Thursday, October 3, 2013

May 7-9, 1968, The Electric Circus, 23 St. Mark's Place, New York, NY: The Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead first came to underground prominence in San Francisco, but their next conquest was Manhattan. Although the Grateful Dead did not sell a lot of records until 1970, and did not become a significant concert attraction until that time, Manhattan took a shine to them early. New York City Deadheads, from Brooklyn and Queens as well as Manhattan, were among the first to make visits by the Grateful Dead an occasion to attend every single show. San Franciscans could afford to be casual, because the Dead would always return home, but Manhattan seems to have been the first place where fans were determined to go to every single show in town. Thus it is no surprise that there were legendary 60s Dead shows from Manhattan, most notably at The Fillmore East, but also at the Cafe Au Go Go, in Central Park, and at Flushing Meadows, among other places.

Yet the Grateful Dead played six largely forgotten shows in three nights in Manhattan, on the weekend of May 7, 8 and 9, 1968. All six shows were likely packed, and yet the shows are thoroughly forgotten. Part of the reason for this, of course, is that no tapes endure from those shows, and in this century that often causes Dead shows to drift into the darkness. Yet given the number of people who must have attended the shows, it is surprising how little references there are to the shows at Manhattan's now largely forgotten Electric Circus. There is enough evidence to be certain that the shows occurred, and yet the Electric Circus has become invisible in the 60s Grateful Dead narrative, a very rare state for any Dead shows in Manhattan. This post will look at what can be retrieved from the Grateful Dead's weekend at the Electric Circus, and attempt to look at the club itself, in order to try and sketch a picture of what the Dead's show may have been like.

Outside The Electric Circus on October 31, 1967 (from the Village Voice)
The Grateful Dead, Spring 1968
In the Spring of 1968, the Grateful Dead were finishing recording Anthem Of The Sun. By April, they were working on the final mixdown, so they spent a week in Miami, working at Criteria Studios in Miami. It's not clear if they accomplished anything at Criteria, but they did play seven shows that week, six at Thee Image and one free one at Graynolds Park. This was followed by the Dead's debut at Philadelphia's Electric Factory on April 27 and 28, and then a swing up to New York. Since the Dead did not have shows until the next weekend at the Electric Circus, they found time to play free shows at Columbia University on Wednesday (May 3) and Central Park on Thursday (May 5). A band who came to town and played two high-profile free shows loomed large in hip New York City, and those events seemed to have completely overshadowed the Electric Circus shows.

Although the Dead probably got paid decently at the Electric Circus, it was not a first-tier venue. Sly had played there, but at the time Sly And The Family Stone would have been completely unknown on the East Coast. Often, the Electric Circus didn't even mention the names of their bands in their weekly ads in the Village Voice, so it may seem like a strange choice for the Dead to have played there. After all, the premier rock venue on the East Coast was only a few blocks away from 23 St. Marks Place--why didn't the Grateful Dead play the newly-opened Fillmore East, nearby at 105 2nd Avenue (at 6th Street)?

Touring rock bands generally book their shows 60 to 90 days in advance. Bill Graham had opened the Fillmore East on March 8, 1968. Back in early '68, the Grateful Dead and the other San Francisco rock bands were running the Carousel Ballroom, and they were one of Bill Graham's principal competitors back in San Francisco. The Dead would have booked their Eastern tour in February or March, and they weren't very likely to get a call from Bill Graham at the time. But there weren't a lot of good rock gigs in Manhattan in 1968, either, so the Dead found themselves playing two shows a night for three evenings at the Electric Circus.

The Grateful Dead debuted at the Fillmore East shortly after the Electric Circus shows, on June 14-15, 1968. By that time, the Dead's enterprise at the Carousel was doomed, and Bill Graham was on the verge of taking over the lease, soon to rename it the Fillmore West. Granted, the Dead's June Fillmore East shows would have to have been billed before the Carousel collapsed, but by April or May the writing would have been on the wall for the Carousel. In any case, with Summer coming on, even if the Carousel might have survived--some thought it would--Bill Graham and the Grateful Dead needed each other on the East Coast. Thus the legend of the Grateful Dead at Fillmore East has rightly been remembered as the Dead playing at their Eastern Division "Home Court," but the result has been that the Electric Circus was written out of the Dead's history. As Graham and the Dead became the only permanent institutions from San Francisco's 60s, both sides seemed to have preferred to forget the time they wouldn't play nice.

Francine Azzaria (Frankie Weir)
One lasting impact of the Electric Circus shows was having Francine "Frankie" Azzaria get on the bus with the band. Frankie ended up moving in with Bob Weir in the 70s, taking his last name, and she was very much a part of the family. She worked in the Dead's Travel Agency in the early 70s, and she also sang in the obscure band James And The Mercedes, who opened for Kingfish a few times around 1975. McNally describes her arrival into the band's orbit:
Frankie [Azzaria] was the woman Weir had in mind when singing "Sugar Magnolia"...Funny, bawdy, a high-energy dancer, Frankie had been a finalist on American Bandstand and worked at the Peppermint Lounge in New York, then on the TV shows Hullabaloo and Shindig. Following her first Grateful Dead show in 1968, she ended the night at a jam with Mickey. Afterward, she and Mickey walked around Washington Square. and Hart persuaded her to run away with the Grateful Dead. They had not kissed, or even touched. She went home to bed, and was awakened the next morning by Ram Rod, Jackson and Hagen, who were there to pick and give her a ride in the truck to the next show, in Virginia..."[they said] 'Hey look lady, you're either coming or you're not'...I got into the truck and we drove away." (McNally p.359)
The last show of the Eastern tour was in Virginia Beach on May 11, so Frankie's meeting with Mickey Hart clearly was at the Electric Circus. Wherever the jam was that Mickey attended, Washington Square was over in the West Village (at 5th Avenue), so all the geography fits. Of course, Frankie left with Hart, yet she ended up with Weir, but then, it was the 60s.
A publicity photo from The Electric Circus
The Electric Circus--What Was It?
Given the paucity of detail for what should I have been a high profile memory, I have attempted to reconstruct a little of the history of the Electric Circus, in an effort to consider what the event must have been like. My principal source for the first rock incarnations of 23 St. Marks Place owe a lot to Richie Unterberger's excellent White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day By Day (2009: Jawbone Press). My principal source for information about The Electric Circus itself is the indispensable blog for New York 60s venues, It's All The Streets You Crossed.

April 1-30, 1966, The Dom, New York, NY: The Exploding Plastic Inevitable with The Velvet Underground
The Dom had been a Polish hall, and "Dom" means "home" in Polish, so the building was known as The Dom. The Dom had a long history, which I won't go into here. In early 1966, however, the first floor ballroom in The Dom was rented by Andy Warhol's crew, for a unique sort of "environment" called The Exploding Plastic Inevitable. The event included an elaborate light show, performance art and music by an unknown band called The Velvet Underground. Although The Exploding Plastic Inevitable grew out of the same cultural firmament that had created The Trips Festival, in many ways it was quite the opposite, edgy and self-conscious where The Trips Festival and The Fillmore were relaxed and liberating.

In any case, The Exploding Plastic Inevitable took New York by storm. The Velvet Underground, themselves a unique and fascinating group, became the new underground Greenwich Village rock sensation, long before they had even recorded. After the April engagement, the EPI performance, with the Velvet Underground, went on to tour various places, most famously with The Mothers Of Invention. The West Coast was not really ready for them (although the "feud" between Lou Reed and Frank Zappa was probably invented for the press), and the tour was not a success. By the time The Velvet Underground had returned to New York, however, expecting to return to The Dom, they found that Warhol had lost control of the building.

An ad from the March 30, 1967 Village Voice, for what appears to be the last shows at The Balloon Farm
The Balloon Farm
According to Richie Unterberger, 23 St. Marks Place had been taken over by Bob Dylan's manager Albert Grossman. The always-shrewd Grossman, no doubt having noticed how well the Paul Butterfield Blues Band were doing at the Fillmore, seems to have looked to start his own venue. Apparently, the Balloon Farm was at the same address as The Dom, but on the second floor rather than the first. "The Dom" remained as the name of the restaurant on the first floor.

While various nascent psychedelic bands played The Balloon Farm, the Velvets actually played every weekend between September 16 and October 16, 1966, further confirming their legendary status in Greenwich Village. The Balloon Farm never really caught on, and it ground to a halt by April 1, 1967. Nonetheless, the East Village was clearly still where the action was, just as it had been during the Folk Boom, because it was so accessible by subway and rail from both the city and the surrounding suburbs.

An ad for the opening of the Electric Circus, from the June 29, 1967 Village Voice
The Electric Circus
Sometime in the Spring of 1967, the lease on 23 St. Marks Place was transferred to Jerry Brandt, a former William Morris agent turned impresario. Brandt attempted to merge the innovations of Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable with the Trips Festival inspirations of the Fillmore. It was completely over the top, of course, but that is New York's stock in trade. San Francisco was very hip in the middle of 1967, so there was a definite nod to the city at the beginning. For the first several weeks of the Electric Circus, refugees from the Bay Area's Renaissance Faires juggled and promenaded for the souped-up masses.

The Electric Circus was mainly a nightclub, open 7 nights a week. There were bands every night, but mostly a house band played for at least a week, and possibly weeks, at a time. The Circus had taken over both the 1st and 2nd floor ballrooms of 23 St. Marks, so it encompassed both prior incarnations, as The Dom had been on the 1st floor, and The Balloon Farm on the 2nd. Still, there were periodically name bands, such as Sly And The Family Stone, who played the club on the weekend of August 29-31, 1967.

Nonetheless, initially at least, The Electric Circus was a popular nightclub in New York. I discovered an obscure but fascinating book, self-published in 1988, called Crying Out Loud. Author Sean Hutchinson had been the bass player in a late 60s band called Far Cry, who released one album on Vanguard Apostolic Records in 1969.  Among the many fascinating insights into the fringes of the late 60s rock industry are some vivid descriptions of Far Cry's stint as the house band at the Electric Circus. He sets the scene:
Midway down St. Mark's Place [E. 8th St],  against a backdrop of leather shops, boutiques, head stores and other psychedelic squalor stood the Electric Circus, which was the site of Far Cry's new nightly job. Outside, faded flower children went to seed against the dirty pavement. Inside, in a black, womblike, chamber, the big beat pounded out, wrapped in a multi-media, strobelit, amplified frenzy.
On hot summer nights the Electric Circus would thunder until the wee hours, hosting a thousand hyperactive teenagers from the Bronx or New Jersey. They, it seemed, could dance for hours, tireless in the swelter of drugs and heat (p.140).

Are these teenagers from the Bronx or New Jersey? Given the bright light of the room, I suspect that this photo was somewhat staged for the cameras
Far Cry played The Electric Circus for much of the Summer of '69. Hutchinson:
On weekends, the place was like the stockyards. By early evening the street outside would be teeming with a waiting throng, all dressed in suitable hippie attire. Boots and bell bottom jeans with army surplus jackets proved to be a popular mode at that time--one that was suitable, with variations, for both male and female. Few women wore skirts or dresses those days; functionality was in, while femininity, with all its sexist connotations, was out.
At nine pm, The Electric Circus would open, and from then on until closing some five hours later the room would be filled to the bursting point. Packed in shoulder to shoulder, the crowd continued to boogie despite the congestion, wriggling in the semi-darkness with sweaty and determined fervor. At the back of the cavernous hall was a sort of grotto, walls upholstered with small upholstered cells, and while they were hardly comfortable, these spots were just the place to catch one's breath, grope with one's partner, or simply swallow a few pep pills before rejoining the fray.
All night long the din was incessant, live music instantly supplanted by recorded offerings; to the band members it appeared that the crowd did not bother to distinguish between the two. Four shows a night was hard work, but such was the musician's crucible, and we hammered our hardest with every set.
By two A.M. the revels would be ended in exhaustion. The band would play a final barrage while the audience stumbled out, shell shocked with ears ringing...The Electric Circus was silent at last. The "Ultimate Legal Entertainment Experience" was over for another evening (pp.140-141).

Inside at the Electric Circus

Far Cry wasn't that great a band, but they played wild, free-form type music: a reviewer suggests "imagine Blood Sweat & Tears locked in a closet with Captain Beefheart and John Cipollina." So primal 1968 Grateful Dead, with a raging "Alligator>Caution" jam, would probably have fit right in with the Electric Circus. Back in '68, some places weren't ready for the Grateful Dead, their feedback, extended jamming and their careening sense of musical danger. Greenwich Village was ready, however, since musical madness seemed to be on the menu every weekend regardless of who was booked.

One commenter on the Archive does seem to have seen the Dead at The Electric Circus, and he had an amusing memory
Of note--footnote--to historians: The Electric Circus had an unofficial policy of letting people in free if they were barefoot. Sort of a hip statement. We found a spot under a stoop where we would hide ours--until one night after a Hendrix show they were gone. Well worth the loss of a cheap pair of sneakers, however.
A recent online article had some interesting memories from musicians who played the Electric Circus. The most interesting comment comes from avant-garde composer Morton Subotnick
Don Buchla designed the whole sound system. The sub-woofers were huge, they were actually attached to the floor so you could feel the vibration of the sub-woofer. And of course people were moving, so once everybody moved together with that, it was pretty impressive.
Don Buchla was a legendary California synthesizer pioneer, intimately connected to Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. Buchla, for example, built the sound system for the Prankster's famous bus. I wonder if the Dead hitched up their sound system to Buchla's PA? You'd have to think Phil Lesh would have enjoyed playing through giant sub-woofers located in the floor, and the crowd would surely have felt every Phil-bomb.

It may be that many of the people attending had little idea who was actually playing, nor did they actually care. In any case, The Electric Circus rarely booked name bands, and with the Fillmore East just a few blocks away, there was no way the Dead were going to play there again. New York is fashionable, and things happen fast, but they end fast too. The Electric Circus had a pretty good run, but it faded away around 1971. Jerry Brandt had sold the club around 1969--I'm not sure to who--and went on to manage a singer named Jobriath (google him yourself), and then opened a club called The Erotic Circus, which I think became Plato's Retreat, another legendary club well outside the subject matter of this blog.

The Afterlife Of The Electric Circus
The Electric Circus had its moment, and then New York moved on. Nobody thought about it much for the next few decades. I only thought about it when I tried to figure it out as a rock venue, which turns out to have been only a slight part of its legacy. Yet one characteristic of New York is that it is full of writers and artists who lend their talents to enshrining the city they know in their own imaginations. 

Lacking a tape of the Grateful Dead's 1968 Electric Circus shows, we can only imagine what their performances might have been like. But we have some help, something to play a soundtrack over. The Electric Circus seems to have been memorialized on screen at least twice. In the 1968 Clint Eastwood movie Coogan's Bluff, where a rural Arizona detective has to recapture a fugitive in New York, Eastwood looks for a suspect's girlfriend in a hip New York nightclub.  The film's Pigeon Toed Orange Peel Club was shot at The Electric Circus. See for yourself on YouTube (by the way, the white guy called "Omega" is supposedly future New Rider bassist Skip Battin).

For a more modern version, in Season 6 of Mad Men, some characters go the Electric Circus.

Although it's hard to be certain about filmed recreations, it does suggest that even if the Dead played well at The Electric Circus, it may not have mattered that much to the patrons. Of course, that may very well suggest that the band was free to play whatever they wanted, and the music may have been really special, even if no one was in a state to remember it. 

After 1971, 23 St. Mark's Place was too small to be a rock concert venue. Supposedly the building was relatively intact, if somewhat run down, until about 2002, when it was substantially remodeled. It looks nice today, although it is just a typical condo/apartment development, with retail and restaurants on the ground floor. There's no hint of the Velvet Underground, The Grateful Dead and thousands of teenagers from around the Tri-City area, rocking it out until the early morning hours.
23 St Marks Place, New York, NY, the former site of The Electric Circus, in May 2013


  1. Hi Corry,
    Here's what I've got for the Electric Circus.
    The cavernous ballroom space with a balcony originally consisted of four buildings built in 1831 as townhouses for the wealthy.
    When the neighborhood gradually became the heart of Little Germany, with a population of German immigrant workers, #19 and 21 were purchased in 1870 by the Arlon Club, a German music society, for their clubhouse.[4]
    The club moved, and a real estate developer bought 19, 21, and 23 between 1887–1888 and merged them into a ballroom and community hall called Arlington Hall, which hosted weddings, dances, political events and union meetings, among many other events.[4]
    Arlington Hall also had some notable speakers including Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt (1895) and William Randolph Hearst (1905).[4]
    In 1914 a shootout between "Dopey" Benny Fein's Jewish gang and Jack Sirocco's Italian mob, an event that marked the beginning of the predominance of the Italian American gangsters over the Jewish American gangsters, took place in the hall.[4]
    During the 1920's, the buildings were bought by the Polish National Home, which combined them with 25 St. Marks Place for use by Polish organizations and a Polish restaurant.[4]
    The Polish National Home was turned into the Dom Restaurant – the name came from the Polish for "home", derived from Polski Dom Narodowy ("Polish National Home") – with Stanley Tolkin's "Stanley's Bar" – where The Fugs played in the mid-1960s – downstairs, slightly below street level. Jackie Cassen and Rudi Stern began leasing the ballroom on the floor above Stanley's Bar for their "Theater of Light" show. Stanley Tolkin, also had a watering hole, Stanley's Bar at 13th and Ave B, that was already a huge magnet for the bohemian set. The bar at St. Marks Place attracted the same crowd and, now being 1966, eventually drew the interest of Andy Warhol who, with his film-making collaborator Paul Morrissey, rented the upper rooms from Tolkin, fancied the original Polish name (Andy was of Polish descent) and its new moniker "the Dom," moved in on April 1966 for a series of legendary events he would collectively called "the Exploding Plastic Inevitable."(7) It became the East Village fuse box for Warhol's talents and those of his entourage, in particular the Velvet Underground and Nico. The Velvet Underground was the house band, and their performances under Andy Warhol's influence were accompanied by many light effects with the added touches of projected movies and projected photographs, all going on at the same time.
    Later in 1966 the club, under different management, was briefly called the Balloon Farm, and in 1967 the lease was transferred to Brandt Freeman Int'l, Ltd. the General partner of The Electric Circus Company. Cat Mother & the All Night Newsboys was engaged as one of the first house bands under the new management.[5]



  2. The Chambers Brothers opened this club in early July, 1967.(6) It was sold to Jerry Brandt, who decided to take the avant garde (but rather elitist) Warholian approach and mainstream it into the Electric Circus. The new incarnation helped  define the wild visual and colorful aesthetic of the hippie 60's, a virtual overload of light machines and live music. The club was created by Jerry Brandt, Stanton J. Freeman and their partners and designed by Chermayeff & Geismar[2] at a cost of $300,000.-- but neglected to include air conditioning.(6) With its invitation (from one of its press releases) to "play games, dress as you like, dance, sit, think, tune in and turn on," and its mix of light shows, music, circus performers and experimental theater, the Electric Circus embodied the wild and creative side of 1960's club culture. Flame throwing jugglers and trapeze artists performed between musical sets, strobe lights flashed over a huge dance floor, and multiple projectors flashed images and footage from home movies. The trapeze artist was Sandy Alexander [of the Aliens]... he became the pres. of the NY Hells Angels.... he passed away a few years ago.(10) Seating was varied, with sofas provided. The Electric Circus became "New York's ultimate mixed-media pleasure dome, and its hallucinogenic light baths enthralled every sector of New York society." [3] Its hedonistic atmosphere also influenced the later rise of disco culture and discotheques.
    The Electric Circus had an unofficial policy of letting people in free if they were barefoot.(12)

    The walls were not at a right angle to the floor, which combined with the strobe lights and swirling crowd, made for a delightfully disorienting experience. The other was a dark room off to the side where couples -- or even strangers I suppose -- could sit and smooch. In addition to all kinds of nooks and crannies for this purpose there was a rotating upholstered carousel in the middle of the room, divided into sections, one per couple.(11)

    Sometimes it took it's name seriously:
    "A young man with the moon and stars painted on his back soars overhead on a
    silver trapeze, and a ring juggler manipulates colored hoops and shaggy hippies
    who unconcernedly perform a pagan tribal dance...Stoboscopic lights flicker over
    the dancers, breaking up their movements into a jerky parody of an old-time
    Chaplin movie."

    -- Radical Rags: Fashions of the Sixties (New York:
    Abbeville Press, 1990)(7)

    "There were six theater-size Altec speaker cabinets, three on each side, front middle back, mounted high on the wall. I don't remember what power amps were used, but this was 1967 so it was all tubes. The sound booth was in the back. of the hall in a balcony so you could look down on the dance floor. There were two turntables, a reel-to-reel tape deck, and a single-cabinet Buchla synthesizer. The entire system was designed by Don Buchla and Morton Subotnick. Somehow I became the guy running the sound booth on opening night, and for a month or so after til I gave up in exhaustion. (The things you do when you're in your early 20's.) One thing I did do that was memorable was to end each night with the Beatles "A Day In The Life", and play the ending by having the music circle around the room. I had to do this using the level knobs for each speaker .. we didn't have a joystick! And at the end we would turn out the lights and flash the stobes. It became quite a little performance."(1)


  3. By 1970 the "tune in, turn on" hippie culture was in decline. When a small bomb, reportedly planted by a member of the Black Panther Party[2] exploded on the dance floor on March 22, 1970, injuring fifteen people, the negative publicity accelerated the decline of the club; it closed a year and a half later.
    After the Electric Circus closed in September 1971,, the building no longer functioned as a club or space for regular public performances, but the building was not significantly physically altered.
    It was eventually turned into a church-run craft center and a community center for substance abusers and the homeless through the 80's and into the 90's.(7)
    In 2003 when a major renovation eliminated the ballroom and converted the building into upscale apartments and retail space.
    In 2011, the address now houses a Supercuts and a Chipotle restaurant ... as well as $17,000 a month apartments.

    Jerry performed here on
    5/7/68 Early and late shows Grateful Dead
    Bill Kreutzmann's 22nd birthday.
    "A mazelike, dark small club in Manhattan painted black with ubiquitous strobe lights."(8)

    5/8/68 Early and late shows Grateful Dead
    5/9/68 Early and late shows Grateful Dead
    "I was 16 years old when I went to the Electric Circus. I was a regular at the club. There was nothing like it, then or now. I remember the rubber room, the holes in the wall that you could crawl up in. The lights were out of this world and the jugglers, fire eaters and unicycles coming down a wire were fantastic."(9)

    2.)^Sterns, Robert; Mellins, Thomas and Fishman, David. New York 1960 (The Monacelli Press, 1997) p. 258
    3.)^Lobenthal, Joel. Radical Rags: Fashions of the Sixties (New York: Abbeville Press, 1990)
    5.)^Ankeny, Jason "Profile of Cat Mother and The All Night Newsboys" at
    6.)^Ortega, Tony, Jack Newfield Catches the Electric Circus Opening on St. Marks, 2010-02-25,
    7.)^The Bowery Boys, 2007-08-24,
    8.)^Oakland Dupree, comments, 2009-01-13,
    9.)^joey13, comments, 2009-01-18,
    10.)^de Sant Nicola, Nick, comments, 2012-08-29,
    11.)^anonymous, comments, 2013-04-21,
    12.)^ghostofpig, comments, 2013-07-16,

  4. You mentioned that after the May 9 Dead show, Frankie "ended the night at a jam with Mickey."
    McNally says that the New York "visit ended, at least for Mickey, in a jam with Jack Casady, Steve Winwood, and Jimi Hendrix at Electric Ladyland studios." (p.262)

    There is some confusion here, since the Electric Ladyland studio was not yet built - however, Hendrix was recording the Electric Ladyland album at the Record Plant, and 'Voodoo Chile' was recorded in a studio jam with Casady & Winwood there on May 2 (a week too early for our account).
    Nonetheless, Hendrix was loose enough that the studio was regularly open for jamming during his recording sessions, and anyone could drop in.
    Another alternative is that Hart visited one of Hendrix's after-hours sessions at the nearby Scene Club, one of the clubs where Hendrix spent almost every night in those days, jamming with folks like Jeff Beck, Larry Coryell, Johnny Winter, etc, whoever showed up. I don't know how late the Scene stayed open, though.
    Given the fogginess of McNally's account, it's hard to be more certain.

    1. What was to become Electric Lady Studios was bought by Hendrix in 1968 as the recently closed Generation Club. Jimi had jammed there so, assuming that it was still open in May 1968, that could be where Mickey went.

    2. I am not sure if the Generation was still open; there are tapes of Hendrix jamming there with BB King, the Butterfield Blues Band, etc in early April '68, but nothing from May. It was sometime around then that Hendrix decided to buy the Generation (his initial plan was to keep it open as a nightclub).
      At any rate, as of May '68 his favored jamming spot was the Scene. Typically he jammed there in the evenings, then often took musicians back to the Record Plant with him when the Scene closed, and kept jamming at the studio all night & into the morning.
      On the other hand, McNally & Hart could have thrown us a false trail.

  5. Thank you again for this: your writing is my favorite thing on the internet.

  6. Here's even more detail regarding specific events at the Electric Circus, including Morton Subotick's "Electric Ear" series (which featured John Cage, among others);

  7. We are a small non-profit that is giving away a Grateful Dead Alpaca blanket to promote our FB page come and check us out

  8. "Yes, there were touching stories about the Dead performing at the Ronald McDonald Children's Hospital in San Rafael.

    Do you have a date that this event took place?

    1. I assume this Comment goes to the Apr 25 '81 post, but that's OK. The putative date I have is Dec 6 '80, which Deadbase lists as "Mill Valley Rec Center." I have always assumed this to be the Ronald McDonald House show, but it has been impossible to confirm.

  9. wonderful post and comments, thanks.

  10. "Yet the Grateful Dead played six largely forgotten shows in three nights in Manhattan, on the weekend of May 7, 8 and 9, 1968."

    On May 10, my buddies and I went to the Circus to see the Dead. Posted on the door was a note that the late performance that night had been cancelled. So we then went over to the Fillmore and bribed the guard ($5 per head and a common practice then) to get in to see Jimi Hendrix and Sly and the Family Stone. Hendrix was already playing by that time (we missed Sly). At the rear of the auditorium we bumped into the Dead...who had elected to cancel their show so they could see Hendrix. One could say that the Dead's first appearance at the Fillmore East was that evening.

  11. That is so cool.

    I don't list shows for May 10th. How sure are you of the date, and do you suspect the GD did play an early show?

    1. I am sure that we tried to see the Dead at the Circus (or at another village club?) and ended up bumping into them at the Fillmore instead. If the Dead were at another NYC village club that weekend then we would have tried to see them at that other club prior to the Fillmore experience, but I have seen no record of another club during that weekend so the Circus seems to be the likely venue. Given that we got the the Fillmore during Hendrix' second set, it is possible the Dead played their first set before heading to the Fillmore themselves. Can't be sure of that, unfortunately. And yes, it was a very cool experience!

    2. Howard, this is great stuff, thanks so much. Back then, information was sketchy, so there may have been an incorrect announcement on the radio or something.

      The timeline detail here is that the Dead were booked at Electric Circus (probably in Feb/March) when the Carousel was competing with Graham. By May, the Dead would have been booked at Fillmore East (for June), so any disputes were smoothed over.

      So the visit to Fillmore East would have been not only a chance to see Hendrix, but a chance to check out the venue. The Dead had played there in Dec 67 (as Village Theater) but it was a dump. They had to be impressed with the new venue.

      It also sounds like the Dead made some kind of connection, since Hart ended up jamming with Hendrix. Maybe the seeds were put in place for the aborted Oct 68 jam.

  12. The 5/10/68 Fillmore East show was Hendrix's only concert in New York City during that time (though he had been jamming at the Generation Club the previous month). There were two shows that day, at 8 & 11:30.

    I'm a little skeptical that there was any Dead show at the Electric Circus on the 10th... The ad we have states only May 7-9. It's possible that the Dead added an extra show on the 10th, if the Circus was available (I don't know if any other Circus ads exist for that week). But cancelling a just-added show is an odd move. In theory they could just have played an 8:00 show, though.

    McNally says that at the end of the New York trip, Mickey jammed with Hendrix & others at Hendrix's studio. As noted in a comment above, I'm doubtful of the details (the given date & place can't be right). But now hearing that the Dead were spotted at Hendrix's May 10 show, I'm thinking there's an untold story here...

  13. I think this is an informative post and it is very useful and knowledgeable. therefore, I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. Electric Blankets

  14. I went to the electric circus a lot.. I remember seeing bands like deep purple Sly and the family Stone Sha Na Na the James gang.Just tons of good stuff. And yes I attended one of the grateful Dead shows. And I can tell you they were not happy campers!they couldn't understand why we were sitting on the floor just watching them.instead of flailing around and doing the patented grateful dead dance. F*** that,this was New York. I distinctly remember one of them yelling out"This is chicken shit". And I think the audience was thinking the exact same thing. Sorry boys...L

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  16. Met Hendrix on saint Mark's and 2nd remember it , remember the Harley I had at the time, it was parked on the corner a gentleman spoke a minute

  17. I saw Grateful Dead at the Electric Circus sometime in 1968 - don't recall the date - and though I might be totally wrong, I recall the San Francisco Mime Troupe sharing the bill with the Dead. Time playing tricks with my memory or true?

    1. There's every reason to believe this story is true. Electric Circus saw itself as a "performance space," so the Dead sharing the stage with The Mime Troupe totally fits. Thanks for the intriguing detail.

      Incidentally, I'm pretty confident Time is playing tricks with your memory, in general, but I find the Mime Troupe/Dead pairing to be absolutely likely.

    2. While the SF Mime Troupe may have visited with the Dead in May '68, the Electric Circus also had its own similar (but less political) troupe. Performers like Hovey Burgess, Larry Pisoni, and Judy Finelli would appear as clowns, mimes, jugglers, acrobats & dancing gorillas at the Electric Circus, and in 1969 formed their own street troupe, the Circo dell'Arte, which was partly inspired by the SF Mime Troupe and the commedia dell'arte tradition in Europe.
      As reviews mention, the Electric Circus regularly interspersed circus acts with their rock shows - "trapeze artists, jugglers, fire eaters and unicycles coming down a wire" - and there were mime groups in NYC who could have appeared.
      One musician remembered, "The Electric Circus was supposed to be a circus so there were people who were there every week. There was a mime, Michael Grando. One act was a guy who walked around in a gorilla suit and he used to do tumbling and other stuff. There was a woman, she used to come out dressed as a nun [but] she had rubber balls and she would start juggling them."
      One article on mime Michael Grando specifically said he'd appeared with the Dead, so that might have been at the Electric Circus (or the Fillmore East).

      Given the conditions at the Electric Circus, I'm amazed anybody could even identify the Dead, let alone the mimes appearing with them!

  18. Christmas 1968 Timothy Leary came to the Electric Circus. I was there sitting on the floor as he taught us how to control a bad trip moving the acid down from our bad tripping friend's heads to their little toes. I was living on E7th St betw Aves A and B before moving into my apt at 99 St Marks Place. We had no idea we were an historic note later to be discussed on the interweb

  19. I was at the May 7 show, a 14 year old runaway at the time. It was not a weekend stand. May 7 was a Tuesday. The place was not packed. I bought a ticket for the early show and there were about a dozen or two people there. They didn't run me out after the first show and so I saw the second as well. The place was about half full for the 2nd show. They opened the first show with "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" and ended the set with "Turn On Your Lovelight". Somewhere in there were "Beat It On Down The Line" and "Morning Dew". The second show/set opened with "He Was A Friend Of Mine" and closed with "Alligator/Caution". I was scarred for life!