started something called The MidPeninsula Free University, known locally as "Free You." Free You offered non-standard classes. All jokes about "underwater basket-weaving" for college credit can be traced back to Free You. To raise money, the MPFU had a series of free "Be-In" concerts at El Camino Park, just a few blocks from the Tangent and the Poppycock. How free concerts raised money has never been fully explained, but Palo Alto had six such events in 1967 and '68. The most famous one was July 2, 1967, when the Grateful Dead returned to town to headline the Mary Poppins Umbrella Festival on a Sunday afternoon. The musicians from the Tangent had returned, heavily armed with electricity.

Over at the Poppycock, the house band was The Flowers, who had changed their name to Solid State by the time of the Mary Poppins Umbrella Fest. The Flowers were mostly a jazz group, but they played electric instruments, loud, and they had the old equipment from the Merry Pranksters, so they were part of the new psychedelic rock world (you can read the entire saga of The Flowers in a different post). Initially, the Flowers, and later Solid State, played every weekend at the Poppycock, but over time the club booked different acts every weekend. It was the Bay Area in the late 60s--there were plenty of bands, and a lot of them were really good.

The Stanford Daily of April 19, 1968 mentions broadcasting then-unknown Creedence Clearwater Revival live (on KZSU-fm radio)

KZSU-fm Live Broadcasts
It's always fun to make fun of Palo Alto--I never tire of it--but the city has legs to stand on. There were lots of college radio stations in the 1960s, most of them fairly dormant until the 1970s. KZSU, however, started doing live remote broadcasts from the Poppycock as early as February 1968. At this time, KMPX-fm in San Francisco was quite literally the first "underground" rock radio station in the country, and they had only started doing live rock broadcasts in the Summer of '67. KZSU very well may have been the second such station. The initial broadcast (per the Stanford Daily) was a comedy trio called Congress Of Wonders. Congress Of Wonders is largely forgotten now, but their hip comedy was played regularly on the radio once their albums were released ("Pigeon Park" remains a classic).

The first real rock band broadcast from the Poppycock by KZSU was on March 22, 1968, featuring another local act: the newly-named Creedence Clearwater Revival. The band headlined the Poppycock on Friday and Saturday night, and the first set on Friday night was broadcast on the radio station. It would only be audible on the Stanford campus and nearby Palo Alto and Menlo Park, but who else was going to the Poppycock? No tape survives of this, to my knowledge, but the fact that it happened at all sets Palo Alto apart whether you like it or not.

As to other events, a tape has circulated of the Lafayette (Contra Costa County) band Frumious Bandersnatch, from May 31, 1969. The Stanford Daily mentioned a few broadcasts as well: The Apple Valley Playboys on November 26, 1969, and the bluegrass team of Vern And Ray on January 22, 1970. I suspect there were a few other live broadcasts from The Poppycock in '68 and '69 that for which we have no references. The Poppycock closed in Spring 1970, squeezed because its small size (capacity probably about 250) was not substantial enough to book popular local bands. I know that Miles Davis was broadcast on KZSU when they broadcast his Frost Amphitheatre show on October 1, 1972, but I have no idea if jazz broadcasts were rare or common.

In May, 1971, the site of The Poppycock became the club In Your Ear, which was sort of a jazz club, but with a much more eclectic booking policy. Besides jazz, In Your Ear featured blues, a little rock and some folk music, too, similar in many ways to what the Great American Music Hall would book a few years later. The intriguing club came to an abrupt halt when a pizza oven fire burned down the building on December 31, 1972. Live music pretty much disappeared from downtown Palo Alto after that. 

Homer's Warehouse, 79 Homer Avenue, Palo Alto, CA
Homer's Warehouse was an old quonset storage building next to the train tracks, at 79 Homer Avenue. It was in walking distance of downtown, although you had to take a pedestrian tunnel under the train tracks (for Palo Alto locals, Homer's Warehouse was behind Town And Country Village, and the site is now a parking lot for the Palo Alto Medical Center). The club was intermittently open in mid-1971, appealing to bikers and the like, and marginally tolerated by the police since it was not in downtown itself. In late 1972, the venue was taken over by local entrepreneurs Andrew Bernstein and Rollie Grogan. Bernstein wrote about his adventures at Homer's Warehouse in his 2018 self-published biography California Slim: The Music, The Magic and The Madness.

It is well-known that Jerry Garcia and Old And In The Way broadcast a set on KZSU on July 24, 1973. I myself heard that show. It was, quite literally, the first time I had ever heard bluegrass music. At the time, it was easier to read about new music than hear it. I had read that Garcia was playing banjo in a bluegrass group that played local clubs, but I was too young to go to any nightclub, and in any case I had no car and no money and lived in the suburbs. I knew that bluegrass was some sort of country sub-genre, but I didn't know what it sounded like. When I stumbled onto the KZSU broadcast that night--I used to listen to KZSU regularly--I knew it was Garcia playing bluegrass. It was the first time I heard "Panama Red" and "Lonesome LA Cowboy," among other things, as the New Riders of The Purple Sage versions had not yet been released. Andrew Bernstein describes booking Old And In The Way in some detail, including having Asleep At The Wheel as an opening act. 

Bernstein was a Palo Alto native, and had taken banjo lessons from Garcia back in 1963 or so, as a high school student. He knew Kreutzmann and Pigpen as well, and while he hadn't been in touch with the Dead once they moved to San Francisco, he had more of a connection than a regular club owner might. Old And In The Way had been booked at Homer's Warehouse for one of their very first concerts back on March 8, 1973, and Garcia and Merl Saunders had played a successful weekend in May, and then Old and In The Way again later in May, so it's no surprise that Old And In The Way returned. The first set was broadcast, and people were implicitly encouraged to come down to the club for the second set. I could have walked the dog over there, I guess--it was only a few blocks away from my house--but I didn't realize that while I was listening.

Homer's Warehouse and KZSU
Bernstein tells an unheard story about the link between Homer's Warehouse and KZSU, and how they came to broadcast Jerry Garcia. Most intriguingly, Bernstein says that the two Garcia/Saunders shows at Homer's on May 4-5, 1973 were both broadcast on KZSU. Per Bernstein, the Old And In The Way July broadcast followed from the initial ones in May. We don't have any airchecks of the May JGMS shows, which isn't surprising, as few people had cassette decks, and fewer still would have been in the range of KZSU's 10-watt transmitters. In any case, we have Betty Boards for both shows, so we don't need the FM broadcasts. But Bernstein's descriptions of the circumstances of the KZSU broadcasts have gone unnoticed, so I am inserting them here (please note that 30 years after the fact, Bernstein's memories are not particularly sequential and some details appear questionable. Decide for yourself how much corrective analysis is needed). Bernstein describes the May 4 set-up in detail:
Rollie's [Grogan, Bernstein's partner] biggest triumph to date came on the afternoon he booked Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders for a weekend show. Joining them on May 4th and 5th, 1973 would be John Kahn on electric bass and Ron Tutt, Elvis's old drummer and famed Nashville studio percussionist...[note: Tutt would not join the band until 1974, and Bill Vitt was likely the drummer]
There was yet another surprise waiting in the wings. Lobster [Paul Wells], one of our regulars, was part of the FM radio scene in the Bay Area at the time. He was big, loud and both a DJ at KSJO in San Jose and the musical director of KZSU, the Stanford radio station. One afternoon, he approached Rollie and me about broadcasting the Merl and Jerry shows live from Homer's on KZSU. Rollie and I both thought it was a great idea, so Lobster connected us with Mike Lopez, the student manager of the station. Lobster had told us that we would reach the whole Northern California market [note: this was completely untrue], but Mike had even bigger plans than that. It seems that Stanford had access to a transatlantic phone cable that had been dormant for many years, so Mike decided that what several Iron Curtain countries needed was a heavy dose of Jerry--via pirate radio from Homer's!
Mike's plan called for Hungary, Belarus and parts of East Germany to receive the feed. However, first we needed to get permission from Jerry, which meant going through Sam Cutler (more blow, please!). When Sam gave us the green light, it was full speed ahead. Of course, the university would know nothing of this little international broadcasting caper....
Around 10:00am on the day of the show, our Purple Room started to take on the look of a command center, overrun by cables and wires with crazy-looking guys from Stanford hooking up 20,000 watts [the Warehouse sound system]. Both shows would be taped on a gigantic Memorex reel-to-reel. It was a fuck-all, balls-to-the-wall extravaganza... 
Around 3:00pm, the sound truck arrived with the road crew, and out stepped the lead technician for the night--Owsley Stanley.
Because of his eccentric and unpredictable character, Owsley didn't know how to finish a project on time, so he was banned from any involvement with sound when the Dead were on tour. However, for Jerry shows, he was "the man." His first task, when he got to Homer's, was to make sure the broadcasting guys from Stanford knew who was running the show. General Patton had arrived. Sound mix, PA levels, acoustics, tape speed, the whole shebang was under his direct control. The packed Purple Room was known that night as The Command Center.
Sam Cutler showed up around this time Owsley was like an obsessed woodpecker. He was a pain in the ass, but a perfectionist, eventually, with only fifteen minutes before the doors were scheduled to open for the Friday night show, we got the sound up and working to his desired metrics.
The music for the show started at 7:30pm sharp. Lobster was the live DJ, operating the radio control board for the broadcast out of the Purple Room. He was hyped, as we all were. I did the stage intros. 
This is history in the making, I thought as I introduced the band. 
Then I ran out to Rollie's car and turned on the radio...There we were coming through loud and clear. I tried to imagine some Hungarian family puzzled by what the hell they were listening to. I hope they enjoyed it.

According to Bernstein, not only was there a broadcast on May 4, the entire process was repeated the next night:

Once Owsley, Sam Cutler and their wild-eyed sound crew arrived, the madness set in once again. Unlike the day before, however, all the gear was already in place, so all they had to was push some buttons and turn some knobs

So Garcia apparently broadcast from KZSU three times in 1973, even though we only have the tape for the July Old And In The Way show.

Jerry Garcia and KZSU: Encore
Keystone Berkeley owner Freddie Herrera had opened a sister club in Palo Alto in early 1977. The Keystone in Palo Alto was at 260 South California Avenue, in a commercial district that was distinct from downtown and University Avenue. The commercial district (formerly the downtown of the town of Mayfield, which had merged with Palo Alto in 1925) was adjacent to the Stanford Campus, but not particularly near any student housing. In late 1977, the Keystone in Palo Alto started having regular Monday night broadcasts with the local "alternative" country station KFAT, in nearby Gilroy. The Monday "Fat Fry" broadcast the first set at the Keystone, to publicize the band and the club, and to encourage listeners to drop by for the second set. The second Fat Fry, in fact, on December 5, 1977, featured Robert Hunter and Comfort, with Bob Matthews and Betty Cantor mixing the sound for the radio.  A similar effort was tried on one occasion with KZSU with Garcia.

On December 23, 1977, KZSU broadcast the first set of the Jerry Garcia Band from Keystone Palo Alto. Per an eyewitness, the dj started up the second set and then cut it off. I believe they didn't realize the concept was just to broadcast the opening set, to encourage late arrivals. While the KFAT Fat Fry continued to be broadcast from Keystone Palo Alto every Monday night for several more years, I'm not aware of other KZSU experiments. Of course, since KZSU was not a commercial station, their imperatives would have been different than KFAT's. In any case, we got a good tape of the first set from December 1977, at a time when quality JGB was not in circulation. How appropriate that Garcia was returning to where he had first broadcast, although I'm sure he was unaware of it at the time. 

Final Homage
The Grateful Dead had an appropriately rocky history with Stanford University. The Dead's concert at Tressider Union on October 14, 1966 was the last concert there--good times I'll bet--and the Dead did not return until February 9, 1973 (when they played the Maples Pavilion basketball arena). When the Beta Theta Pi fraternity arranged to book Robert Hunter and Roadhog in May 1976, they were told the Grateful Dead were banned from campus. Of course, Bob Weir had played Frost Amphitheatre by that time, but there was at least some voodoo associated with the Grateful Dead name.

Nonetheless the Grateful Dead finally headlined Frost Amphitheatre in 1982, and played several weekends at the venue through 1989. By the time the Dead stopped playing there, the band was much too popular to play the 10,000-capacity bowl, and huge crowds congregated outside the venue. Stanford did not like the atmosphere, and unlike a commercial establishment, they did not really need the revenue. For the 1988 shows, however (Saturday and Sunday April 30 and May 1), I know that the shows were broadcast on KZSU to allow the huge parking lot crowd to hear them. [update 20231226: Commenter and former KZSU staffer reports that:

My KZSU friends have confirmed that we did broadcast the Grateful Dead Frost shows from 1985 to 1988 at least, with interviews of Healy in 1985, Mickey in 1986, and Jerry & Bobby in 1987 or 1988. 

I'm not sure if this was done again on May 6 and 7,1989. After that there were no more Grateful Dead or Jerry Garcia concerts at Frost, anyway.

Update 20240109: Correspondent Geoff Reeves weighs in with the 411. All the Dead shows from 1985-89 were broadcast on KZSU, and there were numerous interviews too:

My name is Geoff Reeves and I was a staffer at KZSU for much of the 1980s. I kicked off the live broadcasts of the Dead at Frost in 1985 by calling up Dan Healey and convincing him we weren’t looking to score free tickets and were legitimately from KZSU. Dan helped get permission to broadcast live and figure out how to connect us to the board. A 5-year tradition began. And, yes I can confirm we broadcast live from 1985 through 1989. I’ve got board tapes of all 10 shows (with custom art on the labels :-) In addition to any broadcast recordings, we also made copies of the boards available to anyone wanting them so they should be in pretty wide circulation.
Around that time Dan started mixing ambient audience sounds into the board so the board tapes and broadcast had a much better live feel than the more ‘sterile’ boards from earlier times. More like audience tapes but mixed intentionally.
In 1986, we started recording interviews before the shows and during breaks to be broadcast after the live show ended. The ‘interviews’ with random deadheads were some of the most entertaining (when edited down) but over the years we interviewed Dan Healey, Dennis McNally, Wavy Gravy, Bill Graham, Mickey Heart, and, (eventually) Mickey, Jerry, & Bobby.
It may also be of interest to know that KZSU broadcast a program called Dead to the World during those years. The name poked fun at our still weak transmitters (100 W) but, hey, they could hear us as far away as Berkeley (sometimes).

Live Jerry Garcia music was first broadcast from the May 3, 1963 show at the Top Of The Tangent (probably broadcast on Tuesday, May 7). It was last broadcast on May 1, 1988, (or maybe May 7, 1989 from the Frost Amphitheatre, about a mile away. In between, Garcia was broadcast a surprising number of times, with a variety of ensembles, covering the arc of his career from struggling folk musician to rock guitar legend.

Appendix I: The Roots Of College Radio
One byproduct of the massive expansion of American higher education after World War 2 was the rise of radio stations associated with colleges and universities. In the Post WW2 universe, college was seen as more than just a degree factory where future employees were produced, and schools had a host of activities that were meant to broaden both the college community and the individual students themselves. In the case of Stanford University, radio station KZSU started in 1947 as part of the Department of Communication. KZSU facilities were used by the speech and drama department, although unlike some smaller schools, Stanford was not providing a professional program for future broadcasters. KZSU was only broadcast on 880 on the AM dial, and the station could only be heard in campus buildings, like dorms and fraternities.

By the early 1960s, radio played a more important part in student life, but KZSU was still a campus-only station. As far as I know, all Stanford freshmen and all women were required to live on campus. There was not enough housing for all undergraduates, so some Stanford men lived off campus, but I do know that the majority of undergraduate students still lived on campus in any case. All women students and all Freshman males lived in campus dorms. Some men also lived in fraternities, but the sororities had been shut down some decades earlier. KZSU broadcast to the dorms and fraternities.

Although KZSU was only audible on campus, it had an outsized importance to Stanford students. FM radio was exotic, and little was broadcast on it, and regular AM stations in San Francisco and San Jose were the only other options. There were a few Top 40 stations (KYA-1260 and KFRC-610 in the City, and KLIV-1590 in San Jose), a country station (KEEN-1370) and various news-talk-music stations for adults (like KSFO-560, KNBR-680, KCBS-740 and KGO-810). So Stanford's student-run-for-student-listeners station was a good choice for a dorm resident.

KZSU producers, announcers and disc jockeys were all students, or at least University-affiliated. The programs were a mixture of Stanford sports, news updates, documentary-type specials and lots of music. A wide spectrum of music was covered, including jazz and classical. It being the early 60s, when folk music was popular with college students, there was folk music on KZSU as well. Certainly more folk was broadcast on KZSU than was heard on any commercial station, and that is how the connection to The Top Of The Tangent came about.

Appendix II: "The Flint Hill Special" and The Top Of The Tangent

It is a well-known piece of Garciaography that Garcia and his folk pals really made their bones at a tiny folk club called The Top Of The Tangent in Palo Alto. What has remained under the radar is how critical KZSU was to the modest success of The Tangent. Without KZSU, the Top Of The Tangent might not have thrived, and thus the whole story of Garcia, Weir, Pigpen and Mother McRee's Uptown Jug Band Champions would have taken some different, unknown course.

I have discussed the history of The Top Of The Tangent at some length elsewhere, so I will only briefly recap it. Two restless young doctors, Dave Schoenstadt and Stu Goldstein, decided to start a folk club in eary 1963. Their only guide was a Pete Seeger book called How To Make A Hootenanny. There was a delicatessen at the end of University Avenue that was nearest Stanford, with an extra room above it. The two doctors arranged to have shows there on Friday and Saturday nights, as well as a "hoot night" on Wednesdays. The little room held about 75 people. Sometimes there were touring folk acts, but more often the performers were from the Bay Area folk scene. Locals who shined at hoot night got a chance to play on the weekends, and could build their own followings. The Tangent deli was at 117 University, and the folk club was above it--hence "The Top Of The Tangent." In reality, however, everyone just called the folk club "The Tangent," so I will do that hereafter. 

Here's the reason we have those early Garcia tapes--throughout much of 1963, every weekend Tangent show was taped, and parts of all those shows were broadcast on KZSU. I'll repeat that, just so you don't think I mis-typed--almost every Tangent show through at least June 1963 was taped, and parts of most of them were broadcast. So there's no mystery why we have prehistoric Garcia tapes. Don't forget, by the way, that everyone else who played the Tangent in '63--Pigpen, Peter Albin, Jorma Kaukonen, Janis Joplin, Herb Petersen and many others--would have been broadcast on KZSU as well.  And yes, before we go on any further, I assure you that the Garciaological equivalent of SEAL Team 6 has been on the case for some time. If there's anything new to uncover, they'll get it.

The two good doctors who ran the Top Of The Tangent knew that Stanford students would be a key component of the audience of any folk club. Since KZSU featured weekly shows of many different types of music, The Tangent sponsored the Tuesday night folk show. The host was either (Stanford student) Ted Claire or (Dr. and Top Of The Tangent co-founder) Dave Schoenstadt. The hour long show was aired at 9:00pm Tuesday nights. A sample description, from the Tuesday May 14 edition of the Stanford Daily (clipped above), says

9:00: Flinthill Special- An hour of authentic American folk music, records, tapes, live talent (Dave Schoenstadt)

"Flint Hill Special" was the name of a famous Flatt & Scruggs bluegrass standard, and in the code of the time, "authentic American folk music" meant "serious" folk music, like bluegrass or old-time music, not "popular" sing-alongs like the Kingston Trio.

Ted Claire's deal with the doctors was that he would tape the weekend Tangent shows, and broadcast some highlights over the air on Tuesday nights. So the boys and girls in the Stanford dorm who liked folk music could listen to KZSU and hear what they missed at the Tangent that weekend. Little did they know that a few years later they'd be seeing Jerry, Janis and Jorma at the Fillmore, playing many of the same songs just a little bit louder.

Friday, September 22, 2023

June 15, 1973 Nippert Stadium, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH: Grateful Dead (canceled)

The Grateful Dead's scheduled show at Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium, planned for June 15, 1973, was canceled the day before. Nice to see Pigpen with the boys, even if he wasn't going to play with them.

One of the pleasures of being a Grateful Dead fan is considering the difference between listening to the tapes of great shows versus actually attending them. Some shows have more depth every time you listen to them again, whereas others had their most magical moment in the very instant of creation. Yet some shows stand even above those comparisons, epically memorable shows for whom the tapes revealed extraordinarily powerful music that stood out on its own. During the Spring and Summer of 1973, the Grateful Dead played five huge outdoor dates in Iowa, Santa Barbara, San Francisco and Washington, DC, all of them memorable moments for everyone who attended. The tapes, too, circulated widely, and the Grateful Dead Archive released all five shows in their entirety in the Summer of 2023. Here Comes Sunshine, a 17-cd set box set, was released to great acclaim, and Grateful Dead fans can't get enough of the music or the memories. 

Season 7 of Deadcast, the Grateful Dead's official podcast, tells the whole story of the Spring and Summer of 1973. Jesse Jarnow and Rich Mahan wrote and produced the saga of the great concerts, the great music, and all the events surrounding the Spring tour. Jarnow ends the final episode, however, with a tantalizing remark. After the stadium tour ended at RFK in DC on June 10, 1973, there was another concert scheduled for Nippert Stadium at the University of Cincinnati, just five days later. The Dead's crew were there, the sound system was being constructed, but technical problems caused the show to be canceled the day before the planned event. 

So the Grateful Dead world almost had one more June '73 stadium show, two or three sets in the summer sun, epic jamming on new material on an 80-degree Ohio afternoon. At 3 pm on June 15, the Cincinnati airport reported 85 degrees and a 10 mph breeze. It would have been perfect weather, right about when the boys (and one girl) would have been cranking up a second set.

There have been lots of projected Grateful Dead shows that didn't happen. But once the band became headliners by 1970, there were very few where tickets were sold, the crew was in place and the show still didn't happen. Now, sure the Grateful Dead had canceled a huge outdoor show at Ontario Motor Speedway just the month before (originally scheduled for Sunday, May 27 with the Allman Brothers) but that was canceled on May 21, with a week to go. But nobody was camped out in the parking lot, and the crew hadn't rolled any semis. Cincinnati was different. It nearly happened. This post will try and unpack how the June 15, 1973 show at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati nearly made landfall, but didn't, and what it tells us about the history of Grateful Dead touring.

Cincinnati Enquirer, May 31, 1973

Risk And Reward
Enormous amounts of talk and writing about the Grateful Dead phenomenon have been proffered to the world, and I am as culpable as anyone for contributing to the huge volume of words. One aspect of the Dead's history that that receives less attention than it should, however, is the band's appetite for risk. Jerry Garcia himself had a higher risk tolerance than anyone in the band, but all members of the Grateful Dead organization had to sign on to a career of high-risk propositions. The Grateful Dead's constantly improvisational music was a moment-to-moment risk, and the commitment to it over the repetition of formally arranged songs was another inherent layer of risk. Even when the Grateful Dead had a popular song, if not a hit, they would not always play it, nor ever play it the same. Hardly a logical approach to success in popular music. 

The Grateful Dead's tolerance for risk extended to their business practices. The Grateful Dead were regularly the first out-of-town band to play many of the new psychedelic ballrooms than sprung up around the country in 19l67 and '68. These new ballrooms were modeled, however vaguely, on the Fillmore and Avalon. Almost all of the proprietors of these establishments were inexperienced hippies who had little or no business experience. In most cases, they also didn't know anyone directly associated with the Dead, but just sounded persuasive over the phone. The Dead flew to these cities with no real guarantee of a payday, or a way to afford to get home if they didn't get paid. Yet the band took chances on new promoters nearly every month in the late 60s.

Other decisions by the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia also depended on  extraordinary risk tolerance, particularly in the early 1970s. Touring Europe, starting their own record company, starting a second record company (Round Records) for less popular material, spending their touring profits on a better, sound system and starting a travel agency (all of which is explored by Jesse Jarnow in Deadcast 7:4), just to name a few things, were each by themselves not a risk most bands would take. The Grateful Dead took all of them, in the space of two years. The band took chances. Sometimes they worked. Sometimes they didn't.

As Jarnow documents in Deadcast Season 7, the Grateful Dead's audience was expanding quickly, and in order to capture the crowds, the Dead moved their shows to places even larger than the indoor basketball arenas that had been rock music's top tier up until that time. Also, the Dead did not hesitate to work with inexperienced promoters if they felt that they "understood" the needs of the band. Most of the Spring '73 shows had a large degree of new promoters, new venues or both. 

We don't have Jesse Jarnow and a Deadcast episode to query the Cincinnati event, more's the pity. But from what we know, the Nippert Stadium presentation was another attempt by the Dead to expand their concert footprint. A venue never before used for a rock show and inexperienced promoters sounds like a risky proposition, and indeed it was. But that was how the 1973 Grateful Dead rolled. If it sounded like a good time, and might make for good music and a good day, the band was down. Mostly it worked, so why not?

Some Geography
The Grateful Dead had constructed a bespoke sound system for outdoor stadiums on their 1973 tour. That gargantuan PA had to be trucked across the country, so it was not a coincidence that the touring schedule  had gaps of at least one week between every show. The haul from San Francisco (after May 26) to Washington, DC (by June 9) was substantial. It makes sense to have tried to book a show on the way back. Even if the Cincinnati show might have turned out to be as profitable as some of the other shows, it would still make sense to have a payday on the way home.  

Also, by 1973 the Grateful Dead were catching on to the fact that their big outdoor shows were drawing a regional audience. The Washington, DC concerts, for example, drew plenty of Deadheads from New York and Philadelphia. Cincinnati was 500 miles from DC and nearly 600 from Iowa. So a huge contingent of Midwestern Grateful Dead fans were going to see themselves as within traveling range. The Cincinnati location made sense just by looking at a map. The Grateful Dead had already played Cincinnati four times (six shows, in 1968, '69, 71 and '72). They had also played Cleveland three times. Cincinnati and Ohio seemed like a logical choice.

The Cincinnati Comets of the American Soccer League opened their 1973 season with an exhibition game on May 20 at their home field, Nippert Stadium. They played (then 2nd Division) Bristol City, who beat them pretty handily, apparently.

Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
Nippert Stadium was the home stadium for the University of Cincinnati Bearcats football team, and had been throughout the century. The Bearcats had first played on the grounds in 1915, when it was called Carson Field. The stadium seats were constructed in 1925, and expanded in 1928 and again in 1954. The football capacity was 28,000. Nippert Stadium had been home to the AFL Cincinnati Bengals in 1968 and '69, until they moved into the new Riverfront Stadium in 1970.

In 1973, rock concerts in stadiums was still a new concept. Stadiums that hosted major league baseball were unwilling to put their playing fields at risk, so that left football stadiums. In the early 1970s, however, the rage was publicly-owned "multi-use" stadiums, so many cities had a facility that hosted both NFL and MLB teams. Thus there were fewer stadiums willing to try on big rock concerts. In the case of the Grateful Dead's spring '73 tour, neither Harder Stadium in Santa Barbara nor Kezar had major sports tenants. RFK had lost its baseball team (the Washington Senators had become the Texas Rangers after the 1971 season). 

The Cincinnati Summer Pop Festival bill, held on June 13, 1970 at Crosley Field. Promoted by Mike Quattro and Russ Gibb from Detroit. The Reds had just moved to Riverfront Stadium.

Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati hosted the baseball Reds, so it would not have made itself available. There had been one stadium concert in Cincinnati, at the old Crosley Field in Summer 1970. Crosley Field had been the home of the Reds for many years, but the Reds had moved to Riverfront mid-season. The Cincinnati Summer Pop Festival on June 13, 1970, an all-day event with numerous acts headlined by Grand Funk Railroad was hard rock madness at its 1970 worst. Iggy and The Stooges stamped their legend when Ig surf-walked into the waiting arms of the packed crowd. No one wanted a repeat.

Still, the University had signed up for a slate of six concerts in the Summer of 1970, of which the Grateful Dead would be the first. In 1970, the University had replaced the natural grass with astroturf. Cincinnati was not a public school, so they probably felt the revenue would help their bottom line. There was some risk, sure, but on the scale of things it wasn't much different than the UC Santa Barbara scenario. There was even a precedent in Ohio--sort of.

Belkin Productions, Cleveland's principal rock promoters since 1966, had booked a series of concerts at the Akron Rubber Bowl for the summer of 1972. Akron is 40 miles South of Cleveland. Jules and Mike Belkin had rented the Rubber Bowl from the University Of Akron for the summer, for about $40,000. The stadium had been built as a civic facility in 1940, but the University of Akron had purchased it for $1 from the city in 1971. Belkin put on 9 concerts at the football stadium. Most of the shows drew about 20,000, but the sold-out Rolling Stones show drew as many as 50,000 (for a list of the shows, see below).

At the end of the Summer of '72, the University of Akron chose not to renew the contract with Belkin Productions. The shows had been profitable, but there had been tension between the city and the promoters, and rock concerts still made communities nervous. The Rubber Bowl would replace the natural grass with astroturf in 1973, too, but I don't know if that figured into the decision not to renew. In any case, the Grateful Dead had played for Belkin in Cleveland before, but there was no chance they could play for them at the Rubber Bowl in '73.

Cincinnati Post June 7, 1973

Cincinnati Post, June 7, 1973 (cont)

The June 7, 1973 Cincinnati Post reported on the upcoming show:

THE GRATEFUL DEAD, which comes to the University of Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium at 7 pm, June 15, to kickoff a series of concerts, will initiate a new method of staging quite different than anything ever seen in this area.

Producers of the concert said that although Nippert Stadium seats approximately 30,000 persons, the stadium is being set-up for the Grateful Dead concert to handle a limited number of patrons.

Physically, the stage will be set-up between the 35 and 50-yard lines, playing into the horseshoe configuration of seats at Nippert Stadium. The astroturf immediately in front of the stage will be covered with a special new material to enable festival seating in front of the stage. Patrons in all locations will have an excellent view of the stage and a specially adapted sound system will provide stereo-type sound reproduction.

Although tickets to the concert are available on a general admission basis, producers of the concert said that since seating will be limited, patrons would be wise to purchase tickets in advance--once the supply of printed tickets is depleted, no more seats will be available.
I don't have any details about how Sam Cutler and the Grateful Dead made the connection to the University of Cincinnati. The show was promoted by the University itself  (the UC Office Of Programs and Cultural Affairs), a similar arrangement to Santa Barbara. Maybe there was an experienced concert promoter in the background. I don't know who had promoted the Dead's prior 1970s shows in Cincinnati, but Belkin Productions would  the Dead's next show in Cincinnati (on December 4, 1973) so I wouldn't be surprised if they had some involvement. In Santa Barbara, although the Dead were working with inexperienced young promoters, the (relatively) veteran promoter Sepp Donahower was assisting them. Probably there was a comparable arrangement in Cincinnati, with Belkin or someone. 

The Grateful Dead had a five-day break between RFK (ending June 10) and Cincinnati. The band members probably flew home, anticipating a return to Cincinnati a few days later. It was probably cheaper for the band to fly home than pay for hotel rooms. In any case, the Dead had their own travel agency, so they could find a bargain on tickets. In Jerry Garcia's case, he actually had a bluegrass gig in Warrenton, VA on the afternoon of June 11, so I assume he flew home a day later than the rest of the band. 

The crew, meanwhile, would have torn down the sound system at RFK, loaded it up and driven to Ohio. Figure it took a full day to deconstruct the sound system and load it up, and another full day to drive there. So the crew would have arrived in Ohio on Tuesday night, and would have begun setting up on Wednesday. That seems to be when trouble set in.


Cincinnati Enquirer, Thursday, June 14, 1973

 The June 14, 1973 Enquirer had the mournful headline "Grateful Dead Off At Nippert." 

The Grateful Dead concert, set for Friday at UC's Nippert Stadium, has been canceled. Reason for the cancellation, according to promoters, were "insurmuoutable problems connected with the staging of the event."
The technical problems were twofold. The size of the stage needed to accommodate the full Grateful Dead show posed a problem. So did the fact that the stadium is located directly behind the UC physical plant, which according to the Dead's road manager, Sam Cutler, makes entirely too much noise. He feared it would be a distraction.

It is believed the show will be rescheduled later in the summer when there some more time to prepare fully for it.

In general, when road managers in the 1970s explain why concerts had to be canceled, particularly road managers named Sam Cutler, they did not usually tell the truth, or much of it. In this case, however, I think Cutler's explanation was likely mostly true.

  • The principal reason that concerts were canceled was because of poor ticket sales, and given the Grateful Dead's popularity in 1973, I don't think that was the case.
  • The second most likely reason for bands to cancel concerts is that they don't think they will be paid. The University of Cincinnati was not some cigar-chewing mobster, however--any check from the school was going to clear the bank.
  • The other reason that bands canceled concerts was that some members weren't able to play. Usually, however, the band would state it as such, and in any case we know so much about the Grateful Dead. All the band members were fine, so that wasn't the problem either. 

The Deadcast made clear how much effort went into the groundbreaking Grateful Dead sound system, fine tuned for every venue. If the stage was really in front of the "physical plant," which I take to mean the University power station, I can see how it might undermine the Dead's state-of-the-art sound. I did think that a member of the Dead's sound team (such as Bob Matthews) visited all the venues beforehand, but somehow this got missed. 

In any case, since the report was in the Thursday paper, the show was effectively canceled on Wednesday, June 13. Given the putative schedule I described above, the crew would have been begun building the stage on Wednesday, and soon identified the issues. The band was still in San Francisco, presumably scheduled to fly on Thursday (June 14), so they never left home. 

The Nippert Stadium show didn't happen. The Here Comes Sunshine box set was just 17 discs, not 20. he Grateful Dead returned to action the next week in Vancouver, on June 22, 1973. The Dead played Cincinnati, indoors, on December 4, 1973 at Cincinnati Gardens. On October 2, 1976, they would return to the city again to play the 16,000 seat Riverfront Coliseum, but they never played outdoors there did not play a stadium in Cincinnati, although they played the Rubber Bowl with Bob Dylan and Tom Petty on July 2, 1986.

Appendix 1: Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, OH 1973
There were two concerts in Nippert Stadium in the summer of 1973, however. Presumably the bands weren't as finicky as the Grateful Dead about the technical issues or the size of the stage.


July 22, 1973 Nippert Stadium, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH: Edgar Winter Group/James Gang/Peter Frampton's Camel  (Sunday)
Attendance was apparently between 5000 and 7000. The Edgar Winter Group had scored a big hit in '72 with the instrumental "Frankenstein," and would soon score an even bigger one with bassist Dan Hartman's "Free Ride." Guitarist Ronnie Montrose had been replaced by Jerry Weems.

The James Gang featured singer Roy Kenner and guitarist Dominic Troiano, as Joe Walsh had left the band. Peter Frampton had left Humble Pie at the end of 1971, and was making his first American tour with his band, Frampton's Camel.

July 29, 1973 Nippert Stadium, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH: Grand Funk Railroad/Ball'n Jack (Sunday)
Grand Funk Railroad, about to have a mid-career boom with their newly-released "We're An American Band," drew about 8000.

August 3, 1975 Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, OH: Aerosmith/Black Oak Arkansas/Blue Oyster Cult/Styx/REO Speedwagon/Nitty Gritty Dirt Band/Foghat/Mahogany Rush/Outlaws (Sunday) Ross Todd Productions and U.S. Concert Board present the Ohio River Music Festival
Two years later, there was a big outdoor show at Nippert Stadium, headlined by Aerosmith

Appendix 2: Akron Rubber Bowl, Akron OH Summer 1972
Belkin Productions, out of Cleveland, booked nine concerts at the Akron Rubber Bowl in the Summer of 1972. For a complete look at the history of the shows, with pictures and all, see the Akron Beacon-Journal article here.  The shows were financially successful and fondly remembered by fans, but the University of Akron chose not to renew the contract.

June 16, 1972 Akron Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH: Three Dog Night/James Gang (Friday) estimated crowd- 12,000

July 3, 1972 Akron Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH: Faces/Badfinger/Cactus (Monday) est: 17000

July 11, 1972 Akron Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH: Rolling Stones/Stevie Wonder (Tuesday) est: 50000

July 17, 1972 Akron Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH: Black Sabbath/Humble Pie/Edgar Winter/Ramatam (Monday) est: 18000

July 21, 1972 Akron Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH: Osmonds/Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods (Friday) est: 20000

August 5, 1972 Akron Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH: Alice Cooper/J Geils Band/Dr. John (Saturday) est: 20000

August 11, 1972 Akron Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH: Yes/Mahavishnu Orchestra/The Eagles (Friday) est: 20000

August 20, 1972 Akron Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH: Chicago (Sunday) est: 19000

August 21, 1972 Akron Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH: Jefferson Airplane/Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen (Monday) est: 21000