The World Historical Nature of the Grateful Dead has led to a slow explosion of scholarship in the previous few decades. One powerful strain of Dead research looks into the formative experiences and early musical careers of the band members, in order to better understand the music they made in the Dead. I myself have made great efforts to contribute to these studies. Strangely, however, very little effort has been made to contemplate the pre-Dead history of Brent Mydland. Brent had the longest run of any Grateful Dead keyboard player, probably played the most shows--at least on keyboards--and is fondly remembered by any fans who were lucky enough to see him with the group. Yet his pre-history is generally shrugged off in a few sentences.
Unlike every prior member of the Grateful Dead, when Brent Mydland joined the band in 1979, he had been a working rock musician for at least 5 years. He had played on albums with a major label, and wrote songs on one as well. As for the prior members, only Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart had any kind of performing experience on the instrument they actually played with the band, and Hart had mostly played rock music as a sideshow in the Air Force. Hart had recorded a few singles (in Spain in 1964), but the rest of the players made their studio debuts with the Warlocks or The Grateful Dead. Sure, Donna Jean Godchaux (nee Thatcher) was a professional studio singer in the 1960s, but ironically she had never performed live as a professional singer. Brent, younger than the rest of the band, had already been doing that thing for several years.
OK, sure, interviews with Brent were few and limited. Tragically, Brent made the final load-out before anyone expected, and there was no time to ask him about some missing pieces. Even so, a fair amount is known about his career prior to the Grateful Dead. So on one hand, this post is a summary of the known touch points of Brent Mydland's professional career. At a higher level, however, this story is a meditation about how a shy, talented guy from a very out-of-the-way town ended up in the Grateful Dead, through no fault of his own save for talent and luck. Brent's talent isn't in dispute. You can decide for yourself if his luck was good or bad.
Bob Weir's second solo album, Heaven Help The Fool, released on Arista Records in January 1978
Heaven Help The Fool
In order to traverse the circuitous path that led Brent Mydland to the Grateful Dead, it's easier to start at the key moment, namely October 26, 1978. Bob Weir had formed a band to tour in support of his Arista solo album Heaven Help The Fool. The album had been released in January 1978, and per record company orthodoxy, Weir had then played a few dozen dates across the country in February and March. Live, the Bob Weir Band played the entire album, plus a few choice covers and a couple of songs that Deadheads recognized as "Weir songs." Brent Mydland was the keyboard player, mainly playing Hammond organ, and shared harmony vocal duties with lead guitarist Bobby Cochran.
In October 1978, Weir reconvened the Bob Weir Band, albeit with a different bass player. They played a few local shows, and then a three-day weekend of shows with the Jerry Garcia Band in the Pacific Northwest. Weir, Garcia and the rest of the Dead had apparently been contemplating the idea of replacing Kieth and Donna Godchaux. Although Garcia had definitely met Brent (documented by David Browne in So Many Roads p.277), he had almost certainly had not seen him play live. The apocryphal story was that after seeing Brent play with the Weir Band in Portland, Garcia told Bob "this guy might work." Brent started rehearsing with the Grateful Dead in late March of 1979.
A poster for the Bob Weir Band, including Brent Mydland, performance at the Franklin Pierce College Fieldhouse in Rindge, NH on March 4, 1978
The Bob Weir Band: February>June 1978
Bobby Cochran-lead guitar, vocals Bob Weir-rhythm guitar, vocals Brent Mydland-organ, keyboards, harmony vocals Rick Carlos-bass John Mauceri-drums
I believe that Heaven Help The Fool was recorded in the Summer of 1977. Mickey Hart had injured himself in an auto accident, and a lot of Dead shows were canceled, so Weir would have been available. The album was produced by Keith Olsen, who had recorded the Fleetwood Mac hit album Rumors and also Terrapin Station. It's important to remember that in mid-1977 many of the best-selling album acts were old Fillmore stalwarts who had simplified their traditional approach with a healthy dose of radio-friendly production. Prominent examples were not only the Mac, but Steve Miller Band, Boz Scaggs and Jefferson Starship. The idea that photogenic rock and roller Bob Weir had serious commercial potential was a pretty sound one.
Some interviews with lead guitarist Bobby Cochran suggest that the band was being put together in November/December 1977. The Dead, and thus Weir, had no gigs between November 6 and December 27. One-off touring bands cost money to put together, so this suggests a timeline of a December '77 tour. That only makes sense if the album was going to come out before Christmas (it actually came out in January of '78). Nonetheless it seems that the Bob Weir Band was put together in November 1977, but did not tour until February of 1978.
Lead guitarist Bobby Cochran was introduced to Bob Weir by Ibanez executive Jeff Hasselberger, who had been working on guitar ideas with Weir. Per Cochran, from a Jake Feinberg interview, the band already existed when Cochran joined. The band leader was drummer John Mauceri. Mauceri had brought in bassist Rick Carlos and Brent on keyboards. For whatever reasons, the tour and album were delayed until the first of the year. So John Mauceri had brought Brent to the Weir Band, and set the wheels in motion for him to end up joining the Grateful Dead.
John Mauceri was an excellent drummer, and probably still is, but his understated style made him an excellent hired gun who never took the spotlight. If you had no life in the 1970s, and spent a lot of time in record stores memorizing the backs of albums (reflecting on no one in particular), his name turned up here and there, but for the most part he was a well-regarded but semi-anonymous professional. For this story, Mauceri turns out to be the key link between Grateful Dead and Brent Mydland, but for no other reason than the fact that Mauceri grew up in Las Vegas.
In late Summer 1977, Mauceri got a call saying that he had been recommended by David Lindley for the drum chair in the Jerry Garcia Band. Much as I love the idea of Jer calling up Mr. Dave and asking for a scouting report, I don't think that's what happened. John Kahn was the JGB straw boss, and he would have asked a producer, very likely his old pal Michael Stewart. Stewart, who had produced Billy Joel ("Piano Man") and Tom Jones, among others, was probably the one who checked in with Lindley.
As it happened, David Lindley was effectively Jackson Browne's band leader, and Mauceri had been Browne's drummer since 1976. Browne toured relentlessly, so Lindley had plenty to go on. While I don't think Lindley was personally close to the Grateful Dead, Kaleidoscope has shared bills with the Dead many times in the 60s, so surely Garcia was aware of him. Anyway, Lindley had been the banjo champion five years running at the Ash Grove folk club (after which he was made a judge), so that had to count for something.
According to Mauceri, in a remarkable 2014 interview with Jake Feinberg (excerpted below), Mauceri said he got to the point of starting to learn Garcia Band songs, only to find out that he was not going to be the JGB drummer. Although Buzz Buchanan got the Garcia chair, Mauceri's bona fides were in turn passed on to Weir, and he was Bob's first hire. In turn, Mauceri hired two old band mates, both from the the distant East Bay town of--I kid you not--Brentwood. Rick Carlos joined the Bob Weir Band as bass player, and Brent Mydland joined on organ. Mydland and Carlos had been playing together since Liberty Union High School in Brentwood, where Brent had graduated from in 1971. Mydland, Carlos and Mauceri had all played together in a group called Batdorf & Rodney, and after that in a band called Silver.
The Silver lp cover, released on Arista Rcords in 1976. The cover design was by future SNL player Phil Hartmann, whose brother John co-managed Silver
It was strange coincidence that prior to joining the Grateful Dead, Brent Mydland had recorded one album with a group, and that group was on Arista Records. I don't think Arista had any contractual hold on Brent, it's just one of those strange coincidences. Silver released their lone album on Arista sometime in 1976.
Silver played "AOR" (album oriented radio) rock, kind of like Kansas or REO Speedwagon. They were a little less rockin' than those two, however, and were probably aimed more in a sensitive vein, like Fleetwood Mac. The front line trio of Brent and guitarists John Batdorf and Greg Collier all sang and wrote, and the harmonies were well done. Brent wrote and sang two songs on the album. It was OK, fairly typical of the many carefully sculpted albums promoted by record companies at the time, but nothing special. Certainly nothing that hinted at Brent's future contribution to the Grateful Dead.
Originally, Silver was supposed to include Rick Carlos and John Mauceri on bass and drums, but they were somehow forced out, according to Mauceri (replaced with Tom Leadon-bass and Harry Stinson-drums). I don't know how much touring Silver did, but they did play on some big national dates supporting the group America (you can see the dates listed here, on the great GDSets site). The connection seems to have been the management team of Hartmann and Goodman, who appear to have managed both America and Silver. In any case, the pairing tells you who their management thought would buy the Silver album.
Of the known dates listed for America and Silver, it's interesting to see that Brent had already played at some of the venues that he would play with the Dead in the future. Some examples include War Memorial Auditorium in Syracuse, SPAC in Saratoga Springs, McNicols in Denver and the San Diego Sports Arena. Silver seems to have ground to a halt in mid-1977, once they were dropped by Arista.
The only real research about Brent's life during the Silver period was done by David Browne, for his indispensable book So Many Roads (pp.276-280). It appears that after Silver disintegrated, Brent went home to stay in a house in Concord owned by his father. He was living with his girlfriend, and apparently not doing much of anything, when he got a call out of the blue from John Mauceri, inviting him to play for the Bob Weir Band. It was the Las Vegas connection of Mauceri that had made it happen.
The 1971 debut album on Atlantic by Batdorf and Rodney, Off The Shelf. John Batdorf wrote the songs, he and Mark Rodney both sang and picked guitar, session guys filled out the sound.
Batdorf & Rodney
In the early 70s, one popular format favored by record companies was two long-haired dudes playing acoustic guitars and singing in harmony. Seals and Croft, Loggins and Messina, Zager and Evans, Crosby and Nash, the list goes on and on. More broadly, you can see this as a variation on groups like Crosby, Stills and Nash and America, only with fewer members. There were a lot of these groups, mostly forgotten, a few just partially remembered. If you spent a lot of the 70s in your local record store, flipping through albums, you will sort of remember Batdorf & Rodney. They weren't big, but they weren't obscure, either. As it happened, they put out an album on Atlantic, one on Asylum and another one on Arista. They turn out to be essential to the Brent Mydland saga.
Drummer John Mauceri had grown up in Las Vegas, in a "showbiz" family. His father was a classically trained percussionist, so when young John discovered rock 'n' roll, falling into playing drums was easy. After a brief sojourn to Los Angeles, soon after graduating high school in 1970, Mauceri had to return home to his family in Las Vegas. He reconnected with Mark Rodney, whom he had known earlier. Mark was the son of trumpeter Red Rodney, a jazz legend who had been the only white member of Charlie Parker's groundbreaking bebop quintet from 1949-51. After various difficulties, Red had moved to Las Vegas.
Mark Rodney had been playing in Las Vegas venues with John Batdorf, playing their guitars and singing Batdorf's original songs. In 1970, this is what was happening. Batdorf and Rodney were playing in Las Vegas venues--I'm not quite sure exactly where--and got signed by Atlantic. They put out their debut album, Off The Shelf, in 1971 and were set to go on the road. So they needed a band. Mauceri got the call, because he knew Mark Rodney and he was a drummer. Mauceri in turn called bassist Rick Carlos, whom he had known from earlier. The live band was then:
John Batdorf-guitar and vocals Mark Rodney-guitar and vocals
The first big tour for Batdorf and Rodney was opening for the band Bread, who were huge at the time. No one recalls Bread now, but they had huge "soft rock" hits with songs like "If," "Make It With You" and "Baby I'm A Want You," to name a few. The Batdorf & Rodney live quartet was steered right at the Bread demographic.
Batdorf & Rodney, the second album by the duo, was released in 1972 on Asylum Records
Come 1972, Batdorf & Rodney had moved from Atlantic to Asylum. The album was recorded at the Record Plant in Los Angeles, with John Mauceri and Rick Carlos on the tracks. So even though Batdorf & Rodney were pitched as a duo by their record company, they were acting like a band in the studio.
In the 1970s, the record business made a lot of money, so much so that record companies could justify keeping promising bands going, even if they weren't actually playing anywhere. In 1973, Batdorf & Rodney seemed to ground to a halt. So much so, that their rhythm section went on tour with David Blue, another Asylum artist. On August 11, 1973, at Winterland, I saw Mauceri and Carlos as part of Blue's band (along with future Eagles guitarist Don Felder). They were supporting Blue's album Nice Baby and The Angel, produced by Graham Nash. Nash himself joined Blue for a few numbers at Winterland that night (Blue was fourth on the bill below Poco, Mark-Almond and Robin Trower--a really great show, by the way).
Life Is You, Batdorf & Rodney's third album, was released on Arista Records in 1975. Brent Mydland plays some uncredited parts on the album
By 1974, Batdorf and Rodney were reactivated again, this time signed to Clive Davis' Arista Records. For the new live configuration, the band needed a keyboard player. Rick Carlos called his old high school pal Brent Mydland, and Brent got the gig. What music was Brent playing between graduating high school in 1971, and joining Batdorf & Rodney in 1974? For that matter, when did he get a Hammond organ? You don't learn that instrument overnight, however good a piano player you might be. Was he in a band? Did he jam with anyone or hang out? No one seems to have any information until 1974.
Most people who remember Batdorf & Rodney recall them as a sort of Seals & Crofts type duo, with a soft rock vibe. Apparently, however, the duo saw their music as more like the Doobie Brothers, with twin guitars and a jumping rhythm section. Brent Mydland's contribution on organ sound a lot more interesting in that context, but I know of no live recordings of Batdorf & Rodney from the 1974-75 Brent era. It was Arista boss Clive Davis who wanted the duo to sound like Seals & Crofts, and insured that every guitar solo was cut out, and the rocking minimized.
Batdorf & Rodney weren't huge, but they had a following, and they toured a far amount. Mauceri (in the Feinberg interview) speaks highly of Brent's playing, as does John Batdorf (when interviewed by Browne). Both of them, however, say that Brent did not compromise well, and did not really have the "take-it-as-it-comes" vibe of most traveling musicians. According to Browne, Brent had a lot of anxiety, and sometimes disappeared for a few days at a time. Batdorf & Rodney was just five guys in a van, plus maybe a roadie or two. The Grateful Dead circus was several magnitudes of The Crazy more than that, so it must have been hard on Brent. That being said, he never missed a Dead gig that I know of.
The 1975 Batdorf & Rodney album on Arista, Life Is You, was recorded with session players. Rick Carlos does play on it, but I think most of the record was recorded before the duo put the touring band back together. In late 1974, when they decided they needed a keyboard player, Rick Carlos recommended Brent, with whom he had played back in bands back in High School.
According to John Mauceri, Brent did a little uncredited work on the album. Batdorf & Rodney did released a single in 1975, however, that had not been on the record. Apparently the touring band played on it, so if you come across the single "Somewhere In The Night" (Arista 1975 b/w "Ain't It Like Home" album track), it could be a lost Brent artifact.
Soon after he joined Batdorf & Rodney, Brent got together with Cherie Barsin, who was John Batdorf's sister-in-law. The two of them lived in a trailer in Thousand Oaks, between Oxnard and Los Angeles. At home, Brent liked playing board games and listening to jazz and classical music. Per Cherie Barsin (via Browne) "his preferences were Chick Corea, Jeff Beck. Nothing with lyrics." When Batdorf & Rodney ground to a halt, Brent joined Batdorf's next venture, which was Silver. Mauceri and Carlos got pushed out of Silver, for whatever reasons, but they did not forget Brent's playing.
Jethro Tull's great album Benefit was released in April, 1970. In May, John Mauceri and Rick Carlos' band Terracotta opened for them in Las Vegas
John Mauceri had grown up in Las Vegas as part of a showbiz family. His mother was a dancer and ice skater, and his father was a singer/dj/comedian. His stepfather was a classical percussionist, and while he wasn't really a drummer, there were drums around the house. Once Mauceri heard The Beatles, all he wanted to do was drum. He took some vibraphone lessons, but he wanted to be a drummer. His family lived near the great Buddy Rich, and Mauceri used to hear him practice, but he just wanted to rock. This would have been around 1967, and there was no FM radio.
A band called Terracotta, from the East Bay, turned up in Las Vegas. They were mostly "emancipated" (legal adults), but they were Mauceri's age. Their drummer split on them, and they had heard about Mauceri some how, so he joined Terracotta. They played around a lot, and even opened for Jethro Tull and Spirit, so this must have been 1970 (per Ministry Of Truth, Jethro Tull played Las Vegas on May 9, 1970). The day Mauceri graduated high school, Terracotta moved to Los Angeles. They broke up a month later. Mauceri was crestfallen and returned home to Las Vegas.
When Mauceri returned home, he reconnected (in his words) with his birth father. So he also connected, or re-connected, with guitarist Mark Rodney. As noted, Mark Rodney was the son of famous jazz trumpeter Red Rodney, so he too was from a "showbiz" family. In any case, Rodney played guitar and had teamed up with another singing guitarist John Batdorf. They had been playing around as a duo, and they had gotten signed to Atlantic, so they needed a band. Mauceri was in as a drummer--did he know a bass player? Yes he did.
Mauceri called the former bassist for Terracotta, Rick Carlos. Carlos didn't have a gig, mainly because Terracotta had broken up. It's not entirely certain to me whether Carlos came to Las Vegas, or met Batdorf, Rodney and Mauceri in Los Angeles. For our story, however, it doesn't matter. A long forgotten East Bay band called Terracotta, featuring a bunch of legal-adult-teenagers, was how Rick Carlos ended up playing bass for a Las Vegas group with an Atlantic Records contract. Brent Mydland, a senior from Liberty Union High School in Brentwood, now had his unlikely path to join the Grateful Dead. If Mauceri had called someone else, it wouldn't have been Brent, because Rick Carlos had played with Brent in high school.
Liberty Union High School, in Brentwood, CA, sometime in the 20th century
In the conventional thumbnail biographies of Brent Mydland, it's always mentioned that he grew up in Concord, CA, an East Bay town just North of Walnut Creek. It's reasonable to assume that when Brent's family first came to the Bay Area, they lived in Concord. Since Brent went to Liberty Union HS, however, we know he had to live near Brentwood, and not Concord. Concord was two high schools away.
Back in the 20th century, people who grew up, lived or worked in San Francisco, Oakland or Berkeley largely ignored anything in Contra Costa County beyond Walnut Creek, and sometimes the Concord Pavilion. Anything North of Walnut Creek was often vaguely referred to as "Concord," even if it was 10 or 20 miles East of Concord proper (the comparison is Brooklynites who say "anything above Columbus Circle is Upstate New York"). I was as guilty of this as anyone. I heard that Brent was from Concord, or maybe Antioch, and couldn't have cared less at the time.
The only reliable detail we have about Brent's adolescence comes from David Browne, who reported that Brent's 70s girlfriend (John Batdorf's sister-in-law) said that teenage Brent felt isolated from his family, living on a houseboat on the San Joaquin River Delta while his sisters and parents lived in the main house. For that geography to work, the Mydland compound would have had to be somewhere around present-day Oakley (we will leave aside the synergy of two consecutive Dead keyboard players living on houseboats).
For Brent to have gone to Liberty Union, he would have had to be nearer to it than Antioch High School. Today, Antioch (pop. 111,000) and Brentwood (pop. 64,700), just East of it, are bedroom communities for families who work in Walnut Creek, Oakland or San Francisco. Antioch has a BART station, and Brentwood may have light rail to the Antioch BART soon. But when Brent was there, it wasn't like that at all.
Antioch is one of the oldest towns in California, founded in 1849. It was primarily a boat landing for grain shipped in from the Delta and out to San Francisco Bay. The land that Brentwood was built on was acquired in 1837 from the original Mexican land grant. Brentwood was a rural agricultural area, but it had a post office in 1878, although the town only incorporated in 1948 (the name came from the original landowner's home town in County Essex). Old as they were, Brentwood and Antioch were tiny in Brent Mydland's day. In 1970, when Brent would have been a junior at Liberty Union, the town of Brentwood only had a population of 2,649, and Antioch (25 miles West, nearer Concord), only had 28,600. Since then, the population has exploded by nearly 600%.
But back in the day, Brent probably went to school with farm kids from the surrounding area. An unsourced Wikipedia entry says that Brent played trumpet in the marching band, but was kicked out for having long hair. It's likely true [update: confirmed]. Brentwood wasn't Berkeley in1970, even if it was just an hour away. Who were Brent's friends? What were the names of his bands? Did he sing with them, or just play keyboards? And when did he get a Hammond organ? Now sure, his father was (or had been) a minister, so maybe there was a church connection, but that's interesting too--did Brent play organ in his father's church? No one seems to have found out, or even asked the questions.
Correspondent Eric sends a photo from the 1968 Liberty Union HS Yearbook, with freshman Brent Mydland (circled) and his trumpet
All we really know is
Brent graduated from Liberty Union High School in 1971
Rick Carlos played in bands with him in those days
We don't even know if Rick Carlos went to Brentwood. But, in the end, it didn't matter. Brent was a talented, quiet guy in a farming community. He was a million miles from the music explosion in the Bay Area 60s, even if he was just an hour from Berkeley. But a bass player in some now-forgotten band remembered when other guys asked for a good organ player. Not once, but twice Brent got the call, first from Rick Carlos for Batdorf & Rodney in late 1974, and then again from John Mauceri for the Bob Weir Band in late 1977. Brent ended up in the Grateful Dead from 1979 to 1990, and he's easily the most famous person who ever went to Liberty Union.
[Germany] We moved to Antioch when I was 1, so I don’t remember Germany.
[Do you remember your first band?] The first thing you could almost call a band? Yeah. We played a few bars on the river [in the Sacramento River Delta region] for small crowds. We did things like”When A Man Loves A Woman,” “For What It’s Worth.” We even did that Arlo Guthrie song “I don’t want a pickle/I just wanna ride my motor-sickle.” Anything with just two or three chords, cause most of the guys couldn’t play anything harder.
I had a little Thomas organ you could barely hear. A couple of years later I got a Gibson Kalamazoo,, which was sort of like a Farfisa…I was even in a band where I used to sing “Morning Dew.”
In my junior year in high school [at Liberty], there was me and one other guy who had long hair, and by “long” I mean the length I have it now [ca. 1987]. I got kicked out of school for long hair just before finals. I stayed out for a few days and then decided it wasn’t worth having to repeat a semester for that, so I got my hair cut. They said “Sorry, not short enough.” They mad me get a crew cut before they’d let me back in to take my finals. This was at Liberty High in Brentwood. SO I took my finals and then moved to Concord where you could have long hair in school [for Contra Costa in the 60s, Concord was hip]. I didn’t cut my hair for a long time after that.
Senior year I got thrown out of the high school band for long hair anyway: “Sorry, we’ll lose points for your long hair.” So that was the end of my band career. I gave up trumpet and concentrated on keyboards.
[What did you do right after high school?] Senior year I got together with this guitar player named Dave DeMille who’d come up here from Southern California and went to another high school in Concord. The day after we graduated  we drove down to L.A. and tried to get a band started down there. He knew a drummer and bass player who were pretty good. We were serious about it for about the first six weeks or so and then it kind of fell apart…I ended up living alone in a Quonset Hut in Thousand Oaks, writing songs and eating a lot of peanut butter and jelly…
Eventually I came back to the Bay Area and lived with my dad and just jammed around for a couple of years. I played with a lot of different people. We’d have these jams that would turn into parties with like 300 people and we’d play until the police would break it up. Then I started playing in bands hat actually made some money, mainly playing Top 40 clubs. This was around ’72, I guess, and it was mainly black music.
[Did you ever have to wear matching suits?] Yeah, for a couple of months once. It was really embarrassing. I hated it. II’d rather not dwell on that [laughs].
The best music I played back then was with this guy who’d gone to the Berklee School of Music [in Boston] and wrote this interesting music that sounded like John McLaughlin. We tried to get a band together and actually had some really nice music, but we never could get any gigs. I learned a lot from it but we couldn’t earn any money. So I ended up going back to playing rock ’n’ roll, though in cooler clubs, where we could play some originals.
In one of the bands, I [had] played with a bass player named Rick Carlos, and he got a call from John Batdorf of Batdorf & Rodney asking him to come to L.A. to play with them. A couple of months later they were looking for keyboard player who could sing high parts so I went down there and checked that out an joined the band, which was a great experience.
Brent has compressed the Batfdorf& Rodney timeline a bit (Rick Carlos had been playing with B&R for two years), but we now see the essential thread.
Brent grew up in Antioch, or thereabouts
He went to Liberty Union High in Brentwood, but graduated from a Concord high school
He played in various obscure bands from 1971-74, playing both originals and covers
Rick Carlos played in one of those bands around 1971-72, and doesn't appear to be from Brentwood
Besides playing in the Grateful Dead, Brent Mydland played on the 1981 debut album by Bobby And The Midnites
After The Bob Weir Band
Per John Mauceri, Brent Mydland made something like $1000 a week on the road with the Bob Weir Band. For Brent, in 1978, that was probably the life he always dreamed of. Making actual money playing good rock and roll for a living, with a girlfriend back home in Thousand Oaks. Who could wish for anything more? Indeed--be careful what you wish for.
August of 1978, Brent and his girlfriend were invited to Jerry Garcia's
birthday party, in the house he shared in Hepburn Heights (San Rafael)
that he shared with Rock and Niki Scully. Later, Garcia heard Brent play
live, in the Pacific Northwest, and raised the possiblity of Brent
replacing both Keith and Donna Godchaux. Weir in turn mentioned it to
Brent, and (per David Browne) Brent and his girlfriend were invited
backstage for the Closing of Winterland New Year's Eve show. Contemplate
that for a moment. If you see backstage footage from the video of a guy
who looks like Brent--well, it's Brent.
Godchaux left the Grateful Dead around March 1, 1979, and Brent began
rehearsing with the Dead later in that month. Brent's live debut with
the band was April 22, 1979, at Spartan Stadium in San Jose. Brent held
down the keyboard chair for the Grateful Dead until his untimely passing
on July 26, 1990. I have not counted, but Brent has to have played
keyboards at more shows than any other member of the Grateful Dead
(Pigpen having mostly been supplanted in 1969). Brent also played for
about a year in Bobby And The Midnites, from Fall '80 until late 1981.
1982, Brent was dating Betty Cantor, and she recorded a solo album for
him. John Mauceri was called back to play drums. Mauceri asked Brent if
he should call Rick Carlos, but Brent rejected the idea, an irony
considering how Rick Carlos had given Brent his big breaks. Nonetheless,
Brent let Mauceri pick the bass player (Paul Solomon Marshall on bass, and Kevin
Russell played guitar). The album is interesting, but has never been
In 1987, "Touch Of Grey" hit big time. The Grateful Dead were a huge concert attraction, and Brent had songwriting credits on the album. Brent co-wrote more songs on the next album, Built To Last. Suddenly, from living hand-to-mouth, money was rolling in. John Mauceri, by his own admission, had spent the 1970s and the early part of the 80s drunk and stoned. Drinking was one of the things he had shared with Brent. Mauceri always stayed with Brent when he was in the Bay Area, but by the end of the 80s, a sober Mauceri would try to reach out to not-sober Brent, but he couldn't get through. Brent had everything he could have ever wanted, and it all crashed down around him.
Being a musician or artist in America in the late 20th century was a hard, hard road. Yes, the potential rewards for a lucky few might be huge, but talent and ambition wasn't enough. So many things had to go right. If you were lucky enough to be a young man in San Francisco in 1965, or have a family connection to the music industry, or were willing to go out and meet every important person you could, maybe you had a fighting chance. While it doesn't diminish any star's talent to have been in the right place at the right time, it's another barrier for everyone else. We all know of musicians, either personally or from their music, who were talented and just never got the break.
Brent Mydland's father was from Norway, and apparently emigrated to Minnesota to study as a minister. Mydland Senior was a chaplain in the US Army when Brent was born in Germany in 1952. The Mydland family ended up in Concord, CA, afterwards, and seems to have stayed around there. Brent's dad, at least, seems to have done well enough to own a house or two. Brent himself, in the immigrant tradition, far surpassed his father. He had a wife and family, and more money than he must have ever expected.
Brent didn't really express his feelings, except through music, so we can't really know what he was thinking. The most appropriate choice seems to be the actual expression of a song not by Robert Hunter, but David Byrne
You may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife You may ask yourself, "Well, how did I get here?"
How indeed. Brent Mydland (October 21, 1952-July 26, 1990), Rest In Power.
Appendix: Notes from Jake Feinberg's Interview with John Mauceri (Nov 25, 2014)
Come from a showbiz family, mother was a dancer/ice skater, dad was a
singer/dj/comedian. She ended up in Vegas. Grew up in LV. Saw a lot of
shows backstage in the RatPack era as kids. Stepfather was a classical
percussionist. Not really a drummer, but he had drums around the house.
Attracted to drums right when the Beatles broke through. Also played the
vibraphone, and took lessons for a few years.
Buddy Rich lived a block away, his daughter was friends with my younger
sister. I used to stand outside his wall and listen to him practice. But
I didn't care about jazz, I just wanted to rock. This was around 1967,
there was no FM radio.
I was doing after hours clubs in Vegas, and I also did original stuff,
and that's where I met Rick Carlos. I was 16, Rick came in with a band
called Terracotta. They were all from the East Bay (Contra Costa), and
they came to LA with this drummer (David Blanchard). The band were legal
adults. They heard about me (through an agent) and he put me with this
band. Three guitars and a bassist, a lot of three part harmonies. Good
singers, good songwriters. I hooked up with them
We opened for Jethro Tull and Spirit. We moved to LA the day after I
graduated from High School. A month later we broke up. I cried.
Carlos went back to the Bay Area. I went back to Vegas, I was
semi-homeless. Reconnected with my biological father. I was in touch
with Mark Rodney, whom I knew from Vegas (his dad was Red Rodney). Mark
had heard Terracotta. Batdorf and Rodney had done an album with Ahmet
Ertegun, and Mark called me, and I called Rick.
Rick Carlos was an East Bay Funk guy, he liked Tower and Sons of Champlin, I was more into folk rock, Doors and Byrds.
First tour with Batdorf and Rodney was with Bread, who were the biggest
band at the time. Ended up being in a solo band with Jamie Griffin
I got kicked out of Silver. Rick and I were bounced out of Silver. Rick
went back to the East Bay. I ended up getting the David Blue gig [note: Mauceri has the timing wrong, David Blue was in 1973].
I think my wife might have known him or something, I don't remember.
David Blue was on Asylum, so were B&D. They needed a bass player, so
I called Rick. Then they needed a guitar player so they got Don Felder.
David and Felder were doing duo gigs opening for Crosby and Nash. They
needed a band, so they got Rick and me.
We did a tour with Deep Purple. That was our one tour [note: forgot about Poco gig at Winterland]
Went to Jackson Browne in 76, worked with him for a year, and worked
with Lindley. Garcia was looking for a drummer, and Lindley recommended
me for a gig, and they sent me all the Garcia albums. Then I got a call
that they were using someone else (Feinberg: Buzz). But right after that I got a call from Bob Weir, who was needing to put a band together.
The Bob Weir thing only lasted a few months, but they were huge on the
East Coast. Bob was happy, and he talked about wanting to do more. I'd
gotten Brent into Bob's band. Rick had gotten Brent into the Batdorf
We did some shows with the Garcia Band, and Bob and Jerry got to hear Brent.
John Batdorf had split up with Rodney, and he had Hartmann and Goodman
and we had Mark, Brent, RIck and me. However, mgmt wanted to replace
Rick and me with Tom Leadon (bs) and Harry Stinson (drums). I don't know
I saw a [Dead] show in 68 at the Convention Center in Vegas.
I saw Brent spiraling down and tried to help him, but I wasn't
successful. Brent and I did a lot of drinking when we were young. We
always drank. In the Bob Weir Band he probably made 1000 a week, I made a
little more. When the Dead happened, he became wealthy very fast. I
would see shows and visit him, and we would get high and then I would go
home.He lost his license, then lost his family, and finally lost his
I was friends with Jon McIntire. I used to stay with Brent when I was in
the Bay Area. I was out of the picture by then. It was very sad. Jon
said "they believe very much in personal responsiblity."
I saw Mahavishnu in the Whisky and Billy Cobham was so intense I had to leave.
Flying Burrito Brothers: I was still doing drugs, so I don't remember
how I got the call. I did some dates in California with them. Sneeky
Pete the only original. Skip Battin, John Beland (ex-Dolly Parton) and
Gib Gilbeau. Toured Pacific Coast and the West, and did a tour of Italy.
[probably late 70s]
Brent called me around '82 to work on his solo album. I'm the drummer
probably on all all of it. I asked him if he wanted to use Rick and he
said no, but he wanted me to pick someone I had been using. I got this
guy Paul Solomon Marshall (sp). We recorded at the GD studio
(Club Front). We were flown up from LA. He was dating Betty Cantor. She
was a really good engineer.
Brent was living with his parents.
Growing up he was into Brian Auger, Tower of Power and some of these
progressive rock guys. However, good as he was musically, he was just
inept socially. It was like all of his energy went into music. He could
play Jimmy Smith stuff like it was nothing.
I toured with the Dillards, toured with Hoyt Axton for a year. Height of my drinking and drugs, took time off to get sober.
Brent played on the last Batdorf and Rodney album Life Is You (not credited). There was a single [might be song "Somewhere In The Night," not on Life Is You]
Jon McIntire was Bob Weir's road manager. One time, we played a
soundcheck at the beginning of the tour, and our road money was in a
briefcase backstage and it got stolen. It was like $15000. McIintire
called together both bands, explained that the money was stolen and that
he was going to sit in the audience and he wanted it back in two hours.
The money was returned. Never found out who did it, but we got the
McIntire moved to LA for a while, tried to make it as an actor. My style
is based on four guys, Jim Gordon, Jim Keltner, Russ Kunkel and Hal
[can you tell me a Brent story?] We were on the road with Batdor
&Rodney when Brent was in the band. We traveled together in a van.
Doubled up in rooms. Me, Rick and Brent would share a room. We would
flip coins to see who lost and sleep in the rollaway, Brent hated it.
One night he had slept in the rollaway twice in a row, Brent and Rick
flipped for it. Brent was mad and he went to sleep in the van. When he
woke up in the van (Summer) it was 100 plus degrees.
When Brent wanted to express intimate feelings, he put it into a song.
You could get along with him, but if you had to wrangle with him,
disagree with him, he didn't know how to compromise or give and take.
Had a short fuse and got frustrated. I never had long intimate
conversations with him like I did with other people. Near the end, when I
got sober, I tried to reach out to him, but I couldn't succeed. I could
see him any time.
Appendix 2: Brent Mydland Discography
A correspondent snipped out the Brent section from The Compleat Grateful Dead Discography. The Batdorf & Rodney details were not included, because they were not known at the time.
from 'the compleat grateful dead discography':
Sweet Surprise - Eric Andersen (Arista 4075) Brent Mydland sings on
"Crazy River" and "Dreams Of Mexico" on this 1975 release. This is
prior to Brent Mydland joining the Grateful Dead.
Silver - Silver (Arista 4076) A pre-Grateful Dead Brent Mydland plays
on this 1975 release. Brent Mydland was in this band before he joined
the Grateful Dead. Two of Mydland's songs appear on this album:
"Musician (Not An Easy Life)" and "Climbing". Prior to Silver,
Mydland had been with Batdorf and Rodney.
A Wing And A Prayer - Matt Kelly (Relix RRLP 2010) With Jerry Garcia,
Bob Weir, Billy Kreutzmann, Brent Mydland, and Keith Godchaux. It
includes "Over And Over" (3:38), co-written with Brent Mydland.
- Go Ahead ( ) This unreleased album includes "Nobody's", written by
Brent Mydland, which was broadcast on the "Grateful Dead Hour".
Members included: Jerry Cortez (guitars), Bill Kreutzman (drums),
Alex Ligertwood (vocals), Brent Mydland (keyboards and vocals), and
Dave Margen (bass).
- Brent Mydland ( ) Mydland recorded and mastered a solo album, but
it was never released. Intended for this album were "Tons Of Steel",
with Monty Byron on guitar, a rock arrangement of "Maybe You Know",
"Nobody's", "Long Way To Go", and "Dreams". Betty Cantor-Jackson did
the engineering and production for this album. Other songs possibly
intended for this "album" are "Inlay It In Your Heart", "See The Other
Side", and "Take One". These comprise about 40 minutes of music.
Some of the tapes that circulate in trading circles list a date of
February 25, 1982. The possible songs slated for the album were
"Inlay It In Your Heart", "Tons Of Steel", "Dreams", "Maybe You Know
(How I Feel)", "Nobody's", "See The Other Side", "Long Way To Go", and
"Take One". A tape of the original version of "Tons Of Steel" was
played during the intermission of the Dead's June 21, 1984 broadcast
from Toronto. Brent Mydland authored several songs, including "Fire",
in 1987. Songs, in collaboration with John Perry Barlow, include
"You're Still There", "Love Doesn't Have To Be Pretty", "It Doesn't
Matter", and "It Is What It Is". Songs, in collaboration with Matt
Kelly, include "If That's The Way", "Over And Over", and "Shining
Down In The Groove - Bob Dylan (Columbia OC 40957) Garcia, Weir, and
Mydland sing backup on "Silvio". Hunter wrote "Silvio" (3:06) and
"Ugliest Girl In The World" (3:32). Released on May 30, 1988. Some
verses of "Silvio" originally appeared as verses in "Black Muddy
River", dated September 14, 1986.
New Frontier - New Frontier (Polydor 835695) Brent Mydland plays
keyboards on "Motel Rain" on this California's band debut album from
September, 1988. The band includes Timothy B. Schmidt, David Lindley,
and Paulheno Dacosta. Out of print.
Mahalo - Bill Kreutzmann (http://www.ocean-spirit.net, 2003) This CD
was released as a complimentary CD and not for sale or public
broadcast. The cover artwork is "Sun Sun" by Bill Kreutzmann. The
five tracks on the CD are: "Girl Like You" (Jennings/Seals) (4:06),
recorded at Front Street on July 24, 1985 by BBDK (Bill Kreutzmann,
David Margen, Brent Mydland, and Kevin Russell); "Are You Lonely For
Me" (Berns) (21:42), from a live performance by Garcia/Saunders
(Martin Fierro, Jerry Garcia, John Kahn, Bill Kreutzmann, and Merl
Saunders) at the Keystone in Berkeley on January 17, 1974 with ;
"10,000 Mics" (Dipirro/Kreutzmann/Woodson) (8:58) by the Trichromes
(Mike Dipirro, Sy Klopps, Bill Kreutzmann, and Ralph Woodson) at the
Sy Klopps Studios on March 30, 2002; "Hey Jude > Dear Mr. Fantasy"
(14:47) by Go Ahead (Jerry Cortez, Bill Kreutzmann, Alex Ligertwood,
David Margen, and Brent Mydland) at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic,
New Jersey on October 31, 1986; and "Eyes Of The World" (9:41) by The
Dead (Rob Barraco, Jeff Chimenti, Mickey Hart, Jimmy Herring, Bill
Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh, Joan Osborne, and Bob Weir) at a rehearsal on
May 27, 2003.
The Twilight Zone (CBS Broadcasting, 1985) The Grateful Dead and Merl
Saunders, with Bob Bralove, wrote a number of the scores for this
series which premiered on September 27, 1985. The main and end titles
music is by the Grateful Dead. This TV series, produced by Phil
DeGuere, was broadcast in 1985 and 1986. The opening theme piano
music is Merl Saunders and Brent Mydland playing together. Robert
Hunter had been hired to write the introductions to each episode, and
had been considered to do the voice-over as well. One of the
agreements between CBS Entertainment and Grateful Dead Productions
(i.e., the band members) is dated June 12, 1985. Individual band
members recorded a number of stings and bumpers that were used to
present different moods in the programs.
The Heroes Journey: The World of Joseph Campbell ( ) Premiered on
May 29, 1987 in Los Angeles at a benefit for the Hermes Society. The
soundtrack includes Mickey Hart, Jerry Garcia, and Brent Mydland
Nobody's - Go Ahead ( ) The video for this song by Brent Mydland was
directed by Justin Kreutzmann and Gian-Carlo Coppola.
Transformation Of Myth Through Time - Joseph Campbell ( ) Music
composed by Rand Weatherwax, and performed by David Jenkins on guitar,
Brent Mydland on piano, and Jerry Garcia on banjo. Broadcast on PBS
The Music Never Stopped (2011) This film, directed by Jim Kohlberg,
was released on March 18, 2011. It is adapted from the essay "The
Last Hippie" by Oliver Sacks. The Grateful Dead are played by actors
Phil Bender (Jerry Garcia), Rich Campbell (Bob Weir), Buzz Roddy (Bill
Kreutzmann), Ethan F. Hamburg (Phil Lesh), Mark Greenberg (Mickey
Hart), and Paul Sigrist (Brent Mydland). The soundtrack includes
several Grateful Dead songs: "Uncle John's Band", "Sugar Magnolia"
(live), "Not Fade Away / Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad" (live),
"Truckin'" (live), "Touch Of Grey" (live), and "Ripple".
The New York Central and Hudson River Railroad predicts the Grateful Dead's touring schedule half a century afterwards. Coincidence? No.
The Grateful Dead were a San Francisco band who managed to stake their first claim in Manhattan, followed shortly by Brooklyn. In ensuing decades, the band went on to sweep the East and West Coasts, as well as New England, the Southeast, the Mountain West and even London. What ultimately became a vast edifice of Grateful Dead fan strongholds, however, was built slowly and haphazardly, and tends to get lost in more glamorous strains of Dead history. One overlooked region in Grateful Dead history is the early and perpetual popularity of the band in Upstate and Central New York, in cities like Albany, Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo.
Manhattan shines a bright light on anything it finds popular, so bright that it darkens whatever is nearby. People from outside New York City do not think much about the geography and importance of the other cities in New York State, and those in Manhattan and the other boroughs think about the other cities even less. People who have never lived or worked in Manhattan vaguely refer to those other cities as "upstate New York" without thought (a Brooklynite recently told me "anything above Columbus Circle is upstate"), but in fact the cities both North and West of Manhattan have their own dynamics. Without all those cities in New York State, the Grateful Dead would have a far more difficult time touring successfully in places like Boston, Manhattan, New Jersey and Philadelphia. This post will look at the importance of Upstate and Central New York in the touring history of the Grateful Dead.
Summary: Making It Pay
In early 1970, at the dawn of the Sam Cutler era, the only logical way forward for the Grateful Dead was to make a living from touring. Thanks to huge studio costs from Aoxomoxoa, they were hugely in debt to their record company. So even if they had some kind of hit album, they wouldn't be seeing royalties for quite a while. Thanks to Lenny Hart's management practices and general perfidy, once he stole something like $155,000 from them--$155K in 1970 dollars--they had no cash, either. So although the Grateful Dead were genuine 60s rock stars, by any accounting, and true underground legends, financially they were in the same place as some bar band with a Friday night residency. If they couldn't make enough coin from live performances, they weren't going to make it.
Things weren't entirely bleak, however. While the Dead had been able to play paying gigs in San Francisco from their earliest days, their underground cred and word-of-mouth had made the band popular elsewhere. Manhattan fell first, then Boston. They were popular in colleges, since 60s and 70s teenagers away from home for the first time wanted to see a band that played the Fillmores. As the 70s wore on, New Jersey and Pennsylvania were another source of paying gigs.
But if a band is going to make money on the road, any band, it has to stay on the road. So Sam Cutler and the Dead had to find gigs to play that fit in with the good ones in the big Northeastern cities. Central and Upstate New York provided the perfect solution. There were cities upstate, not as big as Boston or New York, but cities nonetheless, and they had young people who wanted to rock. Initially, the Dead played New York State because they could. Syracuse or Rochester were near enough to New York, Boston or Pennsylvania that some paying nights could be added to keep the wheels turning.
Two things happened. One partially expected, or at least hoped for, and another quite out of the ordinary. First of all, the Dead played cities in Upstate and Central New York often enough that they started to build a fan base around those cities. That's how rock music was supposed to work.
The unexpected factor was this: the very fact of geography that made Central and Upstate New York an easy transit for the band made for easy traveling by their fans. Once Deadheads in Brooklyn, Cambridge and New Jersey realized that they could just drive a few hours and catch more Dead shows in Syracuse or some college gym, the viability of Dead shows in New York state rose considerably. Deadheads traveled to see the band--if it was easy for the band to get there, so it was for the fans. When the Grateful Dead enterprise morphed into its own self-supporting ecosystem in the early 1980s, Central and Upstate New York were absolutely central to the organism.
Herein lies the tale.
What Is "Upstate" New York?
New York state residents, even ones who never get above 110th Street, know that there is a big difference between "Upstate" and "Central" New York. New York was founded because Manhattan was an excellent port of entry, allowing goods to flow down the Hudson River to Europe and points South. The cities and towns that are directly North of Manhattan are all linked to the Hudson River or related tributaries. These include important cities like Albany, the State Capital, and also resort cities like Woodstock and Saratoga. They are all "up the Hudson" from Manhattan, and thus "Upstate New York."
Central New York is West and mostly North of the Hudson, running from Lake Ontario all the way down to the Pennsylvania border. The major cities are all tied to different bodies of water, which is how they were founded back in the 18th century. Buffalo is on Lake Erie, Syracuse is near Lake Ontario and Rochester is near Lake Oneida, all in the Northern part of the Empire State. Binghamton is on the Susquehanna River, in the Southern part of the New York, near the Pennsylvania border. As to "Western New York," New Yorkers, in my experience, only refer vaguely to it, usually as an uncivilized area West of where you happen to be at any time. There remains a distinct difference between Upstate and Central New York, however, with Upstate retaining a connection to Manhattan, while the Central area stands on its own. For simplicity, for this post I will just refer to the totality of Upstate, Central and Western New
York state as "Upstate," with the recognition that it is a complicated
misnomer for people who have lived and worked there.
"Low Bridge, Everybody Down:" Central New York Economic History
The economic history of New York State is simple: the Erie Canal made Manhattan the dominant focus of American commerce, and New York City has never relinquished that position. In the early 19th century, the hardest problem to solve in the vastness of America was moving goods to market. There was land, there were resources, and there were people to work the land and extract those resources. But who would buy them? Canal technology went back to the Ancient Romans, of course, but it had been exploited by the Industrial Revolution in the latter 18th century (the James River Canal in Richmond, for example, had been started in 1785). The most important canal in American history, however, was the Erie Canal, which was completed in 1825.
It was faster than carts pulled by draft animals, and cut transport costs by about 95%. The canal fostered a population surge in western New York and opened regions farther west to settlement. It was enlarged between 1834 and 1862. The canal's peak year was 1855, when 33,000 commercial shipments took place.
There was an additional network of lesser canals, built throughout the 19th century, that linked to the Eric Canal and the Hudson River. Thus farmers and manufacturers in much of New York State could reach Europe and the American South through the Hudson River and Manhattan. At the same time, Toronto and the Great Lakes were accessible via Rochester and Lake Ontario, while Buffalo could reach Cleveland via Lake Erie, and by extension (and the Detroit River), Detroit and Chicago. Chicago itself was only founded in 1833. The goods and resources of the entire Upper Midwest flowed through the main Erie Canal cities on their way to Manhattan. Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse all became important centers of manufacturing in Commerce by the middle of the 19th century.
The age of canals was rapidly superseded by the age of railroads. In New York, however, the railroads simply built on the landscape defined by the canals. The most powerful Eastern railroad of the late 19th and early 20th century was the New York Central Railroad. The New York Central went from Chicago to Manhattan, terminating at Grand Central Station, a place so well known that Americans say "it's as busy as Grand Central Station" without actually ever having set foot at 42nd Street and Park Avenue. The New York Central (mapped up top) touched all the major stops in Central New York, expanding the links defined by the Erie Canal back in 1825. Central New York was a fully integrated part of the American economy until the mid-1950s. For various reasons outside the scope of this blog, Central New York began to decline in economic importance in the 1960s, so the cities stopped growing. Nonetheless, places like Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo still had young people, and those young people wanted to part of the rock explosion that they had read about in Rolling Stone magazine. Enter the Grateful Dead.
August 16, 1969 Woodstock Music And Arts Fair, Max Yasgur's Farm, Bethel, NY(Saturday)
It is paradigmatic that the Grateful Dead began their assault on Upstate New York at the Woodstock Festival in 1969. This was probably true of many, if not most of the bands at the festival. The hippie rock explosion was still a big city thing, extending to a few college campuses, but even those were the kind of places that prided themselves on being ahead of the curve. College students in the 1960s really, really wanted to see the bands that played the Fillmores, but they didn't always get that chance. One of many reasons that Woodstock was so well attended was that there were many young people in Central and Upstate New York who just wanted to see the bands they had been reading about. One of those bands was the Grateful Dead.
In 1969 the Grateful Dead were underground legends, with their name far better known than any of their music. There were few, if any, FM rock stations outside of New York City at the time, so radio play of any of the Dead's albums would have been all but nonexistent. Nonetheless, the Dead kept turning up, playing for free when something was happening, whether in San Francisco or Columbia University, or finding themselves in the midst of controversy or trouble. Anyway, back in the day "Grateful Dead" was spooky in its own right, just as "Sex Pistols" would be a decade later. Indeed, the Sex Pistols are a good comparison to the Dead, unlikely as it may seem, as that band's infamy far exceeded airplay for "God Save The Queen."
The Grateful Dead were at Woodstock, along with most of the other active touring rock bands. The Dead actually came onstage at Woodstock at about two in the morning, in between Mountain and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Of course, it was a big one, and the Dead blew it. How bad did the Brown Acid have to be for the band to need a guest--Country Joe McDonald--to speak coherently to the crowd on their behalf? In general, the Dead's Upstate New York debut was a debacle (John Fogerty tells the story of coming on after the Dead in the middle of the night).
A listing from the March 17, 1970 Buffalo News, showing that night's Philarmonic Rock Marathon with the Grateful Dead at Buffalo's Kleinhans Music Hall. Also an imported laser beam light show.
Even stranger, the show featured not only the Dead and a local band, but the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. The Orchestra "jammed" with the Grateful Dead. The story sounds quite weird, just right for 1970 Grateful Dead. How did it happen? Who knows? Someone invited the Grateful Dead, and they showed up. I don't think it was the kind of show that turned symphony fans, or hippies for that matter, into Deadheads for life.
West Gym at Harpur College, SUNY Binghamton, where the Grateful Dead played on May 2, 1970
Early 1970s: Filling Up The Itinerary
Sam Cutler stripped down
the Grateful Dead operation and put the boys on the road, and they
toured hard. The goal was to get paid, as many nights as possible.
Whenever the band had a few good dates, Cutler's goal was to find some
places in between to get a payday. If a band is on the road, they are
staying in a hotel somewhere, so even a smaller show that makes a little
money is worthwhile, because it's better than getting nothing. So the
Dead played various random shows in Upstate New York in the early 70s,
because it fit their schedule.
SUNY Alfred Homecoming, May 1, 1970. The Dead started at 8:00, and another band kicked off a dance in another building at 10:00 pm.
May 1, 1970 SUNY Alfred, Alfred, NY: Grateful Dead/New Riders Of The Purple Sage Debut of "An Evening With The Grateful Dead." (Friday)
In May 1970, the Grateful Dead debuted their new format, "An Evening With The Grateful Dead." Rock concerts at the time typically had three (or more) acts. For the Spring '70 tour, however, the Dead would play an acoustic set, then the completely unknown New Riders of The Purple Sage would play a set, and then the electric Grateful Dead would do a full performance. The business concept was that the Dead could get the money the promoter would spend for three bands, provide a full evening's show and do it with fewer band members and road crew than was required for three actual bands.
The first concert of the tour was at SUNY Alfred, in Alfred, NY. Alfred, NY is about 90 miles Southeast of Buffalo, approximately between Buffalo and Binghamton. The show was the "homecoming" (alumni reunion) for both SUNY Alfred and nearby Alfred University. As such, it was a guaranteed payday, not dependent on attendance or promotion. That was a good thing, since only a few hundred people actually saw the show (JGMF has uncovered the entire remarkable story of the show). The Dead got paid, but the Alfred show didn't have much of an impact on their history.
May 2, 1970 West Gym, Harpur College, SUNY Binghamton, Binghamton, NY: Grateful Dead/New Riders Of The Purple Sage(Saturday)
The Grateful Dead had another paying college gig on Saturday, May 2, and this one was another legendary show. The band was playing at the State University of New York at Binghamton, in Binghamton, NY. Up until 1965, the school had been known as Harpur College, until it was absorbed by the SUNY system. The school currently has 17,000+ students. While it surely had fewer students in 1970, it wasn't tiny.
Binghamton, NY doesn't resonate with most people, but IBM got started
nearby, and General Electric and Alcoa had big operations there. Binghamton is near the Pennsylvania border, at the confluence of the Susquehanna and Chenango Rivers. Binghamton had been a main stop on the Chenango Canal (now NY Highway 12). The Chenango Canal connected the Susquehanna River to the Erie Canal, which made the city into a manufacturing hub. The canal was replaced by the Erie Railroad (later the Erie Lackawanna, which was the parent of NJ Transit's Morristown Line), but the town retained its importance. GE, IBM and others continued to make the area economically prosperous from the 1950s through the 80s.
May 8, 1970 Farrell Hall, SUNY Delhi, Delhi, NY: Grateful Dead/New Riders Of The Purple Sage (Friday)
After Binghamton, the Dead had some college shows in New England: Sunday, May 3 at Middletown, CT (Wesleyan), Thursday May 7 at Cambridge (MIT) and Saturday May 9 at Worcester, MA (Polytech). There were two free concerts as well during this time, but they don't pay, and working bands gotta work. So the Dead were able to book another college gig on Friday, at SUNY Delhi in Delhi, NY.
Delhi is a tiny village between Binghamton and Albany, population around 5,000. SUNY Delhi was founded in 1913, but had only started to expand in the 1960s. Even now it only has 3,000+ students. Back in the day, however, even small schools had entertainment budgets. Delhi was near enough to New England that the band could make a quick trip back and forth and get paid. We have an eyewitness account, from the archive. It sounds like a lot of fun:
This was my first dead concert (can't count expo 67) you lose site of the fact that the Kent state shootings were on everyone's mind. talk of starting to shut down campuses etc. the concert started with NRPS but they blew out the electric circuits one at a time so that the first 2 hours was just a big sound check ( which was ok because you had to step outside to smoke, there were a lot less than 200 people there ) We came down from Oneonta for the show and once they guit blowing fuses & started to play the music was a lot better than these tapes sound, they played until 2-3 and apologized that they had to travel the next day. worth the trip.
After an inexplicable trip to Kirkwood, MO (May 14), likely a Lenny Hart legacy, the Dead finished up at Fillmore East (May 15) and Philadelphia (May 16--Fairfield on May 17 was canceled). Tiny Upstate New York college gigs had helped keep the band on the road, even if two of those were thinly attended.
An AP wire service report from November 16, 1970 describes how the Grateful Dead did not perform at the Albany Armory after the building was cleared due to a bomb threat (published in the Edwardsville, IL Intelligencer)
November 15, 1970 The Armory, Albany, NY Grateful Dead/Buddy Miles Express/Pacific Gas and Electric(Sunday)
On the next Eastern swing, in October and November 1970, the Dead had a different schedule. There were a few jaunts to the Midwest, but mostly the band stuck to the Eastern Seaboard, with gigs in Long Island, Port Chester, Philadelphia, Brooklyn and New Jersey. Still, as the tour wound down, there were nights to fill, and they got filled Upstate.
On Thursday, November 15, between 4 nights in Brooklyn (Nov 11-14) and Monday at Fillmore East (Nov 16), the Dead were booked to headline a Sunday night show at the relatively small Armory in Albany. Albany, approximately 150 miles due North from Manhattan, was and is the Capital of New York State. Albany is straight up the Hudson, and the epitome of "Upstate." Although the city only has a population of about 100,000, the suburbs have become much larger. By virtue of being the state Capital, the importance of the city far outstrips its size.
The Dead had replaced Delaney And Bonnie And Friends as headliners, over the Buddy Miles Express and the SF band P, G &E. The gig was a debacle. There was a bomb threat, the theater was emptied, and the Dead did not return, so they didn't play. Read the news article above (Rock Group Skips Concert After Bomb Threat Sunday) and the Comment Thread for some intriguing suggestions of who phoned in the threat. Whatever the reason, the Grateful Dead would not return to Albany for nearly twenty years.
A recent photo of The Palestra at the University of Rochester. Palestra (correctly translated Palaestra) means "Wrestling Ground" in Ancient Greek.
Rochester is on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, East of Buffalo. It was a boom city going back to the 19th century--the Erie Canal came to Rochester in 1823-- and well into the 20th. The city was the birthplace of giant companies like Kodak, Xerox and Western Union. The city's population peaked in 1930 at 328,000. By 1970, it still had 296,000. Keep in mind, however, that the US population boomed after WW2, so while Rochester was a thriving city in 1970, its footprint was shrinking (in the 2010 census Rochester's population was just 210,000). In 1970, though, there were still plenty of young people there, and they wanted rock and roll, too.
Jorma Kaukonen, in town because the Airplane were playing across town at the War Memorial Auditoium, showed up to jam. A fan recalls
My first Dead show. And what a doozy and scene it was (for pre-med,
egghead, army brat, 21 yo me), considering it was upstate NY university.
Hopped on that bus! Lots and lots of good stories from that concert! My
recollection is that it was a (Lesh-Jerry-Mickey) NRPS set, then an
acoustic Dead, then 3 electric Dead sets, at least the last one of which
had Jorma. I sooo wish I also had that Jerry NRPS set-- psychedelic
pedal steel ("get off the wah-wah pedal, son" is the punchline to one of
the stories). I remember Lesh trying to coax Jack on stage, e.g.
playing the "White Rabbit" riff at him, but I don't recall Jack
actually getting on stage. Whew, Jorma stinging guitar is my memory.
The Grateful Dead began a long and fruitful relationship with the city of Rochester on this Friday night, in a modest college gym. They returned to the Palestra the next year, and then moved up to the War Memorial and even larger venues in subsequent years. Rochester's footprint would get smaller, but the city would become a critical stop on the Grateful Dead's touring schedule.
April 18, 1971 Lusk Field House, SUNY Cortland, Cortland, NY: Grateful Dead/New Riders Of The Purple Sage(Sunday)
By early 1971, the Dead actually had two kinda-hit-albums, getting regularl airplay on newly founded FM radio stations throughout the country. The band's legendary East Coast tour that Spring made Deadheads for life at every stop. College students and young hippies up and down the East Coast heard the band and jumped on the bus with both feet. They're still on board.
Hi...I was the person behind the appearance of the Grateful Dead at SUNY Cortland. This show was indeed fantastic. It lasted approximately 7 hours in total (someone thought it was a short show, it was not...I completed the clean up around 6 a.m. when the sun was rising!). It was an epic performance and still holds the record at 7,200 people for the largest indoor assembly ever held in the City of Cortland. There is an epic story behind how the whole production took place which I can't possibly go into here! My voice can be heard in some of the "tuning" segments! (JACKLEISUREPRO)
However much the band got paid at Cortland, it was worth it to keep
the wheels turning. And I bet those SUNY Cortland students, and any locals, are still on board with us.
A poster for Grateful Dead concerts in Rochester (Oct 26 '71) and Syracuse (Oct 27)
Fall 1971: All Aboard
The Fall 71 tour behind "Skull And Roses," which Warner Brothers supported with a $100K worth of FM broadcasts in almost every city, was the tour that locked in the Grateful Dead's future success. It may not have entirely seemed that way at the time. True, the Dead had released two albums that had gotten good airplay on FM radio. But FM radio was going nationwide by Fall '71, and more and more kids were listening in stereo. So the 14 broadcasts touched a huge portion of the country. No other band was playing 4 hours for free on the radio, and it set the Dead apart. The broadcasts also laid in a future store of FM dubs for the taper community, although no one knew it at the time.
October 26, 1971 The Palestra, Rochester, NY: Grateful Dead/New Riders Of The Purple Sage (Tuesday) WCMF-FM broadcast October 27, 1971 Onondaga County War Memorial Auditorium, Syracuse, NY: Grateful Dead/New Riders Of The Purple Sage (Wednesday) WAER-FM broadcast
The Dead started their Fall 71 tour in the Midwest. The debuted in Minnesota (Oct 19), then a weekend in Chicago (Thurs/Fri Oct 21/22) and Detroit (Sat/Sun 23/24). The next weekend was Cleveland (Fri Oct 29) and Cincinnati (Sat/Sun Oct 30/31). There were FM broadcasts in each of the cities. In between, the Dead played Rochester on Tuesday (Oct 26) and Syracuse on Wednesday (Oct 27).
Both the Rochester and Syracuse shows were booked by Pacific Presentations. Pacific Presentations was actually based in Los Angeles, and partner Sepp Donahower had been part of the Pinnacle Dance Concerts company that had put on shows by the Grateful Dead and others back in 1967 and '68 at the Shrine Auditorium. Pacific went national in the early 70s, and they promoted many Grateful Dead shows in disparate places like Texas and New York State. It appears that for the Dead--and no doubt many of their Fillmore peers--they would much rather work with a familiar face rather than unknown locals. Big cities like New York and Chicago had major promoters, but touring FM rock bands were a new thing out in the territories.
I assume the Palestra was packed, even on a Tuesday, because it was so small. I am curious how many tickets the band sold for a Wednesday night in an 8000-capacity hall in a new town. In the end, however, it didn't matter. Both shows were broadcast live on the local FM stations. I'm not sure of the call sign of the Rochester station, but The band played on WCMF-fm in Rochester, and WAER-fm in Syracuse. The Dead were broadcast live for four hours in Rochester and Syracuse on consecutive nights, and they have owned that part of the state ever since. I have to think however many tickets were or were not sold, a lot of suburban teenagers listened to those broadcasts in their bedrooms and thought "if that bus comes by again, I am getting on it."
An aerail shot of the crowd of the concert at Watkins Glen Grand Prix Racecourse on July 28, 1973. It was the largest rock concert ever held, up unitl this time
Feed That Jones
A parallel story to the rise of the Grateful Dead in Upstate New York was the part the region played in facilitating East Coast tours by Jerry Garcia and other band members over the years. By the time the Dead had become a guaranteed draw, Garcia was just starting to tour around on his own. Once the Dead took their "break" in 1974, the other band members toured around as well. Upstate New York cities would play the same role they had done for the Dead a few years earlier, filling in the gig sheet with paydays, however modest. The regular reappearance of Garcia and others had to have helped keep the Skull and Roses flag flying high when the Dead wasn't in town.
The first, and most obscure, Jerry Garcia tour outside of Northern California, was in support of Howard Wales' Hooteroll? album. Garcia sat in with Wales' quartet for seven dates. They hadn't rehearsed, but Howard and Jerry had never rehearsed anyway.
The two shows in Syracuse and Buffalo probably did not generate a huge outbreak of Deadheads. The music (which we know from tapes of other nights) was pretty out there, and I don't even know of any eyewitnesses. Still, the two bookings helped keep Garcia on the road, which was the initial attraction of the bookings. Syracuse and Buffalo were easy traveling for the band, and that was the crucial geographical advantage of Upstate and Central New York.
A poster for the Howard Wales/Jerry Garcia Hooteroll: tour show at Setnor Auditorium in Syracuse, NY on Saturday, January 22, 1972
January 22, 1972 Setnor Auditorium, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY: Hooteroll? Howard Wales with Jerry Garcia (Saturday) JGMF uncovered this long lost show, complete with a poster, which says "Hooteroll?" The show is billed at "Crouse Auditorium", but there isn't actually a Crouse Auditorium. JerrysBrokendownPalaces was on the case, however, and determined that the venue was Setnor Auditorium, at Crouse College, part of Syracuse University, capacity 700. The show appears to be presented by Syracuse University, so no doubt a college entertainment insured that a possibly small gate did not affect the band getting paid.
An ad for Jerry Garcia, Howard Wales and Mahavishnu Orchestra in Buffalo, NY on Jan 29, 1972 (h/t GDSets)
January 29, 1972 Century Theater, Buffalo, NY: Howard Wales with Jerry Garcia/Mahavishnu Orchestra presented by University of Buffalo (Saturday) This show was at the Century Theater at 511 Main Street, later the New Century Theater, capacity 3,076. It had been the Shea's Theater, but not the same Shea's Theater that the Dead would play later in the decade. That Shea's Theater was across the street (at 646 Main Street). The show was promoted by a University of Buffalo Student Association, so once again a college entertainment budget insured a Garcia payday.
In the later 1970s, the New Century Theater was a regular venue for local promoter Harvey Weinstein (see Mar 31 '73 below), now better known as a famous film producer and convicted rapist. Weinstein was a student at SUNY Buffalo, so there's good reason to think he has some involvement in booking this show. Given the penchant of Garcia and the Dead to work with promoters for whom they had already worked, it would make sense that Weinstein met Garcia on this tour, and was able to leverage that into booking the Dead 15 months later, when the full band returned to Buffalo.
March 21-22, 1973 Memorial Auditorium, Utica, NY: Grateful Dead(Wednesday-Thursday)
Utica, New York is 240 miles Northwest of Manhattan. At the foot of the Adirondack Mountains, the village was first settled in 1734, and incorporated in 1798. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Utica and the nearby city of Rome were important layover cities for the Erie and Chenango Canals, and later the New York Central Railroad. Utica and Rome became important manufacturing centers, particularly of textiles. The population of Utica peaked at around 100,000 in 1960.
For the Grateful Dead's big Spring 1973 tour, the band had three dates at Nassau Coliseum in Long Island (Thurs/Fri/Monday Mar 15/16/19) and one at the Spectrum (Saturday Mar 24), all major league arenas. To get through the week, they had to at least cover expenses, and that meant playing a minor league facility, although it had to be one with a concrete floor. The Utica Memorial Auditorium was a typical multi-purpose Civic Auditorium of the era, completed in 1960. For floor events, it had a capacity of 5,700. Mostly it was used for minor league ice hockey, and the AHL Utica Comets (affiliated with Vancouver) still call it home.
The increasing size of the Grateful Dead's sound system in 1973 made one-nighters harder to justify. So the citizens of Utica were lucky enough to get two nights of 1973 Grateful Dead. Thanks to the tapes, we know that the Dead absolutely killed it in Utica--as they did most nights in 1973--and anyone from Oneida County who got to see them there was lucky indeed.
By 1973, Utica was already in decline, whether or not the locals realized it yet. The population was down to about 90,000 in the 1970 Census, at a time when the US population was increasing. From the Dead's point of view, a couple of modest paydays in a place with easy transit from Long Island and to Philadelphia made good sense. A few fond memories on the Archive and on Dead.net suggest that a very good time was had, and it wasn't that crowded.
To put this in context, can you imagine Dead and Company playing two nights in a 5,700-capacity hockey arena 200+ miles from a big city? In order to make the big paydays in the Northeast, however, the Dead needed places to keep the fires burning, and Upstate New York fit that schedule.
March 30, 1973 Community War Memorial Auditorium, Rochester, NY: Grateful Dead (Friday)
The Grateful Dead had one more big show left on their Spring '73 Eastern swing, a show at the Boston Garden. The Garden was big-league in a big city, home of the NBA Boston Celtics and NHL Boston Bruins. Oddly, the Boston Garden date was on a Monday (April 2). So the band still had to fill the weekend.
By now, however, the Dead's Upstate history was starting to pay off for them. Up until now, the Dead had only played the tiny Palestra at Rochester University. But they had toured steadily, and had even broadcast the last Palestra show on local FM radio. Now, with a Friday night open, the band could move up the ladder in Rochester.
The Community War Memorial Auditorium in Rochester had opened in 1955, and had a capacity of over 11,000 for concert (now the Blue Cross Arena). It's not at all clear how many tickets the Dead sold this night, but since they kept coming back to Rochester, I have a feeling it must have been a lot. Another revealing detail is that there is only one very poor-quality audience tape circulating for this show, to my knowledge. What this tells me is that the Brooklyn types who were fairly sophisticated about about taping Dead shows were not making the journey yet to distant Rochester. I'm sure a few people made the trip, but road tripping to see the Dead was still a niche activity, not a culture yet.
The Grateful Dead and The New Riders played the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium on March 31, 1973, promoted by Harvey N Corky Productions. "Harvey" was future film producer and convicted rapist Harvery Weintstein
March 31, 1973 Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, Buffalo, NY: Grateful Dead/New Riders of The Purple Sage (Saturday)
To fill the Saturday night on their open calendar, the Dead finally made true landfall in Buffalo. Sure, they had played that symphony gig in 1970--so Buffalo got immortalized into "Truckin'"--and Garcia had played there with Howard Wales, but since the band had become a hit act they hadn't played the city. They did now. The Buffalo Memorial Auditorium (not War Memorial) was a big old concrete block, built in 1940 with a concert capacity of around 18,000.
It's doubtful that the Dead sold out an 18,000 seater in Buffalo in 1973, even on a Saturday night. But they probably didn't have to. The economics of the show were probably that the promoter could break even on a half-filled arena, and the band and promoter split the overage. Why was there such a big venue in Buffalo? Buffalo, in its way, is a symbol of the history of the Erie Canal and New York State. When the Erie Canal took hold in the 1830s, Buffalo was the gateway to Lake Erie and thus the city was a critical transportation hub linking Canada, the Atlantic Ocean (via the St. Lawrence Seaway) and Manhattan, all via canals and later railways, feeding the Central and Upstate manufacturers. In 1940, Buffalo had a population of 575,901.
By 1970, however, the world had changed and Buffalo was declining significantly, with a population of only 462,768. It was shrinking during the Baby Boom. Still, there were still a lot of people in Buffalo, many of them young, and they wanted to rock and roll like everyone else. The biggest local promoters were "Harvey 'N' Corky." The independent production company was run by Corky Burger and two brothers, Harvey and Bob Weinstein. After some years as successful concert promoters, the Weinstein brothers moved into the movie business. Miramax pictures was extremely successful in ensuing decades. Harvey Weinstein is also widely known as a convicted rapist.
It's pretty likely that Harvey Weinstein, a former SUNY Buffalo student, had had some engagement with the Howard Wales/Jerry Garcia concert in Buffalo in 1972, so that probably provided a level of confidence for the band to book with an untried promotion company. Things must have gone well, since the Dead played for Harvey 'N' Corky Productions again later in the year, and in 1977.
July 27-28, 1973 Watkins Glen Grand Prix Racecourse, Watkins Glen, NY: Allman Brothers Band/The Band/Grateful Dead(Friday-Saturday)
So much has been written about Watkins Glen that I don't have much to add. Suffice to say:
It was the biggest crowd at a rock concert ever, up until this time
With respect to this story, however, young people from New York City, New England, New Jersey, Pennyslvania and all of New York State came to this show. Any high school or college students who didn't already know about the Grateful Dead did by the time school started, since all their classmates would have told their tales of Watkins Glen.
September 17, 1973: Onondaga War Memorial Auditorium, Syracuse, NY Grateful Dead/Doug Sahm Band(Tuesday-Wednesday)
The Grateful Dead came back for a fall '73 tour, this time with a horn section in tow, amazingly enough. The tour was anchored by a weekend at Nassau Colisuem (Fri/Sat Sep 7/8), a weekend in New England (Providence Sep 14/15) and a Friday night at the Spectrum in Philadelphia (Sep 21). In between, two gigs got squeezed in at William And Mary College in Virginia (Sep 11/12, where a young Bruce Hornsby saw the second show), and there were also two shows in Syracuse the next week.
The Dead's sound system required them to play two nights in one place rather than multiple one-nighters. It's notable that the two shows in Syracuse were played, while the two shows in Providence were reduced to a single show. Now, granted, Providence Civic Center (now Dunkin Donuts Center) had a capacity of 14,000 and War Memorial in Syracuse was just 8,000, but this tells us that Syracuse was a better market than Providence. [update: a Commenter pointed out that I was incorrect, and the second night in Syracuse was canceled, just as in Providence, so the markets would have been parallel.] It also tells us Deadheads weren't really traveling far in big numbers yet, since Boston fans weren't packing Providence. In any case, whether it had been by accident or design--probably mostly the former--the Dead had managed to build a good fan base in Upstate New York, and they could fill in the nights on the tour there.
The Dead's fall 1973 tour ended on a Wednesday nght in Buffalo, on September 26, 1973, when they played the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium. The opening act ("& Friends") was the Doug Sahm Band.
September 26, 1973 Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, Buffalo, NY: Grateful Dead/Doug Sahm Band (Wednesday)
The last date of the Dead's Fall '73 tour was a Wednesday night in Buffalo, playing again for Harvey N Corky. The significant thing about this show was that the band did not have another show the next weekend, so the Wednesday booking wasn't just a routing gig. The show in Buffalo had to have been profitable enough for the band to extend the tour a few days, and they had to have enough confidence in the promoters to feel they were actually going to get paid. Once again, the efforts that the Dead had made to play Upstate New York had really paid off, since they now had real audiences in not only Syracuse and Rochester but Buffalo as well.
The Palace Theater, at 19 Clinton Avenue in Albany, NY, was built in 1928 and seats about 2,800. Jerry Garcia and other Grateful Dead members played this hall many times
Fall 1974: The Interregnum
The Grateful Dead's cultivation of an audience in Upstate New York paid an unexpected dividend after the Fall of 1974. After the October 1974 Winterland shows, the Grateful Dead went on "hiatus," and stopped touring. Pretty much all of their fans assumed that the Dead were done for. Many, maybe most, of the great 60s bands had broken up by this time, and it seemed like the Dead were just following the path carved by the likes of The Beatles or Jefferson Airplane.
The demise of the Dead, however, meant that Jerry Garcia had to tour, and without benefit of any realistic record company support. Since the Dead were self-financing their own record company, there wasn't the flood of publicity and tour support for the ensuing solo albums. Any touring had to be cash-and-carry, profitable on its own axis. New Jersey promoter John Scher took on the role of tour director for Jerry Garcia, calculating how to maximize his presence in a region where he was a legend, but had rarely played under his own name, and had no record company buttressing him.
November 10, 1974: The Palace Theater, Albany, NY Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders (Sunday)
Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders had played a few shows in the NYC Metro area prior to this, but now they were touring for real. Upstate New York served the same purpose it had for the Garcia/Saunders ensemble as it had for the Dead. Jerry and Merl had a big four days of bookings in the NYC Metro area from Wednesday through Saturday (Nov 5-9), and used Albany to fill in the leftover date.
The Palace Theater, at 19 Clinton Avenue in Albany, opened in 1931 as an RKO movie palace. It seats about 2,800. It had closed in 1969, but it was purchased by the city of Albany and re-opened soon after. The 1970 Grateful Dead show in Albany had been a debacle, of course (see Nov 15 '70 above), but time had passed. Albany was not a large city, but it was the state Capitol, with extensive suburbs, so there was a nascent Grateful Dead audience in the region, which would be cultivated later. The 1974 Garcia show was just a sort of opening salvo.
November 17, 1974: Auditorium Theater, Rochester, NY: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders (Sunday)
For the next leg, Garcia/Saunders had four shows in Boston Metro (Nov 12-15), and a big double show at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia (Nov 16), long established as prime Grateful Dead territory. For the final night, the band played at the Auditorium Theater in Rochester on Sunday night. Now, strictly speaking, as it was the end of the tour, they could have just flown home, but they were in town, it was near and it paid, so they played. Upstate New York was near to both New England and NYC Metro, so that made it uniquely useful. Although places like Rochester were far (ish) from New England, since the trucks didn't have to fight through New York or Boston Metro traffic, the actual transit was easy.
The Auditorium Theater in Rochester, at 855 E. Main Street, was opened in 1930 as a Masonic Temple. It seats about 3,000. Though smaller than the War Memorial, the Auditorium Theater was larger than the Palaesta. The time the Dead had spent building a Deadhead audience in Rochster had paid off.
One of the most puzzling secrets of the building centers on a
fascination with squirrels. During construction of the building, the
ornamental plasterer apparently felt the need to add a bit of whimsy by
including several images of squirrels and acorns throughout. Squirrels
appear above the building’s front door, while bird, grapevine and acorn
motifs can be found in the plaster work on the walls in some meeting
rooms. But look closely — the most striking example is on the ceiling of
the Auditorium. The plasterer has skillfully incorporated 64 squirrels
into the symmetry of the massive ceiling.
October 25, 1975: Auditorium Theater, Rochester, NY Jerry Garcia Band with Nicky Hopkins (Sunday)
By late 1975, the Grateful Dead organization was hemorrhaging cash for The Movie, with no touring income and lackluster returns on record sales. When Jerry Garcia toured in the Fall, he needed to make sure it was lucrative. It is easy to forget now that Nicky Hopkins, first-call piano man for the Rolling Stones and all the Beatles, was a genuine rock star himself. He had toured with the Stones, and now he was touring with Garcia. The Jerry Garcia Band was actually an incorporated group with four equal partners (JG, John Kahn, Hopkins, Ron Tutt), but the name Jerry Garcia Band was chosen for commercial appeal. Garcia even included a few of his own songs in the set ("Deal", "Sugaree" and "Friend Of The Devil"). The new Jerry Garcia Band was a commercial proposition indeed.
John Scher had the band touring hard. In most cities, the Jerry Garcia Band played early and late shows, so the paydays were good. And make no mistake, Hopkins was a tremendous pianist, and his ability to flow in and out of Garcia's guitar lines was beautiful indeed. This was no busman's holiday, but a real band on the road.
Upstate New York dates kept the band working hard. The JGB started out in New England (Oct 22 and 23), with Boston on Saturday night (Oct 24). The next week, they played New York Metro area from Wednesday and Friday (Oct 28&30), Halloween Saturday night at the Tower in Philly and then two more shows(Capitol in Passaic Nov 1 and DC Nov 2). By inserting three nights into Upstate New York on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, John Scher made sure that the Fall JGB tour was solidly in the black.
Scher and the Jerry Garcia Band returned to the Auditorium Theater in Rochester. 3000 seats was about right for Jerry on a Sunday night upstate. Since they couldn't really sell two shows, Garcia and Hopkins played two sets anyway for the lucky crowd. Regardless of how well this show sold, it was worth it for the band.
October 26, 1975: New Century Theater, SUNY Buffalo, Buffalo, NY Jerry Garcia Band with Nicky Hopkins (Monday)
The Jerry Garcia Band returned to the Century Theater in Buffalo, where Garcia and Howard Wales had played in January 29, 1972 (above). The promoters were Harvey And Corky, showing how Garcia and the Dead remained loyal to promoters they had worked with successfully in the past. New Century had a capacity of 3,076, so for a Monday night it was just booked for a single show. October 27, 1975: Bailey Hall, Cornell U, Ithaca, NY Jerry Garcia Band with Nicky Hopkins (Tuesday)
There is a vast literature about the Grateful Dead at Cornell University, most of which I have not read. I do not know if anyone has noticed that Garcia first made landfall in Cornell in 1975 with the Garcia Band. They played Bailey Hall, constructed in 1912 and seating just 1324.
Cornell University is in tiny Ithaca, NY in the scenic "Finger Lakes" region. It is about 220 miles Northwest of Manhattan, truly in the center of New York State. Buffalo is Northwest of Ithaca, Syracuse and Rochester to the North, and Binghamton to the South. Cornell, founded 1865, is an esteemed Ivy League school, but there isn't much else in Ithaca. Cornell is a wealthy school, however, so they could pay out-of-town acts good money (guaranteed) to make the journey to the shores of Cayuga Lake.
A Fall Tuesday night in the middle of New York State, a tiny auditorium built in 1912, two sets of primo Jerry Garcia, his bass player, the Stones' pianoman and Elvis' drummer. Two sets. If you weren't on the bus after that, Barton Hall wasn't going to matter.
November 6, 1975: Elting Gym, SUNY New Paltz, New Paltz, NY: Kingfish/Keith And Donna (Thursday) Kingfish and Keith and Donna toured the East Coast in November. In the Bay Area, with Jerry Garcia a regular in nightclubs since 1970, Deadheads were very casual about the opportunity to see Grateful Dead spinoffs. In the East, however, the chance to see 4 members of The Dead (Weir, Kreutzmann, Keith and Donna) plus an ex-New Rider (Dave Torbert) in the same night was somewhat of a big deal. The Kingfish/Keith and Donna bill played medium sized theaters that neither band could have played at home. I have to presume that the bands also only used one crew and one set of gear, another efficiency.
While I don't think shows by Kingfish and Keith And Donna created legions of Deadheads, I can attest that they were both great live bands, and seeing them made for a fun night out. Long before the internet or anything else, tours like this helped keep the Grateful Dead fires burning in far away places.
New Paltz was about 80 miles north of Manhattan, in between Manhattan and Albany. In the 1970s, a lot of good bands played Elting Gym at SUNY New Paltz. There must have been a sharp booking agent and a good entertainment budget at the University. For whatever reasons, a lot of board tapes seemed to have leaked out of there. The Kingfish/K&D tour opened in New Paltz on a Thursday, before higher profile shows at the Beacon (Friday Nov 7) and SUNY Stony Brook (Saturday Nov 8).
November 21, 1975: Loews Theater, Syracuse, NY Kingfish/Keith And Donna (Friday)
The tour played Friday night in Syracuse, setting up a Saturday (Nov 22) show in Scranton (Nov 23) and then Sunday in Boston (Nov 23). I know a former Scranton teenager who went to the Scranton show, by the way, and he said it was a very big deal in Scranton. While he's no Deadhead, he's been fond of the band ever since.
The bands played Loews Theater (now the Landmark), at 362 S. Salina St . The theater had opened in 1928 and had a capacity of 2,908
November 24, 1975: Palace Theater, Albany, NY: Kingfish/Keith And Donna (Monday)
While Monday is an odd night for a rock show, this was Thanksgiving week, so a lot of students would have been home from college. Following their pattern, the bands played the same theater in Albany where Garcia/Saunders had played the year before (Nov 17 '74 above).
September 18, 1976: Ben Light Gymnasium, Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY Jerry Garcia Band (Saturday)
On Saturday, September 18, 1976, the Jerry Garcia Band played a gig at Ithaca College. Ithica College was founded in 1892 as a Music Conservatory, and has a sterling reputation as a school for the performing arts. Rod Serling, who created "The Twilight Zone" was a famous alumni. The school has about 6,000 students, and is just 2 miles from Cornell. The Ben Light Gymnasium was built in 1964, and has a capacity of 2,600. While places like Ithaca have rather mobile college students, and its hard to build up an audience (compared to regular cities like Syracuse or Rochester), there isn't much to do out in the countryside, so it's easy to draw an audience. A Saturday night in Ithica was probably a good payday for the Garcia Band.
In fact, this little tour was fairly odd, and possibly worth a post in itself. Rock band touring in the 70s and 80s was basically iterative, in that the expense of going on the road only paid off if the band stayed out there and sold tickets for a couple of weeks in a row. When there were exceptions to this premise, it usually had to do with record company promotions.
None of that applies with this September '76 JGB one week mini-tour. For now, my conclusion is that the first date, a Hells Angels "Boat Party" on the SS Duchess, was so lucrative that the entire trip was worth it. After the Wednesday night boat trip on the Hudson River (you can see the video here), the JGB played three out-of-the-way college shows and one oddball booking. The band played CW Post college in Greenvale (Long Island) on Thursday (Oct 16), then Seton Hall in New Jersey on Friday (South Oragne, Oct 17), and then Ithaca College. All three of these dates were probably modest but relatively guaranteed paydays, given that college entertainment budgets were providing a subvention to ticket sales. The last show was in Reading, PA on a Sunday night (Sep 20). John Scher would not have booked these gigs if the numbers didn't make sense, but it's hard not to think that the Hells Angels show was the big payday.
Fall 1976-When Your Night Job Pays September 27, 1976 Community War Memorial Auditorium, Rochester, NY: Grateful Dead (Monday) September 28, 1976 Onondaga County War Memorial Auditorium, Syracuse, NY: Grateful Dead (Tuesday)
The Grateful Dead returned to touring in the Summer of 1976. As always,
they needed money. When they hit the road in the fall, Rochester and
Syracuse shows made nice paydays on what would otherwise have been empty
weeknights. The band had a Saturday night show at the Capitol Center in DC (Sep 25), and then Columbus, OH (Thurs Sep 30), Market Sq Arena, Indianapolis (Friday Oct 1), Cincinnati (Sat Oct 2) and then Cobo Hall in Detroit (Sun Oct 3). Rochester and Syracuse took care of Monday and Tuesday on the way from DC to Ohio. Easy travel, good money.
May 8, 1977 Barton Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY: Grateful Dead (Sunday)
Much has been written about the Barton Hall show in Cornell on May 8, 1977, so I have little to say. The Dead had laid the groundwork, in that Garcia had played Cornell (Oct 27 75) and nearby Ithaca College (Sep 18 76), and the New Riders had played Cornell in 1974 and Halloween '76 (see below). Still, tiny Northeastern college towns are a little different than some communities, since college students come and go. Barton Hall, opened in 1915, held 4,800 so it was a smaller Dead show for the era.
The key point for my perspective was that Cornell was in between a big Saturday payday at Boston Garden (May 7) and weekend shows in Chicago (May 12-13). Cornell was sort of new territory for the Grateful Dead, up to a point, but the geography favored touring. Big Northeastern cities like Washington, DC, Philadelphia, New York and Boston are near to each other in terms of road miles, but the driving is always difficult. No matter the time of year or the route, all those cities have crowded highways between them. But going from any of those cities to places like Ithica or Rochester was a breeze. Empty roads by the standards of I-95, pretty scenery and an easy drive benefited the crew. Later, it would benefit Deadheads when they started to travel in big numbers.
As we all know, the '77 Cornell show was one of the first truly high-quality Grateful Dead tapes not sourced from FM radio to circulate widely. I recall getting mine around 1979, although perhaps I am imagining that. In any case, one factor of the wide circulation of the Cornell tape was an implicit promise to the rest of the Northeast--it would be worth driving a few hours to catch a show like that. I can't help but think a lot of Deadheads looked at a map, whether they were in Boston, New York or Philadelphia, and said "hey, that's not too hard a drive, and it would be fun." And so it began.
May 9, 1977 Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, Buffalo, NY: Grateful Dead (Monday)
Right after Cornell, the Dead returned to Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, once again promoted by Harvey 'N' Corky. Buffalo Memorial was huge (18,000), and it was a Monday night, so the place was probably only half full. No doubt Harvey Weintstein, a shrewd promoter (and convicted rapist), had calculated that well in advance. The Dead made some money and played a show that was absolutely epic.
A ticket to see the Grateful Dead in the Reid Athletic Center at Colgate U. on Friday, November 2, 1977. The gym is now named Cottterell Court, but I believe that to be a later name.
November 4, 1977 Reid Athletic Center, Colgate University, Hamilton, NY: Grateful Dead (Friday)
The Dead had a show in Toronto on a Wednesday (Nov 2), and a good booking in Rochester on Saturday night (Nov 5). To fill in the Friday, they played the gym at tiny Colgate University, in tiny Hamilton, NY. Hamilton is nearly in the exact center of New York State. It's not near anything. Many years ago, I visited Hamilton College, which (paradoxically) is in Clinton, NY. Pretty as it was, I though Clinton was way out in the country. Yet the Hamilton students assured me that Colgate, 20 miles to the South, made Clinton seem like Greenwich Village.
Colgate is a well-regarded, well-funded University. It was founded in 1819, and has about 3000 students. Places like Colgate have entertainment budgets to bring in touring acts. This Friday night, they bought the Dead. Reid Athletic Center, built in 1959, seats 1,750 for basketball, and probably a bit more for a concert. Most Colgate students were probably there. We know the show burned. No, it don't happen like that no more.
Some pictures from the next day's newspaper show us that a Dead show was a Very Big Deal in Rochester by 1977 (h/t @GratefulSeconds)
November 5, 1977 Community War Memorial Auditorium, Rochester, NY: Grateful Dead (Saturday)
By 1977, Rochester was a good gig for the Grateful Dead. All those odd weeknights had paid off. On this tour, they played the War Memorial and it was a big event. Where once Rochester had just been a geographical convenience, hard touring had turned it into a great gig for the band. November 6, 1977 Broome County Arena, Binghamton, NY: Grateful Dead (Sunday)
The Grateful Dead returned to Binghamton in 1977.The Broome County Arena, built in 1973, had a capacity of 5,000. It's important to remember that all those Harpur College students who had seen the band in 1970 were long gone. Generally speaking, the Upstate SUNYs are often excellent schools, but the students don't plan to stay in the area when they graduate. The fact that the Dead could play a 5,000 seater in Binghamton, however, meant that there were enough Deadheads in the Southern part of the state to make it worthwhile.
November 29, 1977 Elting Gym, SUNY New Paltz, New Paltz, NY: Jerry Garcia Band (Tuesday)
The Jerry Garcia Band did some hard touring in the Northeast in November and December, and Upstate New York filled in the missing days, just as it had for the Grateful Dead over the years. The Garcia Band played New Paltz on a Tuesday because they had a lucrative weekend (Philly Friday, Passaic Saturday, Manhattan Sunday, Long Island Monday).
November 30, 1977 New Gym, Buffalo Stage College, Buffalo, NY: Jerry Garcia Band (Wednesday)
The JGB train rolled on to Buffalo the night after New Paltz. Note that Harvey 'N' Corky were not the promoters. I don't know the exact chronology, but I think Harvey Weinstein had exited the concert business.
December 3, 1977 Binder Gymnasium, Hartwick College, Oneonta, NY: Jerry Garcia Band (Saturday)
Oneonta was mid-state, in between Binghamton and Albany, in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains. Binder Gym was the old facility, which seems to no longer exist. It would not have been a large arena. John Scher was handling the Jerry Garcia Band touring arrangements East of the Mississippi River, as he did for the Dead. One of Scher's strategies was to fill in a lot of nights with shows at colleges. The money was not huge but reliable, and there was always a guaranteed core of restless undergraduates who would see any touring band. By the same token, since undergraduates moved on, the JGB rarely played the same colleges year after year.
December 8, 1977 Palace Theater, Albany, NY: Jerry Garcia Band (Wednesday)
The JGB returned again to the Palace in Albany for a mid-week show.This was a routing gig for shows in Long Island (Stony Brook Dec 9), DC (Friday Dec 10) and Penn State (Saturday Dec 11).
March 10, 1978 Auditorium Theater, Rochester, NY: Jerry Garcia Band (Friday)
The Spring '78 JGB tour only included one show in Upstate New York. By 1978, however, Garcia was playing the 3,000 seat Auditorium Theater in Rochester on a Saturday night. Now, Garcia/Saunders had played there before (see Nov 17 '74 above), so in a way it wasn't an upward move. Compared to his contemporaries from the 60s, however, Garcia was holding on to his audience, and that was more than most of them were doing.
May 7, 1978 Field House, Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY: Grateful Dead (Sunday)
Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy was founded in 1824. Troy is
in the same county as Albany, just up the Hudson from Manhatta. The RPI Field House (now the Houston Field House)was built in 1949, and held about 5,000. Troy filled the gap between a Saturday night show in Burlington, VT (May 6) and Tuesday (May 9) in Syracuse.
May 8, 1978 [venue], SUNY New Paltz, New Paltz, NY: Robert Hunter and Comfort (Monday)
Robert Hunter's periodic appearances certainly helped make the Grateful Dead an ongoing presence in Central New York, although in this case he was probably overshadowed by an actual Dead tour. This show may have been replaced by Cornell (listed as May 4 '78 above).
May 9, 1978 Onondaga County War Memorial Auditorium, Syracuse, NY: Grateful Dead (Tuesday)
A show at Syracuse's War Memorial filled a traditional slot, a weeknight. This time, the Dead were both coming from and returning to New England. Easy driving from New England to Central New York made it an easy choice.
July 15, 1978 TG's East, Greenwood Lake, NY: Robert Hunter (Saturday)
After Comfort broke up, Hunter toured with just bassist Larry Klein. This was possibly Hunter's best configuration, benefiting from his ability to play anything he could remember while still being anchored by Klein.
September 22, 1978 Fillmore Room, SUNY Buffalo, Buffalo, NY: Robert Hunter (Friday)
What was the "Fillmore Room?" Buffalonians, please fill us in [update: Buffalo scholar Gary reports that the Fillmore Room was in the student union on the old campus on Main St].
September 25, 1978 The Jabberwocky, Syracuse, NY: Robert Hunter (Monday)
The Jabberwocky was a long-standing folk and rock club in Syracuse.
November 21, 1978 Community War Memorial Auditorium, Rochester, NY: Grateful Dead (Tuesday)
For this tour, a Tuesday night in Rochester helped bridge the gap from Chicago (Friday/Saturday Nov 17-18) and Capitol Center (Thursday Nov 23).
January 14, 1979 Memorial Coliseum, Utica, NY: Grateful Dead (Sunday)
The Dead had to cancel some November and December 1978 shows due to Garcia's illness. They returned to Utica, which was not really a garden spot in the Winter.
January 20, 1979 Sheas Buffalo Theater, Buffalo, NY: Grateful Dead (Saturday)
The Grateful Dead began to wind up the Keith and Donna era with a Saturday night show at Shea's Buffalo Theater, at 646 Main Street. The 3,000 lucky patrons who saw the band were treated to the last "Dark Star" of the Keith years.
May 5, 1979 JB Scott's, Albany, NY: Robert Hunter (Saturday)
May 9, 1979 Broome County Arena, Binghamton, NY: Grateful Dead (Wednesday)
Brent Mydland's debut in Upstate New York was a Wednesday night in Binghamton, between Penn State (Tuesday May 8) and a weekend in New England.
August 31, 1979 Glens Falls Civic Center, Glenns Falls, NY: Grateful Dead (Friday)
Glens Falls is above Saratoga, the town farthest north on the Hudson River, straight up I-87. The Grateful Dead had a big Saturday night show in Rochester, followed by Madison Square Garden. Glens Falls filled in the Friday date. My suspicion, unproven, is that Deadheads were starting to travel to shows in New York State in some number from Manhattan and New England.
Unlike many aging arenas that the band had played, the Glens Falls Civic Center, capacity 4774, was a new building that had just opened in 1979. September 1, 1979 Holleder Stadium, Rochester, NY: Grateful Dead/Greg Kihn Band/Good Rats (Saturday)
The Grateful Dead had used Rochester as a tour fill-in for nearly a decade, but by 1979 they had a genuine audience in the region. Holleder Memorial Stadium was an aging football stadium. Built in 1949, it seated 20,000 for football, so it's concert capacity was probably somewhat higher. The opening acts were minor (although Long Island's Good Rats could be counted on to play tasty), so this was just an all-day Grateful Dead show. Rochester was in the rotation now for the Dead, not just a weeknight stop-off.
November 9, 1979 Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, Buffalo, NY: Grateful Dead (Friday)
Buffalo had upgraded, too. Instead of a Monday night booking, here was the Dead playing a Friday night. A lot more people probably filled out the 18,000-capacity arena than would have on a weeknight.
An ad for the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan with Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers at Rich Stadium in Buffalo on July 4, 1986
Reaping The Harvest: Upstate and Central New York Touring 1980-95
The Grateful Dead and the Jerry Garcia Band toured hard from 1980 through 1995. New York State played a big economic role in the Dead's extraordinarily successful touring venture. While cities like Syracuse and Rochester still filed in nights between huge bookings in places like Manhattan and Bosotn, the region became a substantial market in its own right. The rise of the Upstate and Central New York markets was all the more remarkable for the fact the 80s and 90s were essentially a period of decline after the 1980. The economy improved in the 90s, but that improvement was focused on the Sun Belt. No matter--the Dead sold out some very big houses in New York State.
I have written out all of the Dead, Garcia and related performances (known to me) below, and you can track the history and reflect upon it for yourself. Two interlocking trends are important to understanding how the market evolved in New York State:
Deadheads started to travel in bigger numbers in the late 1970s. There had always been a few Heads who traveled, many from Brooklyn. By the late 70s, the numbers of people who had driven outside their own area for a Dead show had increased enormously. I know of only one effort to capture this phenomenon, but it is just one person's story (Grateful Seconds map of his own touring history). There's a lot of great demography yet to be done on this. Once Deadheads started to travel, however, it mattered less whether the band was in, say, Syracuse or Rochester, since people from both cities would go to either.
Starting in mid-1983 (I don't recall exactly when), the Dead started offering tickets to just about all shows on a mail order basis. Suddently, you didn't need to have a friend in another city to stand in line, or hope you could snag one in the lot. Everyone knew weeks in advance what tickets they had, and could now plan accordingly. If you decided you liked the Grateful Dead, you could go full Traveler at your own discretion. This greatly magnified regional audiences. Someone in Boston, for example, might have gone to Hartford without a ticket, but not Rochester. Now, it was wheels up, and it was way more relaxing to road trip to New York state than Manhattan.
As a result of these two factors, the shows in the Grateful Dead's main outposts got larger and larger, and ultimately shrank down to two venues in Buffalo and Albany. In the early 80s, there were still weeknight shows in places Niagara Falls or Lake Placid, but there were fewer of those as the band got bigger.
The Carrier Dome at Syracuse University, built in 1980. It had a capacity of up to 49,000 for football, and almost as much for basketball.
The Grateful Dead played three shows at Onondaga War Memorial in Syracuse in 1981 and 1982. In the fall of 1982, the band upgraded to the huge Carrier Dome at Syracuse University. The Carrier Dome (Carrier Air Conditioning was a major regional manufacturer) was domed stadium used for both football and basketball. The Carrier had opened in 1980, and the football capacity was 49,000. Whatever the exact attendance was for each of these shows, it was way beyond Onandage War Memorial. This booking only makes sense if you realize that people were coming to see the Dead from all over the region.
September 24, 1982 Carrier Dome, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY: Grateful Dead (Friday)
October 22, 1983 Carrier Dome, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY: Grateful Dead (Saturday)
October 20, 1984 Carrier Dome, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY: Grateful Dead (Saturday)
The Carrier Dome was huge, centrally located, had plenty of parking and had climate protection. Why didn't the Dead keep playing there? One unique factor to consider was that the Carrier Dome was on a college campus, and was home to both the football and basketball teams at Syracuse. The multi-sport home dates blocked out a lot of weekend dates, and colleges generally do not like to have big outside events on weeknights during much of the school year. Also, I don't know if the Carrier Dome was really designed to be used in the Summer.
After 1984, the Dead didn't play Syracuse anymore. They did still play Rochester, and they played Buffalo up until the end, so all the Syracuse fans still got to see the band plenty--just not in Syracuse. Syracuse helped the Dead survive the 70s, and helped build the audience, but it lacked the venue to fit how huge the group became. November 14, 1993 Onondaga War Memorial Auditorium, Syracuse, NY: Jerry Garcia Band (Sunday)
As a fitting coda, however, the Jerry Garcia Band had played all around Syracuse throughout the 1980s, keeping his band on the road between the big gigs. By 1993, the Jerry Garcia Band was so big that they played the Onandoga War Memorial Auditorium themselves on a Sunday.
An old postcard featuring Silver Stadium, home of AAA Rochester Red Wings. The stadium was built in 1929, and torn down in 1996. The Grateful Dead played there twice, in 1987 and '88. In 1988, the band drew 31,000 fans, the largest ever attendance at Silver Stadium (baseball capacity 15,0000>
Rochester is a smaller city than Syracuse, so paradoxically it played a longer role in the Grateful Dead's touring history. From 1980 through 1985, the Dead played Rochester War Memorial Auditorium six times. Four of those six dates were on school nights. The Dead had made themselves a big deal in Rochester after all these years, and unlike a college campus the audience didn't move away. When the Dead had first played War Memorial, the 11,000 capacity might have seemed like a heavy lift, but once Deadheads started to travel, I figure a lot of tickets got sold to Deadheads on the move.
July 2, 1987 Silver Stadium, Rochester, NY: Grateful Dead (Thursday)
June 30, 1988 Silver Stadium, Rochester, NY: Grateful Dead (Thursday)
The band came back in 1988, bigger than ever. On June 28 the Dead had a huge show at SPAC (see below), and they had a doubleheader coming up at Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine (July 2-3). Silver Stadium got another Thursday night, and this time the band broke every Silver Stadium record with 31,000 attendance. But that was it for Rochester. There wasn't a big enough venue, and Deadheads all roamed about anyway.
November 20, 1991 Community War Memorial Auditorium, Rochester, NY: Jerry Garcia Band (Wednesday) November 4, 1993 Community War Memorial Auditorium, Rochester, NY: Jerry Garcia Band (Thursday)
Just as with Syracuse, Rochester had helped keep the Jerry Garcia Band on the road all those years, but by the 90s the Garcia Band was big enough to play the Community War Memorial.
A symphony performance at Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), in Saratoga Springs, NY. Note that almost none of the audience on the lawn can see the stage. The venue was built for symphony picnics, not rock band shows.
Up The Hudson: Saratoga Springs and Albany
Up until the Spring of '83, the Dead's home in the Southern part of New York State had been Binghamton. Certainly they had played some epic shows there. But there weren't really any big venues there, and the region wasn't thriving in the 1980s anyway. Starting in the Summer of 1983, the Grateful Dead had some huge shows at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center,
known by everyone as "SPAC." SPAC is located upstate in Saratoga Springs.
Saratoga Springs is due North of Manhattan, and just 34 miles above
Albany. The facility opened in 1966, and it is the Summer home of both
the New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Symphony. The amphitheater
has 5000 seats and room on the lawn for 20,000, and in that sense it is
the forerunner of "sheds" like Shoreline Amphitheater. SPAC, however,
has the flat, grassy lawn above the bowl, with no sightline to the
By 1983, the Grateful Dead were a big draw in
upstate New York. So just as they had chosen to play the larger Carrier
Dome in Syracuse the previous fall, to cover the Central part of the
state, for Upstate the band was booked at SPAC to accommodate the
greater number of Dead fans in the region. Whatever the expectations
might have been, the show was a roaring success. The Dead returned to
SPAC in 1984, '85 and '88. Even more remarkably, the Dead packed out SPAC on weeknights. I believe the band set some sort of
attendance record for the venue in 1988, but did not return. The oddity
at SPAC was that most of the audience could not see the stage. From 1990
onwards, the Dead played The Knickerbocker Arena in Albany, and that
roughly covered the same region.
A lawn ticket for SPAC on June 24, 1983. The Dead weren't visible on stage from the lawn (I was in seats in the bowl)
June 18, 1983 Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, NY: Grateful Dead (Saturday)
June 24, 1984 Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, NY: Grateful Dead (Sunday)
June 27, 1985 Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, NY: Grateful Dead (Thursday)
June 28, 1988 Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, NY: Grateful Dead (Tuesday)
A unique detail about the 1983 SPAC show was that it was the only East Coast Grateful Dead show that I attended. I was visiting Manhattan and drove up with some friends. At the time, my only real experience with outdoor Dead shows was Berkeley's Greek Theater, where I had seen all of the 1980s shows up to that time (9 shows). I had a general idea that Grateful Dead audiences had a lot in common, and as we waited for the band to start, while SPAC was far larger than the Greek, the cheerful fans seemed pretty similar to those in Berkeley.
Once the Dead came on stage and opened up with "Bertha, " however, the crowd absolutely lost their mind and went completely crazy, cheering at the top of their lungs. I turned to my Manhattan friend and said "everybody is completely nuts!" He waved his hand at me, and said calmly, "oh, this is nothing, you should see Philadelphia." The East Coast and the West Coast Dead crowds were very different animals at this time.
The Knickerbocker Arena in Albany, NY, opened in 1990. The Grateful Dead played the venue thirteen times.
Albany is the capital of New York State, just over two hours (135 miles) due North up the Hudson from Manhattan. The Knickerbocker Arena opened in early 1990, and the Dead moved in almost immediately to take it over. The band played 13 concerts there in six years, and the Jerry Garcia Band played there in 1991 and '93. The Knick had a capacity of 15,000, but it was a good venue for a multi-night run. From the point of view of the venue, the Dead were often booked on weeknights, so they hardly interfered with other events. It did mean, ironically, that Albany was taking over the role held by Rochester and Syracuse in the past, profitable routing gigs to keep the wheels turning.
Given Deadheads propensity to road trip by the 1990s, Albany was a reasonable drive from Brooklyn, Syracuse, New England or Philadelphia, particularly if you were planning to stay three nights. Albany became the headquarters for Upstate Grateful Dead shows, just as Buffalo became the locus for Central New York.
March 24-26, 1990 Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, NY: Grateful Dead (Sat>Sun>Mon)
March 23-25, 1991 Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, NY: Grateful Dead (Sat>Sun>Mon)
November 16, 1991 Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, NY: Jerry Garcia Band (Sat)
June 11-12, 1992 Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, NY: Grateful Dead (Thurs>Fri)
March 27-29, 1993 Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, NY: Grateful Dead (Sat>Sun>Mon)
November 3, 1993 Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, NY: Jerry Garcia Band (Wed)
June 21-22, 1995 Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, NY: Grateful Dead (Wed>Thur)
Truckin' Up To Buffalo
Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo were the most important cities in Central New York for building the Grateful Dead audience. In the 70s, gigs in those cities kept the Dead on the road, so they get those big paydays in New York, Boston, Philly and DC. Come the early 80s, however, Syracuse and Rochester became much more important than Buffalo. Much of that was just demography. In 1970, Buffalo had had a population of 462,768, but by 1990 it was just 328, 123. For contrast, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Raleigh--all in the Sun Belt--all doubled in population during the same period. Yet the biggest gis in the history of the Grateful Dead in Central New York were in Buffalo, long after the band had sized out of Syracuse and Rochester.
The Carrier Dome seemed to offer a good Central State home for the Dead, but conflicts with the sports schedule and the college calendar caused problems. By the late 1980s, however, Deadheads traveled in large numbers, and none more that Northeasterners who had started the road tripping tradition decades earlier. Deadheads were going to go to the show. All that mattered were available tickets and parking.
Rich Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills, opened in 1973 in Orchard Park, a nearby suburb of Buffalo. It had a football capacity of 80,000, and more importantly, as an NFL stadium it was empty during the Summer. As a result, from 1974 to 2001, the era of stadium shows, a lot of big shows played Rich Stadium. For the Dead, it worked great. It was in easy striking distance of Syracuse and Rochester, for one thing. I also think, without any direct evidence, that Canadian fans from Toronto and Ontario came to Buffalo in great numbers. There would have been plenty of parking.
The Grateful Dead's first show in Buffalo was in 1970, in a concert hall, booked with the Buffalo Symphony. Their last show in Buffalo was 23 years later, playing a packed football stadium, headlining over a popular singer with numerous hits. Pretty much, that's the story of the Grateful Dead in Upstate and Central New York.
July 4, 1986 Rich Stadium, Orchard Park, NY: Bob Dylan with Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers/Grateful Dead (Friday) July 4, 1989 Rich Stadium, Orchard Park, NY: Grateful Dead/10,000 Maniacs (Tuesday) July 16, 1990 Rich Stadium, Orchard Park, NY: Grateful Dead/Crosby, Stills and Nash (Monday) June 6, 1992 Rich Stadium, Orchard Park, NY: Grateful Dead/Steve Miller Band (Saturday) June 13, 1993 Rich Stadium, Orchard Park, NY: Grateful Dead/Sting (Sunday) November 5, 1993 Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, Buffalo, NY: Jerry Garcia Band (Friday)
Glens Falls Civic Center, in Glens Falls, NY, opened in 1979 (capacity 4,774)
Roll Call: Grateful Dead Appearances in Upstate and Central New York, 1980-1995
In this post, I have attempted to list every performance by the Grateful Dead and its members that was North or West of New York City (Westchester, Suffolk and Long Island are worthy of posts on their own, of course). Since I took an overview above, the balance of the post is a llist of the rest of the shows. I have put a few comments on certain events or venues, but I didn't want to repeat the same comment over and over.
If you have additions, corrections, insights or uninformed speculation about any of these shows, please add them in the Comments. I'm not only interested in missing dates, but accurate venue names (of college gyms for example) and openng acts.
February 13, 1980 Palace Theater, Albany, NY: Jerry Garcia Band/Rachel Sweet (Wednesday)
February 17, 1980 Laker Hall, SUNY Oswego, Oswego, NY: Jerry Garcia Band (Sunday) Oswego is on Lake Ontario, roughly between Rochester and Syracuse, and not far from Utica. Although the show would have been primarily aimed at students at SUNY Oswego, dedicated Garcia fans from those surrounding cities would have insured that the show was well attended. As the Grateful Dead became a larger attraction in Central New York, Garcia and Weir tended to be booked in smaller cities or college towns around the major cities.
February 19, 1980 Landmark Theater, Syracuse, NY: Jerry Garcia Band/Robert Hunter (Tuesday)
By this time, bassist Larry Klein was no longer touring with Hunter. From this point onward, Hunter's East Coast appearances were all solo.
May 7, 1980 Barton Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY: Grateful Dead (Wednesday)
May 8, 1980 Glens Falls Civic Center, Glens Falls, NY: Grateful Dead (Thursday)
July 27, 1980 Palace Theater, Albany, NY: Jerry Garcia Band (Friday)
September 2, 1980 Community War Memorial Auditorium, Rochester, NY: Grateful Dead (Tuesday)
March 13, 1981 Utica Memorial Auditorium, Utica, NY: Grateful Dead (Friday)
May 5, 1981 Glens Falls Civic Center, Glens Falls, NY: Grateful Dead (Tuesday)
May 16, 1981 Barton Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY: Grateful Dead (Saturday)
The Grateful Dead made their third and final appearance at Barton Hall. Remember, even if you were a freshman in May 1977, if you were making normative time you would have graduated by Spring semester '81. May 17, 1981 Onondaga War Memorial Auditorium, Syracuse, NY: Grateful Dead (Sunday)
September 26, 1981 Buffalo Auditorium, Buffalo, NY: Grateful Dead (Saturday)
November 1, 1981 Tuttle North Gym, SUNY Brockport, Brockport, NY: Jerry Garcia Band (Sunday)
Brockport is just East of Rochester, and near Lake Ontario. When the Garcia Band played colleges in these areas, they were both encouraging new young converts while still providing a fix for the fans in the region. The Grateful Dead were no longer hip in 1981, by any accounting, but even established Deadheads were still not that old, so playing colleges was still a viable commercial strategy.
November 4, 1981 Palace Theater, Albany, NY: Jerry Garcia Band (Wednesday)
February 11, 1982 Auditorium Theater, Rochester, NY: Bobby And The Midnites/Joan Jett and The Blackhearts (Thursday)
It's fashionable these days to make fun of Bobby And The Midnites. The fact is, they were a great live band. Also, to the extent that there was a "Deadhead community," it was pretty undeveloped outside of places like Brooklyn and Berkeley. So seeing an actual member of the Dead at your local auditorium was a chance to connect with other like-minded souls.
April 8, 1982 Onondaga War Memorial Auditorium, Syracuse, NY: Grateful Dead (Thursday)
April 9, 1982 Community War Memorial Auditorium, Syracuse, NY: Grateful Dead (Friday)
April 14, 1982 Glens Falls Civic Center, Glens Falls, NY: Grateful Dead (Wednesday)
June 16, 1982 Music Mountain, South Fallsburg, NY: Jerry Garcia Band/Bobby And The Midnites (Wednesday)
Garcia Band took one stab pairing themselves on tour with Bobby And The
Midnites. It's my impression that this was a fairly substantial show.
South Fallsburg is genuinely "upstate," pretty far up NY-17 (NW off I-87), and not near
any big cities. Garcia opened the show and let Weir close, his common
practice in the Bay Area. As it happened, it poured with rain during the
Bobby And The Midnites set.
June 30, 1982 Auditorium Theater, Rochester, NY: Jerry Garcia and John Kahn (Wednesday)
September 24, 1982 Carrier Dome, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY: Grateful Dead (Friday)
October 12, 1982 Red Creek Inn, Rochester, NY: Robert Hunter (Tuesday)
Throughout the mid-80s, Hunter played some clubs in the bigger cities in Central New York. Despite, or perhaps because, the gatherings were so intimate, I think Hunter's periodic presence did a lot to keep the flag flying. Hunter would periodically play songs that had been completely unheard live by almost all Deadheads, like "Easy Wind" or "Mason's Children," and it set him apart from the other Dead spinoff groups.
October 24, 1982 Clark Gym, SUNY Buffalo, Buffalo, NY: Robert Hunter (Sunday)
Was Hunter billed with another act for this show?
October 26, 1982 The Landmark, Kingston, NY: Robert Hunter (Tuesday)
Kingston is upstate on I-87, on the Hudson River, between Poughkeepsie and the Catskills.
March 10, 1983 The Chance, Poughkeepsie, NY: Robert Hunter (Thursday)
Poughkeepsie is about 85 miles due North of Manhattan, straight up the Hudson River.
April 12, 1983 Broome County Arena, Binghamton, NY: Grateful Dead (Tuesday)
The Grateful Dead make their last appearance in Binghamton.
April 15, 1983 Community War Memorial Auditorium, Rochester, NY: Grateful Dead (Friday)
May 25, 1983 Shea's Auditorium, Buffalo, NY: Jerry Garcia Band (Wednesday)
May 26, 1983 Auditorium Theater, Rochester, NY: Jerry Garcia and John Kahn (Thursday)
Some pretty good bands played The Chance in Poughkeepsie in June 1983. Still, it was a pretty small place fot the JGB to play, even with double shows on a Saturday night.
June 4, 1983 Chance Theater, Poughkeepsie, NY: Jerry Garcia Band/Rick Danko (Saturday early and late shows)
June 8, 1983 Chance Theater, Poughkeepsie, NY: Bobby And The Midnites (Wednesday)
June 18, 1983 Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, NY: Grateful Dead (Saturday)
August 20, 1983 J. Bee's Rock III, Middletown, NY: Robert Hunter (Saturday)
Middletown is on I-84, near the New Jersey border.
October 17, 1983 Olympic Arena, Lake Placid, NY: Grateful Dead (Monday)
Placid had been the site of the 1980 Winter Olympics. It was pretty far
North and East, near to both Montreal and Vermont. The venue would have
been within easy driving distance of Rochester, Syracuse, Albany and
New England. The Olympic Arena was a 7,700-capacity multi-use arena,
built for the Olympics. The Monday night show was in between a weekend
in Hartford (Oct 14-15) and a two-night booking in Worcester (Oct
20-21). In between, the band played Monday (Oct 17) at Lake Placid and
Tuesday (Oct 18) in Portland, ME. Since October 17 was a Monday, the
show was aimed at getting fans from the surrounding area, rather than
locally, since relatively speaking, not many people lived in Lake
Placid. Since the Grateful Dead had just initiated obtaining tickets by
mail, it was finally easy for East Coast fans to get tickets without
October 22, 1983 Carrier Dome, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY: Grateful Dead (Saturday)
October 23, 1983 Ben Light Gymnasium, Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY: Bobby And The Midnites (Sunday)
October 25, 1983 Shea's Theater, Buffalo, NY: Bobby And The Midnites (Tuesday)
Hot Tuna was booked as well, but canceled because Jorma was ill.
November 26, 1983 Broome County Forum Theatre, Binghamton, NY: Jerry Garcia Band (Saturday)
December 11, 1983 Laker Hall, SUNY Oswego, Oswego, NY: Jerry Garcia Band (Sunday)
March 31, 1984 Coleman's, Rome, NY: Robert Hunter (Saturday)
April 1, 1984 Paradise Saloon, Syracuse, NY: Robert Hunter (Sunday)
April 16, 1984 Community War Memorial Auditorium, Rochester, NY: Grateful Dead (Tuesday)
April 17, 1984 Niagara Falls Convention Center, Niagara Falls, NY: Grateful Dead (Wednesday)
Falls was West of Rochester and North of Buffalo. It was also in
relatively easy range of Toronto and Ontario. Once again, the Dead
served local fans while remaining in easy driving distance of any
established fans. The band had played two nights in Hampton (Apr 13-14)
and were heading to The Spectrum in Philadelphia for three shows (April
19-21). In between, the Dead played and Rochester on Monday (Apr 16) and
Niagara Falls on Tuesday (Apr 17).
June 24, 1984 Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, NY: Grateful Dead (Sunday)
July 22, 1984 Red Creek Inn, Rochester, NY: Robert Hunter (Sunday)
August 15, 1984 Orange County Community College, Middletown, NY: Jerry Garcia Band (Wednesday)
Middletown is a city in Orange County, New York, United States. It lies in New York's Hudson Valley region, near the Wallkill River and the foothills of the Shawangunk Mountains. Middletown is situated between Port Jervis and Newburgh, New York, near the Hudson River. Middletown is on the Port Jervis Line to Hoboken, so at least hypothetically commutable to Manhattan, if you took PATH. Realistically, however, it's upstate. August 24,1984 Festival Tent, Monroe County Fairgrounds, Henrietta, NY: Bobby And The Midnites (Friday)
Henrietta is just 20 minutes South of Rochester, so while in a way this was a new city, it drew from the same pool of Rochester Deadheads who had probably seen the band on multiple occasions.
October 20, 1984 Carrier Dome, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY: Grateful Dead (Saturday) November 27, 1984 Auditorium Theater, Rochester, NY: Jerry Garcia and John Kahn/Robert Hunter (Tuesday)
June 27, 1985 Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, NY: Grateful Dead (Thursday)
September 29, 1991 Palace Theater, Albany, NY: Bob Weir and Rob Wasserman (Sunday)
November 16, 1991 Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, NY: Jerry Garcia Band (Saturday)
November 20, 1991 Community War Memorial Auditorium, Rochester, NY: Jerry Garcia Band (Wednesday)
June 6, 1992 Rich Stadium, Orchard Park, NY: Grateful Dead/Steve Miller Band (Saturday)
June 11-12, 1992 Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, NY: Grateful Dead (Thursday/Friday)
July 22, 1992 Empire Court, Syracuse, NY: Bob Weir and Rob Wasserman (Wednesday)
March 27-29, 1993 Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, NY: Grateful Dead (Saturday/Sunday/Monday)
June 13, 1993 Rich Stadium, Orchard Park, NY: Grateful Dead/Sting (Sunday)
November 3, 1993 Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, NY: Jerry Garcia Band (Wednesday)
November 4, 1993 Community War Memorial Auditorium, Rochester, NY: Jerry Garcia Band (Thursday)
November 5, 1993 Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, Buffalo, NY: Jerry Garcia Band (Friday)
November 14, 1993 Onondaga War Memorial Auditorium, Syracuse, NY: Jerry Garcia Band (Sunday)
June 21-22, 1995 Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, NY: Grateful Dead (Wednesday/Thursday)
The New Riders played SUNY Brockport on April 5, 1974 (thanks to Grateful Seconds for the ad from The Stylus)
Appendix: New Riders Of The Purple Sage Upstate New York Performances, 1972-74
I know no one thinks I try and keep these posts from getting out of hand, but really I do. The New Riders of The Purple Sage were managed by Jon McIntire up through 1973, and booked by Sam Cutler's Out Of Town Tours until early 1974. So the New Riders were both beneficiaries and participants in the Dead's booking strategy in Upstate New York. The symbiotic connection between the Dead and the Riders meant that NRPS appearances also represented a gathering of the tribe, if a somewhat smaller one. Without writing another 4000 more words, here are the known NRPS dates from 1972-74. If anyone has additions or corrections, please add them in the Comments.
April 12, 1972 Clark Gym, SUNY Buffalo, Buffalo, NY: New Riders of The Purple Sage/Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen 2 shows 8 & 11:30
April 13, 1972 Field House, LeMoyne College, Syracuse, NY: New Riders of The Purple Sage April 14, 1972 Proctor's Theater, Schenectady, NY: New Riders of The Purple Sage November 29, 1972 Palace Theater, Albany, NY: New Riders of The Purple Sage/Eric Andersen December 2, 1972 [venue], SUNY Binghamton, Binghamton, NY: New Riders of The Purple Sage December 12, 1972, [Elting Gym], SUNY New Paltz, New Paltz, NY: New Riders of The Purple Sage September 6, 1973 Palace Theater, Albany, NY: New Riders of The Purple Sage October 12, 1973 The Palestra, U. of Rochester, Rochester, NY: New Riders of The Purple Sage November 17, 1973 Reid Athletic Center, Colgate University, Hamilton, NY: New Riders of The Purple Sage
Note that the New Riders had tried out playing at Colgate, under the aegis of Sam Cutler, four years before the November 4, 1977 show (above). So the Dead weren't entirely leaping into the unknown when they booked that date.
November 26, 1973 Onondaga War Memorial Auditorium, Syracuse, NY: New Riders of The Purple Sage/Eric Andersen April 5, 1974 Gym, SUNY Brockport, Brockport, NY: New Riders of The Purple Sage April 6, 1974 Bailey Hall, Cornell U, Ithaca, NY: New Riders of The Purple Sage The NRPS Archive site lists Barton Hall, but I find it more likely that the Riders played the much smaller Bailey Hall (built 1912, capacity 1328). April 19, 1974 [venue], Buffalo, NY: New Riders of The Purple Sage April 21, 1974 [venue], SUNY Fredonia, Fredonia, NY: New Riders of The Purple Sage/Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen September 14, 1974 [venue], SUNY Morrisville, Morrisville, NY: New Riders of The Purlpe Sage
November 23, 1974 Fieldhouse, Rockland Community College, Ramapo, NY: New Riders of The Purple Sage/Waylon Jennings