Thursday, June 22, 2017

First Free Grateful Dead Concert In Every City (Business Innovations)

The Panhandle abuts Golden Gate Park, but actually it is part of the Haight Ashbury neighborhood rather than the park itself.
Music in Late Capitalism, and performance in general, was designed to be a scarce resource, withheld until payment was offered. If music was performed too freely, than people would stop paying for it. As a practical matter, this led to some mid-century nightclub economics that Jerry Garcia derided as "Cabaret": playing a short set to sell drinks, and then taking a break, and either turning over the house or forcing everyone to buy more drinks for the next set. Radio disrupted this model, but not by much, since a listener didn't know when their favorite song would be played, and thus kept listening to ads while they were turned in.

The Grateful Dead had a contrary assumption about music. To the Dead, if you gave people music for free, they would just want more of it, and pay for that privilege. Prior to the Grateful Dead, free concerts in the music business were the actions of the desperate. Free concerts in 1966 and '67 San Francisco upended the notion that music was a finite commodity, and the Grateful Dead were fundamental to that equation. When free concerts became an untenable promotional scheme, the Dead moved to live FM broadcasts, another area in which they were pioneers. Ultimately, the Dead formally encouraged their fans to tape concerts in the mid-1980s, again undermining decades of music business orthodoxy. Thus the Dead are credited with "inventing" internet marketing, since giving it away in the hopes that people will pay later is the go-to business model for the internet.

I am hardly alone in the formulation that the Grateful Dead were foundational in enticing fans by simply playing music for free. Of course, Bob Weir and others have said that the Grateful Dead often did what was easiest, with little forethought, and so assigning them as incipient marketing geniuses may not be entirely warranted. While I think the Dead's influence in the music business has been overstated, however, it isn't irrelevant. Whether the Dead gave away music for free by accident or design, it has had a profound effect on the 21st century live music market. Today, free concerts abound all over cities and college campuses in America, and many performers accept that at least some free performances help get your music across to people who otherwise might never hear it. This post will look at the Dead's free concerts as a commercial endeavor, primarily by examining the first free concert in any city where the Dead played. Since the 20th century is now complete, this analysis probably has no current commercial value, but it should make for an interesting catalog.

The Grateful Dead played a few locations in Stanley Park in Vancouver, BC, from the back of a flatbed truck, on August 3, 1966
August 3, 1966 Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC: Grateful Dead/United Empire Loyalists
The first free concert by the Grateful Dead can very definitely be identified. Remarkably, it was on their first international trip, to Vancouver, British Columbia. The story was recounted in detail in Rock Scully's biography, and confirmed by the teenage members of the opening act. I wrote about the band's trip to Vancouver at my usual length, but I will focus on just a few key points here.

Briefly, the Grateful Dead had been invited to play the Vancouver "Trips Festival," a three-day Acid Test under a more polite name, from July 29-31. As the Vancouver event was modeled on the San Francisco Trips Festival from January, the two brightest lights from that event were invited to Vancouver. Although the Grateful Dead and Big Brother and The Holding Company would be legendary within 18 months, at the time they were just penniless musicians. Big Brother took the train to Vancouver and hitchhiked to the venue (with Dave Getz's drums), and I don't think the Dead had any more glamorous of a trip. The Vancouver Trips Festival was not particularly well attended, although the Dead in fact played well (and their performance has recently been released).

The Dead were an underground sensation, though, so a local promoter had booked a show with them for the next Friday night (August 5). However, the Dead had no record, and no one in Vancouver who hadn't been to the Trips Festival had heard them, so they had to be concerned about ticket sales. The Dead hung out and rehearsed at the suburban homes of the teenage members of the opening act, and while driving around they spotted a bandstand at a public park in Vancouver.

So it came to pass that on August 3, the Wednesday before their show, the Grateful Dead and the United Empire Loyalists drove around Stanley Park in Vancouver, rapidly setting up their gear on bandstands, performing a few numbers and then being chased away by the cops. They played at least two places. Their teenage hosts were enthralled, and dedicated themselves to a life of rock and roll (until they went to college, but that's another story). How much the Vancouver free shows helped ticket sales wasn't clear, but the paying Vancouver show went ok, and it sparked an idea. The band's initial success in Vancouver was due to underground buzz, since that was all the Dead had to offer. Free concerts were a way for the band to generate that buzz themselves, and let the underground do their advance work.

The West Coast was sort of a separate touring market from the rest of North America up through the early 70s, and Vancouver was part of that. The Dead drew well in Vancouver, but I don't know if many in Vancouver were even aware of the free concerts. The Dead did not play Vancouver after 1974, but I think that was because touring the Northeast was more desirable. The important thing about the first trip to Vancouver, however, was the idea of publicizing shows by playing free concerts.

September 1966 Speedway Meadows, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco: Grateful Dead
The most mysterious and chimerical free shows in Grateful Dead history are the least documented. Various old-timers assert, with the casual confusion so classic of 60s memories, that in the Fall of 1966 the Grateful Dead played some free concerts in Speedway Meadows at Golden Gate Park. There were no permits, no cops, no suburban wannabes, no hassles, nothing but fun. Of course, there were no tapes, no photos, no posters nor any other evidence that they really happened. Did they happen? We may never know.

The timing makes sense. Rock Scully and Danny Rifkin managed to take control of 710 Ashbury in September of 1966, and with the band rehearsing on Haight Street (at the Straight Theater), quick free concerts in the Park would have been easy. Everyone says that 1966 was the real summer of love, when a relatively small group of long hairs had the time of their lives, so any free show would only be known by word of mouth and attended by a few hundred people at most, most of whom probably knew each other. So, realistically, these concerts were more like parties than concerts, even though they were held in public spaces. The commercial value of the free Speedway Meadows concert was probably close to nil, since the only people attending were insiders who probably came to Dead concerts anyway.

October 6, 1966 The Panhandle, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Big Brother And The Holding Company/Elektric Chamber Orkustra Love Pageant Rally
LSD was made illegal in the State of California on this Thursday, and the Grateful Dead and Big Brother held an unsanctioned free concert in the Panhandle. There had already been at least one free concert in the Panhandle, with Country Joe and The Fish on August 13, and the Dead had played some free shows at Speedway Meadows in Golden Gate Park.  Still, the October show was the first free Grateful Dead show in the Panhandle. This was a seminal event, because it was publicized, at least on the underground jungle telegraph. A few thousand freaks from everywhere in Northern California converged at the Panhandle, and discovered that there were a lot more of them in the Bay Area than anyone thought.

The "Love Pageant Rally," as it was known, was also an important milestone in the history of free Grateful Dead concerts, and indeed free concerts in general. It was a free concert, yes, but it was widely publicized and so drew a large crowd. This was in distinct contrast to any performances in Speedway Meadows, which seem to have been somewhat secret. Above and beyond the fact that the event was publicized, the location insured that numerous residents and commuters would see it or hear it, whether they wanted to or not.

The Panhandle is not actually in Golden Gate Park, but adjacent to it, in residential Haight-Ashbury. The Panhandle is so-named because it is a grassy extension of Golden Gate Park (it is the "handle" if the park is the "pan"). It runs eight blocks East of the park, from Stanyan to Baker, bordered on both sides by Fell and Oak streets. Fell and Oak are important one-way throughways for San Francisco drivers ("Oak to Oakland, Fell to the fog" is the directional mnemonic). A weekday event in Speedway Meadows could pass by unnoticed, but thousands of people, young and old, were going to see or hear any Panhandle event.

Not coincidentally, the Grateful Dead were on the bill that weekend (Oct 7-8-9) at the Fillmore, booked below Jefferson Airplane and Butterfield Blues Band. Airplane and Butterfield were headlining three weekends, mostly at Winterland, with various opening acts. However, during the first weekend, police had shot a black man in the Fillmore district--nothing ever changes, does it?--and there were violent disturbances in the neighborhood. All the suburbanites who normally drove into the city were afraid to park in the Fillmore district. The Airplane/Butterfield shows for the first weekend (Sep 30-Oct 1)were moved from Winterland to the smaller Fillmore Auditorium, but even then, only a few hundred people showed up. Thus the next weekend's shows were moved to the Fillmore as well, and Bill Graham had to be nervous about ticket sales.

Thus a few ideas came together at once. The Grateful Dead played for free, as they apparently had been doing on occasion already. They publicized the event, and did it in a relatively public place, to insure that a crowd showed up, making them local heroes. And they did it the day before a show when they really needed the ticket sales, when they didn't have a record or any other way for potential fans to hear them. I don't know for a fact about attendance at the weekend Fillmore shows, but presumably things went well enough.

What may have started as a lark soon became a method. Initially, the Grateful Dead did not have a record, and when they did they weren't getting any airplay, and even when FM radio finally arrived the band still didn't get as much airplay as other bands. The band's willingness to play for free, however, set them apart, and they became underground legends, more widely known than heard, so when they played a new city for free, there were a lot of curious people who would check them out. To be fair, other San Francisco bands liked playing for free, too, for the same reasons, but the Dead made a project of playing for free outside of San Francisco.

January 14, 1967 Polo Grounds, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service/The New Age/Loading Zone/Sir Douglas Quintet Human Be-In
On a Saturday afternoon in January, some leading San Francisco bands played for free at the Polo Grounds in Golden Gate Park. There were 20,000 or so hippies dancing around in their psychedelic finery. The event was picked up by TV network news, back when that was universally watched. Not only was the idea of professional bands playing for free unthinkable, it was winter in the rest of America. If you were a teenager, shivering in Peoria or Pittsburgh, watching rock bands playing for free in the California sunshine while young women danced in the park, San Francisco was the promised land. And the networks didn't even say anything about Owsley.

In fact, by the time of the Human Be-In, the Dead had played free concerts in the Panhandle three times: The Love Pageant Rally (Oct 6), the Artists Liberation Rally (Oct 16) and the "New Year's Wail" (Jan 1). However, notwithstanding the stealth gigs in Speedway Meadows, the Be-In was the Dead's first performance in the actual Golden Gate Park. The Be-In also made free concerts a "thing" in San Francisco, and it immediately spread. There were Be-Ins all over, though mainly on the West Coast: Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Vancouver, San Jose and so on. Colleges and other hip places had their own attempts at Be-Ins, even if they were lacking psychedelic bands and indeed, psychedelic transportation. Raleigh, NC, for example,  had a Be-In on May 7 (at Umstead State Park), with a bluegrass band, since the only psychedelic blues band had already moved to San Francisco.

After the Human Be-In, the "Free Concert In The Park" was an established thing, not just in the Bay Area but all over the country, extending all the way to England. The Grateful Dead, however, were the most devoted practitioners of it as a promotional device, long after other bands had stopped doing it. The fact that the Dead were from San Francisco, and had played at the original Be-In. made their willingness to play free concerts all the more iconic. It may have been that the Dead were simply doing what was easy for them, but to fans in various cities it made them seem like alluring outlaws.

A photo of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead playing live, for free, at Tompkins Square Park in Greenwich Village on June 1, 1967. The photo is probably from the next day's New York Times.
June 1, 1967 Tompkins Square Park, New York, NY: Grateful Dead/Group Image
The first real test of the Grateful Dead's unique promotional approach was no less of a place than Manhattan, the media capital of the United States. The Dead were booked for a two-week run at the Cafe Au-Go-Go in Greenwich Village. All the hip bands played the Au-Go-Go, but the Dead had a new album that wasn't getting any airplay on AM radio. New York wasn't Dayton or Modesto--people young and old had a million choices of things to do, and needed a good reason to choose one thing over another.

So the Grateful Dead did the San Francisco thing, hooking up with a local collective and rock band called the Group Image, and playing a free concert in Tompkins Square Park in the East Village (bounded by East 10th Street, Avenue A, East 7th Street and Avenue B).  The Group Image (and perhaps other bands) had already played for free at Tompkins Square Park, but they were locals who could easily be seen around the way. As far as I know, no visiting rock band had played for free in a Manhattan park.And even if one had, it would have been some carefully scripted appearance sponsored by a radio station or something. Yet here was a band headlining a hip East Village club playing live, for free, a few blocks from their gig. Unorthodox? You bet. But Scully commented how amazed the Cafe Au-Go-Go was at how much buzz there was around the neighborhood after the free shows.

The Dead's residency at the Au-Go-Go was a success, and the free concert at Tompkins Square played its part. Manhattan is a world unto itself, but Jesse Jarnow did an excellent job of placing the Dead's free concert in Greenwich Village in its cultural context, in his indispensable book Heads. Taking no chances, the Dead played a free concert in Central Park the next Sunday (June 8).  Central Park was a long way from Greenwich Village, but it was still in subway range. There are free rock concerts in Manhattan all the time now, but it started with the Grateful Dead.

A San Jose Mercury News photo of campers at the football field at Monterey Pop Festival. The Grateful Dead and other bands played for free for the campers, as the festival went on nearby.
June 17, 1967 athletic field, Monterey Peninsula College, Monterey, CA: Grateful Dead/others
The Monterey Pop Festival broke the San Francisco scene worldwide. The Summer Of Love in San Francisco was memorialized by a hugely successful rock concert 120 miles South of the city. The event received worldwide press coverage, and the entire music industry knew that something big was happening under their noses. Unfortunately, pretty much no one noticed the Grateful Dead's musical performance on Sunday night (June 18), particularly after the Jimi Hendrix Experience followed them.

However, the entire press contingent noticed that the Grateful Dead set up a stage at the athletic field of the junior college across the way. The Dead and Quicksilver played sets, and apparently various musicians wandered over periodically to jam or sit in. Other performers may have included Eric Burdon and The Animals, Country Joe and The Fish, the Steve Miller Band, and members of The Byrds and The Paupers, although the precise details have never been confirmed. From a marketing point of view, the Dead got far more attention for playing for free than they did for their "official" performance, even though very few of those writers actually heard the band's performances at the athletic field. The Monterey free concert, however, for which there are no first-hand accounts, nonetheless may still be one of the most important free concert the Dead ever played. The Human Be-In would have happened with or without the Grateful Dead. At Monterey Pop, however, it was the Dead who organized the free concert, and the entire music industry took note. The industry was against it, of course, but they saw it. 

The July 4, 1967 Stanford Daily described the Palo Alto Be-In, where the Grateful Dead played for free
July 2, 1967 El Camino Park, Palo Alto, CA: Grateful Dead/Anonymous Artists of America/New Delhi River Band/Solid State/The Good Word Mary Poppins Umbrella Festival and Be-In [free concert]
Using equipment that they "borrowed" from the Monterey Pop Festival, the Dead played a few free concerts, including another one in Golden Gate Park (June 21). They also played for free in Palo Alto (I had originally thought that this concert was on Saturday, June 24, but an article in the Stanford Daily confirmed the date of Sunday, July 2). Among the other bands, the Anonymous Artists Of America included Jerry Garcia's wife Sara (they were now separated), and future New Riders David Nelson and Dave Torbert were in the New Delhi River Band. The Palo Alto Be-In was not widely covered in the local press, so it did not have a huge impact on the Dead's prospects. It added to their legendary status in Palo Alto, but the event was largely forgotten until I resurrected it (I actually attended this show, but I was 9 years old, so I don't remember much). Returning to Palo Alto added to the Dead's legend, but they would always be legends in Palo Alto, so commercially their appearance didn't matter much.

July 16, 1967 Golden Gardens Beach, Seattle, WA; Grateful Dead/Papa Bear's Medicine Show/Time Machine/Daily Flash/Karma/Brick (afternoon free concert)
By 1967, various cities on the West Coast were booking underground psychedelic rock shows. All of them were on the Fillmore model, with a light show and no seats. When a band from San Francisco or Los Angeles could be enticed North, a few local hippie bands would be added to the bill, and it made for nice little shows. California bands got to spread their wings, and Pacific Northwest promoters got to have some more profitable bookings. The Seattle area had a particularly active scene, promoted mainly by Boyd Grafmyre. Country Joe And The Fish initiated free concerts in Seattle, playing downtown in Volunteer Park on June 10, 1967, before a local booking.

Once again, however, when the Grateful Dead made their first trip to Seattle, they were legendary, but they had never played Seattle, nor did they have a hit record. The band had booked three shows in Vancouver (July 13-15) where they had already played, so rather logically they added a Sunday night show (July 16) in Seattle. They were booked at the Eagles Auditorium, which was the local psychedelic ballroom at the time. Following their pattern, they played a free concert in a Seattle park right before their Eagles show.

Golden Gardens Park is in Ballard, a neighborhood of Seattle. I do not know if the Dead actually played on a beach at the park (the park is on Puget Sound). I would expect they played on a grassy field rather than a beach.  Golden Gardens is not far from El Roach, where the Dead played on August 20, 1969, when they were rained out of the Aqua Theater. I don't know how many people attended the free concert, nor how well the Sunday night concert went at Eagles.

Since the Grateful Dead were invited back to Eagles Auditorium, however, for two more shows (September 8-9, Friday and Saturday), the initial Seattle concert at Eagles must have gone alright. The free concert magic seems to have worked. On Saturday, September 9, between the two gigs, the Dead played another free concert in Volunteer Park in downtown Seattle. Volunteer Park was just a few miles from the University of Washington, so the Dead's primary audience was nearby. I think the weekend at Eagles went well, but I don't know of any eyewitness accounts of the Volunteer Park show. Still,  the strategy must have worked. Certainly, the Dead owned Seattle after 1967, so they must have got something right.

JGMF sends along a link to a summary of an article about the Golden Gardens show, from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer of July 17, 1967
Located in Ballard, Golden Gardens was typically a place where the “straights” hung out, far away from the usual hippie hangouts near the University District and Capitol Hill. The crowd of 2,000 people who gathered at the park for the Be-In was a mix of all folks who just wanted to enjoy some rock music in the hot summer sun.  
The bands performed on a flatbed truck with electricity provided by a small portable generator. Brick went on first, followed by Karma, The Daily Flash, The Time Machine, and Pappa Bear's Medicine Show. The Grateful Dead came on last.  
The Dead were in Seattle for a show that evening at the Eagles Hall, and since they were veterans of many Be-Ins in San Francisco, the band and their manager, Rock Scully, decided to take part in the gathering at Ballard. The Be-In was arranged by Tim Harvey of Overall Cooperative Structure and Jerry Mathews of United Front Productions. 
By this time, "Be-In" type events were common on the West Coast, but the Dead were tuned in to the advantages of playing at them. Papa Bear's Medicine Show were a popular Vancouver band, and Daily Flash were Seattle's finest psychedelic export.

A 2010 photo (from CN Tower) of the O'Keefe Center in Toronto
July 31-August 5, 1967 O'Keefe Center, Toronto, ON: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead/Luke And The Apostles
The Grateful Dead did not play that much in Canada, but in the 1980s they drew fairly well in Toronto. They probably could have played Canada as much as they wanted, but supposedly their was some hesitance to cross the border. Although Toronto was smaller than Montreal in the 60s, Toronto became Canada's largest city, and the 5th largest city in North America, so success is Toronto was critical for Canadian success. Once again, free concerts were integral in introducing Toronto to the Grateful Dead, but uniquely, it was not the Grateful Dead who played for free.

As 1967's "Summer Of Love" was ending, Bill Graham took the Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead to Toronto and the East Coast. Graham booked a week at the O'Keefe Center, the city's most prominent auditorium, in downtown Toronto. The shows were billed as "The San Francisco Scene Comes To Toronto." By this time, the San Francisco Scene implied free concerts, and Graham did not disappoint. He had learned from the bands that playing for free was a great substitute when radio airplay was not forthcoming.

Graham had primed the pump by having the Jefferson Airplane play a free concert the week before the O'Keefe shows, at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto on July 23. Luke And The Apostles and a group called Spring Garden Road were also on hand. At the time, the  Dead were still back in San Francisco. By the time the week's shows began, however,  the Airplane had already given Torontans a taste of what to expect. The Toronto shows apparently did very well, no doubt helped by a follow-up free concert by the Airplane in Phillips Square, on Saturday, August 4.

August 6, 1967 Place Ville Marie, Montreal, QC: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead (afternoon free concert)
Montreal in the 1960s had a booming rock scene. Bill Graham came through the city with two of the hottest bands from what was the coolest city in rock at the time, and had them play a free concert downtown at lunchtime. This was unprecedented in Montreal, as it was everywhere else, giving it away for free with the implicit assumption that you couldn't resist paying for it. The Dead and the Airplane were playing at the "Youth Pavilion" at the World's Fair later that same day.

August 6, 1967 Youth Pavilion, Expo '67, Montreal, QC Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead (free concert)
The International World's Fair, known as Expo 67, was held in Montreal from April 27-October 29, 1967. By any standard, the fair was hugely successful. The Dead and The Airplane played for free outdoors at the "Youth Pavilion." The bands probably actually got paid, but as far as I know it was free for the fans, except insofar as they had had to pay for admission to the fair itself. Montreal seems to stand alone in Grateful Dead history as a city where the Dead played for free twice in the same day, but never had a gig where people had to pay to see them. Montreal seems to be an instance where we can see the non-genius side of the Dead's "marketing," Montreal had an exciting scene, and the band even had Rosie McGee for parlez-vous duties, but after playing twice for free at the biggest event in Montreal history, the Grateful Dead never returned (the Airplane didn't either).
JGMF reports that the Dead did attempt to play Montreal, on November 18, 1970, but the show was canceled due to "political unrest."

A current photo of the Ann Arbor West Park bandshell, where the Grateful Dead played a free concert on August 13, 1967. The sculpture was probably not there at the time.
August 13, 1967 West Park, Ann Arbor, MI: Grateful Dead (afternoon free concert)
Ann Arbor, MI, home of the University of Michigan, was about 40 miles from Detroit. University of Michigan is always paired with UC Berkeley as the best of public universities, and in the 60s they were also amongst the most forward looking and radical as well. There was always a lot of connections between Berkeley and Ann Arbor, in politics, music and other ways. In that respect, Ann Arbor was a far more fruitful pasture for the Dead than Detroit city.

On the Sunday following the Grande Ballroom shows, the Dead played a free concert in West Park in Ann Arbor, at 215 Chapin Street, under the bandshell. This was apparently the first outdoor free concert in Ann Arbor. McNally (p.211) reports that the free show was financed by Warner Brothers, to promote the album, so clearly Warner Brothers was slowly catching on to the Dead's unique method to promotion. Notorious Michigan radical John Sinclair was involved, so the Dead were right in the thick of the local political ferment, and there are color photos of the shows.

However, while Ann Arbor may have seemed like a perfect place for the Dead to build an audience with a free concert, a few things got in the way. The first was that the Midwestern weather in Ann Arbor is never very favorable to outdoor shows, and the August show was when school was out. Furthermore, most Ann Arbor students caught their rock shows in Detroit, so there was a lot of overlap. Thus, while I'm sure the Dead had many early adherents in Ann Arbor, those fans were more likely to move to Berkeley than build up the audience in Michigan. The Grateful Dead did alright in Michigan over the next few years, but it didn't really become a stronghold of Deadhead culture. [update] LightIntoAshes reports that Warner Brothers probably had little do with the Dead's performance. He also noted that there had been free rock concerts in Ann Arbor by various Detroit bands, so the Dead were not the ones who initiated the concept in Ann Arbor.

September 16, 1967 Elysian Park, Los Angeles, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead (afternoon free concert)
San Francisco and Los Angeles had been locked in a partially imaginary battle for California supremacy since the 1950s. Rather hilariously, from our vantage point, San Francisco had been the stodgy home of old California money, and Hollywood was the land of free thinkers. The LSD-and-Fillmore revolution upended this equation somewhat, but not enough to tip the balance. As a result, bands like the Dead and the Airplane were looked on dismissively by Southern California. This was because only Los Angeles had the cultural self-confidence to look askance at other California innovations.

Bill Graham had promoted a giant show at the Hollywood Bowl on Friday, September 15, headlined by Jefferson Airplane and supported by the Dead and Big Brother (Big Brother actually canceled). The day after the Hollywood Bowl show, the Dead and the Airplane played a free concert at Elysian Park in Los Angeles. Elysian Park is in Central Los Angeles, near the foot of Sunset Boulevard, and not far from Chavez Ravine and Dodger Stadium. Elysian Park was established in 1886.

However, Los Angeles, being LA, had picked up on the free concert trend soon after the Human Be-In in San Francisco in January (Jan 14 '67), and had held a series of "Love-Ins," starting on March 26. These shows featured all sorts of hip bands. Thus, when the Dead and the Airplane played Elysian Park, it was cool for their fans, but already a regular thing. Unlike other cities, the Dead didn't initiate free concerts in Los Angeles. The Dead always drew well in Southern California, but that was only because it was perhaps the biggest rock concert market in the country, not because the band was an exceptional draw.

September 24, 1967 City Park, Denver, CO: Grateful Dead/Captain Beefheart/Tracy Nelson and Mother Earth/Lothar and The Hand People/Crystal Palace Guard
Denver, however, just a week after Los Angeles, was a different story. Denver is unequivocally part of the West, but back in the 1960s it wasn't much like California. Chet Helms had the bright idea of opening an outlet of his Family Dog in Denver, so bands could play both Denver and then the Avalon in San Francisco. It was a very sound idea. It made sense of the new touring economics of rock bands, and he correctly read that there was a growing population of hippies in the Denver area.

The Denver Dog opened on the weekend of September 8-9 with Big Brother, then the next weekend with Quicksilver Messenger Service, and on the weekend of September 22-23 the Dead headlined. True to their pattern, the Grateful Dead played a free concert at City Park in Denver on Sunday, September 24. City Park is a large, central park that includes the Denver Zoo. I do not know exactly where the Dead played. The photos show a very small and casual event, with not even a raised stage. In this case, the concert wasn't to promote ticket sales, as the band had already played, but to promote the Denver Dog and set the table for a return visit. A local flyer (above) indicated that it was a "Be-In," but the Dead were not specifically named.

Once again, it's pretty clear that the Dead's Denver free concert was the first free concert by a visiting act that actually had a record. The Denver Dog itself ended badly. The Sheriff wanted to chase the hippies out of town, and his constant busts and hassling bands ended the venue as a paying proposition (Bob Seger's song "Get Out Of Denver" wasn't just his imagination). But the Dead owned Denver ever since that first concert. It took a while, sure. But it's hard not to draw the conclusion that the Dead created some pretty positive mojo by being the first to play for free. Now, of course, the remaining band members can play Folsom Field, but it seems to have started with a little fun in the park on a Saturday afternoon.

A wire service story from April 16, 1968 (published in the Colorado Springs Gazette) about the Grateful Dead's free concert in Graynolds Park in Miami, described as a "Love-In."
April 14, 1968 Graynolds Park, Miami, FL: Grateful Dead/Blues Image
The Grateful Dead debuted in Florida with two weekends at Miami's Thee Image. They also attempted to remix Anthem Of The Sun at Miami's famed Criteria Studios. It's unclear to me if the Dead played the shows because they working at Criteria, or that the band was working at Criteria because they were booked in Miami. In any case, nothing much seems to have come from working at Criteria.

The South was slow to grab on to psychedelia, for any number of reasons, but Miami was and is both part of the South and yet somewhat independent of it. Thee Image was the first real psychedelic rock venue in the South that featured the same touring bands who played the Fillmores, and I have tried to tell the story elsewhereProprietor Marshall Brevetz became good friends with the Dead, and they played for him a number of other times, in Florida and later in Los Angeles.

For the very first weekend in Florida, however, the Dead did not apparently draw very well at Thee Image. They had their own solution, however. On Sunday, April 14, they played for free in Greynolds Park in Miami, an unprecedented event in Florida rock history. The Dead knew a thing or two about free concerts, and not only were the next weekend's Dead shows well attended, but Thee Image took to regularly presenting acts for free in the park. The Dead have been popular in Miami and South Florida ever since.

May 3, 1968 Low Library Plaza, Columbia University, New York, NY: Grateful Dead
May 5, 1968 Central Park, New York, NY Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead/Butterfield Blues Band
From the point of view of anyone who has not lived or worked in New York City, the Dead had already played a free concert in New York, when they arrived in the city on June 1, 1967 (see above), and another a week later in Central Park (June 8). New York, however, is a universe unto itself, and each Borough is like a separate country. So from a New Yorker's point of view, the '67 concert in Tompkins Square Park was in Lower Manhattan, in the East Village at E. 7th Street and Avenue A. Many uptown Manhattanites would be more likely to go to Connecticut or Woodstock than the Lower East Side, so from that perspective the '67 concert would not be seen as a free concert "in their own city."

This time around, however, the Dead played a free concert at Columbia University, at 116th Street and Broadway, way up on the Upper West Side in what would become Seinfeld country. Two days later, the Dead (along with Jefferson Airplane) played another free concert at the Central Park Bandshell, near E. 72nd Street. Thus the Dead had covered Lower, Central and Upper Manhattan, and both the East and West side. Granted, they had not played the Outer Boroughs, but by playing free concerts in multiple locations, more residents of the whole city had an easier chance to see them. In any case, after four free concerts in the city, by 1968 the Dead established themselves as a popular act in New York Metro, and they remain so to this day.

November 23, 1968 Memorial Auditorium, University of Ohio, Athens, OH: Grateful Dead
After a poorly attended concert in Columbus, OH (where Ohio State University is located), the band was persuaded to use an off-day to play for free at Ohio University, in Athens. about 75 miles to the Southeast. Eyewitness accounts suggest that the place was packed, and the Dead played two sets. It's hard to say exactly how much impact this unpublicized event had, but the fact is that the Dead drew very well in Cleveland and Cincinnati for the next few decades, so maybe all those Ohio U students returned to the big city with legendary tales. In any case, this unique indoor free concert fit with the Dead's "strategy" of playing for free when their might be an audience, in the hopes of future returns.

Thanks to fellow scholar runonguinness for pointing out this show. He also includes some great links, from the indispensable Deadsources.

July 7, 1969 Piedmont Park, Atlanta, GA: Grateful Dead/Delaney and Bonnie and Friends/Chicago Transit Authority/Spirit
By mid-1969, the Grateful Dead were legendary for their free concerts. Readers of Rolling Stone and other magazines who lived outside the Bay Area seemed to believe that the Dead played for free in Golden Gate Park every month, if not every week. Thus, although many rock fans had barely heard the Grateful Dead's music, the band was synonymous with the 60s rock axiom that music was "for the people," and was best provided free.

In the May of '69, a newly formed band of musicians from Florida lived in Macon, GA. They took to playing free concerts at Piedmont Park in Atlanta. These concerts were the first whiff of San Francisco for the city. The band played heavy, jamming rock, and there was at least one black musician amongst the long-haired white hippies. The regular Sunday afternoon concerts became a social event of sorts in Atlanta for the local long-hairs, and the city of Atlanta discovered that the world did not end. Atlanta in general had always been a good music town, but the band from Macon made hippie guitar-rock part of the Southern soul and blues mixture. By mid-summer, the Macon band had stabilized their lineup and had been signed by Atco Records (via their Capricorn imprint) and was known as the Allman Brothers Band.

As young people in the New South were drawn to rock music, as they were everywhere else, a giant rock festival inevitably followed. Unlike many regions, the first Atlanta International Pop Festival, on July 4-5, 1969. It was actually held at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, in Hampton, GA, 30 miles South of the city. It was one of a flurry of rock festivals held at Motor Racing facilities in 1969, and one of the most successful. Over 150,000 fans saw more than twenty acts at Atlanta Pop. Promoter Alex Cooley actually had a certain amount of guilt at having made money at a rock festival. So on the Monday after the festival, Cooley staged a free concert at Piedmont Park, including four bands who had played at the Festival. On top of that, he paid to fly the Grateful Dead in from Chicago, where the band had just finished playing the Kinetic Playground.

Thus there was an all-day free concert in Piedmont Park on the Monday after the Pop Festival, featuring a few of the bands from the festival, with the Dead as the concert closers. After the Dead's set, there was some sort of jam. It's a little murky who played with who. The Allman Brothers certainly played earlier in the day, but may not have been present at the end of the event. In any case, the Piedmont Park show was the first point of contact between the Allmans and the Dead.

The Grateful Dead were the mark of cool in 1969, and when the Dead played a free concert in Atlanta, their coolness was transferred to the city. Atlanta reciprocated, too: Piedmont Park was the Dead's first show in Atlanta, and the city was a great market and guaranteed tour stop throughout the life of the band. Nothing more clearly illustrates the power of a hip band playing a free concert in order to generate paying customers in the future. The Grateful Dead returned to Atlanta the next year, and the city was a regular tour stop for the band long before any other places in the South.

May 6, 1970 Kresge Plaza, MIT, Cambridge, MA: Grateful Dead
Boston and its sister city, Cambridge, just across the Charles River, have always been filled with college students and young people. The schools in Boston are large, varied and important, too: Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Boston College, Tufts, Brandeis, Northeastern and more. The city of Boston has always been not just a great music town, but a town that makes taste, too.

By 1970, the Dead had already played the Boston area a number of times and had a solid following. Indeed, the band's only New Year's Eve concert outside of the Bay Area had ended a three night stand at the Boston Tea Party the previous December. On May 6, 1970, however, the Dead played a free concert at a rally protesting the National Guard killing of 4 students at an antiwar protest at Kent State University in Ohio.

The Dead considered themselves "not political," but the Kent State killings were seen as trans-political, an issue of what we would now call "Social Justice." Of course, the Dead were always willing to play for free, and saw it as good business, but I have no doubt that the individual band members were as appalled as other Americans that the Ohio Guard had fired on protesting college students.  Playing a free concert at a protest rally at an elite University in Boston assured that the Dead were always seen as being "on the right side of history."

In the ensuing years, the Dead's ongoing credibility stemmed from events like the MIT rally. As it happens, the band had a paying show at MIT's DuPont Gym the next night (May 7), so you can just as well see it as the Dead drumming up business. Whether you see the concert as calculating or sincere, however, keep in mind that plenty of other bands were on tour that week, and there were protests at Universities all over the country. How many bands with record contracts played those protest rallys? Few, if any. The Grateful Dead did play a Kent State protest, for free, and their underground status continued to set them apart from their peers.

From the MIT student paper, The Tcch, May 6, 1970. The final item in the schedule for the day's protest observes that there will not be a free concert by the Grateful Dead at 2 pm (h/t GratefulSeconds)
Fellow scholar David (of Grateful Seconds) sends along this clipping from the MIT student paper The Tech, from May 6, 1970. It shows the underground at work. The schedule of events explicitly states that there will NOT be a free Grateful Dead concert in Kresge Plaza at 2 pm.

An ad for the Festival Express concerts at CNE Grandstand in Toronto on June 27-28, 1970 (the ad is from the Toronto Daily Star of June 26, 1970) The Grateful Dead played the first day, billed under The Band and Delaney & Bonnie & Friends
June 27, 1970 Coronation Park, Toronto, ON: Grateful Dead
There was a dark side, however, to the Dead's reputation for playing free concerts. By 1970, there were a lot of hippies who felt "music should be free," and resented paying anything at all for concerts. There had been a lot of outdoor rock festivals in 1969 and '70, and most of them had deteriorated to the point where large numbers of fans were let in for free. In most cases, the promoters took a bath, and very few rock festivals ever repeated in the same venue, if they repeated at all. Needless to say, bands and promoters wanted to get paid, but as rock crowds got bigger that was turning into a tricky proposition.

The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Band and others participated in the infamous Festival Express tour (memorialized in a wonderful movie). The idea was that a traveling circus of bands would cross Canada by train, playing at stadiums across the continent. While the music performed at the Festival Express concerts was great, the events themselves were financial debacles. One of the reasons was that many Canadian fans, like young rock fans everywhere, felt that the bands should just play for free. In Toronto, this turned into a serious problem. The threat of riots was eased significantly when the Grateful Dead played a free concert in a Toronto park.

The Festival Express tour was to begin with a two-day concert at Toronto's Canadian National Exhibition Hall. There were numerous acts on the bill, with The Band headlining. Also on the bill were Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, Ten Years After, Delaney and Bonnie, Traffic, the James Gang and others. The Dead were booked to play on Saturday, the first day. The Grateful Dead had played Toronto once since the week at the O'Keefe, playing two shows at The Rock Pile on July 8, 1969. The Rock Pile, at Yonge and Davenport, near the University, was Toronto's equivalent of the Fillmore, and every great 60s touring band had played there. So the Dead would not have been entirely forgotten in Toronto. The scene on the ground in 1970 was tense, however. Thanks to Deadsources, we can get the story directly from the Toronto Daily Star of July 29, 1970:
Jerry Garcia, the guitarist of San Francisco's Grateful Dead, came onstage [at the stadium] asking the youngsters to cool it. 
Then Police Inspector Walter Magahay talked the promoters into staging a free 24-hour "rehearsal" at Coronation Park on the lakefront opposite the CNE where bands could donate their time to play for the would-be crashers who didn't have the $10-a-day, $16-a-weekend price of admission. 
More than 6,000 swarmed to the park by 7 p.m. when the equipment was set up and Ian and Sylvia, James and the Good Brothers, and the Grateful Dead started the rehearsal off.
Another 6,000 swarmed over after Saturday night's official concert end and camped out on the grass listening to the jamming that went on under the stars until 4 a.m. 
"It saved the day," said Constable John Sagar, one of Metro's new "mod squad" community relations officers in charge of Coronation Park, who wore a yellow T-shirt with a peace symbol on it. "It took one heck of a lot of pressure off."
Eyewitness reports suggest there was an acoustic set and an electric set, although they may not have been one after the other. Incidentally, the Canadian duo of Ian and Sylvia had a fine backing group featuring Buddy Cage on pedal steel guitar. Garcia and all the New Riders were intrigued. Cage became friends with them on the tour, and he is still in the New Riders today.

The Toronto episode pointed up how the Grateful Dead's original strategy of playing for free was starting to work against them. When the band had been an underground cult act, they could perform stealthy gigs without much trouble. Since no Top-40 radio stations were really playing their records, it was a way to get their music out. By the middle of 1970, however, the landscape was quite different. FM rock radio played lots of album tracks, including Grateful Dead ones. On top of that, Workingman's Dead had been released in June, 1970 and it was very radio friendly. The Dead, unexpectedly, got lots of FM airplay, but it meant that some free outdoor concerts were going to attract too many fans and too much trouble, for no financial return. Toronto was a perfect example.

The Grateful Dead, however, were ever-inventive. As the free concert, and its cousin, the outdoor rock festival, declined as a means of getting fans to hear the Dead's music, the band found another way. Since 1968, the Dead had been experimenting with live broadcasts of complete concerts. It took them a few tries, but by the middle of 1971 they had finally gotten it right. When the Fillmore West closed in 1971, the Dead broadcast their entire July 2 show on San Francisco's biggest FM rock stations.

The Fillmore West broadcast was the Dead's promotional model for their fall tour. The Dead had released a new double live album (Grateful Dead, aka "Skull & Roses"), and with $100,000 of promotional support from Warner Brothers, there were live FM broadcasts in 14 cities. I have discussed the FM broadcasts at great length elsewhere, so it needn't be recapped. Some comments from Jerry Garcia in the Village Voice in December of 1971 make it clear that the FM broadcasts were seen as an extension of the free concert concept (from Al Aronowitz's Pop Scene column in the Village Voice, reprinted in the cd booklet for Dave's Picks Volume 22, Felt Forum, New York, NY 12/7/71):
"Well, you know," says Jerry Garcia, "we've always been into free concerts and the broadcast was kind of a free concert without any hassles. Ever since Altamont everything has been so sticky when you try to do a free show. With us the whole trip is to make music available."

The Grateful Dead adventure is a business model, like it or not
It's no coincidence at all that when the Dead started broadcasting live on FM radio, the commercial value of playing free concerts no longer made much sense. There were only six more free Grateful Dead concerts, one free Jerry Garcia concert, and one free Mickey Hart show where Garcia showed up anyway (May 30 '75). The Hart show, the Garcia show (Sep 2 '74) and two of the Dead shows were in San Francisco (Sep 28 '75 and Nov 3 '91). The other free concerts were in different cities, and were the final gasps of the original strategy, from which the Dead probably received little commercial benefit.

June 21, 1971 Chateau d'Herouville, F: Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead were invited to France, I believe by a rich person, to hang out at a Chateau that had been converted to a recording studio. The Grateful Dead, probably unlike other bands who went to the Chateau, decided to play a free outdoor show for the locals (query: how do you say "townie" in French?). There is video and audio of this relaxed event, but it was just the band having fun on someone else's dime.

May 13, 1972 Fairgounds, Lille, F: Grateful Dead
As I understand it, a French promoter had booked some shows that sold very few tickets, and they had to be canceled. After some negotiations, the Grateful Dead ended up playing for free at the Fairgrounds in Lille, France. One important point to take away from this was that even by 1972 the Grateful Dead were the only remaining band who would be asked to play for free when a concert fell through. This was another unintended byproduct of the Dead's musical generosity, namely that--just like the internet--the clients always wondered if they could get it for nothing. The band did not play Lille again.

September 30, 1972 athletic field, American University, Washington, DC: Grateful Dead
Sam Cutler made one last try to use free concerts to promote the band. The key to his strategy seems to have been the fact that many schools had entertainment budgets for students that were large enough that the band could actually get paid even when the students got in for free. The first attempt at this was on an athletic field at American University in Washington, DC. American U. is a large (currently 13,000+ students) private research institution, founded in the nation's capital in 1893.

The Grateful Dead would end up being a huge draw in Washington, DC. However, I don't think the American U. show had much to do with it. It rained the day of the show, and apparently only a few hundred students showed up. While the Dead played a pretty good show--it was 1972, after all--I don't know if much buzz came from such a thinly attended event. No matter--thanks to relentless touring throughout the South, DC ended up being a convenient midpoint for fans from the Northeast and Southeast, packing both indoor basketball arenas and outdoor stadium shows.

The crowd at the Grateful Dead concert at Alumni Lawn, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, October 21, 1972 (from the VU Hustler newspaper)
October 21, 1972 Alumni Lawn, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN: Grateful Dead
The last stand of the Grateful Dead's strategy was at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Nashville was new territory for the Dead, and Cutler managed to persuade the school to pay the Dead to put on a free concert instead of playing the acoustically awful gym. It was a beautiful fall day in the South, and 15,000 fans saw an amazing concert, fondly remembered by Vanderbilt students of that era. The band rolled into town, they played, they conquered, and they left behind Deadheads for life.

The band never did it again. The played two 1978 shows in Nashville, but many of the Vanderbilt students would have been long gone. After Watkins Glen, big outdoor concerts made every city and school nervous. In any case, once the "Oil Shock" of 1973 hit the economy, colleges and universities started chopping their entertainment budgets, so there wouldn't have been any way to finance a repeat of the Vanderbilt experience.

As an economic strategy, however, the Grateful Dead no longer needed free outdoor concerts. FM broadcasts spread the Grateful Dead's music far and wide throughout the 1970s. While changes in the FM radio market made the live broadcasts rarer, those same broadcasts provided the seeds for bootleg records and then tape trading. So in that respect, despite their lack of planning and rookie mistakes, the Dead found a way to circumvent the music industry's distribution system at least three times, and all of them are now part of the menu of possible music promotion strategies. Up and coming bands all over the country hope to play for free at parks and public spaces, usually officially sponsored as a regular part of civic or school entertainment. Whether the Grateful Dead were shrewd visionaries or accidental heroes, they laid the cornerstones for the marketing of 21st century music.


  1. The recording of 5/6/70 includes some "marketing" stage chatter. Apparently, the weather was a bit nippy, and the band complains a number of times about being cold. At one point, Garcia (IIRC) after complaining about the cold, tells the audience to come see them the next night (5/7/70), and he promises that they will play much better.

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  2. BTW the Denver concert in 1967 was probably in front of The Denver Museum of Natural History, on the East side of the park, facing the lake. I used to work there in the 80's and the photos seem to be from that spot!

    1. I agree with this assessment - and can offer this Google Street View link of the spot I think they played from,-104.9443946,3a,75y,17.66h,73.88t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sReY9PdgLtct7c0hG5q8GnA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

      When one looks at photos of the day you can see they played on small hill or rise in the field. Also the photo of Phil taking to another blonde haired gentlemen in this tweet indicates the lake was in front of the band to their left...

  3. Here is another one, a rare indoor freebie.

    The University of Ohio in Athens on Saturday 1968-11-23. It seems so many students from there turned up to the previous night's show in Columbus that the Dead decided to lay on a treat for them on an off night, so the story goes anyway. Here's the details

    1. Another free show worth noting:
      May 3, 1970 Wesleyan University, Middletown CT

      I'd hesitate to call 8/3/66 the Dead's first free concert, since they'd already been playing for guests at their Olompali ranch for several months. These could be considered ongoing parties rather than concerts, attended by friends rather than "the public," but it's a fuzzy category. When they arrived in Vancouver, the Dead already had plenty of experience playing out on a lawn for anyone passing by; and the Golden Gate Park shows were more or less a continuation of this practice.

      "Free prison shows" form their own small sub-category, in the jams outside San Quentin in '67-68, and the Terminal Island show on 8/4/71.
      These were more to support prisoners than to entice new listeners, though it's nice to think of hardened cons clapping along to Lovelight.

      The account of Ann Arbor 8/13/67 isn't quite correct - the Dead were by no means the first band to play for free there. (And despite McNally, I doubt if there was any financial support from Warner Brothers, who seem to have been generally uninvolved with the Dead's free shows.) John Sinclair later wrote, "A bunch of us would drive over from Detroit to groove in the park on Sundays, and at the end of the season we brought the Grateful Dead from their gig at the Grande play for the people of Ann Arbor."
      The Ann Arbor Sun reported in 1971:
      "The earliest free concerts [in Ann Arbor] were in the summer of 1966. The music then was mostly unamplified avant-garde jazz by such outstanding musicians as Charles Moore and his band, the Detroit Contemporary 5 (now the Contemporary Jazz Quintet), Stanley Cowell, Joseph Jarman, and many others.
      "In 1967, in addition to Charles Moore's band and Roscoe Mitchell's band from Chicago, rock and roll and electric blues joined jazz as the people grooved to the beautiful Seventh Seal, the Prime Movers, Billy C. and the Sunshine, and other original people's bands from Ann Arbor and Detroit. To get the band shell in West Park, Ron Miller of the Seventh Seal would usually go down to City Hall, pay them $10 out of his own pocket, and get a permit. A few hundred people would dig the music every Sunday, dig each other, play frisbee, roll in the grass, and share watermelons.
      "There was never any trouble of any kind until the last concert of the summer. The Grateful Dead were scheduled to play and a huge crowd gathered in the park. It had rained earlier in the day and the Dead asked the people in the audience for some blankets to stand on so the musicians wouldn't get electrocuted standing barefoot on the wet cement playing electric guitars. Someone handed them a huge Amerikan Flag which they put down and stood on while they played for their cheering fans. This was too much for some old Ann Arbor patriots who had been watching this freeky procedure from the sidelines. During the winter of 1967/68 these people got the City Council to pass a new city ordinance banning amplified music from West Park." [The MC5 would try to defy the ban in 1968, and the article continues the story.]

    2. runonguinness, thanks for noting the Athens show. I updated the post,

      LIA, thanks as always for the fantastic links. A great find on the Ann Arbor story. I updated the post.

      As far as Vancouver being "the first," I was trying to emphasize free concerts as a commercial strategy to sell tickets (or albums). Olompali was pretty out of the way, and no one who wasn't already connected would be there. I included the part about Speedway Meadows to forestall any issue of Oct 6 '66 being the "first" free concert. I knew it wasn't the first, but it was the first meant to sell tickets to a specific concert.

    3. Oh, and one small correction: The Dead were scheduled to play the Lille Opera on May 5, 1972; but though the Dead and the audience arrived, the equipment didn't, so the Dead canceled at the last minute with an onstage announcement to an irate crowd that pursued them out of the theater. (See McNally p.432.) The Dead returned to Lille a week later with a free show in the fairgrounds to make up for it.
      The story's also told briefly in their May 1972 program The Book of the Dead: "An abortive trip to Lille, in the French provinces, came to nothing when the equipment trucks were sabotaged. Water was put in the petrol tanks. Nobody knows who did it. The audience waited for the band and the band waited for the equipment. All in vain. In the end the Dead had to climb out of the dressing room windows to leave, intending to go back to play free for those who'd waited so long."

      On another note, though this post emphasizes the promotional & marketing aspects of the Dead's free shows, I wonder if this played much (if any) part in the Dead's thinking at the time.
      Of the shows here, maybe more than a half-dozen could be seen as "promoting" an upcoming show that weekend (though sometimes this is debatable) - others happened after the paid gigs, or in cities where the Dead didn't even have shows scheduled, or at Be-Ins with no commercial purpose.
      From one standpoint, you can see these free shows as "generating buzz" or promoting themselves in new markets. (Which wouldn't apply to the numerous Golden Gate Park shows in any case.) I suspect the Dead perceived these free shows differently at the time, though, and would likely have derided or denied any commercial considerations. Managers or promoters like Scully & Graham would of course have thought it a nifty idea to put on a free park show in order to "promote" the paid gig and sell more tickets. But the Dead themselves most likely saw the park shows as their own fulfilling events, not stepping-stones to paying shows. As Garcia put it, "The whole trip is to make music available." (Or as Sam Cutler put it, "They were dumb!")

    4. I think you make a very good point that the band at any given time thought it was fun to play music for free. Their managers or promoters saw the commercial advantages, up to a point, anyway. I think this is the dichotomy that Weir was referring to, where he said they often did what was fun or easy, it wasn't a plan.

      In my universe, the Grateful Dead are a complete entity, musical, commercial and institutional, so all of these things are true at once. The band had fun playing for free, but in the early days it was ultimately good business.

    5. Then there's the perspective looking from the outside - that is, as promotional efforts, did free shows work?
      You mention sometimes that there's no way of knowing how many more people ended up buying tickets or becoming fans because they caught a park show.
      But the idea of "the free show" became a legend in itself - the band that plays for free! - so by 1970 we got hordes of people insisting on seeing the Dead for free, and then the Dead couldn't play free shows anymore.
      But in those days, on a non-musical level, the free shows also helped establish the Dead's reputation as "the people's band," underground figureheads no matter how popular the music. They became legends even in cities where few people bought their albums, just from their storied reputation: playing for free, supporting causes, living in a commune, giving audiences acid, etc. So the free shows added to the Dead mythos from early on.

      To the mainstream, of course, all this was pretty much invisible. You mentioned that the Dead's "free stage" at the Monterey Pop Festival was their most important free concert, noticed by press and the music industry. But I have my doubts; from what I've seen, the free stage was more or less ignored by press, filmmakers, and industry alike. Far from getting much press attention, we only have vague reports of who even played. (For that matter, reviewers at the time universally paid very little attention to free park shows, except as background music to strange social occasions where lots of hippies would turn up.)

      So free shows were, in a sense, aimed at the "freaks," the counterculture, rather than the public at large. (Many of whom objected to loud rock music in parks!) And as you said, they were kind of a limited cul-de-sac: once the Dead gained mass popularity, free shows became untenable, and were replaced by radio broadcasts (which were more adaptable by the music industry).

      Sociologically speaking, there's a bit more to this tradition, too - you look forward to internet marketing, but looking back, there were free park shows by town bands long before there was rock music. San Franciscans of the 1880s could stroll through Golden Gate Park listening to band concerts. The Dead fit gracefully into this tradition too, and may have been conscious of it (one reason, perhaps, they were called "the good old Grateful Dead" even back in 1966) - but they're rarely viewed from this kind of long-term historical perspective.

    6. A correction needs to be made in the main text. The Athens OH show is listed as 8/23/68 when in fact it was 11/23/68 as runonguinness notes. On 8/23/68 the GD played the Shrine Aud in LA.

    7. unk, thanks so much for catching my error. I fixed the main text.

    8. A bit more on free performances as done by 19th-century touring minstrel shows:
      "Traveling troupes regularly conducted public parades to drum up business for their evening performances. Usually taking place in the late afternoon, the parade featured selections of music from the official concert. It was often followed by a free outdoor performance leading into the theater. According to WC Handy, who toured with Mahara's Colored Minstrels in the 1890s, parades featured a plethora of musical styles, from John Philip Sousa marches and classical overtures to Stephen Foster medleys, British ballads, and the latest Tin Pan Alley hits of the day. Some residents were impressed enough by the afternoon teasers to purchase tickets to the evening shows; many more caught the free music then went about their business with the songs of the out-of-town musicians lodged in their heads."
      (from Karl Miller, Segregating Sound, p.31)

    9. It's fascinating to see that not only were the Dead re-inventing songs from old folk traditions, they were re-inventing old methods of popularizing that music. Great research.

  4. Amazing work as always, Corry! A couple of points to add. "Toronto is Canada's largest city." It is now, but up until the mid-1970s, and certainly in 1967, Montreal was, and had been since the 18th century, the biggest city in Canada. Also, apparently the original plans for Festival Express had been to start in Montreal, but after the well publicized problems at Woodstock and Altamont then notoriously authoritarian mayor Jean Drapeau wouldn't allow it. (I think it was also supposed to end in Vancouver rather than Calgary but because of financial problems stemming largely from the problems in Toronto the promoters ran out of money.)

    Also, in my work at the GD Archive I found an article about a Oct. 8, 1966 performance that was possibly a free performance:

    “Variety of Performers at Festival for Peace.” Mt. Tamalpais show
    Linda Lienkaemper, Redwood, Stinson Beach, CA, Pacific Sun, 10/21/66
    “Young people in the audience were especially favored with the appearances of the Quicksilver Messenger Service and The GD. People danced on the lawn and on the stone steps up the hillside, improvising to the imaginative music.
    The bands were somewhat out of their element in the light, open spaces of the mountainside, but this atmosphere was interesting and one could imagine the music blowing down to the towns far below.”

    1. Good find - I'm curious how the rest of the article describes the event. I have it listed as a benefit for antiwar candidate Phil Drath's congressional campaign, with speakers. The poster, at any rate, has it as $2.50 general admission (though children under 5 could attend free!)

      It's also interesting that the reporter says "the bands were somewhat out of their element in the light, open spaces" - since the Dead, from Olompali onwards, felt quite the opposite, that their shows were best in the light, open spaces. As Garcia said, "Outdoors is where you get the highest" - one big reason they played so many park shows.

    2. Melvin, thanks for the kind words and the details about Montreal. I revised the text to make it more accurate.

      It does make the Dead's efforts in Montreal even more quixotic--two free shows and no paying one. I guess if the Mayor was conservative, the band would not have been looking to poke the bear, and by the time that may have changed they had carved out other territories.

      Festival Express was definitely supposed to end in Vancouver, it makes logical sense that the original idea was to start in Montreal.

  5. Great summary, one of my mild regrets was not going over to Atlanta for the park gig. My 16 year old self was at the fest but I was working for my grandfather in Albany, Ga and needed to be back at work Monday. Also, the park thing was rumored at the fest but we did not have solid info. I did get my first good guitar, an SG Standard, from the dough I made that summer.

    1. Janson, thanks for the kind words. Was the Piedmont Park GD show mentioned in the press the day after, or just an underground legend? Were hippies and music fans aware that it had happened?

  6. The PP show was rumored at the fest, I actually heard the Airplane was going to be there. The Great Speckled Bird, Atlanta's answer to the Berkeley Barb and Village Voice covered it with some pics so the Atlanta scene would surely know.
    The Bird archives:

  7. Here are the two brief newspaper reports of the Seattle 7/16/67 Be-In that JGMF mentioned, and a Garcia interview from that day:

    One article seems to specify that the show took place on the beach (and notes all the sun-bathers). A witness recalls, "The truck faced the hill in back of the beach, and we sat in the trees facing the water and the band."

    1. And while I'm at it, newspaper coverage of the 5/5/68 Central Park show:

  8. Charles Perry's book "Haight-Ashbury- A History" references a free Dead appearance at the 8/29/1967 "OM Festival of Lights" on Mount Tamalpais. Apparently the music was aborted when their generator burned out and the crowd "completed" the show by banging on garbage cans.

    1. McNally's book has a slightly different account - he writes: "The Dead were to play on August 20 at a gathering on beautiful, holy Mount Tamalpais, but when they got to the mountaintop, they discovered that there was no power, and the event turned into what Rifkin would call 'a bongofest.'" (McNally p.212)

      Perry might be more accurate (if his source was a written account rather than a memory), but either way, the Dead showed up to play. People hoping for more free Dead could catch them a week later in Golden Gate Park.

  9. Here's a great crowd shot of the 6/22/1969 Central Park show;

  10. I'm puzzling over a free show that the Dead DIDN'T play - Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto, August 4, 1967.

    Apparently the Airplane played this one by themselves, with the Dead sitting out for some reason.
    Confusingly, some modern accounts say that the Dead also played the free square show (perhaps conflated with the Airplane's July 23 show there).
    For instance:
    "The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane were in town late July to play a few dates at O’Keefe Center then a major outdoor concert August 4, 1967 at Toronto City Hall... Luke from Luke and the Apostles informs us they were the opening act at City Hall."

    Memories may be garbled, but is there any contemporary account of this show?

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  12. Miss your posts here, always looked forward to the new posts. Hope to see them again soon.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Y. All the reasons I haven't been posting are because of good things, so there's that--but the blog isn't deceased, just dormant.

    2. Good to hear, looking forward to it. Best of luck with your other ventures

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  29. One show was played in 1966 at the San Lorenzo Ca, Village SQUARE, FOR FREE!!! and help make the Grateful Dead legendary. Early on. in thee east bay area.not sure of any documentation but it did change some lives forever....thanks for the article!

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  31. I have discovered that the Grateful Dead played for free in the Quadrangle at St. Louis U on April 17, 1969 (the same day as an evening show at the U)

  32. Im going to steal I mean cite this post in my book Corry

  33. Regarding July 7, 1969 in Atlanta, records in the GDAO say that the Grateful Dead were paid $6,000 to play even though it was a free concert for the audience. I believe this is consistent with your report here (paid to fly in from Chicago). Of all the Free shows here, this is the only one I am certain the band got gig income