Friday, January 29, 2010

August 21, 1969 Aqua Theatre, Seattle, WA (Revisited)

Earlier I wrote about the Grateful Dead's appearance at the Greenlake Aquatheatre in Seattle in August 1969. This event, originally scheduled for Wednesday, August 20, was rained out and rescheduled for Thursday, August 21. The Grateful Dead and the other acts on the bill took the night of August 20 to make a suprise appearance at a local bar, which intrepid research revealed to be a place called El Roach at 5419 Ballard Avenue.

The Aquatheatre show was interesting for any number of reasons, including the guest appearance of Sanpaku flautist Gary Larkey, the fact that it was the last performance at the Aquatheatre, and the peculiar physical setup of the Aquatheatre itself. Thanks to the intrepid photojournalism of blog reader Ron, we have been provided with some remarkable contemporary photos of the site. The site of the old Aquatheatre (5900 W. Green Lake Way N, Seattle, WA 98103) is now a public park, and Ron took some fantastic photos which he shared with me.

The Grateful Dead advertisement above is from the Seattle underground paper The Helix. It is a framed display at the site, which also includes information about a legendary Led Zeppelin show earlier that year. This poster is interesting not least because it may be the first formal publicity for the New Riders Of The Purple Sage. Their name had definitely not appeared on a poster or ad outside of San Francisco at this time, and may not have appeared in the Bay Area either (we are still working on that detail).
This photo by Ron shows a piece of the grandstand. The performers played on an extended sort of "pier,' separated by a small body of water, facing the grandstand.

Here is another view. I think the performers played on the pier peeling off to the left of the photo. The grandstands were considerably larger, as the venue had 5582 seats, but even now these photos give an interesting perspective on the long gone Aquatheatre. Many Deadheads have seen the band in numerous venues, but inevitably they tend to be a laundry list of municipal auditoriums, "sheds" (like Shoreline Amphitheatre) and converted movie theatres. I cannot say if the Grateful Dead ever played another venue where they backed onto a lake and had water between themselves and the audience, but if they did I don't know about it. Every Grateful Dead show was different in its own right, but this one had to have been a lot more different than most of them.

For those who have been following the saga of these two days in Seattle, Ron has also provided great current photos of the site of El Roach at 5419 Ballard Avenue, where the Dead played a surprise Wednesday night gig as a result of the Aquatheatre rainout. For those photos, see the bottom of the post here.

Thanks once again to Ron for his amazing photos.


  1. "I cannot say if the Grateful Dead ever played another venue where they backed onto a lake and had water between themselves and the audience..."

    If they played at the facility where I believe they played for their only Montreal show (August 6 1967), that theatre had a man-made pond separating the audience from the stage. I'll poke around and can't see if I can fing out more, if you're interested.

  2. "I cannot say if the Grateful Dead ever played another venue where they backed onto a lake and had water between themselves and the audience..."

    No lake involved, but didn't the Hollywood Bowl have a pool in front of the stage in the '60s?
    And I think that 6/21/71 show in France was next to a swimming pool as well, the Dead remembered people jumping into the pool....

    I wonder if any of the audience could swim around the Dead at the Aqua Theatre?

  3. I'm wondering about Empire Pool, Wembley, too. I know of some photos of Eric Clapton playing a London venue with a pool in the 1970s, but I'm not sure which one it was.

    We seem to be on to something here, although I have to admit its a fairly odd set of instances: Montreal, Hollywood Bowl, Aquatheatre, France, Empire Pool (maybe)...

  4. I was at Empire Pool shows and I can assure you that there was no water. The North London venue is now called Wembley Arena and it was used for a lot of musical performances back in the 1970s. I also recall seeing Frank Zappa there in 1973. There were also some Grateful Dead/NRPS/Santana shows scheduled there that ended up being cancelled - and posters exit.

    I understand that there was a swimming pool there originally (1930s) and it would have been used for the 1934 Empire Games and 1948 Olympics and then filled in. It is a large indoor arena with elevated seating all around and was used for ice hockey, other ice shows, horse events etc.. When concerts are held there, the cover the arena itself with seating - so there is no standing. As for events with water, the Clapton event would likely have been in one of the many parks we have in London.

  5. According to someone who went to the show, the Dead played on some sort of barge that was parked just offshore. This would fit with what I saw on the picture of the Led Zeppelin performance.

  6. Not quite what you are after, but here are some water-themed gigs:

    June 8, 1973: Old and in the Way backed up to what looks like a pond at the Whippoorwill Bluegrass Festival. See

    September 5, 1973: Garcia/Saunders on the SS Bay Belle in New York City Harbor, as seen briefly in "Hell's Angels Forever."

    September 15, 1976: JGB on the SS Duchess in New York City Harbor.

    November 3, 1982: JGB on the Riverboat President in New Orleans.

    March 6, 1987: JGB on the USS Carl Vinson, docked at Alameda Naval Air Station.

    I haven't seen pictures of the stage setup from the Eel River JGB shows (1987, 1989 and 1991), but I have imagined that the stage fronted the river. Pure guess.

    Anyway, I know none of this is to the question, but, well ... arrr!

  7. Although the Dead's stage setup at Aquatheatre was probably unique, the degree of difference was a lot smaller than I had imagined.

  8. I was looking through Tom Constanten's show chronology (for another comment here), and noticed a couple interesting things -

    One, he lists a Jan 15, 1970 show at the Aqua Theatre.
    If the 8-21-69 show was the last one played there, this doesn't seem possible.
    Yet, a Seattle show on 1-15-70 would fit well into the Dead's tour schedule.

    TC's list otherwise seems extremely accurate. (Although he does list five days of shows in Honolulu, Jan '70, when apparently there were just two.)

    I also noticed that he does NOT list the 6-29-69 Rio Nido show, which may confirm your speculation that the show was cancelled.

    I saw one more show which is not on any lists: 12-14-69 (a Sunday) at the Kaleidoscope in LA. Which again, seems like a logical date & place. So perhaps TC was keeping his own date-list and not simply referring to a Deadbase?

  9. There is no way a concert would have been held at Green Lake in January in Seattle, due to the weather that time of year

    1. A few bogus shows on TC's list led me astray! The Aqua Theatre was closed by Jan '70 anyway. And as the Dead discovered, even summer shows there could get rained out.
      Per one site: "Seattle's summer weather was unpredictable. Evening showers or downpours made the stage slippery, causing dancers to improvise steps in order to maintain their balance. Threatening weather frequently led to no-shows at the gate, especially by patrons coming from long distances... The Seattle Center offered comfortable seating and protection from the elements that the Aqua Theatre could not provide... [After 1964] the facility was used only rarely, mostly for local productions."

  10. I was there! First live dead show , sat in stands,smoked one with my drummer at the time, all the while conversing with pigpen about the configuration of the new riders, and how good jerry was at playing pedal steel. Pigpen himself was not smoking, but had a great looking leather doctors bag. The gig at the roach was real my friend Jay Cramalot owned it, lots of great music was heard there! The dead were loose that night, but inspiring musically! One of my more memorable shows! Thanks toR.H. For all of his words for the last fifty years.