|The Grateful Dead's concert at the Bangor Municipal Auditorium on April 22, 1971, was promoted by Music Productions of Boston in Association with Phonic Productions|
Yet far before the Grateful Dead became an established attraction in Maine and upper New England, there was an outlier: a single show in Bangor, Maine, at the Bangor Municipal Auditorium on April 22, 1971. We have an excellent board tape of this show, and it's pretty good, if a trifle short. Bangor, ME, then as now, was far from the centers of power and culture on the East Coast, and a very strange place for the Dead to make their first foray into upper New England. In return, a close analysis suggests that they played a rather strange show.
The band would not play New Hampshire, Vermont or Maine again until 1978, so it must not have had the desired affect. Yet the show was on one of Dead's most famous tours, less than a week after Princeton, and just days before the fabled five night stand at the Fillmore East, and still the show exists as a tape in a vacuum. This post will try and look at what we can discern about the Bangor show of April 22, 1971, and consider how strange the Grateful Dead must have appeared to the local fans.
|St. Stephen, New Brunswick (Canada) is just a few hours East of Bangor. Downtown has free parking.|
A fulcrum of the Grateful Dead's success were their Eastern tours in the Fall of 1970 and the Spring of 1971. The band was broke, but had decided to play their way back to solvency by touring relentlessly. The Dead had the foresight to record two accessible, classic albums just as FM rock radio was established nationwide, so Workingman's Dead and American Beauty made them a desirable concert attraction beyond the underground rock palaces of San Francisco, Manhattan and a few other big cities. In particular, many East Coast colleges had entertainment budgets and undergraduates who wanted to see a real Fillmore East band, and the Grateful Dead were ready to deliver. Legendary college shows followed, with tapes to prove their worth: Stony Brook, Temple, Princeton and on and on. The 70/71 Dead were just accessible enough for general rock fans, but still weird enough to remind them that the universe beckoned.
Bangor, ME is the last significant city on Insterstate 95, which traverses the East coast all the way up from Florida. Bangor is two hours north of Portland, ME, which in turn is two hours north of Boston. Beyond Bangor there is very little, save the small town of Orono a few miles north, the home of the University of Maine. It is another two hours of mostly empty driving up I-95 to the Canadian border (Deadheads may prefer to take Route 9 East to reach Canada at Saint Stephen, New Brunswick). Historically, Bangor was a center of logging, and the logs were turned to lumber that helped build Boston, New York and the whole East Coast. Bangor is at the confluence of some rivers, so the lumber went by boat, and Bangor was thus populated by loggers and sailors for a few hundred years. Bangor has had a population of about 30,000 since the 1960s.
The University of Maine was founded in 1862, in the town of Orono (pop. 8500), at a time when Bangor was the leading commercial city. The University of Maine is a well-regarded school, but it will come as no surprise that the biggest sport at the University is ice hockey, as the Maine Black Bears are a perpetual NCAA hockey power. In many ways Bangor appears to function as the "city" for the University, although the 10,000+ student body is bigger than Orono, and when the two are combined, they are not far smaller than Bangor itself.
The Bangor Municipal Auditorium was a 5948-capacity auditorium built in 1955 (and torn down in 2013). On Thursday, April 22, 1971, the Grateful Dead and the New Riders of The Purple Sage played a four hour show on a Thursday, in between shows in Providence and Durham, NC.
The Grateful Dead played 17 songs at Bangor Auditorium. Four of them, just four, had been previously released on albums: "Cumberland Blues," "Casey Jones," "China Cat Sunflower" and "Beat It On Down The Line." The last two were pretty obscure in 1971, and would hardly have been played on New England FM radio. How many songs did the Dead play off their current hit album, probably getting a lot of play in Boston and points North? Um, zero. Really, zero: no "Truckin'", no "Sugar Magnolia," nothing anyone might have heard in the dorm, save for the two songs off Workingman's.
The Dead played five original songs that are completely familiar to us, but which would have been completely unknown in Bangor ("Bertha," "Loser," "Playing In The Band," "Deal" and "Greatest Story Ever Told"). To the audience, the most familiar song that the Dead played would have been "Me And Bobby McGee," then a hit single for the late Janis Joplin. It would have been hard for the crowd to fathom why the Dead played someone else's hit single, although perhaps they thought it was a tribute to Janis (and perhaps it was).
All told, the Dead did eight cover versions. However, the 70s weren't like the 80s or 90s--even if you were interested in such things, it could be very difficult to find out the names and histories of cover versions by any band. Certainly there wasn't big country or soul scenes in Maine, and I doubt there was too much radio. In any case, back then radio was pretty segmented, so if something wasn't a major AM hit, no one knew anything about other types of music. Songs like "Sing Me Back Home" or "Hard To Handle" had been Country and Soul hits a few years earlier, but it's unlikely that any but a few total music heads recognized them. "Johnny B. Goode" and perhaps "Good Lovin'" may have been known, but all in all the cover songs would have been quite obscure to the audience. Even the ones who owned a few Dead albums must have been pretty mystified.
As for the New Riders Of The Purple Sage, they were confusing enough to audiences in New York and San Francisco. They must have wondered to themselves "why was the star of the show appearing with the opening act, sitting down playing a strange instrument?" I don't know the Riders' set, but since they had no album yet, no one in Bangor could have recognized the original material. Once again, depending on the songs, a few people may have recognized "Lodi" or "Honky Tonk Women," but all in all the Riders were just another opening act.
|When the Grateful Dead recorded the shows that were used on the Skull & Roses album, their concerts were filled with songs that were unfamiliar to their audiences|
The Bangor set list was typical of that leg of the tour. We look at '71 set lists, and see many familiar songs, but in fact they are familiar because of the Skull And Roses album and a thousand tapes. In fact, 1971 Dead concert setlists were quite challenging compared to contemporary groups, who mostly played songs off their last few albums. Here is a brief survey of the shows right around Bangor, compared the same way:
April 15, 1971, David Mead Field House, Allegheny College, Meadville, PA
21 songs: 5 from albums, 5 newly written, 11 covers
April 17, 1971, Dillon Gym, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ
19 songs: 5 from albums, 5 newly written, 9 covers
April 18, 1971, Lusk Field House, SUNY, Cortland, NY
17 songs: 6 from albums, 3 newly written, 8 covers
April 21, 1971: Rhode Island Auditorium, Providence, RI
19 songs: 6 from albums, 4 newly written, 9 covers
April 22, 1971: Bangor Municipal Auditorium, Bangor, ME
17 songs: 4 from albums, 5 newly written, 8 covers
April 24, 1971, Wallace Wade Stadium, Duke U, Durham, NC
19 songs: 5 from albums, 4 newly written, 10 covers
In fact, the distribution of songs at Bangor is typical, but the Bangor combination is the most pronounced. I did not try to give a "credit score" to each event (you can decide for yourself), but some of the shows have a very different feel. The legendary Princeton show, for example, has only five songs that had already been released on albums, but they are "Truckin'," "Casey Jones," "Sugar Magnolia," "Beat It On Down The Line" and "Turn On Your Lovelight." Four out of five of those songs would have been among the Dead's best known, including the best known off the three prior albums.
|Sly And The Family Stone were huge in 1970, and they had played Bangor before the Grateful Dead. They were still touring behind their epic album Stand!|
The rock touring circuit was still very new in 1971. It had started to get out to colleges, because young people who had read about the Fillmores in Life magazine wanted to see those bands. Since it was common in those days for colleges to have entertainment budgets, once hippies took over the "Entertainment Committee," or whatever it was called in a school, booking agents could start sending Fillmore bands out. That accounts for many of the Dead's bookings in 1971. For example, in the above list, 5 of the 6 were at colleges (and a booked date at Hofstra in Long Island on April 19 was canceled, probably due to a conflict with Bill Graham Presents at the Fillmore East).
Yet Bangor was different, since it wasn't booked by a college. I do not know who Phonic Productions were, nor Music Productions of Boston. Nonetheless, I have to think the promoters depended on a lot of University of Maine students coming over from Orono, since they were just 9 miles up the road. Bangor Municipal Auditorium had 5948 seats, and the population of Bangor was only about 30,00 at the time. Even if we include the 10,000 (ish) UofM students, that's still just a population of 40,000 to fill a 5900 seat building. If you think about it in population terms, it's a tall order.
There doesn't seem to be much precedent for rock shows in Bangor or the University, although researching it is like finding needles in a haystack. I did find a little evidence of Moby Grape playing Augusta, ME in Winter 1968, but that has been impossible to confirm. The one really contemporary antecedent I can find appears to be a concert at Bangor Municipal Auditorium on November 9, 1970, with headliners Sly And The Family Stone. Apparently Sly was late (or out of it) and thus came on stage very late, common for him at the time, and it did not go over well with the crowd. Amusingly, the opening act was a then little-known act called The Faces, with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood, who could absolutely kill it in in those days, but no real recollections seem to survive beyond anger at Sly's tardiness.
The only other Fillmore band I can find a trace of was a performance at the University of Maine by Mountain, on September 26, 1970. I assume this was a college sponsored event, of course. Mountain was a great band in their day, the epitome of "heavy," and probably audible all the way to the Canadian border. So there had been at least a few rock bands in Bangor and Orono prior to the Grateful Dead, but not many. The harsh winters would not have been encouraging to touring bands.
Beyond the tape, we seem to know nothing about the show. Some between song chatter on the tape suggests that the Dead were told they had to end by midnight, accounting for the slightly shortened show. At 7:00pm, when fans were coming into the show, the temperature was 43 degrees, with a wind of 6.9mph. When the show ended, it was down to 39 degrees, with a windchill of 33, thanks to the 10mph wind. That sounds kind of chilly to me, but I think for Maine in the Spring it was a pretty nice day.
How many people attended the show? The capacity of 5948 was far larger than the typical places that the Dead played, and the band had never played anywhere near Bangor. When the Dead played colleges in Pennysylvania or New York, even in a rural area the dorms would have been salted with students from the Philadelphia or New York City suburbs, so there would have been some buzz. The University of Maine, however, was primarily filled with people from Maine, so there had to have been precious few who had actually seen the Grateful Dead in concert. I can't imagine that the show was sold out, but it's hard to fathom how well the show did. One thing to recall about places like Bangor, particularly in 1971, was that while the population was small, there wasn't so much to do. A show at the Fillmore East competed with other rock shows, NBA games and Manhattan nightlife in general. In places like Bangor, often people just went to things because it was something to do. Still, we know nothing about the success of the show, save that the Dead never played Bangor again.
There is one tantalizing hint on the Archive, from a Commenter called Sammo, who says:
A little shorter because of the threat of having the power cut off around midnight, but otherwise quite enjoyable. I got to sit on the stage right in front of Uncle Jerry for most of the show. Got lots of photos including Jerry with NRPS. This was just a few days before the Fillmore (Ladies & Gentlemen).The only implication I can draw from this was that the show was mellow enough that a local was able to sit on the side of the stage. Of course, "Sammo", whoever he might be, might have been connected in some way, but generally speaking at packed shows security is tighter, even for people who are friends with the promoter. Thus I am taking his comment to mean the show at Bangor was pretty laid back. But other than that, we have nothing. If anyone knows anything, or even has a few unverified third-hand stories about the show, please put them in the Comments.
There is a similar tantalizing but inconclusive hint over at Dead.net:
The Dead played so long that they turned the lights on in the auditorium. When the band just kept on playing, the power was cut. Garcia said that they would never play Bangor, maine again and...you know what?...they never did!! This was my first show, at the tender age of 13. i was never the same after that.
|The Grateful Dead show at the Lewiston Fairgounds in Maine on September 6, 1980 rapidly became a legend from Coast to Coast.|
The Grateful Dead did not play upper New England until 1978, and they did not play Maine until 1979. When they played Maine again, they played in Portland. In the late 19th century, the city of Portland, two hours warmer, with a correspondingly less icy port, became the confluence of several New England railroads and grew in importance. Portland, with a population of 60,000 or so, surpassed Bangor 100 years ago, and remains the commercial center of Maine. Portland, per its name, is right on the coast, so it is a popular tourist destination, at least in those months when Maine's temperature is forgiving (I went to Portland, ME once, and I can vouch for the fact that it's a great city to visit).
By the late 1970s, the Dead were established touring legends. Even rock fans who were not necessarily fans of the band's music often wanted to see them once just to say they had done it. In between shows in the Dead's strongholds of big East Coast cities, the Dead and the Jerry Garcia Band started to play farther afield. The first Dead shows in upper New England were May 5, 1978 in Hanover, NH (at Dartmouth College) and May 6, 1978 at Burlington, VT (at the University Of Vermont). The next show in Maine was at Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, ME (concert capacity 9500) on May 13, 1979. The Dead went on to play some more shows in Portland and nearby Augusta. Then on September 6, 1980, the Dead headlined an outdoor show at the Lewiston County Fairgrounds. The tape is fantastic, the show was by all accounts great, and the Dead seemed to own Maine and upper New England from then on. However, the locus seemed to have been in Portland, with Bangor left out of the loop.
|The distinctive hyperbolic parabolic architecture of the Alfond Arena at the University of Maine in Orono, ME. The Grateful Dead played here on April 19, 1983|
The rock concert industry extended its tentacles throughout the 70s, but they seemed to have a hard time gaining a foothold in Maine. Now and again, as best as I can tell, a band would play Bangor or Orono. Aerosmith headlined a concert at Orono on September 30, 1973, but of course they were just a regional band at the time (their debut album had been released earlier that year). The New Riders Of The Purple Sage played a show at UM on November 6, 1975. While the Riders always put on a good show, their wave had crested by then, and I wonder if anyone had seen their earlier iteration in Bangor was still there.
Once the Cumberland County Civic Center was built, rock concerts started to come to Maine, but of course they were in Portland, two hours to the South of Bangor. While the first concert in Cumberland Civic was ZZ Top (in '77), the Dead made it a regular stop. Somehow, as near as I can tell, Maine became an East Coast version of Oregon, with a Deadheads-per-capita ratio far in excess of cities where the Dead played regularly. I don't know if the hippie communes were anywhere near Bangor--probably not--but there was one final reprise at the Northern edge of Interstate 95.
On Tuesday, April 19, 1983, the Grateful Dead played the Alfond Arena at the University of Maine. The Alfond had opened in 1977, built to bring the U. of M. hockey team back from Bangor. The Alfond Arena was recognizable for its "distinctive hyperbolic parabaloid architecture," so it was not at all a typical basketball arena, having been custom-designed for hockey. The 1983 Orono show was a classic "routing gig," a show booked to cover expenses for a band on the road. The Grateful Dead were far bigger than they were back in '71, but only in certain places. The weekend before Orono, the Dead had played two nights at The Meadowlands in New Jersey (Apr 16/17), and later in the week they had shows in Providence (Apr 20) and New Haven (22/23). But the band had to do something in between, and whatever money they made in Maine on a Tuesday was more than they would have made staying in a hotel in Secaucus, NJ.
There are various tantalizing comments on Dead.net
I remember hearing in the parking lot that the bridge south of Orono on I-95 had flooded out and that there were deadheads who couldn't get to the show. Apparently there was lots of rain the day before. I was just glad that we decided to leave the night before and get here early.
Security was uptight lots of
Security was uptight lots of people didn't get in till after the show started because security was slow and searched everyone to the max
First Acid Trip
Yes I waited and waited, but had to try it. I do remember people pushing and shoving to get in. Yes Security sucked. We missed most of Jack Straw. But the Acid was good. Fun, Fun.
Seemed to be allot of excitement
There was a feeling in the air that we were going to get a show like the one at UVM . Maybe because was a collage show or just the loooooooooooong ride in between shows. I was a bit let down at this one yes the on the road again was fun the Sugaree was hot and spanish jam was tight but still after it was over I thought we would get more at this one. oh well is why we went to every show never knew what night was going to be The night
Remember going to this show -- lots of tickets for sale in the parking lot from Univ. of Maine students. The first one we spoke to tried to charge us more than the face value. "But there are LOTS of tickets for sale tonight," we said."Yeah, but I have to make SOMETHING off of this," he said, as we pulled away.Something had evolved in Maine, and the Grateful Dead had conquered the state, just as they had intended a dozen years earlier. Even at the farthest end of I-95--just a few hours from Saint Stephen--the Grateful Dead had carved out their little kingdom.
The Wheel Keeps Turning, And You Can't Slow Down
Of course, the memorable concert in Orono in 1983 wasn't the Grateful Dead. On October 14, 1983. at the Memorial Gym, REM headlined over Let's Active and Willie B. Smith. REM's incredible debut album Murmur had been released earlier in the year, and Let's Active featured their producer Mitch Easter. REM was a great live band early in their career (not that they ever weren't) and anyone who saw them on this tour would still be bragging about it to this day. Once again, Orono was the far Northern end of a run around East Coast colleges and cities, and the story played out again. As the rock market expanded, Bangor and Orono finally became a regular stop, and the likes of Phish and Bob Dylan played there in the 90s, and I hear that Phish played a memorable show in 1994. Bangor was in the rock circuit by then, and once again the Dead were right, but early, having started up the train before the track was even ready.