Wednesday, November 25, 2009

April 2, 1971 Kent State University, Kent, OH The Grateful Dead

A correspondent forwards the fascinating information that the Grateful Dead appear to have played a gig at Kent State University in Kent, OH on Friday, April 2, 1971. The listing (above) comes from the cache of Billboard magazines accessible on Google Books. It is from the Talent section of the April 10, 1971 edition (p.21), in the San Francisco portion of News From Music Capitals Around The World. Many of the notes from correspondent Mary Turner refer to San Francisco based bands, rather than just events in San Francisco itself. I know of no other reference to this date for a Grateful Dead performance, so this may be a lost date.

Did The Grateful Dead Play Kent State On April 2, 1971?
As all American periodicals are forward dated (because of Second Class Mail rates), the press deadline for this issue of Billboard seems to have been about April 1. Most of the concert reviews are from March, and the latest is March 30. There is one news item that refers to a club (Ungano's in New York City) being closed April 1. This leads me to think that Mary Turner was reporting on a scheduled show, but that she did not know for a fact if it occurred. That being said, most canceled shows are canceled some time in advance, so there's no inherent reason to assume that the show was canceled.

April 2, 1971 was a Friday. The Grateful Dead were on their way to New York to play three nights at Manhattan Center on April 4-5-6, to begin an extensive East Coast tour, mostly of colleges. Although the Dead were already world famous by 1971, they were still in a precarious financial situation, so they made a point of playing as many gigs as possible. Two things make the Kent State gig seem very plausible:

  • The Spring 1971 tour included a number of college dates (including Franklin & Marshall on April 10, Bucknell on April 14, Allegheny College on April 15 and Princeton on April 17), so its plausible to assume that a booking agent with college connections also booked a Midwestern date.
  • The Dead had been touring with their own sound system since 1966, so while the band members probably flew to the East Coast, the equipment was probably trucked to the East Coast. Kent, Ohio is just a few miles off Interstate 80, the main route from San Francisco to New York City. If the equipment was being driven cross-country anyway, it would make financial sense for a cash-strapped band to play a Friday night gig on the way to New York. The costs for the band would be negligible, as both equipment and band was heading East anyway

Kent, OH
Kent State University is a substantial University. While generally in the shadow of Ohio State, and remembered today for the terrible tragedy of May 4, 1970 (when National Guardsmen killed 4 students during an Anti-Vietnam War protest, memorialized in the Neil Young song "Ohio"), Kent State was a large college town with a lively music and arts scene. The most famous musician to come out of Kent was Joe Walsh--today most people are only familiar with Joe Walsh because of his 1970s solo work and his membership in the Eagles, but his 60s band The James Gang were badass indeed (Pete Townshend said that Joe Walsh was his favorite American guitarist).

There were signs of life in early 1970s Ohio as well. Art student Chrissie Hynde was in a band with a future member of Devo (Mark Mothersbaugh), and despite the tragedy of 1970 Kent State was an interesting place to be in the Midwest. Certainly a Grateful Dead concert would have been well attended there, just as much as a concert would be in smaller places on the tour (like Bucknell or SUNY Cortland).

The most likely venue would seem to have been the MAC Center (also known as Memorial Gym). Built originally in 1950, and renovated a number of times,  the venue currently seats about 6,200 in basketball configuration. I don't know how much (or if) that is different than the 1971 configuration.

Although the Billboard listing for a Grateful Dead concert at Kent State on April 2, 1971 probably refers to a scheduled gig that may or may not have happened, the event definitely falls into the realm of the plausible.

  • The show fits the Dead's known touring schedule
  • The location of the gig made economic sense for the Dead's travel plans
  • Kent State would have enthusiastically received the Dead

Legislating against this remains the fact that no poster, ad, tape, ticket stub or memory of a 1971 Grateful Dead show at Kent State seems to have endured. It would be very interesting to hear from someone in the Greater Akron Metropolitan Area about any memories about whether this event occurred or not.


  1. I didn't find the Kent State school newspaper online, but I am about 90% sure that if someone could eyeball that from around the relevant time period, we'd find out. (And my money would be on a cancellation.)

  2. this is the second time this post has been brought to my attention and here's what i think i found out.

    a good friend of mine is probably the most active historian in this town (kent, oh) and specializes in kent (the town) and kent state university's musical and artistic heritage. when this post first surfaced on my radar i pointed him towards it.

    i had long forgotten what came of it until i ran across this post again just recently. after speaking with him again it seems the outcome is this:

    ME: dude did we ever figure out that grateful dead kent thing?

    HIM: yeah they weren't here or if they were
    it was not advertised in the Stater (KSU newspaper)and nobody I know went and no tapes exist
    dude that was in the middle of a semester
    it would have been all over the Stater if they came

    after you sent that I went right to the Staters and looked real hard and found nothing
    (he has direct access to the kent state libraries archives.)

    I would think if they played the MAC Center someone would have told me about it or a tape would have surfaced I know Deadheads who lived here then who were into the Dead then and not a peep

    but yeah you pointed that out to me when I was totally spending every day in the archives and I went right to that date and looked at the weeks before and after
    and nothing came up at all not a blurb
    it's possible they were flirting with a booking that shit goes on all the time [END]

    Kent State books several national bands every year, ans at least the way it is run now feelers are sent out to 6-12 bands at a time to figure out logistics cost etc. this may have been the case, no one really knows for sure, but i'm betting this show didn't happen based on what my buddy has (hasn't) found.

    just wanted to add to the discussion. thanks!

  3. Omega, thanks for chiming in. I agree with you that if the Dead had played Kent State in 1971, people around at the time would have known. If they didn't know, it very likely didn't happen. Nice to get a confirmation.

  4. I attended the Dead event. It was at a bar, not a large venue.