Thursday, April 30, 2015

March 24, 1970, Pirate's World, Dania, FL (Truckin')

The traditional Grateful Dead concert lists all cite a Grateful Dead performance at Pirate's World, in Dania, FL, just North of Miami, on March 24, 1970. A 90-minute board tape with that date, apparently most of a complete show, seems to confirm the date. Yet this seemingly obscure event provides far more mystery than one might think. For one thing, Pirate's World was an amusement park, and the Grateful Dead didn't play a lot of shows at amusement parks. For another, it isn't even clear if March 24 was the correct date, and if it was, why was it changed? Finally, no matter what the date, the Grateful Dead spent some time that week sitting around the hotel pool. During those days, the Dead wrote "Truckin'", perhaps the band's most iconic song.

This post will look into the peculiar venue of Pirate's World, the ambiguous issue of the actual date they performed, and why exactly the Dead seemed to have enough time to sit around a hotel pool and write a song.

The Grateful Dead seem to have completed the basic tracks for Workingman's Dead from March 9-16, 1970, just before they went truckin' off to Buffalo
The Grateful Dead, Spring 1970
The first few months of 1970 were tumultuous for the Grateful Dead. They had been all over the country, from the Fillmore East to Hawaii and back, by way of New Orleans and St. Louis. They had fired their organ player, fired their manager, hired a new road manager and recorded an album. By March 8, they had already played about 34 shows (decide for yourself if they played Ungano's on February 12). As near as anyone can tell, the sessions for Workingman's Dead were February 16-19 and then March 9-16, when the basic tracks were completed.

The crazy touring schedule was a legacy of recently fired manager Lenny Hart, who--to put it kindly--did not have the best interests of the band in mind. By March, touring was under the control of new road manager Sam Cutler. Still, even Cutler's firm hand must have been tested by the peculiar concert schedule that the Grateful Dead were still obligated to fulfill. Somewhere around March, it started to become clear that Lenny Hart had ripped off the Dead for some serious money, $155,000 in fact, a huge sum for the time. Yet the Dead, always contrarian, chose to work their way out of trouble.

Having just completed basic tracks for what they must have known would be an excellent album, the Dead apparently decided they needed a "road song," like many other bands. Unlike other bands, however, like Canned Heat (whose "On The Road Again" had been a huge hit), the Dead had to bring their lyricist on the road with them. So for the March East Coast tour in 1970, the Grateful Dead were joined by Robert Hunter. Hunter had been backstage at many a Dead show, of course, but to my knowledge, he hadn't been on the road outside of California.

The projected tour was very brief:

Tuesday, March 17, 1970: Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo, NY
Quixotically, the Dead began their little tour with a show with the Buffalo Philharmonic.

Friday and Saturday, March 20-21, 1970: Capitol Theater, Port Chester, NY
The anchors for the tour were two double shows at the newly-opened Capitol Theater. The Capitol was in suburban Port Chester, in Westchester County. Westchester was within the New York Metropolitan area, but not at all the city per se.

Sunday and Monday, March 22-23, 1970: Pirates World, Dania, FL
The Pirate's World bookings appear to have been "routing gigs," paying shows at modest places that pay the hotel and travel bills between more lucrative events.

Friday-Sunday, March 27, 28 or 29, 1970: Winter's End Festival, Miami, FL
A major rock festival was planned for Florida. It's not clear which day the Dead would have played, but I think the promise of a good payday was what kept them on the road, and got them to Florida in the first place. It's likely that if the band wasn't expecting to play the Winter's End Festival, they wouldn't have booked Pirate's World.

After the band left New York, it seems that nothing went as planned. Thus the story that "Truckin'" was written by Garcia, Weir, Lesh and Hunter around a pool in Florida makes a lot of sense. The band thought they would be playing three shows in Florida, and they appear to have played only one. Thus there may have been far more time to sit around and write, rather than coming and going to and from various venues.

A newspaper ad for The Capitol Theater in Port Chester for March, 1970. Almost all of these bands played Pirate's World as well during the first half of 1970
The Grateful Dead On The Road
The existing ticket for Pirate's World (up top) suggests that two shows were originally scheduled. Tickets were probably printed some time in advance. Yet there is only one tape, from a different date. There are various eyewitnesses, and none of them refer to multiple shows. So it seems that the shows that were originally scheduled for Sunday and Monday, March 22 and 23, were converted to a single show on Tuesday, March 24. This change in schedule is logical for a variety of other reasons as well.

First of all, in order for the Dead to have played Pirate's World on Sunday, March 22, they would have had to load out of the Capitol in Port Chester, get to La Guardia, fly into Miami and load in to Dania, some miles to the North, in about 16 hours. A tall order indeed, even for the vaunted Dead road crew.

Secondly, a Sunday and Monday booking was fairly unprecedented for Pirate's World. There is an excellent, detailed list of Pirate's World shows (at the always exceptionally well researched Concert Archive), and almost all shows were only weekend shows. It does seem that the week of March 20-28 was some effort at a sort of "Spring Break" series, since there were concerts booked all week. However, this was never repeated, so it suggests that the promotion wasn't very successful. The scheduled bookings for Pirate's World that week were:
  • Friday and Saturday, March 20-21, 1970: Country Joe & The Fish, Rose Creek Band
  • Sunday and Monday, March 22-23, 1970: Grateful Dead
  • Tuesday and Wednesday, March 24-25, 1970: Youngbloods, Storm
  • Friday and Saturday, March 27-28, 1970: Chambers Brothers, New Society Band
So in order for the Dead to have played Tuesday, March 24, the Youngbloods would have had to be moved or canceled. Now, I don't know anyone who has a complete Youngbloods tour list--OK, I do (me), but it ends in 1969--but if the Dead were reduced to one show, it seems reasonable to assume that the Youngbloods were reduced or rescheduled as well. Perhaps the Youngbloods just played Wednesday (March 25). So for now, I'm pretty comfortable with the Dead having played Tuesday, March 24, 1970 at Pirate's World. They probably got into Florida Sunday night, and hung out for a Tuesday show in anticipation of the big festival the next weekend.
Ahoy, mateys. Note the aerial trams overlooking the buccaneer-filled water at Pirate's World.
Pirate's World
Pirate's World was an 87-acre amusement park that had opened in 1966, just North of Miami in Dania, Florida. It was located just East of US1, North of Sheridan Street (the community is now called Dania Beach, FL, and Sheridan Street is also FL822). Most of the rides were pirate themed, and there was a body of water, and one of the rides was a trip on an "actual" pirate ship. The amusement park was initially very popular when it first opened, until Disney World came on the scene in Orlando in 1971. Pirate's World closed in 1975, although it is fondly remembered by young people in the area at the time.

There had been a variety of efforts to find suitable rock venues in the Miami area in the 1960s, and the Dead had played a critical role, if to little avail. Early in 1968, the Dead had played Thee Image, Miami's own Fillmore, and the band had also kicked off a series of free concerts at Graynolds Park. Later in 1968, the band had played a rock festival in nearby Hallandale (Dec 28 '68) and then, after Thee Image had closed, at a rock festival on the Seminole Indian Reservation in West Hollywood (May 23-24 '69),and at a speedway in Hollywood (Dec 28 '69). By 1970, police and civic pressure had forced touring rock bands to play outdoors in the Pirates World amusement park in Dania, just North of Hallandale (and just South of Fort Lauderdale). Note that the ticket stub suggests that when purchasing a ticket "all rides free." I wonder how "The Other One" would have sounded on a roller coaster?

From the point of view of the park, it seems that the concerts were an effort to bring in teenagers. Certainly the events were memorable for those who went. An eyewitness recalls
The concert area at Pirates World was inside the large amusement park. Maybe 2,000 people? 100 feet of floor space between the stage and a row of wooden bleacher seats that faced the stage. Totally open air, don't even think there was a roof over the stage.
lived in Ft Lauderdale from 67-69...returned to NYC in 69 and went back to Fla. numerous times. Happend to be there when this concert was announced and holy shit!I was in a band in NYC during 65-67 and bass player was a huge Dead fan. He was with us in Fla and attended this concert, too.Prior to concert, 5 of us decided to take the ride across Pirates World, sort of an ore bucket thingy. While we're waiting to get into our cage, who's in front of us but Garcia amd his entourage...we wait and they get into the cage...a few mniutes later ( we had an abnormally long wait) we get into our cage...proceed to go 1/2 way across the grounds, about 50 feet in the air, and the ride stops...we decide it is the cops who want to bust us (Fla. in 1970 was, shall we say, intolerant of long hairs) so we start smoking everything we have...3-4 jointz each at a time...paranoid, the ride finally moves and we get to the end and the kid who opens the door says "Garcia told us there were a bunch of heads behind him, and to make sure you got a good long ride."
best ride of my life.
57 years old now and man, do I miss the 60s.

A flyer for the original iteration of the Winter's End Festival in Miami, scheduled for March 27-29, 1970. Originally planned for a site just north of Miami, eventually an abortive version of the event was held at a place called Bithlo.
Winter's End Festival
The big event, however, was the "Winter's End Festival" scheduled for the weekend of March 27-29. JGMF did some excellent work looking into this canceled event, and has some excellent links. He also found the flyer above, which shows us that the original site of the Winter's End Festival was North of Miami, but still South of Pirate's World. This may account for the Dead having reduced from two dates to one, if local fans were expecting a big festival the next weekend.

I have since found out, however, that the actual story of the Winter's End Festival was far more complex and crazy than JGMF's links suggest. It was the last in a line of Florida rock festivals that always kept moving due to local pressure. The promoter of the festival turns out to have been an infamous character named Tom Forcade. Forcade (1945-78) was either a provocative entrepreneur, or an entreprenurial provocateur, depending on how you see things. Saying that Forcade was "a character" does him a disservice. He is worthy of an entire book, which is apparently being written. Suffice to say, and I say this advisedly, the most mainstream thing that Forcade ever did was start High Times magazine. Just to reiterate--starting High Times was Forcade's straightest, most plausible venture. I hope the book comes out soon.

In any case, Forcade promoted the Winter's End Festival near Miami, and it fell apart and kept getting moved. It finally moved to a place called Bithlo, Florida, in between Miami and Orlando. While I'm sure Bithlo is a pleasant suburb now, at the time it was just empty county land. Nonetheless, apparently Orange County Sheriff's deputies made every effort to dissuade and arrest festival goers. Some version of the festival took place, but the Grateful Dead did not participate. There are many crazy memories, if you poke around. The JGMF comment thread has some good ones:

I attended this concert and Johnny Winter, Mountain and the Allman Brothers did play and were incredible, the hog farm was there and did their usual great job with what they could pull together. Locals caused some difficulties - breaking into cars/mini buses and stealing whatever they could find, causing some fights, etc. But overall it was a decent experience for a crowd in the hot Florida sun and cool evenings. Looking back now, amazing that no one died but leave it to youth..... 

I was there with 3 buddies that drove down on spring break from Indiana State. While I remember it being a generally epic time details are unclear do to the orange barrels. I remember about all the Hog Farm had was huge kettles of onion soup. Nutritious! Wavy Gravy took over emcee chores and continually extolled its virtues and thanks to the farm. I remember him voicing the warnings of bad mescaline going around and where the first aid tents were. I remember the Governor of Fl waking thru and declaring the site a disaster area to allow for food aid because the stores were wiped out. Remember the naked mud slide area! As for bands, clearly remember Johnny and Edgar Winter (first time I jeard them together), Leslie West and Mountain, Allman Brothers, and seems to me Tin House and Rush who I hadn't heard of before. Unlike previous post i remember bands for the whole 3days. Pretty big mess on sunday after it was over. Left after concert was over to head down to Lauderdale where the engine in my buddies Comet Blew. Hung for a couple days til the cash was gone and hitched back to ISU. Remember getting run off the road in TN by an 18 wheeler! Dang hippies! Great fun! Peace out!

Truckin' was written in March of 1970, made its live debut in August and was released on American Beauty in November.
Shot A Man In Reno?
McNally sets the scene:
In mid-March the Dead set off on tour, accompanied for the first time by Hunter, who had concluded that the band needed a road song, and that he needed to see the road to write the song...Later in the tour they reached Florida, and Hunter sprang the verses of "Truckin'" on them...Weir, Lesh and Garcia joined Hunter, and the four of them sat around the swimming pool with acoustic guitars and worked up the song (p364)

A few decades later, David Browne interviewed Robert Hunter for Rolling Stone, who added a few more details (Browne, not coincidentally, has just released his excellent new Grateful Dead book So Many Roads, which I can highly recommend)

Q: "Truckin'" also was completed on the road with the Dead, wasn't it?A: Yeah, I think it was in Florida, and I had been writing it for some time. I think I finished it there — it was not a song I just dashed off. And then I gave it to them. They were all sitting around the swimming pool, the guitars there, and they did a good job on it. I wrote all the lyric. "Sometimes the light's all shinin' on me" — I think that's Phil. It took me a couple of months to write and it maybe took 'em about half an hour to put it together
It is very tempting to look at the lyrics to famous rock songs and tie them to the biography of the writers. Certainly, when the band sings about getting "Busted, down on Bourbon Street," that very thing had happened less than two months earlier, and had been a famous event that fans were supposed to recognize, definitely an intentionally autobiographical reference. When they sing, "Dallas, got a soft machine, Houston, too close to New Orleans," we can look at the February schedule and see that the Dead had finally played Dallas (Feb 20) and Houston (Feb 22) just the month before. As for "Truckin', up to Buffalo," it's hard not to consider that Hunter and the boys were just in Buffalo less than a week before they wrote the song,

Nonetheless, biographical analysis does writers a great disservice. As a famous Classics professor once said, refuting the idea that the Roman poet Ovid's love objects were too realistic to be fictional, "raise your hand if you think Johnny Cash shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die." Writers make things up. Sometimes, the fictions are constructed from real occurrences in the writer's life, but ultimately they are still inventions. We cheerfully assume that Hunter did not "cut his buddy down, dug for him a shallow grave and laid his body down." Yet, whenever the whiff of reality strikes us, we suddenly wonder if writers are incapable of modifying real events for their art. 

In fact, the Dead weren't in Dallas in February 20, as they were actually in nearby Fort Worth. Although Ft. Worth has just two syllables, it doesn't sing as well, so it became "Dallas." "New York, got the ways and means, but just won't let you be," is a true enough statement, so it doesn't matter that Hunter had actually been in suburban Port Chester rather than Manhattan. "Truckin'" is a road song, and the phrase "long strange trip" will be Hunter's legacy long after we have all passed. It is appropriate that it was written on the road, at some no doubt seedy hotel in a Miami suburb, while the band waited around for a big gig that was never going to come. But it's still made up. The only pity is that Hunter and the guitarists did not sit around the pool another day and take a crack at some other lyrics. 

Pirate's World Today
The town of Dania is now called Dania Beach. I assume, like most of Florida, it is full of new construction, housing developments and malls, sprawling in every direction. Pirate's World closed in 1975, overwhelmed by Disney World. There was supposed to be a Biblical Theme Park in its place around 1978, but nothing came of it. The park was replaced by housing, and erased from all but childhood memories. Still, if you Google Map Sheridan Street (FL822) in Dania Beach, FL, just East of US1 (N Federal Highway), there is still a body of water. It is called West Lake. Could West Lake be the last trace of Pirate's World? Of course, since it was an amusement park, there wouldn't exactly be sunken galleons with untouched treasure at the bottom. But still. Maybe you can stand at the corner of West Lake, shut your eyes, and crank up the March 24 '70 tape on your iPod. Maybe, for a minute, all rides are free, the band is playing and everything is possible. Then, after the moment passes, you can get back truckin' on.