Saturday, December 19, 2009

September 16, 1967 Convention Center Rotunda, Las Vegas, NV Grateful Dead (speculation)

A fellow scholar recently observed that the career chronology on Tom Constanten's website indicates that TC's first live performance with the Grateful Dead was at the Las Vegas Convention Center Rotunda in September, 1967. Although this performance does not appear in any known Grateful Dead performance list (to my knowledge), I suspect that Constanten's memory was pretty likely to be accurate. At the time, Constanten was in the Air Force, stationed in the desert somewhere, but he had lived in Las Vegas before. If Tom's old pal Phil Lesh and his band showed up in Vegas on a day when Airman Tom could get leave, he wasn't going to miss it. As such, it must have been pretty memorable, considering that Constanten went on to help record Anthem Of The Sun and then joined the Dead for about 16 months (November 23, 1968>January 26, 1970).

Taking Constanten's memory as a given, I have been looking into the exact day in September when the Grateful Dead's show at the Las Vegas Convention Center may have taken place. The Las Vegas Convention Center, at 3150 Paradise Road, was opened in 1959. Its main hall was a giant rotunda that had seats for 6,300. By the standards of the 1960s, a 6,300 seat auditorium was a very substantial venue. It thus follows that the Dead would have been playing Las Vegas on a Friday or Saturday night, as back in 1967 there were few weeknight gigs out of town. Most bands tried to fill up their gig sheet on weekends, using the weekdays for rehearsal and the occasional local gig or benefit. A brief review of their September 1967 weekend evening gigs on Deadlists reveals the following

Friday, Sep 2: Cabrillo College, Aptos, CA 
Saturday, Sep 3: Dance Hall, Rio Nido, CA
Friday, Sep 8: Eagles Auditorium, Seattle, WA
Saturday, Sep 9: Eagles Auditorium, Seattle, WA
Friday, Sep 15: Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, CA
Saturday, Sep 16: none
Friday, Sep 22: Family Dog, Denver, CO
Saturday, Sep 23: Family Dog, Denver, CO
Friday, Sep 29: Straight Theater, San Francisco, CA
Saturday, Sep 30: Straight Theater, San Francisco, CA

It seems pretty clear that the most likely date for a Vegas show was Saturday, September 16. With that in mind, let's consider the rest of the weekend. Friday, September 15 was a show at the outdoor Hollywood Bowl (2301 North Highland), a huge venue with a capacity of 17, 376. This Bill Graham promoted event had the title "Bill Graham Presents The San Francisco Scene." The triple bill was headlined by Jefferson Airplane, far and away San Francisco's biggest band, with two smash hit singles, with the Dead and then Big Brother opening the show, and the Airplane's Glen McKay providing the light show.

Given that the Dead and the Airplane were playing a big show on Friday night, and the fact that Las Vegas is just 4 hours from Los Angeles by car (traffic permitting of course), a Saturday night encore in Vegas for the San Francisco scene seems pretty plausible. Certainly in Fall 1967 the Dead, with just one poorly selling album, would not be able to headline a 6300-seat arena in Las Vegas, where they had never played, but with the Airplane heading the show, it suddenly seems very plausible. Most shows from the 60s are known through their posters, and if there was no poster for this show, or no attractive, collectible poster, its not at all surprising it dropped off the radar. does indicate a show on September 16, 1967, but it lists a free concert at Griffith Park  in Los Angeles with Jefferson Airplane. This seems as likely to strengthen my argument as not. If the Dead and the Airplane were on their way to Vegas, why not play a free concert in Los Angeles? Free concerts in Griffith Park were comparatively common, and since (as we know) it never rains in Southern California, a free concert would have been a good way to attract some attention and have some fun. I find it highly unlikely that the Airplane and the Dead had an early curtain in Las Vegas, so that left plenty of time to play Griffith Park and head Northwest on I-15 towards the Convention Center. A look at the best available Jefferson Airplane concert chronology at least reveals no conflicting Airplane performance on September 16.

As for Big Brother, a look at the definitive Big Brother performance history shows that on the afternoon of Saturday, September 16, 1967, they were playing on the afternoon blues program of the Monterey Jazz Festival. Since Big Brother had to hurry back to Monterey, that explains why they did not play the free concert in Griffith Park. Although I have not checked the jazz festival schedule for that year, the blues session was usually confined to the afternoon, so it does not absolutely rule out Big Brother joining the Dead and the Airplane for the repeat performance in Vegas.

What are we left with:
  • Tom Constanten clearly recalls the venue and month he first played with the Dead
  • The venue was a big one, and it was likely to be used only for a weekend gig
  • The only weekend night in September 67 where the Dead are "free" was September 16
  • The Dead, Airplane and Big Brother played Hollywood Bowl on September 15
  • The Dead and Airplane played Griffith Park on the afternoon of September 16
  • The Dead would need the Airplane to headline at Las Vegas Convention Center
If you find this series of enthymemes (strictly speaking a ratiocinatio) plausible, then a Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead gig at the Las Vegas Convention Center Rotunda on Saturday, September 16, 1967 seems like a likely proposition.


  1. Big Brother apparently did not play the September 15th gig at the Bowl. According to a contemporary review (Pete Johnson, "S.F. Rock Groups in Bowl Show," Los Angeles Times, September 15, 1967, p. D25), they "backed out without notice."

  2. A few other things to note, that reinforce this possibility.

    1) According to JABase (I am looking at v2.4, from 2000), the Airplane were back in SoCal on September 22: RCA Studio A, Hollywood CA (recording session for "Rejoyce"). Certainly plausible that they would have stayed south.

    2) Deadlists lists a GD studio session on September 18, based on a circulating tape of them working up Lovelight. Not sure if this was Socal or not, but if so this would seem to reinforce the southerly inclinations of the band in this time frame, making a Vegas jaunt more likely.

  3. Any mention in the LA Times Review of a band replacing Big Brother on the bill at Hollywood Bowl?

  4. It's pretty clear that it's just the two of them, GD and JA.

  5. Someone posted in the deadlists forum regarding 9/15/67:
    "Because folks couldn't dance in the aisles, the dead and the airplane played for free the following sunday in elysian park, just down the road from the LA police academy."

    This sounds like an authentic memory, but the newspaper review of 9/15/67 says there was indeed dancing in front of the stage.
    Also, Elysian Park is not Griffith Park.

    Nonetheless, it's possible that either the "Griffith Park" free show was misplaced, or that the Dead played in Elysian Park at some other time.

  6. I checked the tape of the 9/15/67 Jefferson Airplane show, which is quite an interesting example of 1967 crowd control.

    For the first few songs, the Airplane are concerned that no one is dancing: "Why don't you dance? You can't dance?"
    But security is stopping people from dancing; the band replies: "Come up and dance, how can they stop you? There's about 20,000 of you! You got feet, come on up!"

    The appeal works, all too well. A few songs later, the band appeals people to move away from the monitors and to sit down - the crowd has to get off the stage.
    Then the security head stops the show and tells everybody to clear the stage & sit back down before the show can continue.

    Later on Grace asks people to please bring back the stage props.

    Anyway, more importantly, there are a couple announcements from the band - "We'd like to invite you all to the park tomorrow," & "Come to our party tomorrow in the park."
    On tape, though, the park isn't identified.

    The Airplane would (much) later play a free show at Griffith Park in July '69, and at Elysian Park with the Moody Blues in Nov '69, so either park was an option.

    Checking other forums, I found one guy who posted on Sep 17 2012:
    "45 years ago today, me and a few other neighborhood kids went to Elysian Park for a free Jefferson Airplane & Grateful Dead show...we had the Mom of one of my buddies drop us off (a discreet distance away) and then we took the bus home (literally)...worst part was that the next day started senior year in high school."
    So that is a second witness to 9/16/67 being at Elysian Park!
    The strange thing is that both witnesses remember it as a Sunday 9/17 show. Coincidental error, I assume, unless there were two free park shows on the same weekend!

    Looking around, I was surprised to find this:
    "I'm interested in locating a photo of the spot in Elysian Park where the Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead played for free on January 22, 1967."

    Yet another lost show?

  7. Ahh, these many-layered onions.

  8. That was my post.
    Yes, Photographer Raul (contact me for his email) has photos that he took of the 1/22/67 Elysian Park event. I can send you a small proof sheet that shows an adobe/red brick building behind a baseball chain link fence.And Jerry of course! I've located another photographer who sent me a current photo of near the same exact spot (no baseball backstop).

    1st email
    "My photos are of the Dead and Airplane! Both bands were in L.A. recording albums, Jerry helped with White Rabbit and I think this is when they were living with Owsley at a rental in Watts!
    Later this fall I will be doing a show at the Fur Peace Ranch! Yorma and Jack have commented on how nice my photos are of the Airplane! This was about a week after the Human Be-In.
    My information might be off but that is what I have gathered!"

    2nd email
    "Big Brother played at the same venue in March of 1967.
    The band was taking a set break and they were standing within a baseball backstop!
    You are correct these are very rare photographs. One of Jerry's daughters purchased some from me and said the same!"


    The exact location of these photos are in Elysian Park, North of Scott Ave., South of Academy Rd, West of Stadium Way, East of Elysian Park Drive. If anyone reading this lives near this area please email me at slipnut01 at gmail dot com

  9. It would be nice to see photos of the 1/22/67 show - hopefully it'll be posted someday at the Brokendown Palaces site?

    The Dead were indeed in the area recording their album. I'm not sure about the Airplane, though; I don't know about any other shows or studio activity in LA that week.
    The Dead hadn't lived in LA since April '66, and Garcia had helped the Airplane record Surrealistic Pillow in Nov '66.

  10. Just to follow up on the previous comments & not mislead future readers - 1/22/67 turned out to be a false date, the photographer's error.
    The photos of the show revealed a warm, sunny day in the park; whereas Jan 22 was a rainy day with temps in the 50s. Garcia was also playing a guitar that he'd just started using in the summer of '67. Plus, Jefferson Airplane was in San Francisco on Jan 22.
    In short, the actual date was 9/16/67 in Elysian Park. (Deadbase had it mistaken as Griffith Park.)

    Also, for strictest accuracy, I should note that Constanten's list of performances lists the Las Vegas show as "Sept? 1967," which indicates that Constanten wasn't even sure of the month. I'd speculate that a Las Vegas trip would be more likely in October or November - the Dead had started recording Anthem, and had a bunch of free weekend dates.

    1. I believe I was at this concert, the one in Elysian Park in September, 67. This is the first reference I have seen concerning it. I remember jumping on the stage and dancing during the Dead's set and coming off big time stoned though I had not smoked anything! When i came back to Orange County from New York City my parents decided I was crazy and stuck me in the local funny farm ( Norwalk ) where I was their first hippie. After that little excursion to dance with the Dead in Elysian I was putting on my hitchhiking shoes and thumbing back up to the City. They really thought they were going to keep their Bohemian daughter at home in OC when Haight Ashbury continued to beckon? I think not!

  11. So, where are we in terms of a possible Vegas gig in this timeframe?

    1. Here's my current thoughts on the matter:

      I doubt they played in Las Vegas that night, and I also doubt they played any weeknight. What seems more likely is that they played a weekend gig in Las Vegas in October, perhaps Friday October 13 or a night on the weekend of October 20-21, while they were recording Anthem Of The Sun in Los Angeles.

  12. Tom Constanten spoke a little more about this show in an interview a few years ago:

    Q: Do you remember your first time onstage with the Grateful Dead?
    TC: That would be in 1968, when they came to play at the Las Vegas Convention Center Rotunda. I was still in the Air Force, but they invited me onstage to join them, embarrassingly short hair and all. It was the same venue where I’d made my debut seven years earlier, backed by the Las Vegas “Pops” Orchestra. “Homey” might not be the best word to describe how it felt, but it’s the best I can come up with.

    The year is off, but it was certainly a memorable occasion for him, so there's no doubt it happened....someday we might be able to pin down the date!

  13. But, looking for it, I found ANOTHER lost show!

    From the Las Vegas Sun, October 22, 1968:

    Clark County Jaycee 1968 Fair drew 124,000 people over five sunny days, "quite a contrast to the first fair in 1953 when the lone tent blew down," an official said.
    John McBride, chairman of the Jaycee County Fair, said yesterday that attendance last week on one day, Saturday, was "almost what the whole fair did last year." He estimated the overall attendance was up 25 per cent over last year.
    "We attribute the increase to a number of factors," McBride said. "First of all we gained from the increased size of the exhibit area at Convention Center. There were 216 exhibitors this year, compared with about 140 last year."
    Other factors included "five days of excellent weather, the new car dealers showing which stimulated a lot of interest and the fact that we had the largest carnival ever," he continued. "The carnival alone covered four acres in front of Convention Center."
    A teenagers show, "The Greatful Dead," drew "well in excess of 2,000 attendance," McBride said.
    Sunday's Festival of Nations conducted by Maestro Leo Damiani of Los Angeles had an attendance of more than 3,000 persons.
    He said special events including the Hugher Aircraft show, helicopter rides, several new carnival rides, and participation by each branch of the armed forces also contributed heavily.

    1. There's even A PHOTO!
      Not of the show itself, but a sign advertising it:

      Las Vegas Convention Center
      October 16-20 Jaycees Clark County Fair
      Oct 20 Festival of Nations
      Oct 19 Grateful Dead Show

      So I'm thrilled to report another Dead show found: Saturday, October 19, 1968, at the Las Vegas Convention Center, with over 2000 teenagers attending.

      As part of a fair with the air force participating, it's certain that Tom Constanten was there.
      My suspicion is that TC may be off in his memory and it's this Oct '68 show he remembers as his first. Although it's quite possible there's yet another undiscovered show from fall '67.
      I didn't find more Dead mentions in the Sun, but the online search was limited and other Vegas papers might have something.

    2. I had this one listed already. It was on a list of gigs I found at the GD Archives. But some great color! Dead got $2,500 or 50% of the door.

    3. Yes, I saw that list of '68-69 gigs (with payment & promoter info), but it's not entirely to be trusted since it skips some shows known to be played, and includes others known to be canceled (like 11/16/68 Vancouver and 4/1/69 Miami). Good to have an internal confirmation, though!