|A t-shirt from the January 13, 1980 Cambodian Refugee Benefit concert at Oakland Coliseum Arena that was headlined by the Grateful Dead|
In many ways, the January Coliseum show was a final whiff of some long-gone formats. In the 60s, Bill Graham had put on a number of high profile benefits with multiple acts, where bands like the Dead had usually played a shortened set. Although the Dead were the headliners by 1980, they still played a shortened set at the Coliseum that night, a configuration that would not occur at a major venue again. KSAN had broadcast many Dead shows, but the station was wobbling with new competition and a new format. Yet for one night the clock was turned back for a final time. January 13, 1980 was the last live Grateful Dead KSAN broadcast. An era was ending, although nobody seemed to notice at that moment. This post will take a closer look at the January 13, 1980 Grateful Dead show at the Oakland Coliseum Arena, in order to relocate it in its original context.
|A postcard view of the Oakland Auditorium.|
The Grateful Dead's 5-night stand at the Oakland Auditorium Arena from December 26 to 31, 1979, is rightly considered a watershed moment in Grateful Dead history. At the end of 1978, Bill Graham had finally closed Winterland, leaving the Dead not only with no home court, but no direct link to the Fillmore era. Shortly afterwards, following a great show at the Oakland Coliseum Arena, on February 17, 1979, Keith and Donna Godchaux had left the Grateful Dead. Many changes were afoot in the Grateful Dead universe.
The Dead's initial concerts with Brent Mydland on keyboards were relatively cautious. On August 4 and 5, 1979, the Dead had played two concerts for Bill Graham at the Oakland Auditorium Arena. Graham had started using the old Auditorium for rock shows earlier in the year, with the first show having featured the J Geils Band and April Wine on March 24, 1979. The Oakland Auditorium had been built in 1915 and numerous performers had played there over the decades, including Elvis Presley, James Brown and even the Dead on occasion. However, few Bay Area rock fans at the time even knew that the arena existed. From the very beginning of the August 4 show, however, it was clear that the Grateful Dead had a new home.
It was also plain to anyone paying attention that Bill Graham had known that he had access to the Oakland Auditorium, so he had a ready-made Winterland replacement for not only the Grateful Dead but any other bands who sounded better in a general admission setting. Although the old Auditorium was somewhat run down, that didn't matter at a Dead concert (nor for J. Geils, Alvin Lee or The Tubes, who were typical of the 1979 acts). The Auditorium was larger than Winterland, the parking situation was better, it was far easier to get to, and since it was across from a Junior College, it was a far more pleasant neighborhood to park in than Winterland circa-1978.
Brent seemed to find his sea-legs on a very well-received Fall '79 East Coast tour. To end the year, Graham booked four shows at Oakland Auditorium, and they sold out very quickly. I went to the main outlet of the ticketseller BASS (a forerunner of Ticketmaster, more or less), and got in line at 8:00 am, and there was a huge line, and tickets were not even going on sale until noon. In 1977, just two years earlier, I had gone to the ticket outlet at a stereo shop in the suburbs after tickets had a gone on sale, probably at about 12:30 in the afternoon, stood in a line of three people, and bought as many tickets as I wanted for New Years and the other two nights. By 1979, that was a Lost World--if we had not stood in that line Sunday morning, we would not have had tickets.
After the instant sellout, an additional night was added for December 26. This show was a benefit for Wavy Gravy's charity SEVA, and that show too began a tradition of Grateful Dead support for that charity. It is worth noting, however, that in 1979 the Dead were still in the mode of headlining a specific show for a specific charity, which must have competition for their services fairly intense amongst their friends and associates. By 1982, the Dead had conceived of the Rex Foundation, and largely stopped doing benefits for individual charities, but in 1979 they were still in their original mode.
There are two other significant aspects to the '79 New Year's run, one hardly noticed and the other enshrined in Grateful Dead legend. What seems to have been elided in Deadhead history was that the New Year's '79 show appears to have been the formal beginning of the annual road trips to the West Coast by Eastern Deadheads. Obviously, many a Deadhead had made their Western pilgrimage in the past. But here was an extended run during a vacation period, not so hard to fit into work or school, and it was like a homing call. I went to all five nights in '79, and each night there seemed to be more and more people from outside the Bay Area. This gave each successive night a livelier feel, as the high energy Easterners saw the whole event differently than us locals. New Year's Eve, as I recall, was a wild, strange night indeed, a sort of party with representatives of every state of the Deadhead Nation. This phenomenon only became more pronounced with each passing year, but I recall New Year's Eve 79/80 as having a very strange, rowdy vibe, as if something was in the water (which it very well could have been...).
Of course, the famous (or infamous) historical aspect of the '79 run was the little lawn outside the Oakland Auditorium. A lot of Deadheads had shown up from wherever, and a few of them asked BGP manager Bob Barsotti if they could camp in the park, since the Bay Area weather was as balmy as always. He said yes, probably not really thinking about it, and the "Shakedown Street" vending scene was born right there. What has largely been forgotten was that your typical local Deadhead, like me, arrived shortly before showtime--parking was a breeze--and split immediately afterwards. The people who were the patrons of the nascent Shakedown Street were the Deadheads from out of town, who often had fewer places to be and were interested in soaking up the atmosphere. The camping scene at Oakland had a readymade audience from out of town, even if many of those Deadheads were staying elsewhere, and that dynamic made the little scene grow.
The 5-show run at Oakland Auditorium featured great shows in a comfortable setting, with an excited audience full of energetic out-of-towners. Tickets for the January Coliseum show went on sale after the Auditorium sold out. Most of the local fans, like me and my friends, cheerfully bought tickets. However, we more or less forgot about the Coliseum in the midst of the excitement over Oakland, so there wasn't much in the way of expectations.
The Kampuchean Refugee Crisis
I am not particularly a big fan of Joan Baez's music, particularly with the Grateful Dead, but she is always on the right side of history. By 1979, the world had become aware of the terrible rule of the Khmer Rouge and the genocide in Cambodia. The battle-tested Vietnamese army had moved in and kicked out the the Khmer Rouge and their leader Pol Pot, but Cambodia was a broken country with millions of starving refugees. There had been some high profile rock concerts in London, featuring Wings, The Who, Queen and others (December 26-29, 1979 at Hammersmith Odeon), and in turn Joan Baez had prevailed upon Bill Graham to promote a rock concert to raise money for the Cambodian refugees. Since the Vietnam War had only ended in 1973, the politics of Southeast Asia was still a fraught subject in the United States, but to her credit Baez focused on the suffering of actual humans, and the bands responded.
As I recall, the event was structured as a telethon, managed by KSAN-fm. This was in the early days of 800 numbers, and the idea was fairly new. Throughout the KSAN broadcast, there were various entreaties to call the pledge line. When Joan makes the remark at the end of the tape "we made mucho bucks tonight," that is what she is referring to (with the rather dated afterthought "and this is one time that I don't mind saying that," a whiff of the long-gone 60s). I assume that t-shirt sales and other merch had their profits directed towards the same charity. True to their roots, the Grateful Dead avoided explicitly political benefits, but they were generally on board when it was a matter of helping other people.
KSAN-fm had been a classical station prior to May 1968. KMPX-fm had become the first free-form "underground" rock station in early 1967, but the entire staff had walked out on March 18, 1968. It was an unprecedented strike by hippies, and a bunch of San Francisco bands showed up to jam out a rally in solidarity with the strike. Jerry Garcia, who came from a union family himself, showed up around dawn to jam with Traffic, who were playing Fillmore West that weekend.
KMPX Supremo Tom Donahue took the entire KMPX staff and format over to KSAN, and they started broadcasting rock music on May 21, 1968. KSAN was owned by Metromedia, a national chain, and the SF rock format soon spread to sister stations in Los Angeles (KMET) and New York (WNEW). The FM rock revolution was off and running, yet another San Francisco contribution to 20th century rock history. By the early 70s, KSAN was the number one station in the Bay Area for the valuable 18-34 demographic. The station was hugely profitable, and it stayed popular by staying hipper than its competitors, always playing new records, broadcasting live shows and having iconically cool djs.
By the end of the 1970s, however, the fm radio landscape had changed. KSAN's audience was older and didn't listen to the radio as much. The djs liked new wave music like Elvis Costello and The Clash, and that wasn't as popular as old Led Zeppelin records. There was also a well-funded competitor, KMEL-fm ("The Camel") and the truth was, KSAN didn't represent the hip counterculture anymore: it was the culture. So the handwriting was on the wall. Metromedia management didn't like the old djs, who in turn hated being asked to compete directly with the new Album-Oriented Rock format of KMEL, instead of just playing what they liked.
By early 1980, KSAN hardly played the Grateful Dead. The djs didn't want to play music by old fogeys like the Dead, and the managers didn't think the Dead were mainstream enough, compared to Fleetwood Mac or Journey. But for a day, KSAN turned back the clock and had a fundraiser for the Cambodian refugees, exhorting their listeners to call in and pledge. The big events of the night were broadcasts of the sets by the Jefferson Starship and The Grateful Dead.
|The Beach Boys "comeback'" album, 15 Big Ones, which featured new material by Brian Wilson|
The Beach Boys had been nearly finished at the beginning of the 70s, but they had come back strong. In the middle of the decade, AM radio became more focused on oldies, and the Beach Boys classic hits aged very well. By 1980, the Beach Boys were actually more popular than they ever had been as a concert attraction, although that was mainly due to the expansion of the industry. Of the "classic" Beach Boys, four of the original five were still in the band (Carl and Dennis Wilson, lead singer Mike Love and guitarist Al Jardine). Along with original Brian-Wilson-replacement Bruce Johnston, the band was filled out with some pretty good live players (with Billy Hinsche on keyboards and a few other musicians).
Legendary genius Brian Wilson had reappeared in the studio in 1976 for the new album 15 Big Ones, and although his status was always shaky, he remained a part of the group. Intriguingly, he started to appear at some concerts in 1980, and was apparently playing at the Coliseum show. I'm not sure why The Beach Boys actually played this show. I have a feeling that the high profile Cambodian Refugee concerts by Paul McCartney, The Who and others had inspired Beach Boys management to participate in a similar event.
The Jefferson Starship were in a strange window. On one hand, the band had sold a tremendous amount of records since they had arisen from the ashes of the Jefferson Airplane. Their current album, Freedom At Point Zero, was no exception. It had just been released in November of 1979, and it would rise to #14 on the Billboard charts, behind the hit single "Jane." Oddly enough, however, the Starship were a shrinking concert attraction, particularly in San Francisco. On New Year's Eve, they had played double shows for two nights at a nightclub (called X's, in San Francisco). Now, I'm sure it was sold out, but that was a far cry from the 5 packed nights at the 7000-plus capacity Oakland Auditorium that the Dead had headlined.
Although the Starship were seen as traditional San Francisco rock royalty, only Paul Kantner remained from days of yore, though David Freiberg, too, had been in Quicksilver in the 60s. The rest of the Starship (Mickey Thomas, Craig Chacuiqo, Pete Sears and Aynsley Dunbar) were relatively recent arrivals to the Marin scene, so it was hardly a reunion of the old days. Although Kantner was surely up for a benefit, not to mention hanging out with the Dead, I expect that RCA Records was interested in making sure that the band was involved in the seemingly high profile concert along with other major acts.
Joan Baez remained a committed activist, which looks better and better as the years were on, but she was more of a famous name than an important artist. Her most recent album had been 1979's Honest Lullaby on CBS. She would not release another studio album in the US until 1987.
Carlos Santana was as big a star as ever, and that never changed. He also was all but guaranteed to be at any major benefit or happening event, both because he has a social conscience and because
he liked to jam. As part of Santana's commitment to the lifestyle encouraged by guru Sri Chimnoy, Carlos often referred to himself as Devadip Carlos Santana. In the Bay Area at the time, it was generally understood that when Carlos was billed as "Devadip," patrons could expect something jazzier, spacier or more spiritual than the popular jams of "Well All Right" or "Oye Como Va" that typified the Santana band.
|The cover of the Jefferson Starship's 1979 album Freedom At Point Zero, on RCA Records|
I know the January 13 show at the Coliseum was sold out. I myself had a ticket, but did not go because I was sick. I had not been well for the December run, but had gone anyway, which was well worth it, but I was paying the price two weeks later. Of course, the fact that the Dead set would be broadcast made my decision easier. My friends were indirectly pleased as well, since I had a tape in their hands the next morning. So my perceptions are a bit second hand, from the broadcast, my friends and a few other tidbits of information.
As near as I could tell, the show was "Dead-friendly," if you will, but not as much of a hard core Deadhead audience. The out-of-town visitors had probably all left town by then. There must also have been a few like me, who for one reason or another could not or did not want to make a Coliseum show after five nights at the Auditorium. At the time, the Bay Area was still full of people who had seen the Dead a few times over the years and liked them, but didn't consider themselves Deadheads. Those people weren't going to have spent four hours in line to get Auditorium tickets, so I suspect many of them took the opportunity to see the Dead at the Coliseum.
Based on a comment on Deadlists, it appears that there were almost no audience tapes made at the show. One partial tape seems to have finally turned up on the Archive, but its a sign that the hardcore were either not there or were treating it casually. Obviously, with an FM broadcast, the need for audience tapes was less critical, but that usually never stopped tapers.
I assume that Joan Baez opened the show with a few solo numbers. No one mentions it, probably because they were still in the parking lot. Joan has a huge voice, and the confidence to hold a giant crowd by herself, which is actually a rare thing in a folksinger. It appears that Carlos Santana also played solo. I saw him do this another time, several years later at the Kaiser Convention Center (the name for Oakland Auditorium when it got remodeled in '85). Carlos would go on to sit in with both the Starship and the Dead, so he was definitely part of the show, even if his own solo portion was probably brief.
I believe The Beach Boys came on next. I'm sure they played about an hour, playing mostly legendary hits and probably a few newer numbers. This was hardly the first time that the Beach Boys opened for the Dead, but it was the first time since a Day On The Green stadium show next door, at the Oakland Stadium, on June 8, 1974. That day, the Beach Boys easily won over the crowd, as it was hard not to enjoy "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "Help Me Rhonda" done by the original band, all of whom could still sing. I don't doubt that the Beach Boys were still just as winning in 1980.
The one big difference from 1974 would have been the presence of Brian Wilson himself. However, on the archive, reviewer Malbuff recalls
But what I remember most about that night was the Beach Boys' performance. Brian Wilson had finally ventured out on the road for the first time in years, and there he sat, a big hulking figure at the piano, while throughout the set, Mike Love pointedly teased and belittled him to the point of cruelty. The others just looked on, embarrassed. It was like watching a dysfunctional family.We don't have to guess about the Jefferson Starship set, since it was broadcast on KSAN (somewhere I have a tape). They played about 75 minutes, with Carlos Santana joining in on the "Somebody To Love" encore.
Ride the Tiger, Girl with The Hungry Eyes, Stranger, Jane, Awakening, Things to Come, Have You Seen the Saucers?/bass solo, Light the Sky on Fire/drums, Rock Music, Dance with the Dragon, [Carlos Santa joins for] Somebody to LoveThis seems to have been a typical Starship set of the time, perhaps a song or two shorter. I'm sure they went over fine with the crowd, and they must have had plenty of fans. However, for all the erratic nature of the old Jefferson Airplane, that band could really achieve liftoff when all the band members clicked, even if that didn't happen too often. The Starship was more reliable but ultimately considerably blander. Also, Mickey Thomas, while ultra-competent as a vocalist, was just another arena-rock dude compared to Marty Balin, much less Grace Slick. Note that this set didn't even have the really big Starship hits, either, like "Miracles." So it was hard to get excited about the 1980 model Jefferson Starship.
KSAN went back to their telethon, as everybody got ready for the main event. I do not recall precisely what time the Starship left the stage, but I do recall in general that it was not a late night. It was a Sunday, however, and I must have had school (and most of the audience must have had similar concerns). So the open question was how long the Dead would actually play. At the time, there was really no precedent in the Bay Area for a Dead show where they played less than a full show, with at least two sets. We faintly knew that there had been such things in bygone days but those had nothing to do with the Grateful Dead of 1980. The very few times that the Dead had played with multiple opening acts had been outdoor stadium shows where time wasn't a big factor, so in one way the evening was up for grabs.
The Grateful Dead played a stripped-down 90 minute set. In fact, the band played really well, and there are many highlights in this largely forgotten performance. For many more casual Dead fans, whether at the concert or listening on the radio, this would have been their first taste of Brent Mydland with the Dead. By Winter 1980, the Dead were cooking hard with Brent and he sounds great with the band. Carlos Santana and old friend John Cipollina joined in for "Not Fade Away" and "Sugar Magnolia," and Greg Errico was along for "U.S. Blues," so in the end there were some more Fillmore West faces after all.
Jack Straw [5:42] >
Franklin's Tower [11:44] ;
New Minglewood Blues [6:56] ;
Tennessee Jed [8:21] >
Looks Like Rain [7:12] >
Don't Ease Me In [7:16] ;
Playing In The Band [10:41] >
Drums [7:15] >
Not Fade Away (1) [14:27] >
Sugar Magnolia (1) [7:30]
|Encore||U.S. Blues [#4:18]|
The rare configuration of this event gives a good insight into what the band must have considered the essence of a Grateful Dead show. Drums and space are there, and some nice jamming before and after. There's some good rock and roll, too, but no Weir cowboy tunes.
At the show's conclusion, Joan Baez came out and led many members of the bands in a couple of songs. Her first number is usually listed as "Land Of A Thousand Dances," but really it is the "Na, na-na, na-nahh" from the Wilson Pickett song, with Joan singing modified spiritual lyrics on the top. This was a good vehicle for the Beach Boys to exercise their vocal chops. "Amazing Grace" followed, and KSAN signed off. It was probably about midnight.
|The 1981 double-lp Concerts For The People Of Kampuchea, released on Atlantic. The album featured Paul McCartney and many other rock stars, and it had been recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon in London on December 26-29, 1979.|
For many reasons, few people recall this show, or even realize that it existed. The December Oakland shows were rightly legendary, so even the locals forgot that the Dead played again two weeks later. The tape is really good, but there aren't really any unique songs or combinations that caused it to circulate too widely. Since there were few or no audience tapes, you didn't get the casual discovery of people's friends going "hey, what's this one sound like?" So, the January 13 1980 show stands as a somewhat forgotten signpost at a crossroads, looking to the past and the future.
- The Grateful Dead played one more show with the Starship crowd, in May of 1982 in San Francisco. The last stands of the old Fillmore bands were at giant arenas, a far cry from the camaraderie of an elegant little room on Geary Avenue.
- Mickey Hart and Joan Baez had probably met back in the day, but I have to think this event played a part in them becoming a couple in the next year. The Dead would go on to back Joan Baez in some studio recordings made at Hart's Barn studios in 1980. In December 1981, the band would back Joan for some acoustic performances with decidedly mixed results.
- The only other time the Grateful Dead played a short electric set to accommodate a multi-act indoor show was at one of the performances with Baez. It was a very different beast than the Coliseum show, however: on December 12, 1981, the Dead played the relatively small pavilion at the San Mateo County Fairgrounds. Opening acts were Joan Baez, backed by the Dead, and also Mickey Harts' band High Noon, who also backed Joan (you can read about the show in great detail at the link). The Dead did one more show sort of like this, with some variations, at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, on May 28, 1982. The bill was Jefferson Starship/Grateful Dead/Country Joe, with various guests (like Boz Scaggs, Pete Sears and John Cipollina), and the Dead played a shortened set there, too, but the old Fillmore West idea of big bands playing short sets at the same benefit pretty well faded away.
- On November 15, 1980, KSAN-fm, once the mighty Jive 95, gave it up and went country. This was a good move from a radio standpoint, but the end of an era to aging hippies. The January 13 show was the last KSAN Dead broadcast.
- The Grateful Dead soon got out of the habit of doing concerts for specific charities. By 1982 they had formed the Rex Foundation, and they could then share out the money to numerous causes, instead of having to decide to give it all to one entity in advance. The first Rex Foundation Benefits were February 16 and 17, 1982 at the Fox-Warfield. There were occasional high profile single-cause Dead benefits after that, but they were largely supplanted by Rex events.
- However trivial the Jefferson Starship seemed in 1980, they would go on to sell even more albums and become far more embarrassing--"We Built This City" indeed. Grace would return, Kantner would leave, eventually the Airplane had a desultory reunion, but finally Jorma and Grace declared "no more." Still, at the end of the line in 1990, Jefferson Airplane went out with a week at the Fillmore and a free concert at Golden Gate Park, thus ending in a way kind of as they began.
- Highlights of the London Concerts for Kampuchea were released as a successful album. I suspect Bill Graham and others were interested in doing a similar thing for the San Francisco show, but no such thing happened. Nonetheless, the seeds of the massive Live Aid show can be seen in the footprints of the London and San Francisco benefit concerts for Cambodian Refugees.
- As for Cambodia, the terrible rule of the Khmer Rouge had been ended by the invading Vietnamese army, with their combat skills honed from decades of war with the Japanese, French and Americans. The Vietnamese Army occupied Cambodia until the early 1990s, but eventually withdrew, leaving a form of stable democracy in the country, with the scattered Khmer Rouge hiding far off in the jungle.