January 1, 2011

The Mystery of 6/19/68

6/19/68 has long been a wild, tantalizing glimpse of what the Dead were up to in mid-’68, when the tapes weren’t rolling, setlists could be thrown to the wind, and free jams could go in any direction…

Except that our tape isn’t from 6/19/68 at all. It’s from the famous ‘lost’ 2/19/69 show…just a week before the Live/Dead run.

An article in Rolling Stone describes the 2/19/69 Celestial Synapse event – it’s helpfully reprinted in the “Fillmore West 1969” booklet, and is also on this page:

“Fifteen hundred invitations were sent out for the February 19 event, and though there was no other announcement, probably double that number attended. Everyone was treated to the best vibrations and some of the best music the Fillmore West had seen in some time.
After a stirring oboe and bagpipe introduction by the Golden Toad, Don Hamrick of Frontiers of Science spoke for a few minutes in a gentle rural accent, addressing the crowd as "the Goodly Company." "It is our hope," he said, "that this evening there will be an opening and a free interchange, so that something new may emerge. Let the barriers fall, let there be a merging."
"I haven't seen anything like this in years -- it's like one of the old Ken Kesey Acid Tests," said Bob Thomas, piper of the Toad and, like the Dead, veteran of many an Acid Test, "-- only it's less hectic and confused. It's fucking amazing." People were handing each other flowers, joints, funny incomprehensible little picket signs four inches high.
Invitations had gone out to people in music and a broad range of psychedelic tribes -- from Rancho Olompali and other communes to the Hells Angels. Many Frontiers of Science people and other communards could be seen embracing each other, greeting strangers, dancing and celebrating.”

There’s a review from one audience member on dead.net, possibly genuine:
“I heard about this show from my Hells Angels friends and got in with them for free. It was one of the shows were everyone was just smiling, dancing, feeling, and I must have passed out 100 hits of Bear's acid. People were sharing joints, passing out flowers, burning incense, just flowing together. There were bag pipes, naked dancers, and the Dead played for hours.”

The Dead were the main musical event this night. After the show’s introduction, the article continues, “Then the Grateful Dead began a set that ran for four hours or so with scarcely an interruption. The Dead played continuously, a flowing improvisatory set of new material… Three light shows were playing, at no charge to the sponsors. The Grateful Dead and Bill Graham donated their services for free.”

This certainly sounds like our set – “a flowing improvisatory set of new material.” Unfortunately, our tape is only two hours! So apparently half the show is still missing – presumably they played at least a Dark Star.

Our tape cuts in near the start of Lovelight. (No way to tell how long they’d been playing already.) The recording is grungy, with a troubled mix – the notes for the show indicate “a ragged condition at first. The sound system has technical difficulties, with an intermittent buzz during portions of Lovelight from a bad electrical connection. The vocals are very low in the mix, and difficulties with the sound system might explain a lack of singing during the second set.” (My guess is it’s just the poor tapemix, and the audience could hear the vocals in the house okay.)
The Rolling Stone article mentions recording difficulties: “Originally the concert was to be recorded for inclusion on the next Dead album, but last-minute difficulties in setting up the recording equipment scotched that.” (This would have referred to the 16-track machine, but it helps explain why our cassette recording gets off to a poor, and possibly much-delayed start.) Usually Bear’s recordings are better, but it’s likely he was in a celestial condition that night…

Stylistically alone, we could place this Lovelight in early ’69 – if you compare, say, the 6/14/68 and 2/21/69 Lovelights, this night’s Lovelight is clearly from ’69 in style.
This is a long, loose Lovelight - there’s a long drum interlude that winds up with the “yakety yakety ya” chant, which excites the audience no end. As the band returns, one of them shouts, “Hey Pigpen, where are you? Get the fuck over here!”
Lovelight continues into yet another drums interlude, with the audience screaming in ecstasy, and the band falls loosely into a rough Not Fade Away. Weir raucously belts out the song by himself (he’d do it the same way when they resurrected the song in December ’69). It’s not quite the first performance (they’d done it back in ’66, more Rolling Stones-style), but it still sounds spontaneous and exciting. Then they segue back into Lovelight - mostly more Pig rapping over drumtaps.
Interestingly, someone else (not in the band) is singing along gospel-style with Pigpen as they finish the song. The crowd cheers madly, the extra singer applauds, “Bring ‘em on down!” and Weir responds, “Hooray for you guys!”
Then someone says, “Hey, let’s turn it off for a while,” and there are some conversations onstage as the band takes a little break.

The article explains what happens next: “Toward two in the morning there were a number of stoned occurrences. People began taking off their clothes. Don McCoy of Olompali got up on the stage stark naked, against a tableau of Bill Graham restraining the rent-a-cops from pulling him down.”
And indeed, he appears on our tape with a little speech. “Thank you baby – that was a beautiful introduction – my name is Don McCoy… What are you doing with all those clothes on, baby? I thought we were going to be naked up here! Now wait, this looks like the long arm of the law – black power – excuse me, sir, but I’m just doing my thing.” (Here the crowd cheers, as security retreats in bafflement.)
I don’t hear any instructions, but the crowd suddenly starts a long chant, a mass sustained “omm.” (Don McCoy keeps on talking through the chant, “Welcome brothers and sisters – this is heaven – meet my sister Eve – he’s after her already…” and so on.)

The Celestial Synapse was organized by a group called the Frontiers of Science, a rather mystical organization of the type that blossomed in the sixties. According to Rolling Stone, their philosophy “has to do with the crystal at the center of the living Earth, which is affected by human vibrations and which may either change shape (a creative change) or change size (a destructive change, since it would cause earthquakes). The idea is to send down good vibrations to change the shape of that crystal, and the Celestial Synapse may very well have done just that. ‘Synapse’ is the term used…for a mass meeting of minds, parallel to the linking-up of brain cells that makes thought possible.”
Now this kind of ‘science’ was catnip for the Dead, especially Garcia and Lesh, so it’s no wonder they donated their services for free to this event! It seems the goal of the audience chant was to meld minds and send good vibrations into the earth (though its success was unreported…)
In a more immediate sense, though, Don Hamrick’s plan for the evening was very close to the concept of an ideal Dead show: “It is our hope that this evening there will be an opening and a free interchange, so that something new may emerge. Let the barriers fall, let there be a merging.” And that spirit of the Acid Test does come across on tape.

As the omm continues, someone gets on the drums and takes up a beat. More of the audience gathers onstage – one particularly blasted soul “sings” into a mike. In fact, two people sing the “scooby dooby da” ditty near the end, the second one probably a young kid. (At this point, with the steady humming, the drumbeat, and the intermittent ‘Revolution 9’-style child’s chant, it is probably the most authentically psychedelic moment ever captured on a Dead tape.)
Someone else gets on the drums too and tries to sing Lovelight again – “I’m a drummer – let your lovelight shine on me now, brother, dig it!” The audience cheers him on, and the long trance ends. Someone tries to get him offstage, as he protests – “Are you my brother or what?” “You’re high, man, that’s all.”
The people on stage start spontaneously clapping in time and cheering as they keep the beat going. After a while, one of the bandmembers speaks up: “Hey, we can’t get on if you can’t get off!”
Then Bill Graham can be heard saying, “Jonathan, can we get the band, then we’ll get the people off. Just get them up here now, it’ll be fine.”
(When the band comes back, someone says, “Thank you Jesus!”)

The Dead, having calmed down, return with an unknown third guitar player. (He’s speculated to be Gary Duncan or John Cipollina of Quicksilver. Some have said Jorma Kaukonen & Jack Casady play here – but they were scheduled to play at the Matrix on Feb 19. So their presence at the Celestial Synapse is doubtful – unless they canceled their own show, or left early to be there!)
Fifty minutes of non-stop, flowing improvisations follow, very much like one of the Hartbeats shows. A heavy, morose jam starts between Weir and the mystery guitarist. The rest of the band joins one by one - the organ comes in, finally audible (the mix has improved from the start of the tape). I’m not sure, though, whether Constanten, Pigpen, or another guest is on organ – it doesn’t sound very TC-ish to me.
Lesh takes the jam into the Main Ten – a dark, bluesy version. This flows into a series of Garcia-led jams, which sputter out and then start up again, Garcia gradually taking over. (After a while, the third guitarist seems to retreat to the background.) Though deadlists calls this a ‘Dark Star jam’, it’s definitely not.
As the band heats up, Garcia starts an Other One jam, which they perform without words, exploring a series of different rhythms, almost like a musical juggling act between Garcia and Lesh. This is probably the musical highlight of the show – despite being instrumental, stylistically it’s much closer to a thunderous early-’69 Other One than what we might hear in mid-’68. The jam keeps getting more intense until finally they pound out the titanic Other One chords, then quietly trickle to a stop. (It sounds like they might be thinking of a segue into Death Don’t, but decide to just stop instead.) As the tape cuts off in the applause, it’s not clear whether the show ended there.

The suggestion that this show was 2/19/69 was first made in 2006, as far as I know; yet the new date still seems to be little-known…perhaps suggesting the conservatism of show collectors, or how slowly Dead information gets around! For myself, I was sad to see a tape removed from the already nearly-empty recording gap of mid-’68; but the evidence seems undeniable. It’s some consolation to find that it’s actually the tape of a unique Dead event I thought was lost. (Funnily enough, the misdate echoes the lack of solid dates for the early ‘66 Acid Test recordings.)
Musically, the redate doesn’t really change our knowledge of the Dead. The free-flowing improvs are closer to the style of a Hartbeats show with guests than the experimentation of early ’68. (And there would be a couple more Hartbeats shows later that week.) Now we know, when the Dead almost went into Not Fade Away for the 4/23/69 encore, they had played it just a couple months earlier. The biggest surprise is that the Main Ten is now completely removed from 1968 – its absence from the ’68 Hartbeats shows may indicate that it was composed later than we thought. (It turns up next in a couple Dark Stars of April ’69.)

As for the real 6/19/68? It was the Grateful Dead’s last show at the original pre-Bill Graham Carousel, a benefit for the Black Man’s Free Store. No recording is known to survive. (Though it would be ironic if one of the 1968 ‘mystery reels’ was from this date, which is possible…)