The Grateful Dead’s show at Wesleyan University was their third show of the May 1970 northeast-college tour. It’s mostly known for boasting one of the worst audience recordings ever made of the Dead, and so has remained in the long shadows cast by the surrounding shows on 5/2 and 5/6, with their fantastic playing and good SBD tapes. While it’s difficult to listen to the Wesleyan show on tape, recently a lot more documentation of the show has come to light – photos, a video, a newspaper report, and even a superior audience tape. None of these are complete; but they often fill in the gaps left by the others. So it’s time to look more closely at this show…
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The Dead ended their outrageous 5/2/70 Harpur College show with a rendition of We Bid You Goodnight, and Garcia bid farewell to the demanding audience: “Thanks a lot, you people are too much.”
The crowd continued to stamp & cheer & call for more, so Sam Cutler came out to announce: “The Grateful Dead are very tired, we have to go to Connecticut tomorrow and we’d like to sleep; but we’ll be playing at the Fillmore East on the 15th of May, and I think there are tickets still there, so come and see us at the Fillmore East. We’re worn out; thanks anyway.”
The next day, the Dead drove off to their next stop – Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, where they’d agreed to play a free show.
The Dead had a few reasons for playing at Wesleyan. Perhaps most importantly, Weir’s friend John Barlow had graduated from there in 1969, so they may have had some extended contacts with his friends on campus; and that may be why they decided to play for free. It also fit in their schedule, as they had the show at Binghamton, NY on May 2, then one scheduled at MIT in Cambridge, MA on May 7, and nothing in between – it had long been the Dead’s habit to play free outdoor shows during breaks like these. (As it turned out, they even played two free shows that week.) It appears they were invited by the student committee some time earlier to play at Wesleyan, though it’s uncertain how much earlier the show was announced.
One attraction of Wesleyan, at least for Phil Lesh, was that John Cage was there - he had composed and performed on campus, had taught classes on experimental music there, and was a fellow on the faculty at the Center for Advanced Study in the 1969-70 school year.
Student rumor has it that "the band was compensated with the 'orange sunshine' that a chemistry professor had created" - this legendary professor "supposedly made the best acid on the East Coast." (It seems doubtful…but the Dead could operate on rumors too, and they would probably enjoy this one.)
The following article from the campus paper on May 1 shows us that the Dead’s appearance was no surprise – this was a big event, and a lot of planning went into it.
WESLEYAN ARGUS, 5/1/70
GRATEFUL DEAD CONCERT IS FREE AND OPEN-AIR
Crowd estimates from various sources ranging from 10,000 to 30,000 have been projected for Sunday’s free, open-air concert of the Grateful Dead.
By transferring funds from several committees to the social committee, the College Body Committee has been able to raise the necessary money for the concert to go on as scheduled.
The CBC also pledged a total of $2,500 against next fall’s revenues from the College Body Tax. In addition, individual students have signed pledges totalling over $3,000 for “contingency damages,” should the need arise.
Also appearing at Sunday’s concert will be seven or eight other bands provided through the efforts of the Better Days Prospecting Company, a traveling commune that will be seeking recruits. In addition, Gary Michaels of Better Days states that there is a good possibility that members of the cast of Hair, plus people from the Hog Farm commune, will be coming up for the affair.
Bands appearing will be Randy Burns and the Morning After (from New Haven), Bone (New Haven), Joy (New Haven), Nighthawks (Middletown), Trod Tiger and the Tunafish (New Haven), and, tentatively, Charisma (New Britain).
Security for the potentially massive affair is being provided by student marshalls. All those wishing to be marshalls should report to the bandstand on Andrus field by noon Sunday. Additional regular Wesleyan security guards will also be posted at dormitories.
Facilities for a first aid center are also being planned for the concert in the area of Nicholson Lounge. General information and job lists for those interested in helping out with other organizational aspects of the concert will be available at a table especially set up for that purpose at Downey House. Questions may also be addressed to Dave White, Tom Morse, or Kathy Fitzgerald.
West College is also attempting to supply free food for the crowd at the concerts. Donations to buy food may be sent to Box 218, addressed to “Free Food.”
“Student responsibility will be the key to the success of the Grateful Dead concert this Sunday,” said David White ’70, speaking at an organizational meeting in Howland Lounge Thursday night.
In the event of rain, the concert will be held in the Cage, but will be then open only to Wesleyan students and one guest…
(The Argus also warns concert attendees about the university code policies on “the unauthorized use of fireworks, the turning in of false fire alarms, the use of alcohol…[and] the possession and/or use of drugs.”)
The same issue also has a notice on another event that would, unforeseen, affect the show: there was a mass campus rally on Thursday night, April 30, “in support of the Black Panthers on trial in New Haven.”
An article from the MIT Tech paper outlines the situation:
MIT TECH, 4/28/70
YALE PROTEST GAINS SUPPORT
An estimated 10,000 to 30,000 demonstrators are expected this week in New Haven, Connecticut, home of Yale University, to focus attention on the murder trials of nine Black Panthers.
The demonstrations are planned for Friday and Saturday, with the attendant possibilities of violence of concern to many.
According to staff members of the Yale Daily News, some of the demonstrators are expected to demand the immediate release of the accused, while others will take part merely to draw attention to the trials in the belief that massive publicity will help ensure fairness in court.
No one is now explicitly calling for violence, said one staff member of the News, but many of the groups involved are fearful that it may materialize. The Panthers issued a statement Sunday night to the effect that the rallies are peacefully intended; local Panthers have promised to “deal with provocateurs.” It is thought that some of the radical SDS Weathermen may aggravate tensions.
The main events will take place Friday and Saturday afternoon on the New Haven Green, across the street from the Yale campus. Any violence which begins on the Green could spill over to the campus.
A sympathy strike by students at Yale, which started last week, will continue this week. So far, judging by attendance figures, it has been about 75% effective; the Yale faculty passed a resolution urging the Administration to allow professors to cancel classes, to which President Brewster quickly agreed.
Apparently, no organization on campus speaks for all students involved in the strike; there are no official strike demands. As in the case of the city demonstration, individuals are taking part for their own reasons.
(by Duff McRoberts)
The Yale Daily News of May 1 was, of course, largely devoted to discussion of the upcoming event. The headlines tell the story:
“Rally to Launch May Day Weekend; 25,000 Expected on Green Today – National Guard To Patrol Streets; Federal Troops Held In Reserve”
The massive number of visitors would need food, facilities, and places to stay on the campus. No one yet knew how many thousands would come, and violence was feared. “No one was sure whether they were preparing for a ‘Woodstock Nation’ or a ‘Days of Rage,’ but preparations for the expected Mayday weekend influx were made all over the campus yesterday.”
The planned schedule for the weekend was outlined – a press conference, speeches, rallies, and workshops. There was also to be “rock music on the Green” on Friday, more music & dances on Saturday, and on Sunday “a Black Music Festival will take place, probably on the Yale campus.”
You can find more details on the Panther trials here:
At that point, the trials had not yet started, only jury selection for the first of the trials. Bobby Seale himself wouldn’t go on trial til later in the year, but the “Free Bobby Seale” movement was well underway.
“Thousands of supporters of the Panthers arrived in New Haven individually and in organized groups. They were housed and fed by community organizations and by sympathetic Yale students in their dormitory rooms. The Yale college dining halls provided basic meals for everyone. Protesters met daily en masse on the New Haven Green across the street from the Courthouse (and one hundred yards from Yale's main gate) to hear protest speakers… Yale (and many other colleges) went "on strike" from May Day until the end of the term…”
Dennis McNally writes, “College students and Black Panthers had essentially shut down New Haven. The protests centered on Bobby Seale’s continued incarceration, but his former codefendants from the Chicago Eight conspiracy trial came to New Haven to take part.” (McNally p.367)
With New Haven only a 35-minute drive from Middletown, many Wesleyan students were also joining the protests at Yale. Wesleyan was a very politicized campus, and had already experienced firebombings and black student protests earlier that year – in fact, several campus buildings had been firebombed on the morning of April 30, for unknown reasons. (See the 5/1/70 Yale Daily News: “Wesleyan Struck By Bombings – A series of fire bombings and a bomb scare shook Wesleyan University yesterday, hours before a rally there in support of the New Haven Panthers.”) To many demonstrators, the free concert on Sunday looked like an ideal gathering to rally support for the Panthers.
At the same time as these protests, another major issue seized colleges. On April 30, Nixon announced the “incursion” into Cambodia – the reaction on campuses was instant. The MIT Tech of Friday, May 1, had an editorial denouncing Nixon’s move, and announced a “Mass Meeting to Discuss Cambodia Crisis, Student Center 1 pm.” The Yale Daily News of May 1 also carried an article of dismay: “Yale Faculty Denounces Cambodian Involvement.”
Over the weekend, students in many colleges discussed going on strike to protest the war. Wesleyan would be one of the wave of hundreds of colleges that went on strike the following week. The Dead, by coincidence, came to Wesleyan at the very moment of upheaval – the students were protesting both the Panther trials and the war, and were about to go on strike.
The Dead had played a campus in tumult before – Columbia University in NYC, exactly two years earlier, May 3, 1968. Lesh described the occasion in his book: “The students had taken over the administration offices, protesting, among other grievances, the university’s business ties to the ‘military-industrial complex.’ The powers-that-be unleashed the police, ejecting the students from the offices and locking down the campus. All classes were canceled, and the university…was virtually shut down except for two camps: students and security…” [p.133] McNally details in his book, “On April 30, police had entered the strikebound Columbia University campus, arresting dozens at the occupied administration building. The campus was shut down, each entrance guarded by [the police].” [p.261]
Apparently it was Rock Scully’s idea to sneak the Dead in and have them play a free surprise show in the middle of the campus. The Dead were excited by the adventure, and the strikers were excited by the idea of a PA system. McNally narrates, “Cramming themselves and their equipment into a Wonder Bread truck, the Dead pulled up at the student union loading dock, swept in, and were playing before the police or administration could object.”
Lesh says, “We pile out of the bread truck and run the fastest setup ever… We play a short set, pack up, and split – the whole operation taking less than two hours. Ultimately, the event left us with a less than satisfying feeling: the band and the students weren’t on the same wavelength. We all thought of this as a prank…while the students were in a much more serious frame of mind.”
McNally describes some of the strikers’ behavior, as told by Weir: “For Weir…the strike leaders were dogmatic egoists, drawn to the microphones like ‘moths to lightbulbs – it felt so good to have your voice get big.’ Several times, leaders would cut off a song with the statement ‘Quiet down, we have an important announcement,’ which would be followed by an unfocused rant. At length, Weir booted one strike leader in the ass just to get enough room on the stage to see the other band members, and realized that his audience liked it.”
Just like Pete Townshend knocking Abbie Hoffman off the stage at Woodstock! Though Weir may be exaggerating here, the situation would be very similar at the Wesleyan ‘70 show.
Sadly there is no tape of the 5/3/68 show, but there is other documentation:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_3kAdz5AdY - incredible silent footage of the 5/3/68 show, from “Columbia Revolt” – note that these are two different edits of the Dead show, mixed with various strike scenes. (If only the original unedited footage survived!) The band looks overjoyed, and the crowd is obviously thrilled to see them.
Color photos of the show are here: http://www.dead.net/tags/columbia-university
(Picture from the Columbia Daily Spectator.)
Caption – “CAPTAIN TRIPS: Jerry Garcia, lead guitarist of the Grateful Dead, entertains a group of students outside of Ferris Booth Hall Friday afternoon. The band came to the campus to help celebrate the current strike against the University.
The Grateful Dead rocked on [the] Plaza Friday afternoon – it was sunny, people were dancing to “Morning Dew” or just moving their bodies where they sat. Students lounged on the ledges of dorm room windows, smiling, waving strike signs; even three-piece suits in the journalism school windows looked pleased…”
Many people have left memories of the Wesleyan ’70 show, on the Archive, Dead.net, and other sites.
One witness saw the Dead in Boston in fall ’69 and fell in love: “After the concert, my friend David got in touch with the Dead and arranged for them to play a free outdoor concert the following spring at Wesleyan. On May 3rd 1970, they played at the foot of Foss Hill to a crowd of thousands. Their concert became legendary: not so much for the music – it was cold and rainy, and they were having one of their notorious off nights – as for what happened the next day. We heard hints of it in between songs when guys grabbed the mike and yelled something about a strike. The next day, Wesleyan was among the first to join the strike that would soon hit colleges across the country… Classes were canceled for the rest of the semester.”
Someone on the student committee wrote about how the show was arranged:
“I was Chairman of Student Events Committee. A classmate told me he was close to The Dead's manager or someone in the band. They were very tuned into what was happening and wanted to do something special. Wesleyan was the right place. "How much will that cost?" I asked, knowing full well our budget had already been blown. "Nothing... They'll play for free!" I thought, why not? This would be a perfect way to go out.
We had a dusk-to-dawn concert planned at the foot of Foss Hill and had lined up some great talent. Plus, our own funky and famous Gamelan players would be playing forever, sort of a sedative, when the high-pitched bands stepped down and in contrast, Wesleyan's world class Indian sitarist-in-residence and his cohorts would be going bonkers on tablas and pakhawaji.
This was going to be our own Woodstock. Word about the concert didn’t get out until a day or so before the concert… [sic] The Dead came and they played and the place was really excited and turned on.”
Another commenter adds: “Many local people were involved in transforming this event which was originally scheduled to be inside, and not for free, into an all day outdoor free fest. We arranged for the Hog Farm with Wavy Gravy to be there, as well as many of Connecticut's top local bands. Good thing, because the Dead who were originally scheduled to go on in the afternoon, didn't show up until nearly dark!”
“The stage was at the bottom of Foss Hill, a large somewhat steep lawn… Music was going on all afternoon with a number of bands and into the evening… The Dead didn’t play till about 9 pm… The trip from Binghamton to Middletown would have been easily 3+ hours, so being late is actually more likely than not… The band stayed in the Holiday Inn in Meridian about 8-10 miles away… The event was wide open and free, in the center of the campus on the main athletic field. The wide lawn extending up Foss Hill was the "seating". That was our prime hill for sledding in the winter.” [Archive]
“I hitch-hiked up from New Haven with a friend…maybe he got word somehow. I heard they had a day off and wanted to play somewhere. I remember how casual the whole thing was – they just set up on the grass. Very cool to be that close to them. Pig Pen really rocked, a force of nature.” [Dead.net]
“I remember the environment being wonderfully free with the few people in attendance lying on the grass or dancing or running around as they wished.” [Archive] (Other people also remember it being “sparsely attended,” “about a thousand people there,” though there were actually more than that.)
One witness remembers a great Black Peter from the acoustic set. “Not more than 2 or 3 thousand in attendance. It was great and I was hooked.” [Dead.net]
“This was my first dead show – I had hitch-hiked to New Haven for the anti-war protest – and I remember hearing China Cat Sunflower, and not recognizing it at first, as it was so different from the original album.” [Archive]
“We drove there [from Sarah Lawrence College] to take a break from protesting the war… An SLC student composer had contacted Jerry somehow…and had sent Jerry some music the student had written. To the delight of all the SLC tribe, especially the composer, Jerry played the music at one point during the concert.” [Archive]
This may seem unlikely, but Ned Lagin had the exact same memory of the MIT concert a few days later. Talking to David Gans, he remembered playing “specific rhythms and riffs…in piano improvisations in my dorm room…which I had played for the guys in the day or two before the live gig. Near the end of Jerry’s solo on Dancing in the Streets, he and Bobby played those very same rhythms and riffs I had done on the piano in my dorm room. I [later] got a tape of that gig and learned the rest of Jerry’s solo…” (Conversations p. 351)
The day was not all music, though, as protests and announcements took the stage as well.
“Right at this time, Nixon had expanded the war into Cambodia and US colleges were in an uproar. Many were going on strike. I got a white sheet armband that said STRIKE! on it from one of the student activist tables set up by the Admin buildings.” [Archive]
One witness remembers “the inebriated brother who took the microphone to ask "Where’s the dope? Where’s the dope?" … Through the duration there were announcements periodically as various colleges had just shut down in protest (this was immediately after Nixon admitted bombing Cambodia).” [Archive]
“I remember this show as seemingly put together as a last minute thing. There was a Black Panther rally at the university that day, the Hog Farm was there providing food for everyone, the entire atmosphere was relaxed, close and down to earth. The stage was open at times for announcements, and I remember getting up on stage a little too late to make an announcement, and tapping Bobby on the shoulder as he was starting to play the next song. The band stopped, allowed me to make my announcement, and then went on as if nothing was out of place… The person I was trying to locate was standing at the foot of the stage looking up at me at the mike wondering what I was doing up there.” [Archive]
“They showed up late and the Hog Farm was handing out balls of brown rice. Someone else was handing out little purple pills. I got on stage with the Intergalactic kazoo band before the Dead arrived. Lots of fun until the stage dissolved! At some point…some guy climbed way up in a pine tree and lit a candle… That was also the day of the Bobby Seale protests in New Haven, and a bunch of people who were tear-gassed in New Haven got help cleaning their eyes out.” [Dead.net]
“The format was ‘Evening with the Grateful Dead,’ which started with an acoustic set by Jerry and Bob, followed by a New Riders set, followed by the Dead… The musicians’ gear arrived in a 12-foot truck… The atmosphere was electric. There was a movement afoot to bust Black Panther Bobby Seale out of prison in nearby New Haven, and radicals in the crowd were urging everybody to surge down to New Haven and participate. A moderating factor was the desire of the majority of students to simply get stoned and enjoy the music.” Finally one black guy took the mike and told everyone to chill out and just enjoy the music… [Archive]
“I was at the Wesleyan concert in May 1970, which took place on a Sunday night (it was originally booked as a Sunday afternoon concert, but the Dead got that wrong) and on the next day, Monday May 4, four were dead in Ohio. Yale University was on strike to protest the expansion of the war in Cambodia, but Wesleyan was not on strike at that point. We had traveled from central NY to the Yale protest rally held on the New Haven Green that weekend (there were tanks and plenty of military men in the streets of New Haven on Fri nite and Sat), and then hitched up to Middletown after we heard from our WU friends that the GD were going to be there on Sunday afternoon… Because of the screwup in the time of the show, we were able to meet and mingle (the area we're talking about on Wesleyan's campus is very small) with Garcia, Pigpen, Bill the drummer… Lesh had driven over with Mickey and stopped at Mickey's aunt's house on the way over from Harpur College the night before… There were satchels of powder in that GD Ryder truck that members of the band were visiting, and I remember GD manager Sam Cutler looking at his watch as well at the co-eds while waiting for Mickey and Phil to show… I also recall that Weir and Garcia hit the stage and did some acoustic things while waiting for the rest of the band to show up… At Wesleyan U, we are talking about a small corner of the ball field/quads, a small stage that was not elevated, it was a very intimate show that ended in the night, and as they finished, a man grabbed the microphone and told all in the audience not to forget about Bobby Seale, the Chicago Eight, the war…the band split fast…” (Deadlists forum)
CAPTURED ON FILM
The day was also documented by photographers from the Wesleyan Argus, Charles Spurgeon & Andrew Feinstein, whose photos can be seen here:
(Note that the photos are not all in order, but you can tell the general progression.) They were more interested in capturing the crowd than the bands or speakers onstage, so these are mainly crowd shots. While the acoustic set received some attention, there is only one shot of the electric Dead – the photographers seem to have stopped midday, unless another roll is missing.
And, little-known to the public (or to me, until this month), there is also a video of the 5/3/70 show held in the Wesleyan library media collection, Special Collections & Archives department:
It’s viewable only onsite, by appointment; but a local correspondent went to see the video, and brought back a detailed report.
It’s a black & white video, about 65 minutes long, documenting many of the events of the day on Foss Hill. It was filmed by a handheld camera; the sound is often muffled or unclear; and the picture quality is poor, with many edits or stoppages, lines, pops, wobbles & breakups. (The library viewing DVD comes at the end of a chain of copies, from the original Scotch videotape to Sony Betacam to VHS to DVD, so the master video probably looked a bit better.) There is as much crowd footage as concert footage; many songs are skipped, and it was distant from the stage, making the band a bit hard to see. Not only that, but it stops early in the Dead’s electric set. Most of the songs captured, though, are the full songs.
Piecing these and other reports together, it’s possible to follow the events of the day.
The first 15-20 minutes of the video show the crowd growing on Foss Hill. It was a chilly day, sometimes raining, and people wore coats and sat on blankets on the lawn. We see a drum circle, and face painting, and some students remarking on the war.
The photos also show the crowd slowly gathering on Foss Hill while the rudimentary stage is set up at the foot of the hill, on the edge of the track field. The crowd starts out sparse, huddling under blankets from the rain. There’s a plastic sheet over the makeshift stage, and a parachute is passed through the crowd.
Another photo shows people perched in a tree, at its base a sign with the raised-fist symbol. The Dead took note of that sign – when they arrived at MIT, Weir silkscreened the logo onto Bill and Mickey’s bass drums, emphasizing the band’s solidarity with the students.
It’s not clear how many of the bands mentioned in the Argus article actually ended up playing that day. It was probably a tentative listing, subject to change.
Two bands are shown in the photos: there are some distant shots of a band playing onstage early in the day, under the plastic sheet and an “It’s Time” sign (the crowd extends only partway up the hill). Then we have some shots of another band, seen from the rear, playing later in the day when the crowd was up to the top of the hill.
One Archive witness remembers the band Cactus opening the show. (The Bogert/Appice band Cactus had just formed, and would open for the Dead at the Temple University show on 5/16/70. I doubt they also opened at this free show, though, as there seems to have been only local bands scheduled.)
One local band not mentioned in the article definitely played – Swamp Gas, with guitarist Baird Hersey & singer Kim Ornitz.
There’s a brief glimpse of Swamp Gas in the video, playing early in the day. They’re not really discernible, but play a sort of Bad Company/Canned Heat-type rock. An equipment crew was setting up the stage as they were playing, with Ryder trucks pulling up full of equipment and people.
Opening for the Dead was a big break for Swamp Gas – as detailed on their site, they were “discovered” at this very show:
"In the spring of 1970 Swamp Gas was opening for the Greatful Dead at an outdoor concert in Middletown CT. Artie Kornfeld's wife was there and heard them play. Artie was one of the producers of the Woodstock Festival. Within a week the band had auditioned for Artie and was in the studio making a Demo. They signed with Artie's label Eluethera Records (a Division of Buddah) They started recording this album that summer..... Swamp Gas (Kim Ornitz, Baird Hersey, Jock Davis, and Rick Salter) was formed in 1968 on Long Island NY. They played many local clubs and concerts. In 1969 they relocated to Middletown where Baird was attending college..... They recorded the album at A & R Studios in New York and mixed it at The Record Plant. While they were recording they lived in a renovated barn in Ancramdale NY. After the album was finished, because of business problems at Eluethera the release date was postponed indefinitely. .... With no other immediate prospects the band fell apart. In 1971, without notifying anyone in the band, Buddah released the record."
Allmusic has a rather negative review of the record, calling it “undistinguished”: http://www.allmusic.com/album/swamp-gas-mw0000851776
Ironically, Allmusic says the group had a Grateful Dead/CSNY-influenced sound, but the lone Amazon reviewer was more impressed and disputes this. There’s indeed no Dead influence – instead, there’s more than a nod to Hendrix in the guitar solos – but otherwise I find the Allmusic review mostly accurate: it’s generic, often bland guitar-heavy hard rock, mixed with some dull acoustic ballads, sounding typical of the early ‘70s. For those curious, the whole album is up on youtube – just look up Swampgas.
The video doesn’t show any other opening bands. Following Swamp Gas, we see an announcement that the first-aid/bad-trip area is being relocated from Nicolson Hall to the end of the bleachers. (There’s a photo of a table over at the bleachers, farther down the field, with a little “First Aid” sign tacked on.)
An aluminum bus pulls up, and becomes a hive of activity. Someone comments, “Everyone is going on the bus, but no one is coming off.”
In the photos, we see a couple buses. The aluminum bus is from “Earth People’s Park” – this was the Hog Farm commune, there to give out food and good vibes. Inspired by the Woodstock festival, they had just purchased some land on the border of northern Vermont, called it the Earth People’s Park, and were advertising it as “free land for free people.” The first settlers would head there that summer, as described in this article:
There is also a schoolbus from the “Better Days Prospectors,” the “traveling commune seeking recruits” mentioned in the Argus article, which had helped put together the show. (Photos show some smokers hanging out in the bus.) This group remains pretty obscure, so I would guess their commune did not thrive.
In the video, an announcer lists about a dozen universities across the country that have gone on strike to protest the war. (Wesleyan would soon follow them.) Then there’s a chaotic, disorganized free-mic period with announcements and speeches about the protests: “Free Bobby Seale!” “All US troops out of Cambodia and Southeast Asia!” “Power to the people!” “I want everyone to remember God.” One person warns the crowd about undercover police: “If you want to get high, get high cool. There may be cops around.”
Then a kazoo band of over twenty people gets onstage and plays Silent Night – the crowd sings along by the end. There’s a photo of some of the kazoo players – this would be the “Intergalactic kazoo band” mentioned by one of the witnesses above.
The photos reveal that it warmed up later in the day and was not so overcast, so we see more people in shirtsleeves. They’re also playing, bouncing big beach balls and balloons around the crowd. One photo shows a little acoustic jam session going on in the crowd.
We can also see that the crowd that day was largely male, and almost all young. (Wesleyan was still a mostly-male school in 1970, with the first female freshmen admitted that fall. The free show drew a lot of other visitors from the area, though.)
Over 25 minutes into the video, sometime in the afternoon, Garcia & Weir show up to play an acoustic set, minus the rest of the band. Weir announces that “Phil and Mickey are still on their way from upstate New York.” It looks like they’re playing on the top of a flatbed truck; the crowd is quiet & seated. We see two songs, Deep Elem Blues and Silver Threads & Golden Needles. An unknown harmonica player off to the side plays with them in both songs.
In the photos of the acoustic set, we see the Dead’s equipment has already been set up on the stage – amps, organ, and drums, including Mickey’s two gongs and the drumsticks laid out. It looks like there were no monitors for the band, and Garcia’s sitting on an amp. There’s a U-Haul truck by the stage, and people sitting around the stage and on top of the truck. Lightbulbs have been wired up on wood posts above the stage, for the coming evening – there’s also a little Black Panther sign pinned to a post.
As it turns out, we actually have a partial tape of the acoustic set! It’s the one misdated “5/9/70” -
A comparison with the video reveals that this is unquestionably the same show. You can hear Weir’s announcement at the start, and the harmonica player throughout; two of the songs are the same; and there’s an announcement at the end about the free food running out at the first aid station.
Unfortunately, it cuts there after only four songs. There’s no telling how it originated, or came into circulation, or got mislabeled. If only more of it existed!
It starts with wind or rustling/mic-bump sounds – the crowd is distant but there’s some chatter near the mic. A weary-sounding announcer says, “Okay, the Grateful Dead, let’s go.”
Garcia says, “This ain’t bad, it’s all we have…” Weir tells the crowd, “Phil and Mickey and a few others are still, I think, en route from somewhere in upstate New York.” Garcia: “They’re making a speech – down the road apiece.” Weir: “A few closing comments.”
Deep Elem Blues is a very laid-back opener. Near the end, the harmonica player appears for a solo as he’s brought up in the mix.
In Friend of the Devil, the harmonica player accompanies throughout; they leave him room for a solo in the middle.
In Silver Threads & Golden Needles, the harmonica player mostly stays out, though they give him another solo which doesn’t fit so well
In Black Peter, the harmonica player starts warbling another solo, but Garcia cuts him off pretty quickly with another verse! It does make the song sound more maudlin. In the last minute of the song, as they were doing in early ’70, Pigpen comes on and adds some chords on organ, and the harmonica backs off.
The announcer comes back: “Okay, one very short announcement before we get it on… This is kind of strange, but over at the first-aid station right over there, [someone] tells me we’ve got enough food for one person. So, the hungriest person out there, you know who you are, you know, like, we’ve got food for one person over there, so, like, you know, whoever’s the hungriest please go get it, you know, we’ve been trying to get the free food around.”
There the tape cuts off.
The Dead had played full-band acoustic sets the last couple days, but now without a couple players, revert to the Bob & Jerry format of earlier months. This is reminiscent of 12/19 and 12/26/69, when they’d played as an acoustic duo while waiting for Phil and Bill respectively to arrive. (One witness heard that “Lesh had driven over with Mickey and stopped at Mickey's aunt's house on the way over from Harpur College.”)
Partly due to the sound, this set sounds rather dull and tired; on the other hand, perhaps they were aiming for a relaxed, intimate feel in this open-air crowd. They probably did at least a few more songs, the usual acoustic songs of early 1970 – like Monkey & the Engineer, Little Sadie, Been All Around This World, Wake Up Little Susie; perhaps even a Candyman, Dark Hollow, or Katie Mae. But there’s no telling how long the acoustic set went.
The harmonica player is not some random guest who hopped on stage (like on 3/8/70) – he knows what he’s doing, and they leave room for him. He was most likely Will Scarlett. It sounds like him; he was a friend of the band’s who would have been invited onstage; he may have known some of the songs; and he may have been on the east coast at the time. (Scarlett played with Hot Tuna sometimes, but Jefferson Airplane were playing in NYC on the same day, so if it’s Scarlett he wasn’t with them; I don’t see any evidence he was with the Airplane on that tour. It’s also been speculated that the harmonica player might be John Hammond, who had opened for the Dead back in Denver on April 24-25.)
This recording has always been taken for a rather poor SBD tape, but one Archive commenter explains that it’s actually an audience recording:
“It is a microphone recording done right up close to the stage and PA. While the instruments sound deceptively boardlike, the vocals do not at all. The fact that it was outdoors only helped the ambient microphone recording sound boardlike, no room reflections. Along with the various bumping and thumping sounds of Bob and Jerry, there are also mic handling sounds. Also the sound of the audience applause at the end of the songs is distinctly unboardlike (ie, at the end of Black Peter) and much more microphone near stage-like. The particular quality and character of the saturation on the vocal peaks sounds like an auto level cassette, not a higher quality manually set deck. The sound of this recording is exactly what I would expect from a close up microphone to auto level cassette recorder of that era, even a built in mic recorder. The rather informal and rudimentary stage set up makes it FAR more likely that someone just came right up close and set a deck near one of the speakers rather than attempt to get a much more complicated board feed with who knows what sort of mix. When the organ comes in during Black Peter, it does not sound at all like a channel fader being turned up, nor does the harmonica sound like it is coming direct from a hand cupped mic line.”
So in this case, it’s actually an excellent AUD tape, similar to the 4/12/70 AUD (which has clear instruments and tinny vocals).
It would also make sense why it cuts off early, as the taper probably got caught if he was so close. (The same thing happened to the tapers on 5/16/70.)
The video cuts straight from the acoustic set to the NRPS set, much later in the evening after dark. (We don’t know what happened in between.) Garcia’s on pedal steel, to the right on stage, and there are three songs on the video – Workingman’s Blues, Last Lonely Eagle & Truck Drivin’ Man.
The sound, while bad, is still better than the Archive audio tape. Wesleyan librarian Alec McLane notes, “Both audio and video recordings are terrible, made very likely by students with little or no recording experience, but on fairly high-end university-owned equipment. Sound quality of video is actually considerably better in terms of the music.”
Our audience tape was made by a student as part of a study being conducted by the sociology department. The project was led by professor Philip Ennis – McLane writes, “Phil Ennis was at Wesleyan in 1970 and taught classes on social movements and fieldwork methodology.” As one example of his work, here’s a 1971 article he wrote on social change:
The project was much bigger than this tape – after the show, an article in the Argus stated that “several Wesleyan faculty members, assisted by fifteen students, filmed, taped, interviewed, and observed the crowd on Foss Hill for a study which, as yet, has no explicit purpose.”
It’s been thought that the tape was made for a sociology class assignment, but the involvement of several faculty members suggests that it may not have been specifically for a class. Since the crowd was “filmed,” it is very likely that the video was also made by someone else in the project, though we don’t know for sure. (The only point at which it overlaps with the audience tape is in the NRPS set.)
My feeling is that the tape of the acoustic set was made independently, by someone who just wanted to capture the Dead show (but didn’t succeed). The photos from the Argus we’ve seen were probably also done separately, since the Argus would of course have its own reasons for photographing the event!
The Argus did go into some more detail about this project: “The balloons and dancing were photographed for the study by cameramen perched atop Judd Lab during daylight hours, and music was tape recorded so that particular group movements could be studied in the context of particular music or speeches. Interviewers dispersed within specific areas of the throng questioned individuals and noted intermittent observations of the crowd, such as the use of cameras, dancing, the passing of a parachute through the assemblage, and the response to music at different times.”
A project of this size had to be planned & coordinated in advance. The Argus mentioned a meeting the previous Thursday by the organizers of the concert, which was preceded by a period of fundraising, contacting bands to play, and other preparations by the student events committee. At the time, the crowd was thought to be “potentially massive” – as one person put it, May 3 was supposed to be “our own Woodstock.” In short, contrary to the memories of some people, this show must have been known about within Wesleyan for quite some time beforehand. (I wouldn’t be surprised if there had been earlier notices about it in the Argus.)
Ennis and others in the sociology department must have taken note of this upcoming Woodstock-like gathering, and decided it would be an excellent opportunity to conduct a study of how the crowd behaved at such events. The peaceful crowds at Woodstock had captured the attention of the country (in fact, the Woodstock film had just been released that spring, and would soon be in local theaters) – but, as the Argus mentioned, “Ennis noted that no study of Woodstock was ever made, and this study may help to throw light or understanding on the ‘Woodstock nation’ phenomenon.”
Despite the students involved, the study seems not to have been done for a class, since the Argus said it had no specific purpose: “What will be done with all this material Mr. Ennis is not certain. How much is collated and eventually studied is very much a ‘matter of time and money,’ he stated.”
With the larger study in mind, the purpose of our audience tape becomes more understandable. Most listeners assume that the taper was simply spectacularly inept, as it’s hard to account for his strange and often intrusive commentary on the tape. There was a reason for it, though! According to the Argus, the “music was tape recorded so that particular group movements could be studied in the context of particular music.” Recording the actual music with much fidelity was incidental to this fieldwork.
The taper was supposed to call out times and name the songs (so crowd movements could be timed and linked to what the band was playing). He does remember to announce times now & then, but he doesn’t know many song titles, and the people around him don’t help much, so he occasionally tries numbering the songs instead.
He was also supposed to describe what the crowd was doing during songs, but he rarely does this until Lovelight. Perhaps, from his perspective, there just wasn’t much to observe. (One has to wonder what this tape would sound like & what the commentary would be if Ennis himself had manned the mike! There would probably be even less audible Dead music…)
It would be interesting to know if he was assigned this, or volunteered for class credit. Startling as it may seem, of all the sociology students who could’ve been taping, he apparently had little previous interest in the Dead, and was unfamiliar with them.
He does do a couple things right, from our point of view – he left the tape running (except for a couple breaks), he set the recording levels down to where the music wasn’t totally distorted, and he found a spot near a PA speaker and sometimes left the mic pointed at least in that general direction.
But it’s the other aspects of this tape that are more frustrating. He frequently, and noisily, moves the mic around, often muffling the music; and far from being quiet, he and his friends talk through almost the entire show, so that the conversations often dominate the music. (He was also apparently stoned, and his coherency seems to decline & then improve again over the course of the show.) It’s this distracting behavior that consigns this tape to the bottom rank of Dead recordings.
The actual quality of the recording (disregarding content) isn’t that bad, compared to some of the true horrors of 1970 audience tapes. We can hear a whole slew of tapes from early ’72 that are far worse quality, though made by better tapers. The tapedeck was borrowed from a professor (perhaps it was the property of the sociology department), and was a reel-to-reel, not a cheap cassette recorder. But, despite having good equipment, he wasn’t trying to get a "quality" recording of the music; that was beside the point. (I suspect he would have gotten a very good recording if he'd relocated to another spot, kept a more steady eye on the mic & his levels, and stopped talking!)
We know the taper was a student named Warren White – his name was written on the original reels, and he’s also named on the tape. (I’ll call him Warren for convenience.)
The first part of the NRPS set, about 15 minutes, is missing – Warren either arrived late for NRPS or didn’t get the tape recorder going for a while, though he had been there earlier in the day. The tape starts out distorted during Workin’ Man Blues, until Warren sets the levels.
We can tell right away that, unlike most tapers, he has no intention of keeping quiet, as a steady conversation is going on. (Someone asks him, “Will you watch this for me?” “Yeah, I’ll watch it.”)
After the song, Warren says, “This is gonna be fun, it’ll be lighting matches & trying to see what the time’s on…” (He’s noticeably inarticulate pretty much from the start.)
Someone asks him, “What are you taping this for?” and he replies, “This is a survey for the local faculty in charge...(“Faculty intelligence! The CIA, man!”) We're gonna record and categorize…get you down on paper in a file system...” People warn him, “You're gonna get your tape recorder smashed!”and “You’re gonna have a dead tape recorder,” and he replies, “It's not mine, go beat up the professor.”
He talks & laughs with friends through the next song, I Don’t Know You. I can’t make out much of it – the music volume is loud – but he mentions, “I got here at 8,” and says that two guys from the Grateful Dead had been on before. Someone adds, “Playing acoustic up there.” “Yeah, and this just started about 15 minutes ago. They got a couple more guys – there’s four of them now, but I think there’s [more]… They’re really good.” He talks in particular to one girl who seems to be his companion; I can’t tell what about.
After I Don’t Know You, Marmaduke comments, “We got a real drummer here.” Meanwhile someone in the audience asks, “Anyone got an extra candle around here?”
The recording is still pretty distorted in Last Lonely Eagle (especially the bass & vocals), so it sounds like Warren was near a speaker. He’s still chattering through the song.
After Last Lonely Eagle, Marmaduke says, “Thank you – I gotta tell you, you look pretty far out out there with all them candles.” A student gets on stage and calls for someone “over by the bleachers, we’re looking for you!” (Someone calls out to him & the audience laughs. This could be the same witness who recalled interrupting the show to make an announcement, calling for someone who was at the foot of the stage.)
The audience claps along with the next song, Truck Drivin’ Man, a familiar country cover. In the middle of the song, Warren finally remembers what he’s doing and announces “8:45.” (After the song he says, “End song three,” although it was the fourth song taped – and several songs had been played before the tape started – so this probably indicates that he did not count Workin’ Man Blues as one of the taped songs, or just lost track from the start.)
There’s audience laughter at the start of Fair Chance To Know – “See the guy up in the tree with the candle?” “Now there’s a high cat!” (Someone was dancing in the tree. One witness remembered that “some guy climbed way up in a pine tree and lit a candle.”)
The vocals are especially distorted & hard to listen to, which may be due to a poor copy as much as the original tape. During the song, the girl tells Warren the song title, “Last Chance,” and he says “Thank you.” Also midway in the song, he says, “Correction, 8:43.” This was just a few minutes after his last announcement, showing that he would not be too reliable even in telling time. (He’ll mostly get it right, though!)
As Fair Chance ends, someone’s pointing out Jerry Garcia to a girl who doesn’t know him: “…the one with black bushy hair, on the steel guitar…” NRPS decides to stop, and there’s a stage announcement that they’ll bring out “Grateful Dead right away quick – genuine, total, complete, utter Grateful Dead.” Warren keeps the tape going for five minutes after the end of the NRPS set, documenting some quiet chatter.
He asks someone, “Hey, do you know Grateful Dead music pretty well?” “Uh, no, not very well.” “Cause, like, I don’t have any… I have to get the titles down and I don’t know them…” He’s trying to find someone to help him with the song titles, “a Grateful Dead expert.” He also asks around for matches, and thanks someone who gives them to him.
Meanwhile, the stage announcer calls for someone to come to the back of the stage, then: “Hey, up in the tree, hello! (Audience cheers) Hey watch out, if you dance up there, you might fall out of the tree, you know – be careful!” Warren comments: “There’s nobody up there.”
After other names are called for, there’s another announcement: “All right, first aid, just so you know, this’ll be the last announcement for a couple minutes. Anybody who was in New Haven, and if you got a little of that stuff that the people were laying down there, that gas, if your eyes still hurt, they’ve got eyedrops over at the first aid, so go over there and refresh your eyes, they’ll see much better, thank you.” (One witness remembered, “That was also the day of the Bobby Seale protests in New Haven, and a bunch of people who were tear-gassed in New Haven got help cleaning their eyes out.”)
Finally someone calls for the taper: “Warren, Warren White, is he around right here?” “Yeah.” “Where are you?” “Right here – right underneath you.” “How you doing?” “Okay. Still picking it up, dude.” “Your thing on?” The guy wants Warren to check something, and he turns off the tapedeck.
About 50 minutes into the video, we cut from NRPS to the start of the Dead’s set. Makeshift stage lights were set up, which leave the band mostly in shadow. (Mickey can’t be seen at all.) Just a couple songs are on the video – Hard to Handle, China Cat (which cuts after 30 seconds), I Know You Rider. The sound’s pretty bad, and also the camerawork – with the growing crowd, the cameraman didn’t have much room to move anymore. The crowd stands up in unison at the start of the Hard to Handle jam, and there are cries of joy. (It seems to be the opening song, judging from their reaction.) Garcia is very animated in the Hard to Handle solo, playing mean lead guitar, moving around with pelvic thrusts. At the end of Rider, Weir starts an audience clap-along, and gets the crowd to join in.
There the Dead footage stops. At that point the video cuts abruptly to a short experimental film and about a minute of an indoor poetry reading, where it ends.
So we return to the tape for the rest of the evening. My guess is Warren either forgot to turn the tapedeck back on, or went somewhere else for 40 minutes and then returned, for the tape comes back on again sometime later, after the Dead’s set was well underway. (Someone asks, “Who’s that?” “Tape recorder!”) A minute into the song, he announces, “Time is now 9:34.” (Eight tape-minutes since the last announcement, but 50 real-time minutes, so over 40 minutes had passed!)
The first Dead song on tape is Me & My Uncle – it’s a good, standard version, with lots of audience chatter. The recording is still kind of harsh, but the instruments are balanced OK (you can even hear Pigpen’s organ pretty well), so I think Warren’s in front of a PA speaker. After the song there’s some rustling, and he says, “I’m trying to protect the tape recorder.”
The next song is New Speedway Boogie. Unfortunately Warren moves the mic around at the start, so the music gets more muddy, and the clap-along & chatter get louder. (He announces, “9:39.”) The people nearby are quite chatty during this song. One girl seems to notice the tapedeck (?) and asks, “What is that?… I thought it was a typewriter!” There’s also an amusing moment 7 minutes in, when she drunkenly imitates Garcia’s singing. It sounds like Weir’s on acoustic, and there are prominent congas in New Speedway Boogie – or just someone tapping on the tapedeck? It seems like a laid-back version, the audience clapping along throughout.
After New Speedway ends: “Time is now approximately 9:47, Roman candles in the background behind the stage.” People are going “Ooh! Aah!” so it sounds like some pyrotechnics are going off behind the band, probably set off by their crew. At this point, the drum intro to Good Lovin’ starts. (Weir says something to the crowd, but I can’t make it out.)
Warren announces, “Song number seven, approximately 9:48.” (His companion repeats the time, questioningly.) He was still continuing the song-count from the NRPS set, and only going by the (incomplete) list of songs he had taped, not the actual songs played; so it doesn’t really indicate how many Dead songs were played in the tape-break.
The crowd cheers Pigpen when he starts singing Good Lovin’. (Warren moves the mic around.) There’s a very uneventful drum break for a couple minutes, while Warren’s friends chatter; then Lesh & Garcia come back in and the jam slowly picks up steam. Gradually the music gets punchy; after 7:30 Lesh hints at Tighten Up, and they fully go into it a minute later. Unfortunately, the jam is very hard to judge at this point, for Warren moves the mic again here, and the music becomes a distant little blob somewhere behind the audience chatter. Warren takes this opportunity to announce the song, “Good Lovin’,” perhaps because the crowd’s getting active. People start clapping along to the beat, but just briefly, as the band throws them off. They go into a twisting little drums & bass break, which was a new development in the song – Lesh sounds like Jack Casady here, in a predecessor to the bass solos he’d take at this point later in 1970. Garcia reenters and the band charges back into the Good Lovin’ riff, drawing it out as usual before returning to the verse. (At this point they weren’t yet trading riffs before the last verses; that would come in the fall.) The Good Lovin’ jam is pretty big for May 1970, just as long as the major ones from 5/2 and 5/6, so it’s a shame we can barely hear it!
In the clapping after the song, Warren says, “Another warm reception for the Grateful Dead, 12:07 approximately.” (Apparently his watch had melted by that point!…the actual time would’ve been 10:02.)
Then there’s a tape break, as he turns off the deck again. (When we come back, someone’s asking Warren for something, and he says, “It’s by the song list.”) He sounds even more slurred by now, and attempts to announce: “The last song was crowded…” but then can’t get the words out and just starts laughing, as Dire Wolf starts. (His companion sounds like she’s in the same shape.) They giggle for a while.
Someone comes up during Dire Wolf and asks, “Where’s Robert?” “Rob?” “Is he around?” “Oh, he took off by himself, I don’t know where he is… He was going up the hill earlier… He got our blankets, too.” They speculate about where he went & what ride he might have taken, and the conversation goes on through the rest of the song.
In the middle of Dire Wolf, Warren announces “10:15.” He seems to be back on track; but if the time is right, that means he missed 10 minutes in the tapebreak after Good Lovin’, and probably a whole song. As Dire Wolf ends, someone asks, “Is that Hackett up there?” “The guy going berserk up there?” “Yeah it is…Hackett onstage…his audience act.” “Turned on Grateful Dead on you…” “We’re gonna have this thing where the audience gets up on stage and dances.” (Laughter.)
The next song is Don’t Ease Me In – the mic moves again, and the sound improves for once. This is actually the most listenable song on the tape; the band is fairly clear & the audience mostly quiet. It’s a pretty charged-up electric version, and at the end of Garcia’s solo, Warren says, “The audience standing again.”
Lesh quickly starts up Lovelight – the audience recognizes it & cheers. “Aw yeah!” Someone announces into the taper’s mike, “We’re gonna do a little Turn On Your Lovelight for y’all out there in radioland…” The audience claps steadily – the clapping is, unfortunately, much louder than the band way off in the background. (It sounds like the band’s coming out of a little transistor radio!) There’s a nice, hot jam after the first verses, though – Pigpen goes back to the organ to play, giving it a soulful feel. Returning to the verses, the crowd goes crazy in the crescendoes, and sings along with “Begging you baby – down on my knees – turn on your lovelight – shine on me…”
Garcia starts a little funky riff, but it’s cut short by “wait a minute, let me tell you about my rider…” Lesh lays down a bassline, and Pigpen does his usual little rap – “just one little thing, makes me feel so nice, not gonna tell you all, just tell you a little bit, one of the reasons, things begin to get so good,” etc. He draws it out, and the audience claps the beat for him – they especially like the line, “she starts rolling like a Stingray on a four-day drive.” After the “she’s got box-back nitties” climax, Garcia ignites a wailing jam with throbbing bass – but the jam’s cut short again, so Pigpen can give his speech:
“I wanna tell you now, I know some of you fellows may be kind of lonesome this evening. You might have a little company you’d like to bring home with you. You may be standing there, and look over your shoulder and see some fox… But I tell you what to do; there’s only one way to get it on: take your hands out of your pockets and do something better with them than you’re doing now! All you gotta do is look over and say, ‘Hey, evening ma’am, care to take a parade around the grounds?’ (laughter) Ain’t no need to beat around the bush. But I tell you I ain’t got that problem, cause my old lady’s so good to me – that I can wake up – early in the mornin’ – just before – the day is dawnin’. (He’s back to singing & clapping.) All I got to do - is reach over - my left shoulder - touch my rider - I say turn on over…”
They move into an interesting minor-key Lovelight detour at 14:40, different from the usual tone of the song, very spacy and bluesy. Garcia starts playing what sounds like the Darkness, Darkness melody around 16:10 (similar to the way they’d do it on 5/7); though this section is more of a unique Dead jam, with a strong Spanish Jam flavor. (Deadlists also points out a resemblance to the slow, spooky jam in the middle of the 12/31/76 Playing in the Band.)
Warren comments, “The crowd has closed in noticeably, everybody’s still standing. The whole crowd has stood up and moved in close to the stage.” The band returns to Lovelight, and clapping resumes: “Pleeeease…and after all them things, I asked her please, one more thing, you can do for me…” The band drops down to silence, and the clapping speeds up as Pigpen moans. Here the band would usually start the final riff, but instead they conjure up a short, stormy drone. They’re teasing the audience, falling silent again so the clappers take over. “I said please, turn on your light, let it shine, upon me, my my my…” Here, the band comes back, but playing the Main Ten riff to the clappers’ beat. It’s a quick and skeletal Main Ten, less than a minute long; then the band makes an abrupt shift and starts Uncle John’s Band. The crowd sounds confused that the beat has disappeared.
The Main Ten and Uncle John had a unique connection over the years – a few months earlier on 12/5/69, the band had apparently played the Main Ten out of an Uncle John’s jam (though a tapecut makes it hard to say for sure). Years later, they would resurrect the Main Ten>Uncle John connection in the Playin’ in the Band jams of late ‘73.
This Uncle John’s sounds pretty unremarkable, though it picks up steam as it goes along. It isn’t aided by the big conversation the people around the taper are having – they apparently lost interest once Lovelight stopped! (The crowd is unfamiliar with Uncle John’s Band, since it wouldn’t be released for another couple months.) Warren announces midway through the song, “Time is approximately ten of 11. People are still standing.” (We can tell he’s right on the time, since it has been 35 minutes since his last timecall at 10:15.)
As Uncle John’s ends, the band segues without pause into the final Lovelight chords, and the crowd applauds and starts clapping the beat again. Lovelight has its usual slam-bang ending, whipping the crowd into excitement. Pigpen starts playing the organ again at the end, as he and Weir screech like banshees for the last few minutes. Warren exclaims, “The guys are going into a frenzy!” The sound quality gets even worse in the last couple minutes as the mike gets turned the wrong way. Finally, the band grinds to a majestic halt. There’s big applause, and Warren says, “Just amazing!”
(Note that he knew little about the Dead, and was distracted & inattentive through most of the show, yet by the end he was still amazed. Lousy sound quality aside, this speaks volumes about the band’s ability to win over audiences in 1970, particularly with Lovelight.)
A black speaker quickly takes the stage to seize the moment. “May I have your attention please – this is something that has to be said. As you return in your various ways to your homes, I want you to help me spread the word to the establishment, to the white-collar conservatives and doctors and lawyers and whoever you may be. When you pick your newspaper up in the morning…for the past three or four weeks they were expecting violence, and we showed them peace. A peaceful demonstration, people coming together…through peaceful means; thank you. (Big applause, “all right!”) I’ll take advantage of that request for more. I’d like to speak to my black brothers, in hoping that they feel the same way I feel because I’ve come a long way, I have no time for bullshit and holding anything back. As I looked over the field, the New Haven Green I think it’s called, there are many people that traveled from near and far to show their concern for a black man that’s in jail and his followers, Mr. Bobby Seale. (Some applause) I want you to realize that the majority of the faces I have seen, fellas, brothers and sisters, are white faces. They have came to show visible testimony that our struggle is tied up with their struggle, and their struggle is tied up with our struggle. (Big applause) And to the establishment, to the white-collar conservatives, we want you to know that when there’s time, or when there’s a need for a mass majority of people to come together and show force, that we’ll be here… Thank you.” (Big applause)
The crowd starts shouting for the Dead – “Bring out the Dead!” But another announcer comes up: “Hold on, hold on…” He has some sort of protest message to relate: “Radio Free Bobby is still on the air, dig that. Listen here…” But the crowd is not impressed with him and shout him down: “Dead! Dead! Dead!” And there, as they chant, the recording ends.
No telling if the Dead came back for an encore – that spring they hardly ever played encores on tour, except for We Bid You Goodnight, so it probably would have been no different that night. One witness remembered that “as they finished, a man grabbed the microphone and told all in the audience not to forget about Bobby Seale…the band split fast.”
* * *
This is a pretty lightweight show for May 1970. I suspect the Dead checked out the crowd and decided this was not going to be a Dark Star or big jam night. Pauses for announcements and political speeches onstage may also have been a factor at the start of the show – though on our tape the Dead’s show seems to be uninterrupted. Garcia later expressed his dislike of “militant vibes,” “weird scenes,” and “pressure trips” at shows. (They may also have been a little worn out from Harpur the night before – it’s telling how few songs were repeated.)
Good Lovin’ was probably a great jam, but can barely be heard! Lovelight, the highlight, goes some interesting places, but also sputters in other spots – it’s better than the 5/1 Lovelight, which was really anemic and had nothing happening at all; yet it pales next to the wild rendition a few nights later on 5/7 with its long, continuous jam and numerous song teases.
Assuming the Dead came on around 9:00, they played for two hours, and we’re missing a few songs. Maybe a half-hour at the start, and 10 minutes after Good Lovin’, weren’t taped. Hard to Handle and China>Rider were captured on video, but the other missing songs (about 20 minutes’ worth?) are anyone’s guess.
I can almost guarantee that one of them was Casey Jones – that was one of the opening group of songs in almost every show of spring 1970. Hard to Handle & China>Rider were certainly at the start of the show – they were also frequently among the opening songs in that period. (The other most common songs were Cold Rain & Mama Tried, very likely played.)
The video is not continuous – we know the cameraman skipped songs in the acoustic and NRPS sets, so it’s possible a missing song came between Hard to Handle and China Cat, as well as one after Rider. The tape is mostly continuous except for two breaks – Warren turned off the recorder after the NRPS set, and either forgot to turn it back on for some time, or (more likely) left for a while. I’m not sure what happened in the 10-minute break after Good Lovin’, though he must have changed reels in that time, and another lost song must have been played. He was keeping a song list, but it was apparently just of the songs taped, not all the songs played – and still incomplete, at that, as his numbering is off from the start.
According someone who copied the original reels, Warren taped on three reels, “two half-hour reels and one hour-long reel, all recorded at 1 7/8 ips.” True, the taped NRPS set is 30 minutes, the first three Dead songs on tape are 30 minutes, and the conclusion after the reel change is 50 minutes. 1 7/8 inches per second was the lowest speed the tapedeck ran at, in order to record the most time onto a reel. (It also resulted in the lowest quality, but that wouldn’t have been a concern.) It’s remarkable that none of the reel changes came in the middle of a song – if Warren had put on another half-hour reel after Good Lovin’, it would have run out in the middle of Lovelight.
It is possible that Warren did tape the start of the Dead show on another half-hour reel that subsequently went missing, in which case his labeling of Good Lovin’ as “song number seven” is from the start of the Dead’s set, not the start of the NRPS reel. We can only speculate.
The crowd at the Wesleyan show was much smaller than expected – as the Argus said, “the possibility of large crowds did not materialize.” They had thought at least 10,000 people would show up, but in the end, only an estimated 3500 people did. This was still more than double the entire student population of Wesleyan (only about 1400 students were enrolled in 1970), so lots of people came from around the area. It must have been much more crowded after dark than we see in the daytime photos.
But why did so few come, for a free Dead show? Possibly the rain deterred many, early in the day; possibly others were still tied up in the New Haven demonstrations; possibly the Dead just weren’t that well-known in the area yet, compared to their usual haunts of NYC or Boston. (This was actually their first show in Connecticut.) There seems to have been no advertising for the show, so most people apparently found out about it by word of mouth just before it happened (getting the impression it was “a last-minute thing”).
There is a question of how many people came to the show just to listen to the Dead. My feeling is that it was a mixed crowd, and a lot more things were going on than at your usual Dead concert. Antiwar protests, Panther activism, and an upcoming campus strike, on top of a free Dead show, was not an ordinary day at Wesleyan!
With several opening bands, there was music through much of the day, probably interspersed with speeches and announcements. There were a lot of non-Wesleyans there, who probably did not come to listen to political speeches (and may have hoped there would be none). Protesters and Panther supporters were most likely at New Haven during the day, and came back to relax at the Dead show that night. Some speakers probably did try to recruit for their causes.
Witnesses remember many interruptions, and it sounds pretty chaotic: “the stage was open at times for announcements” – “through the duration there were announcements periodically…[one] inebriated brother took the microphone to ask ‘Where’s the dope?’” - “in between songs guys grabbed the mike and yelled something about a strike” - “radicals in the crowd were urging everybody to surge down to New Haven and participate.” The closing speech of the show is the only time this really intrudes on tape, so perhaps most of it was over by the time the Dead finally came on. But most of the students there just wanted to “get stoned and enjoy the music.”
Many people came because it was a free Sunday ‘event,’ or just to watch the show. Interviewers in the sociology study, as the Argus later mentioned, found that many people there were ‘’Dead freaks’ [who] came just for the music,” or were hoping for a Woodstock-like environment with the crowd and music. (It would be interesting to read more of the interviews, if any still survived; but they were probably thrown out long ago.)
The Argus ran this article on the sociology study:
WESLEYAN ARGUS, 5/6/70
WES PROFESSORS STUDY CROWD AT SUNDAY FOSS HILL CONCERT
Many clinically cynical participants at Sunday’s outdoor concert were heard thanking Professor Philip Ennis and the Sociology Department for the oranges and balloons which sailed up into the estimated 3500 joyous people throughout the afternoon. The presence of such paraphernalia, coupled with rumors of a study of this apparently amorphous but festive mass, lent credence to theories that, for instance, beach balls were sent into the crowd to study group response and movement.
In fact, several Wesleyan faculty members, assisted by fifteen students, filmed, taped, interviewed, and observed the crowd on Foss Hill for a study which, as yet, has no explicit purpose. However, Mr. Ennis reiterated that “the Sociology Department did not have anything to do with providing oranges, balloons, dope, or anything” during the concert.
Different groups and kind individuals provided all the food and toys. Cross Street Market reported heavy sales of soda, donuts, and other inexpensive consumables. By 3:30 all toys selling for less than thirty-nine cents, and all candy had been bought. Much of that, including bags of bubble gum, was indiscriminately lofted to the crowd by individual purchasers.
Balloons, beach balls, and toy soldiers arrived with members of the Hog Farm Commune in the People’s Park Bus. 1000 oranges were donated by West College. West College had prepared for large crowds by purchasing one thousand pounds of rice, according to Tom Morse. When the possibility of large crowds did not materialize, and it appeared that most people had been fed elsewhere, the rice was not cooked. Morse stated that the rice will be resold to the supplier. One individual from West College provided candles which lit the hillside, and the College also organized medical help available to all ill persons.
The balloons and dancing were photographed for the study by cameramen perched atop Judd Lab during daylight hours, and music was tape recorded so that particular group movements could be studied in the context of particular music or speeches. Interviewers dispersed within specific areas of the throng questioned individuals and noted intermittent observations of the crowd, such as the use of cameras, dancing, the passing of a parachute through the assemblage, and the response to music at different times.
One of the interviewers related a variety of reasons received for attending the concert. Many deemed themselves “Dead freaks” and came just for the music. Others who had been, or wished they had been, at Woodstock arrived to live, or relive the occasion. One high school girl from Connecticut said, “I like watching crowds and things. I really wanted to go to Woodstock, but didn’t.” One college student had just finished “a very heavy political weekend in New Haven and wanted to relax, get stoned.”
What will be done with all this material Mr. Ennis is not certain. How much is collated and eventually studied is very much a “matter of time and money,” he stated. Ennis noted that no study of Woodstock was ever made, and this study may help to throw light or understanding on the “Woodstock nation” phenomenon.
(by Doug Thompson)
Events on campus overtook the study, though. The day after the Dead's show, one writer reports, “Wesleyan students voted to go on strike, and on [May] sixth, faculty voted to support the strike, ending the semester.” Another student remembers that “classes were canceled for the rest of the semester.” I don’t have more details on how the strike went at Wesleyan – those with access to issues of the Argus from May 1970 could look it up.
One result was that it appears nothing was done with the study – all the materials were just shelved, and it seems none of it was ever used!
* * *
Over in New Haven, the Yale Daily News of Monday, May 4 described the events of the weekend in several articles:
“Weekend of Demonstrations Ends With Second Night of Disorder… Although both afternoon rallies were peaceful, several disturbances occurred on Friday and Saturday nights. Tear gas was used by the police both evenings to disperse crowds.” Panthers and student marshalls were involved trying to keep the peace and help disperse the crowd – one Panther announced on Saturday night, “This is not the correct moment to seize the time,” before choking on tear gas.
“In two nights of disturbances over the May Day Weekend, New Haven police utilized volleys of tear gas to disperse crowds gathered in the area of the Green. But the previous predictions of large-scale violence proved unfounded. There were no hand-to-hand battles between police and demonstrators, only scattered incidents of rock-and-bottle throwing which were met by tear gas… National Guardsmen were deployed in the downtown area on both days to supplement the police forces.” The rally participants generally avoided confrontations, though, and it was admitted that “most of the demonstrators had behaved peacefully over the weekend” and that “the Black Panthers did everything possible to keep the demonstrations non-violent.”
One editorial observed, “The May Day demonstration did not succeed in freeing Bobby Seale, but it did bring together the largest assemblage of long-haired youths, film crews, and National Guardsmen that New Haven has ever witnessed. For a few moments on Friday afternoon it was possible to believe that except for the militant rhetoric and the large number of conspicuously hidden troops, May Day was another Woodstock. The crowd clearly enjoyed itself in the sun, and except for a few tense incidents it was, in the words of one participant, a ‘groovy afternoon.’ But the older generation remained skeptical, and one Yale administrator went as far as saying, ‘If this is the people, they aren’t ever going to get any power.’ The power was clearly evident on the other side, however. Saturday’s demonstration attracted one of the most impressive arrays of law enforcement talent in recent memory.”
Though the rally was supposed to last for three days, by Sunday it had tapered off considerably; people’s enthusiasm had perhaps been diminished by the National Guard presence and the tear-gas attacks. “15,000 demonstrators who came to New Haven this weekend to show support for the Black Panthers began leaving late Saturday afternoon and early Sunday. Yesterday activities which included a black music festival were cancelled, cutting short the planned three-day function.”
This page also has some personal memories of the May Day weekend:
“The police were on their highest alert. The New Haven community was terrified that downtown was going to be destroyed and that the violence would spread to the suburbs. The authorities were ready to stop that from happening… New Haven prepared for this event like it was an approaching hurricane. Almost all shops downtown were closed and boarded up. The National Guard was mobilized and placed in position in large numbers throughout the area. Military jeeps and troop carriers rolled through downtown in an open display of force.”
(You can imagine the mindset of young people facing the National Guard one night, and seeing a Dead show the next night! Small wonder that the student quoted in the Argus article, after “a very heavy political weekend in New Haven,” just “wanted to relax, get stoned.”)
The Yale Daily News editors had opposed the rally, worrying about violent demonstrators taking over and anarchists creating disorder – “the dangers of radical rhetoric and sporadic violence…are too great.” Even worse was the fear of people agreeing with radical speeches: “More disturbing, though, than the destruction by a few nihilists of the left was the response of the vast majority of the demonstrators to the remarks of the speakers. Even though the crowd was less than half what was predicted, and even though they seemed more concerned with sun and song than political rhetoric, the fact remains that they identified with the purpose of the demonstration and with those who spoke at it.”
One significant speech, which was heard even outside New Haven, had precisely this effect. “Saturday’s rally, which drew approximately 7000 persons, was highlighted by…Tom Hayden’s announcement of a nationwide strike of all high schools and colleges. The strike is supposed to start tomorrow and is centered around the demands to: 1) Free all political prisoners in the US [including Black Panthers]; 2) Withdraw all US troops immediately from Southeast Asia; 3) Have universities end ROTC programs and all defense research.”
The idea of the school strike quickly took hold, as the headlines show: “Committee Endorses Nation-Wide Strike As Anti-War Protest – Cambodian Actions Prompt University Strike Proposals – Saturday’s call by Tom Hayden for a nation-wide university strike in response to the stepped-up US involvement in Cambodia appears to have drawn quick response from several colleges around the country.” Meetings were being held immediately at various colleges to discuss and vote on the strike, and many schools were already going on strike on May 3, as announced at the Wesleyan show.
Most Yale students had been on strike anyway since April 22, in support of the Black Panthers (though other local issues also entered in). The Daily News editors and the president of Yale, though denouncing Nixon, opposed this new strike, fearing it would be ineffective and pointless (as well as interrupting students’ education). But the tide swept everyone with it.
The Daily News issues of the next few days cover the spreading of the strike (Tuesday, May 5 – “Yale Strike To Continue; National Strike Begins”). 140 colleges and universities were on strike by Wednesday; 260 by Thursday. The Yale paper, of course, focuses mostly on Yale issues, local debates over the strike and anti-ROTC protests, though other Ivy League schools are also covered. Kent State gets a small sidebar, and various people urge a period of mourning.
It turns out that lots of rice and surplus food was left over after the May Day weekend, as far fewer people needed food than anticipated; so the surplus was given to various organizations. This is similar to the situation at Wesleyan, where all that rice was left over after the show – since “most people had been fed elsewhere, the rice was not cooked” and would be resold. The show wasn’t nearly as crowded as people expected, and we might note, drew only a fraction of the crowds at the New Haven protests (many of whom had come across the country).
The Grateful Dead, of course, are never mentioned in the Yale paper at this time. They didn’t play there until the summer of ’71, and in any case, rock music seems to have rarely intruded into the pages of the Daily News.
* * *
Professor Phil Ennis later wrote an academic book on rock music, The Seventh Stream: the Emergence of Rocknroll in American Popular Music (published by Wesleyan University Press in 1992). Far from using any of his research from 1970, he passed over the Dead’s Wesleyan show in half a sentence:
“The Grateful Dead had appeared at Wesleyan University in May of 1970 for a free concert in support of the student strike (“Free Bobby Seale and All Political Prisoners”).” He ties it to the New Haven May Day Rally – the president of Yale proclaimed that it “would not be another Woodstock,” and Abbie Hoffman replied, “We won’t let them separate our culture from our politics.”
Unfortunately, Ennis was off the mark here; in fact he’s massively misleading about the event he had so painstakingly documented! The Dead agreed to play the free concert before anyone knew there would be a student strike, and certainly didn’t anticipate sharing the stage with the Free-Bobby-Seale movement; the school was not even on strike yet, and Cambodia caused the strike more than the Panthers’ situation did. The Dead’s music, as they always intended, was completely separate from the political speeches the students and Panthers were making. But, twenty years later, memory had blurred it all together…
Ennis devotes about a page to the Dead elsewhere in his book, as one of San Francisco’s key bands with one of “mature rock’s strongest styles.” After quoting a bit of Garcia from Signpost to New Space and briefly recounting their history in a few sentences, he writes:
“They have lived and thrived in the midst of probably one of the largest bootleg tape operations in history. (Deadheads pride themselves on their freely traded tape collections of Dead concerts.) Their musical reliance was on a jazz-improvisation type of performance. The 17- or 25-minute versions of ‘Dark Star’ are mature rock, a cousin to a long jazz jam but certainly no close relative to a pop, R&B, or country piece. Their readiness to spin off solo and other configurations of recording groups also comes from the jazz tradition.
The most important strategic accomplishment of the Dead, however, has been their success in permanently bonding to their audience. This remarkable and self-renewing attachment of fans to the Dead is not entirely a result of escapist, retreatist, or drug-filled nostalgia. The existence of the Deadheads and their tribal-like practices might make it appear so, but the live concerts from 1970 to the present, almost always completely sold out, have extended their audience’s age range from the veterans of 1967 to the teenagers of the 1990s.”
Positive though it is, this description does not reveal much close study or knowledge of the band!
* * *
The Dead seem not to have had fond memories of the May 3 show. According to McNally’s account: “At Wesleyan the stage and the gig were controlled by the African American student community in consort with various Panthers. Roadie Sonny Heard, not known for his liberal racial views, objected, but reconsidered [when] a .38 was shoved into his stomach. As one bystander recalled, Kreutzmann was hassled by some of the students, and Cutler, after telling them not to turn on the sound system, gave in.” (McNally p.367) (For what it’s worth, the Panther presence seems to be minimal in our documents of the show, with very few blacks seen in the photos. I’d think they would mostly have been at New Haven during the daytime protests, though many may have returned to Wesleyan in the evening.)
Nonetheless, after a meeting with Huey Newton on a plane ride that September, the Dead played at a Black Panther benefit the following March. (This is covered at length in Peter Doggett’s book, There’s A Riot Going On.) Garcia said, “We had a nice long rap, we liked the cat and were pretty impressed with him. We thought that if there was ever anything we could do for him, we’d try to do it.” [Doggett]
Garcia said in the fall 1970 Action World interview that the Dead would play “a fund raising trip for the Panthers, ‘cause the Panthers are righteous… They have a rhetoric trip going on, but what they’re doing is actual, practical things. They’ve got a free breakfast trip, and they’re starting a free shoes thing… They’re really doing things, man. They’re into action and that’s something we can understand ‘cause we’re from a place where talk is cheap. I mean, talk don’t mean nothing, anybody can say stuff; the thing that counts is what you do… As far as specific organizations, we don’t have any affiliations with any, but if there’s a righteous [benefit], no matter who’s doing it, we’ll do it… If it avoids all the bureaucracy and bullshit and goes right to something, we’ll do it. That’s the sort of thing we’re interested in.” [Jackson, Garcia p.191] He emphasized that the Dead did things for political groups “not on the basis of political trips, but on the basis of, we were able to get it on with them.”
But by all accounts the show did not go very well. The Panthers patted down the band & crew for weapons, and were quite frosty towards the Dead – witnesses at dead.net remember that Huey Newton gave a long, rambling speech before the Dead came on, and at the end of his speech, all the blacks & Panthers left the building, leaving behind a very small audience of Dead fans. “There were like 50 or so people left, so we all sat onstage to hear the band.” The Dead played a short set that included Lovelight; Phil Lesh later recalled that during one quiet jam, the audience shouted “Free Bobby Seale!” to many cheers.
Garcia said after the show, “We have some loose semi-association with the Black Panthers because we met Huey and got along well with him. We don’t deal with things on the basis of content, the idea of a philosophy or any of that shit – mostly it’s personalities. [The show] did what it was supposed to do – it made them some bread.” He added that the Dead admired some of the Panthers’ social policies, like the free breakfast program for kids; “but it’s not our concern what they’re doing or why they’re doing it.” [Doggett]
In a 1985 interview with Blair Jackson, Weir remembered the benefit: “That was another fiasco, I’m afraid. I wasn’t real happy about doing that one, personally, but a couple of guys in the band got convinced by Huey Newton, and I then went along with it. About halfway through it, though, I started getting the feeling that we were being ripped off, and I’m pretty sure that was, in fact, the case. We probably paid a lot of legal fees for people who were in jail for things they did. That’s not where I like to put my efforts. We’ve all learned a lot since then.” He mentions other benefits that were “hustles” or “fiascos” where the money raised didn’t actually help anyone, but “we’re getting better at getting the money to the right places, where it won’t be squandered or pocketed.” [Goin’ Down the Road p.73]
The Dead had one formative experience at the Human Be-In back in January ’67, which influenced their beliefs on how well political speeches mingled with music. Lesh wrote, “We had some leftist politicos from Berkeley ranting, the only bring-down of the day.” [Lesh p.97] Garcia also remembered, “There was a whole contingent of people from over in Berkeley, guys like Jerry Rubin… I had taken some LSD; I was feeling really good. A lot of people were there and were real happy. Then all of a sudden this voice came over the loudspeaker – it turned out to be Jerry Rubin – and he was exhorting the crowd. And all of a sudden…every angry voice I’d ever heard popped into my head. So I felt, well, of all the things I would like to avoid people having to feel, that’s one of the things I’d like to avoid….transmitting that message to people, that angry voice.” [Jackson, Garcia p.121]
In a later interview Garcia was even more adamant: “The words didn’t matter. It was that angry tone. It scared me, it made me sick to my stomach.” [McNally p.179] Weir has also stated several times that the band believed their stage was not for speech-making. For instance in a 2009 Rolling Stone interview: “We never felt we had any place promoting any particular political views. We felt that people came to our events for music, and that was what we were happy to supply them. But anything on top of that, like politics, was strictly forbidden. Our stage is a stage for art – the stage is not a podium.”
In a way, this is related to Garcia’s wanting to avoid the Dead’s power over their audiences. He said in the 1994 Magical Blend interview, “It’s perilously close to fascism. If I started to think about controlling that power or somehow trying to fiddle around with it, then it would become fascism.” He also told David Gans in ‘81 that the power of the Dead was “close to being perfect fascism,” in that the music manipulates people “in the same sense that fascism manipulates people… We don’t trust ourselves with it. We certainly don’t trust anybody else with it.” [Conversations p.53] Garcia always deflected the notion of having any control over people, even in song – “We’ve always avoided putting any kind of message in the music” – and the whole band was deeply suspicious of those who sought control over others.
Garcia remembered in ’81, “Back in the Haight, there were some Charlie Manson characters running around, really weird people who believed they were Christ risen or whatever, and who meant in the worst possible way to take the power. Some of them saw that the Grateful Dead raised energy and they wanted to control it. But we knew the only kind of energy management that counted was the liberating kind – the kind that frees people, not constrains them. So we were always determined to avoid those fascistic crowd-control implications in rock. It’s always been a matter of personal honor not to manipulate the crowd.” [Garcia p.140]
On top of that, Garcia and other bandmembers had strong feelings that it was no good rallying crowds to protest the government, reform the country, stop the war, etc. As Garcia said, “All that campus confusion seemed laughable. Why enter this closed society and make an effort to liberalize it when that’s never been its function? Why not just leave it and go somewhere else?” [McNally p.179] Or as Rock Scully put it, “We don’t have to confront them. Why go on their trip? Why battle? Dissolve. Disappear.”
Blair Jackson quotes Barry Melton (of Country Joe & the Fish) on this subject: “We were setting up a new world, as it were, that was going to run parallel to the old world but have as little to do with it as possible. We just weren’t going to deal with straight people. And to us, the politicos – a lot of the leaders of the antiwar movement – were straight people, because they were still concerned with government. They were going to go march on Washington. We didn’t even want to know that Washington was there!” [Garcia p.119]
Paul Kantner (of Jefferson Airplane) felt the same way: “There was a difference between Berkeley and us. We didn’t give a shit about politics. We created our own special space and we figured out a way to do things differently. We felt that we didn’t have any responsibilities, except maybe to provide a good example on a personal level, and get along with everyone we met. So people in Berkeley were disdainful of us in San Francisco. We would support them, but we didn’t want to live the way they did. We weren’t prepared to put up with any bullshit, or accept that there was only one way to live your life. We wanted the freedom to make our own choices.” [quoted in Doggett]
Doggett’s book also quotes a Berkeley Barb writer who had opposite feelings about the Human Be-In than the San Francisco tribe did: “It was badly organized. There was great potential here for protest. If I could have got to a microphone, I would have said what was in my heart. The organizers implied that they were against the war, but that they didn’t want to bother people about it on this occasion.” The gap between the hippie dropouts and the radical organizers remained a wide one in the ‘60s. (For those who’ve seen the new DVD documentary Dawn of the Dead, it talks quite a bit about this issue.)
Garcia’s anti-political feelings are well-known, though other bandmembers have since become more “straight.” Blair Jackson summed it up: “Many freaks believed that protesting and trying to reform what they viewed as a corrupt, morally bankrupt political system was, in effect, buying into that system… From the outset, the Dead refused to get involved with overtly political activities, though not surprisingly they were often asked to appear at various marches and rallies.” [Garcia p.119]
The issue is a little more complicated, since many of the band’s early benefits or free shows can easily be construed as political, even if the band didn’t intend them that way – for instance Columbia University 5/3/68, MIT 5/6/70, or the Oakland Black Panther benefit 3/5/71, or various Hell’s Angels events. (It would be good to have a full listing of these types of appearances, both of benefits for various causes, and of the free shows.)
As Garcia pointed out, the Dead played a Panther benefit partly because they got along with Huey Newton, partly because they thought the Panthers were “righteous.” The Dead worked with activist groups “not on the basis of political trips, but on the basis of, we were able to get it on with them.” “We don’t deal with things on the basis of content [or] philosophy…mostly it’s personalities.” If an event was “righteous…no matter who’s doing it, we’ll do it.”
Striking students surely counted as “righteous,” but as Lesh & Weir noticed at the Columbia University show in ’68, the band’s goals sometimes clashed with the students’ goals. Lesh wrote of that show, “The event left us with a less than satisfying feeling: the band and the students weren’t on the same wavelength.” Garcia told Action World that when the band was surrounded by “militant vibes” their playing suffered: “That kind of stuff fucks your head up… You can’t play good music if your head is fucked up.You can create excitement but you can’t get into anything very deep.” One hopes the band felt a little better about the Wesleyan show!
Aside from the raised-fist logo on their drums, the only message the Dead wanted on their stage that spring was the music. (I don’t recall a single instance from spring ’70 where a bandmember so much as mentions the situation outside the concert. The 1/31/70 New Orleans show, with its banter about the band being busted, is a very rare exception.)
Garcia was quite voluble about his point of view in interviews from 1970-71, though.
“I’m convinced, more than ever, that politics is bullshit, always was bullshit and will be bullshit. It’ll continue to be an empty, futile bullshit trip as long as people are willing to go for it. It doesn’t get things done. It has no real relationship to the world in which we exist.” [1970; Doggett]
Action World: “With us and politics, man, generally none of us are political thinkers or into political trips or activism or any of that kind of bullshit… What we decide to do doesn’t necessarily relate to what anybody else has to do, because we’re into making our own decisions… But we’re not into making decisions for everybody…so we don’t go and say…that’s what you should do, or anything like that, because that ain’t what we do. And nobody can do that anyway. Anybody who claims to be able to decide what’s right for everybody is really a fool.” [1970 Action World]
“On the West Coast, it’s already so crazy you can’t believe it, with courthouse bombings and all that going on. It’s been going on hot and heavy out there for years. But see, everybody’s had a chance to take a good look at it, step away from it, and that isn’t it. Fighting and hassling and bloodletting and killings and all that shit, that ain’t it. Whatever life is about, that’s not it. You know, I think everybody should take one step backwards and two steps sideways, and let the whole thing collapse. Nobody vote, nobody work – let it collapse, man. You don’t have to break things and fuck things up and kill people and make all those people uptight... They’re all going away…because none of this stuff works.” [ibid.]
“I think that the revolution is over, and what’s left is mop-up action. It’s a matter of the news getting out to everybody else. I think that the important changes have already happened – changes in consciousness… Music is one of those things left that isn’t completely devoid of meaning. Talk, like politics, has been made meaningless by the endless repetition of lies. There is no longer any substance in it. You listen to a politician making a speech, and it’s like hearing nothing. Whereas music is unmistakeably music… The Grateful Dead plays at the religious services of the new age. Everybody gets high, and that’s what it’s about really. Getting high is a lot more real than listening to a politician.” [1971; Garcia, p.191]
And from 1967: “We’re trying to make music in such a way that it doesn’t have a message for anybody. We don’t have anything to tell anybody. We don’t want to change anybody. We want people to have the chance to feel a little bit better… The music that we make is an act of love, an act of joy… If it says something, it says it on its own terms at the moment we’re playing it, and it doesn’t have anything to do with – We’re not telling people to go get stoned, or drop out. We’re just playing and they can take that any way they want.” [Garcia p.120]
* * *
Meanwhile – after the Wesleyan show the Dead headed on to MIT, where they would meet Ned Lagin and play two shows amidst the student strike. Lesh wrote in his book, “The student strikes were erupting as we pulled into Cambridge, Massachusetts, for a scheduled gig the next day at MIT’s gym. When we were asked if we’d consider a free concert in support of the striking students, we jumped at the chance. We set up on the steps of the main library and played a set. Hadn’t we done this before, striking students and all?” (p.178)
The May 6 MIT show seems to have been a happier experience for them than Wesleyan, judging by their enthusiasm in the cold weather and the lack of other speakers onstage – Garcia even makes a lost-child announcement himself! Lesh also says during the show, “We’re enjoying it, it’s a lot of fun… It’s a pleasure playing for you all.”
Free shows were soon to become a very rare occurrence in the Dead’s schedule. Garcia outlined a few reasons at length to Action World that October (one wonders if he had the Wesleyan show in mind):
“The reason that it’s harder to do free concerts in, say, the middle of a tour, is that first of all a free concert has to be set up by somebody… That means there has to be a certain amount of energy going out to make sure that there’s a place to do it, generators and shit like that; but not too uncool about telling everybody that it’s going to happen… The next one is that usually in our tours we don’t usually have a free space, where for example, the equipment guys would wanna move a bunch of shit around…to do a free thing… It’s a lot of work for a lot of people, and nobody realizes it. And I’m not into making people work that much more. It would be groovy to do free things, but…it’s not effortless anymore, and it’s not particularly mellow anymore. And it used to be those things…
“Every time you have a free thing outdoors, you have to remember there’s a whole bunch of people who are there…being responsible for the equipment…sound stuff, PA, and all that… They’re trying to take care of it. Meanwhile, there’s a whole bunch of other people who equate free with free – with utter absolute freedom. And that means the possibility of fucking stuff up. What it does, it puts some people in the position of cops when they aren’t cops – the people whose equipment it is... I don’t like to see people go through that kind of shit. If it was possible to do it and have everybody be cool, it would be groovy to do it. But it’s not possible to do it that much anymore. It just isn’t.”
The Dead were supposed to return to Connecticut two weeks later – they were to play in a rock festival scheduled at Fairfield University on May 17. This show has remained utterly obscure, the most likely reason being that it was cancelled. Fairfield was apparently not as welcoming to rock bands as Middletown was – the university had also cancelled a scheduled Doors show the week before!
Connecticut residents were to be disappointed in their hopes of a big Woodstock-type rock festival that summer, as well. The Powder Ridge Rock Festival was to be held at the Powder Ridge ski resort in Middlefield (a small town of 4500 residents, less than 15 minutes away from Middletown). The usual spectacular three-day lineup of bands was planned; but the citizens of Middlefield became hysterical at the thought of being swamped by hordes of long-haired hippies and reckless young rock lovers. As the wiki article puts it, “A legal injunction forced the event to be canceled, keeping the musicians away, but a crowd of 30,000 attendees arrived anyway, to find no food, no entertainment, no adequate plumbing, and at least seventy drug dealers.” Faced with these primitive conditions, the crowds apparently just took massive amounts of drugs and had random sex for a couple days before finally wandering off in a stupor.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powder_Ridge_Rock_Festival (for a brief account)
http://www.chronos-historical.org/rockfest/PowderRidge/index.html (see especially Santelli’s account, and the final articles from Life and the Hartford Advocate)
It’s not known whether Bob Matthews taped this show – we have his tapes of May 1-2 and May 14-15, but there’s an odd gap of all the shows in between, from May 3-10, which is hard to explain. (The 5/6 SBD was an outside taping job by the MIT radio station; and 5/10 was likely not taped since the Dead did not have their equipment at that show.) It remains a mystery what happened to this week of SBD tapes – if they were lost or stolen, we hope they may be recovered someday.
The Taping Compendium has the disheartening story that “some of the band’s reels for 5/1/70 were found under the stage on 5/14/70… Soon after the show one of the parties with the reels disappeared, and some of the reels were never recovered.” Since then the whole show has been recovered after all; but there were probably other shows of the time where people just walked off with the reels. (4/26/70 is said to be one of them.) Latvala shrugged, “That’s how loose things were in the past… Someone picks [the tapes] up, puts them in storage, dies, and the tapes resurface.” (Compendium p.48) That’s apparently how the recently recovered reels from Nov ’69 – Feb ’70 came to light and got returned to the Vault.
It’s also not known whether the superb tape of the acoustic set was part of the sociology project. My guess is, it was not, as the method & quality of the taping are so different from Warren White’s effort; it was by an independent taper covering part of the same day. Unfortunately, the taper seems to have been caught or unable to continue. As far as we know, it went into circulation separately, under the wrong date.
Warren’s reels were copied for circulation by deadhead students, at various times in the ‘70s and ‘80s. What originally circulated was 90-minute cassettes of just the Dead’s show, minus the NRPS set. There is some false information about how the complete copy originated, which should be corrected here.
Deadlists currently says, “This tape was mastered on a Uher reel-to-reel machine by sociology professor Charles Lemert.” This isn't so. The text notes for the best Archive copy are misleading – the story seems to have originated through a misreading.
Peter Braverman, who circulated complete "first-generation" cassettes of this show, stated, “The recording deck was an old reel-to-reel Uher machine owned by sociology professor Charles Lemert…who lent it to me, along with the original reels, when I asked... It was conceived, according to Lemert, as a sociological document, not a concert recording.” (He wrote this message on the deadlists discussion board back in 2002 about "the real story" behind the tapes.)
There's a catch: he copied from the master reels back in 1985, so that's when he would have borrowed the deck & reels from Lemert. (Braverman was then a junior, so he certainly wasn't around the college in 1970!) That didn't mean that Lemert was actually involved with the taping, as everyone assumed – just that the sociology department still had an old tapedeck & the original reels 15 years later.
Archivist Alec McLane writes, “I did contact the Sociology professor, Charles Lemert, who supposedly owned the Uher recorder used, and was quoted as saying it was more of a sociological experiment. He says he has heard this rumor before and is completely baffled by it: he had nothing to do with the recording, didn’t come to Wesleyan until 1982, and wasn’t even much of a Deadhead, although for a while he taught a class at Wesleyan on the Sixties… Lemert suggests that Phil Ennis left the tape in the office, and Lemert found it for his class.”
McLane also contacted Braverman, who “confirmed that he took Charles Lemert’s class on the ‘60s in 1985, borrowed the tapes from him and made cassette dubs. He still has the master tapes he made from the reels. He does not remember what was written on the reel boxes, but thinks that the Uher he used to make the dubs was the same used to record the concert. [It was] probably owned by the department.”
The text notes for this show state, “According to notes written on the first gen reels, the three original master reels were recorded by a Wesleyan student named Warren White as part of an assignment for a Professor Schenk (we think that’s how it’s spelled. The handwriting on the reel cases is difficult to read).”
McLane reports, “From looking through Wesleyan directories at the time, there was a student named Warren White (class of 1971), but I find no professor named Schenk in Sociology or any other department.” Whether the mysterious scribbled ‘Schenk’ was Ennis or a different professor, it would seem White at least is beyond doubt. And yet, McLane contacted White as well, with disconcerting news – White “says he was there, enjoyed the concert, but didn’t have anything to do with recording it, as far as he remembers – and doesn’t remember anyone else recording [near him]!”
(These are the Deadlists Digest messages from Peter Braverman, Stu Hanson, and Alan Bershaw. There’s a slight unresolved dispute here – Hanson is the one who circulated the first CDR copies of the complete show in 2002, and he got his DAT copy from Bershaw’s first-generation reels. Braverman made a first-gen cassette copy from the master reels, and said that Bershaw got it from him; but Bershaw said no, he’d copied from someone else who had borrowed the master reels. At any rate, Hanson’s copy lacks any telltale cassette flips, and the info about the writing on the original reels came from Bershaw, so I would believe his reel>DAT lineage. Braverman’s cassette copy, ironically, is not on the Archive.)
The original tape-reels were still kept in the sociology department as of 1985. Possibly they’re still stashed there somewhere! But they may have been lost or thrown out at some point in the last couple decades – especially if there isn’t a working reel-to-reel player there anymore. Also, it seems that students were free to borrow the reels for copying, so it would have been easy for someone not to return them. (Bershaw mentions his source keeping the reels in his apartment – I wonder who this was.) If they do still exist, tape isn't a great long-lasting medium, so the quality may have declined to worse than our copies – an upgrade is probably not an option with this show.
In the ‘90s a tape copy was donated to the Wesleyan library by a local resident. Curiously, it was not a master or even first-gen copy, but had gone down the collectors’ chain from one of the older, incomplete copies, and had tracks from 4/12/70 added as filler. (As a sidenote, the 4/12/70 tracks, while inferior quality to the Archive copy, have such a hugely different soundmix – loud bass & guitar, low vocals – it seems there used to be an alternate AUD of that show in circulation.)
The video was found many years after the show in Wesleyan’s ITS department, and given to the library. (It was recorded on Scotch 1-inch videotape, and the library later copied it onto other formats.) We don’t know if other videos were also made, or if there was just the one – or, for that matter, what became of the field notes, photos, and interviews taken in the study. Ennis may have kept them, or they may have been thrown out – he died in 1998 – but possibly some of them are still moldering in the Wesleyan sociology department archives!
The show itself has passed into campus lore. "When my son was on tour at Wesleyan U as a prospective applicant, the student leader who took us around literally stopped dead in his tracks when I shared with him that the Foss Hill site we were then walking past was where the GD played one day in May 1970..." "When I was there, people spoke with awe trying to visualize the Grateful Dead RIGHT HERE on Foss Hill..." With no SBD tape and imperfect documentation, the show will always be partially hidden by the fog of time, but hopefully this essay has in some part recovered the events of the day.
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This article depended on the assistance of others. Thanks to Sean & Debbie Gibson, Alec McLane, music librarian, Leith Johnson, university archist, Jennifer Hadley & Suzy Taraba, special collections librarians.