Thursday, December 5, 2013

Roosevelt Stadium, Danforth Ave and NJ Rte 1 [NJ440], Jersey City, NJ 1972-76 (Jersey City Story)

The Grateful Dead first came to fame or infamy in the city of San Francisco. The band's second big stronghold was the Borough and island of Manhattan. The Dead played many shows in Manhattan from the Summer of '67 onwards, at the Cafe Au Go Go, Fillmore East and numerous other venues. Manhattan is America's media capital, and bands who are an underground sensation in Manhattan rapidly become underground legends throughout the country. Yet the story of rock music from the 60s to the 70s was a story of moving from the city to the suburbs. Despite the fact that every Manhattan Dead show was enthusiastically attended in the early 70s, the Grateful Dead did not play Manhattan from March 1972 through June 1976.

From 1971 onwards, the Grateful Dead became a significantly more popular concert attraction. Although the details varied from city to city, in general the larger venues that the band played were farther away from the hip bohemian downtown psychedelic ballrooms where the band had played in the 60s. Whether the Dead were playing college basketball gymnasiums or Civic Auditoriums, the venues were larger and somewhat more respectable. In many ways, the performance history of the Grateful Dead tracks the history of the rock concert business in general. The Grateful Dead were there at the beginning, and were instrumental in creating the "Fillmore Circuit" that grew hand-in-hand with FM radio in the late 60s. When the rock concert business expanded into the suburbs in the 1970s, the Grateful Dead were a big part of that as well.

As Grateful Dead concerts became larger and more profitable events after 1972, the Grateful Dead stopped playing Manhattan. After a seven night run at the Academy Of Music in March 1972, the band did not play the island until June of 1976. Yet all around the Tri-City area, in Connecticut, Long Island, Westchester and New Jersey, the Dead were bigger than ever. This unremarked dynamic of 70s concert promotion stemmed from the fact that rock bands made their name in the city, but they made their money from kids in the suburbs. If the suburbanites couldn't come to the city, the bands had to come to them.

Jersey City, New Jersey is just across the Hudson River from Manhattan. The Statue Of Liberty and Ellis Island are just off of Jersey City, directly across from the World Trade Center, but JC gets no respect from New York. For most of the last 150 years, Jersey City was just a railroad town, as several major railroad lines brought freight and passengers into the Port of New York from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and points South and West. Jersey City was a noisy, working town, with little cultural heritage, unhip and full of immigrants. And yet Jersey City played a critical role in the rise of the Grateful Dead in their prime, and so the tale of Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City is a microcosm of the story of how the Grateful Dead went from being a 60s underground band to a major concert attraction.

Between July 18, 1972 and August 4, 1976, the Grateful Dead played 8 shows in Jersey City. These were the nearest shows to Manhattan from March 28, 1972 (their last show at the Academy Of Music) through June 14, 1976 (the first show at The Beacon). Five of the shows were at Roosevelt Stadium, whose baseball capacity of about 24,000 was one of the largest venues the Grateful Dead had headlined up until that time. Jersey City could draw already established fans from New York, while expanding the audience of teenagers in suburban New Jersey. More importantly, the promoter for the Jersey City shows was John Scher, who would go on to have a critical role in bringing the Grateful Dead to the country in later decades. Without unheralded Jersey City, however, the whole saga of the Grateful Dead in the Northeast would have unfolded in a very different way.

A map of Railroads serving the Port Of New York ca. 1900. More railroads came into Jersey City and its nearby towns than into New York city proper.
The Fillmore East
Bill Graham had initially dominated the rock market in New York with the Fillmore East. Fillmore East contracts had a typical clause that any band playing there was not allowed to play an advertised show within a certain number of days and miles of the booking. Thus if a band like the Grateful Dead were booked at Fillmore East, they would not be allowed to advertise a show within 50 miles and 20 days of the Fillmore East show. This was a standard contract for the day (and probably still is), but it had a significant effect on the rock market in the surrounding suburbs.

50 miles from New York covers an awful lot of people. Thus what few Grateful Dead concerts there had been in New Jersey up until 1972 had tended to be junior college dances that were not actually advertised off campus. The April 17, 1971 Princeton University show at Dillon Gym, just inside the 50 mile limit,  for example, was a campus event that was not really promoted to outsiders. The effect of the Fillmore East was such that there were hardly any significant rock concerts in New Jersey in the 1960s. New Jersey rock fans, and there were plenty, had to choose between going to New York or Philadelphia to see their favorite bands. In many cases, New Jersey teenagers chose Philadelphia, partially accounting for the huge success of The Electric Factory promotions at places like The Spectrum.

People who do not live or work in New York simply assume that anyone in New Jersey (or Long Island or Connecticut) who wants to see something in New York can simply take the train. In the case of rock concerts, particularly back in the day, that was not always the case. Certainly, New York has  public transit that is the envy of other American metropolitan areas. However, the purpose of the far-flung network of trains and subways was and is to get people to and from work, mostly in Manhattan. Although the subways run all night, the commuter trains were much thinner on the weekend, and they generally stopped at midnight. The early show at Fillmore East was viable for teenagers from Long Island, as they could get back to Penn Station by midnight, but on the whole nighttime rock concerts in New York City weren't really accessible from the suburbs by rail.

It may seem like an obvious point, but it's worth noting that the Grateful Dead audience in the early 70s was very young. Sure, a loyal clump of fans had been seeing the band in Manhattan since '67, but even they were hardly over 25. Most of the new Dead fans in 1972 or so, like fans of all rock bands, were 21 or younger, in many cases a lot younger. New Jersey teenagers could usually get access to their parents' car, but parents were not necessarily sanguine about a carload of kids going into Manhattan until three in the morning. Thus Philadelphia was often an easier option, even if it was farther than Manhattan from many parts of New Jersey. The Spectrum was on the edge of Philadelphia, with a huge parking lot, and didn't require navigating the city in order to get there. John Scher's first innovation was taking advantage of Jersey City's convenient location and easy access to both Manhattan and the Jersey suburbs.

Jersey City, NJ
Jersey City is a world away from Manhattan, but still right next door. Jersey City and its nearby sister, Hoboken, are on a Peninsula bounded by the Hudson and Hackensack Rivers. Newark is just across the Hackensack, a few miles to the West. In 1908, a subway tunnel was built from Jersey City to Manhattan. The Hudson Tube is now the backbone of the PATH (Port Authority Trans Hudson) Train lines. With direct trains to the World Trade Center, Greenwich Village and Penn Station, commuting to and from Jersey City is like living in a lost New York Borough, even though that is never acknowledged by New Yorkers.

Jersey City is also home to the Holland Tunnel, which opened in 1929, so Jersey City's connection to Manhattan has been fluid and intimate since long before World War 2. At the same time, although stuck out on a narrow strip of land, by the 1960s Jersey City became far more accessible to the rest of New Jersey thanks to the New Jersey Turnpike. Thus Jersey City was near Manhattan, with its own subway access, yet was still accessible to much of the population of suburban New Jersey. Jersey City had seen its commercial peak come and go by the 1960s, and it was definitely on the downward slide. What that meant, however, was that existing venues were available for rent, even to dubious hippie endeavors.

Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, NJ (1937-82)
Roosevelt Stadium had been built in 1937 at Droyer's Point,  on the edge of Jersey City that was farthest from Manhattan. It had a baseball capacity of 24,000. From 1937-50 it was home to the highest level New York Giants farm team, the Jersey Giants of the International (AAA) League. Jackie Robinson's "professional" (white organized baseball) debut was on April 18, 1946, when the Brooklyn Dodgers top farm team, the Montreal Royals, opened their season on the road against the Jersey Giants. Over the years, Roosevelt Stadium had hosted heavyweight fights, high school and college football games and other events, along with minor league baseball.

However, minor league baseball declined after the 1950s, and Roosevelt Stadium did not have a minor league team after 1961. Once fans could watch New York major league baseball teams on TV, the appeal of a minor league team shrank. There were occasional special events, such as NASL soccer games, but by and large the stadium was unused during the Summer. Roosevelt Stadium was a civic facility, so I presume that by 1972 they were pleased when John Scher came along and offered to book a series of concerts throughout the Summer.

John Scher himself was only in his 20s, but once Bill Graham closed the Fillmore East, it became possible to book groups in New Jersey. Scher had started to book smaller shows at the Capitol Theater in Passaic, not far from Jersey City. The John Scher story is a great rock story, but too long to tell here. Although in his early 20s in 1971, Scher had recognized his moment:
Decisiveness has been a hallmark of Scher’s career and one of the cornerstones of his success. The Fillmore closed in June ’71; by December, Scher began his 18-year run at the Capitol Theatre. The 3,000-seat former vaudeville house in downtown Passaic — which was showing porn flicks before Scher and partner Al Hayward took it over — became a near-mandatory stop for touring acts, and demonstrated that New Jersey could stand on its own as a major pop market.
Scher also booked shows at the New Jersey State Fairgrounds in Hamilton, near Trenton. Roosevelt Stadium was old and crumbling, but that also meant that Jersey City was presumably unconcerned about what a bunch of hippies might do to it.

Roosevelt Stadium had a capacity of 24,000 for baseball. Since fans were allowed on the playing field as well, the total capacity had to be in the range of 35-40,000 for general admission rock shows. From the point of view of a concert promoter, this meant that a successful booking could sell a lot of tickets, a far different situation than the fixed profit/loss ratio of a theater with reserved seats. Roosevelt was far larger than any venue that the Grateful Dead had headlined in the New York metro area. Furthermore, its size meant that everybody who wanted to go could not only get a ticket, they could bring their brother, their girlfriend and their roommate as well. As the Dead became a larger and larger draw in New York, the availability of tickets at the Roosevelt was one of the factors that got so many New Jersey teenagers "on the bus."

Village Voice July 6, 1972. The "Surprise Group" at the State Fairgrounds was The Allman Brothers

July 18, 1972 Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, NJ: The Grateful Dead
The July 18, 1972 Grateful Dead show at Roosevelt Stadium was different than Dead shows that had come before. The Dead had typically played several nights in a row at smaller theaters like The Academy Of Music or Fillmore East. They had also played a few Summer outdoor shows, at places like Flushing Pavilion and Gaelic Park (in the Bronx). Yet here the band was in a space between the suburbs and the city, in a place accessible to both, on a Tuesday night.

Despite the fact that Roosevelt Stadium was a rundown facility in a city that was in decline, it had two things that set it apart from metropolitan venues: it was near two major New Jersey roads and it had 10,000 parking spaces. Roosevelt Stadium was at the intersection of New Jersey Route 440 (formerly NJ Route 1) and Danforth Avenue. NJ440 links the New Jersey Turnpike Extension (Exits 14-14C) to the Pulaski Skwyay. The Pulaski Skyway has been immortalized in the opening credits of The Sopranos, and it dates back to 1932. The Skyway links US Routes 1 and 9 to the Holland Tunnel, and was thus a key transit point linking New Jersey and Manhattan by automobile. Pretty much all of the populated parts of New Jersey have easy access to the Turnpike, Route 1 or Route 9, so getting to Roosevelt Stadium would have been a breeze.

Even today, in the era of GPS and Google Maps, many people will not attend an event where the directions are not easy and the parking is not straightforward. This was doubly true when navigation was just off of a gas station map. Add in the fact that many of the people attending the Roosevelt Stadium were teenagers or college students driving family cars who needed explicit or implicit permission for the trip, and the fact that directions to Roosevelt Stadium from anywhere in New Jersey were easy, had to have made a big difference. The ease of parking must have been reassuring too, not least because Jersey City had a "dangerous" (read: predominantly poor and black) reputation, and a large parking lot suggested no unpleasant circulating in sketchy neighborhoods, looking for parking.

As for Manhattanites, they too would generally have had to drive to Roosevelt Stadium. The PATH Train did not go anywhere near the stadium, although I suppose many people could have taken the train over and tried to hitchhike. In any case, the journey from Manhattan to Roosevelt Stadium on a Tuesday night would have been short, so cramming as many people as possible into a VW Microbus would not have been a big deal. Still, the transportation footprint of Roosevelt Stadium meant that it was ideally placed to encourage carloads of aspiring New Jersey Deadheads to expand upon the already extant Deadhead communities in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

By all accounts, the Roosevelt Stadium show on July 18, 1972 was a big success. I have no idea what the attendance actually was, but my impression is that there was a fair sized crowd without the venue being remotely sold out, so despite the state of the facility there was probably plenty of room to dance and hang out. The show was the first New York Metro area show without Pigpen. In those days, news traveled slowly, and no one realized that Pig was seriously ill and might never play with the band again. According to legend, Bob Dylan attended the July '72 Roosevelt show as well. Dylan was also reputed to have attended the April 27, 1971 show at Fillmore East with the Dead and the Beach Boys, but like all things Bob that is hard to nail down.

September 19, 1972 Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, NJ: The Grateful Dead/New Riders of The Purple Sage plus "Surprises and Special Guests"
We don't have to know any of the details of the Grateful Dead's July '72 appearance at Roosevelt Stadium to know that it was a success. The proof of its success was that John Scher re-booked the Grateful Dead a few months later. Given the timing, the September 19 show must have been arranged almost immediately after the July show. September 19, 1972, was a Tuesday, a surprising date given that school had probably already started for much of the potential audience. Nonetheless, once the school year began, Roosevelt Stadium would have been in use for High School and College Football games on Friday nights.

In any case, Roosevelt was probably an after thought--the Dead were playing weekend shows in Boston (Sep 15-16), Philadelphia (Sep 21) and Waterbury, CT (Sep 23), and Roosevelt fit nicely in between. The rent for the stadium was probably quite low on a Tuesday night, Scher did not need a huge crowd to have a profitable performance. This was fortunate, since the weather did not cooperate, and it was apparently a rainy, overcast day. Nonetheless, the show was more than just the Dead with an opening set by the New Riders. The show was scheduled for"6 pm to ?", and it was billed as "Another Dead Party."  As for the special guest, well, someone on the Archive recalls it, anyway:
This was the only time I know of that the Riders performed Death & Destruction. Yeah they started to do in the 90's but back in the 70's only time. Great sets. . . blue for the Riders, red for the Dead. Mind over matter swami between sets. On a bed of nails with cindar blocks piled on his chest

Village Voice August 17, 1972. Stan Fox and Doug Smith presented the Grateful Dead for three nights at the Stanley Theater, at 2928 Hudson Blvd (now JFK) and Pavonia Ave, near the Journal Square PATH Station
September 26-28, 1972 Stanley Theater, Jersey City, NJ: The Grateful Dead
Initially it seemed paradoxical to me that John Scher would book a stadium concert for the Grateful Dead on the edge of Jersey City on Tuesday, September 19, while a different promoter had the Dead for three nights in old theater near downtown, just a week later. Even the typical practice of not allowing competing shows in the same area seems to have been ignored, since both shows were advertised in the Village Voice at the same time. A closer analysis, however, reveals a key fact: even though the Stanley Theater and Roosevelt Stadium were just two miles apart, as a result of transit patterns, they were intended to attract completely different audiences.

The Stanley Theater, a 4300-seat movie theater built in 1928 at 2928 Hudson Boulevard (now John F. Kennedy Blvd), was the second largest movie theater on the East Coast behind Radio City Music Hall. By 1971, however, it had fallen into disrepair. Some promoters started renting it for rock concerts in 1972, and it was immediately successful. The theater apparently sounded great, and it was old enough that the owners were unconcerned about the risk of damage. More importantly, the Stanley Theater was one block away from the Journal Square PATH stop. As a practical matter, this made the Stanley Theater easily accessible from Manhattan, and therefore any Deadhead in New York with subway access could get to the Stanley. In contrast, the theater was in the center of the business district with no dedicated parking, so it was daunting and confusing to anyone coming from the suburbs.

I do not know about ticket sales for the three Stanley Theater shows, but with all of Manhattan and Brooklyn to draw from, even on a weeknight ticket sales were probably pretty good (based on the tapes, they definitely played well). The Stanley would have made an excellent winter home for Manhattan Deadheads, but the theater was flooded sometime in the Winter of 1973. Although the theater remained open for a few more years, there were no more rock concerts there, and the Dead had to look elsewhere to perform in the New York area.

July 31-August 1, 1973, Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, NJ: The Grateful Dead/The Band
The Grateful Dead returned to Roosevelt Stadium on a Tuesday and a Wednesday in the Summer of '73. This time, it was a certified big deal. The previous weekend, the Dead had joined The Allman Brothers and The Band at Watkins Glen Grand Prix Racecourse, performing at what was at the time the largest rock concert in history. As far as I know, the Dead played to pretty large houses at Roosevelt Stadium a few days later, and those two New Jersey shows were probably the biggest shows the Grateful Dead had headlined up until that time.

By 1973, the Grateful Dead were in their performing prime. All the college and High School students who had seen the Dead the previous Summer were on the bus now, and they indeed brought their friends, as well as their new girlfriend and their current roommate, and the crew of New Jersey Deadheads only got larger. The Grateful Dead played two tremendous shows at Roosevelt Stadium in 1973, supported by The Band. Over time, it turned out that performances by The Band were relatively rare, so most everyone who went to those shows must have looked back on them fondly. The poster just says "Rte 440," a clear indication that the audience was expected to drive to the show, and that Roosevelt Stadium was easy to find.

August 6, 1974 Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, NJ: The Grateful Dead
By 1974, the Grateful Dead were bigger than ever, and their show at Roosevelt Stadium was probably like an annual event. If I recall correctly, the show was originally scheduled for August 2, but got rained out. The show was rescheduled for Sunday, August 6. In between, the Dead had played two shows in Philadelphia. Probably a fair number of New Jerseyans went to all three shows. 

June 14-15, 1976 Beacon Theater, New York, NY: The Grateful Dead
June 17-18-19, 1976 Capitol Theater, Passaic, NJ: The Grateful Dead
Things had changed after 1976. The Grateful Dead had temporarily retired after October 1974, so there were no Roosevelt Stadium shows in 1975. Various Jerry Garcia ensembles had played numerous shows in Manhattan, New York City and New Jersey, particularly at John Scher's home base, the Capitol Theater in Passaic, and Kingfish had played an outdoor show in New Jersey as well. When the Dead returned to touring, their first Eastern tours was in relatively small theaters, with tickets sold exclusively to Deadheads. Thus the Dead made their return to Manhattan, this time well uptown, at The Beacon (2124 Broadway at 74th St).

All the shows sold out instantly, and the buzz made the Dead's return an Event, rather than just another rock concert. The effect was magnified by FM broadcasts from every city on the tour. Transit issues had little to do with the shows at the Beacon and the Capitol--hard core Heads got the tickets, and got to the shows by whatever means necessary.

August 4, 1976 Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, NJ
Nonetheless, after their historic tour where they played multiple nights at smaller theaters, the Grateful Dead played two East Coast stadium shows. The Dead needed cash, and the fact was their were numerous Deadheads who had not had the opportunity to see the band at the smaller theaters. Besides Roosevelt Stadium, which was on a Wednesday, the Dead played Dillon Stadium in Hartford, CT (Deadlists shows "Colt Park," but Dillon Stadium is part of Colt Park). Although the Dead's history in Connecticut was not as dense as in New Jersey, a similar dynamic had played out there as well. Connecticut had a large suburban audience who wanted to see the Dead, and Dillon Stadium shows in '72, '74 and '76 still drew a fair number of fans from New York City proper (update: thanks to a loyal Correspondent, here are some great photos from that day)

1977-78 The Jersey City Indians and The Jersey City A's
Roosevelt Stadium had hosted other shows in the mid-70s besides the Dead. Although the facility wasn't great, the location was central, there was great parking and there was no minor league baseball team using the facility, so most Summer dates were available. This changed in 1977 when Jersey City hosted the Jersey City Indians, a AA franchise in the Eastern League. In 1978, the affiliation changed, and they became the Jersey City A's. Future Hall-Of-Famer Rickey Henderson was part of the last group of professional baseball players who played at the stadium where Jackie Robinson had made his organized baseball debut.

With so many dates booked by the baseball teams in 1977 and '78, there wasn't any room for rock shows. Whether John Scher would have booked them there is an open question. By 1977, the Grateful Dead were a substantial draw in New Jersey. On September 3, 1977, the Grateful Dead headlined an epic show at Englishtown Raceway Park, a drag strip in Englishtown, NJ, to over 100,000 fans. The next year, on September 2, 1978, the Dead headlined a show at Giants Stadium, the new football stadium in East Rutherford. Neither Englishtown nor East Rutherford had any meaningful public transit access--everybody who came drove, and I have to think a huge proportion of the fans were from New Jersey.

Without John Scher and Roosevelt Stadium, the idea that a New Jersey Summer highlight was a Grateful Dead concert would not have happened. Sure, the Dead would still have been extraordinarily popular, and they would have played somewhere, but it was Roosevelt Stadium made it a New Jersey thing. For all the decay of Roosevelt, it meant that there were no concerns from the city about anything a bunch of hippies might do to the place. For another, the easy parking and simple directions made it simple when the Dead's fans were still young, because it meant that their parents would let them take the family car. And the easy ticket meant that if you had a good time, the next year you could invite all your friends, and they could get a ticket, and the cycle would start over with all their friends. New Jersey has been the premier stronghold of East Coast Deadheads ever since.

Stadium Pizzeria. in Jersey City, NJ, at the Stadium Plaza Shopping Center, in the old parking lot of Roosevelt Stadium, in September 2012. It is the last trace of the stadium, as a gated housing development was built on the site.
Roosevelt Stadium continued to decline, and after 1982 Jersey City decided to close it. The stadium was torn down in 1985. Jersey City itself declined, with its ports and industries moving to Newark Bay, Bayonne and other places. The city was a decaying hulk of rotting train tracks and empty ports, a sad marker of when Jersey City had had six railroads loading and unloading cargo into the Port Of New York every day.

Yet, miraculously, during the financial boom of the 1990s, Wall Street discovered Jersey City. New York has the most expensive real estate of any American city, and space is at a premium. Crumbling Jersey City was in sight of the World Trade Center, and had direct subway connections to both Wall Street and Midtown. By the beginning of the 21st, Jersey City's unused harbors were filled in, its train tracks torn up, and gleaming high rises were full of Wall Street back offices and condos with the people who worked in them. Downtown Jersey City became another Brooklyn, and little sister Hoboken next door turned into a groovy Alternative Music mecca. The old Stanley Theater was fully refurbished, even if it mostly presented Latin Music shows.

At the other end of town, Droyer's Point, the site of Roosevelt Stadium, became a Gated Community called Society Hill. No trace remained of the ballpark, where Jackie Robinson, Jerry Garcia and Rickey Henderson played. There is a mall next to the Society Hill development, and only the anachronistic name "Stadium Plaza Shopping Center" hints at its prior life. The Stadium Pizzeria is the last unassuming link to Roosevelt Stadium, next to a Dollar Store, in the parking lot where the Grateful Dead conquered New Jersey.