This post is simply a list of the Grateful Dead shows that were cut short by their power being shut off. As you might expect, all these shows are from the early days, none after 1970 - back in those days, the Dead were more like "psychedelic guerrillas" crashing through music venues that were ill-prepared for them, and performance conditions could be more chaotic and haphazard. Some of these shows are well-known, but it happened more often than we know about.
We'll start with an interview Jerry Garcia did with Dennis McNally, complaining about this issue, which happened to the band repeatedly.
Garcia: There was a while there when every tour, our second set - the last half of our show, somebody would fuckin' turn off the power, would shut us down. And we started to get pathological about it. It happened all the fuckin' time. And we started to get crazy behind it. You have no idea what it's like - building up and all of a sudden the power is gone... Someplace in Ohio or some dumbshit college somewhere, and it just makes you crazy. It just made us furious. I mean, goddamn.
It seemed like that never stopped happening for one year, maybe '69 or '70 or somewhere in there, right when college campuses were in their greatest upheaval. So everybody associated us, for some reason - I don't know why, God knows we were never very political - but they associated us with danger. As soon as they started seeing people freak out, they thought, 'Okay, that's it. We're not going to let this go any further.' Boom.
Jesus Christ, I mean, that's the evolution, really, of our whole sound system and our power things - with those big fuckin' things that clamp onto the main trunk route - that stuff all evolved from that. We want something that nobody can fucking turn off, ever. It was like they drove us to it, I must say. We were perfectly happy with our regular amplifiers, but they wouldn't let us go on.
It was weird. It was so funny. I mean, everybody did it. Bill Graham even did it to us up in Montreal... [Expo '67 in Montreal, 8/6/67] The audience started freaking out and the cops started getting uncomfortable and Bill Graham told us to stop playing so exciting. 'Okay Bill, okay, we'll play some lame shit.' You know what I mean? What kind of thing is that to say to us? I mean, that's what we're there for. That's what the crowd is there for. That's what everybody is there for, and we knew nobody was going to get hurt. They were all like girls and stuff like that. We knew nobody's going to get fuckin' hurt. It was, like, crazy, but it scared them. It used to be that anything that looked like it was out of control scared them, scared the cops.
Mountain Girl: People have to stop dancing right now and sit down!
Garcia: Oh yeah, stop dancing. I mean, sometimes where they were so hard-assed to the kids. Someplace like Memphis - [6/19/70]
Mountain Girl: Or Ohio, University of Ohio.
Garcia: This was a municipal facility because the cops there were regular city cops. I mean, if somebody got out of their chair - if they got out of their fuckin' chair, the cops would come, like three or four big cops, and would come and bang them.
And I mean, this is during that time when cops were constantly getting onstage, constantly getting in our faces, and we were constantly having to shut [down]. It was happening all the time. There would be this 6-foot-6 cop ready to deck Mickey, or whoever the loudmouth in the band was. And I'd have to jump in there with my guitar and say, 'Hey, wait a minute.' And the guy would swing at me and I'd have to - fuck, I mean, push them off the stage. It was frequently hairy during those [shows]... For about a year, it characterized our shows.
Mountain Girl: I think that gig with the cops was like Toledo, Ohio, or something like that...
Garcia: There was more than one.
Mountain Girl: I remember it was really scary.
Garcia: I remember one was outside of Kansas City - I guess it was Kansas City - and it was some little soldiers-and-sailors kind of hall, one of those kinds of places. We came out after the show and half a dozen cops were beating the shit out of some skinny little hippie. One of them could have killed him. I remember getting so furious... It was so cruel and uncalled for. And it was like, I can't understand this. That was during that period of time when it seemed like our audience was catching shit all the time and our shows were being cut off all the time.
(from Jerry on Jerry, p. 166-170)
Phil Lesh also recalled the Memphis show in an interview: "In Memphis it was really an uptight performing situation. If anyone stood up in their seat they got busted, and I mean busted. Even if you thought about moving, you got wiped on the head, dragged out and taken to jail." (The Dead swore they'd never play Memphis again, and didn't return there until 1995.)
Lesh also remembered the Montreal Expo '67 show, writing in his book:
"I notice that the entire area is full of people - and more are jamming in... The cops appear and join arms to keep the surging people off the stage (which is at ground level). All the while Bill Graham is standing behind the amps, screaming, 'Don't play so good!' and 'Calm it down!' We play on, exhilarated by the knowledge that the music is literally pulling people in off the street but oblivious to the fact that those same people are slowly being squeezed into paste. Finally, Bill runs onto the stage between Pig and Jerry, waving his arms and screaming, 'Stop! Stop playing!' We grudgingly acquiesce... I look up and see...[a] line of blue-shirted police standing nose to nose with...the band, and behind them, the distended faces of the public crushed up against one another."
(Searching for the Sound, p.110)
According to one paper, the 6/1/67 Tompkins Square Park show also ended prematurely: "The music could be heard for blocks in every direction... The Tompkins Square bandshell rocked...until a noise complaint was lodged in the late afternoon. Rather than tune down, the Dead turned off."
It's likely other free park shows came to a sudden end as well - such as their very first free park show, in Vancouver on 8/5/66. One witness recalled, "They were driving around Vancouver and saw the bandstand at English Bay. Without getting any permission, they decided they'd play there; they set up and were promptly shut down by the police." (A local promoter also said, "The bandstand show took place until the power was cut off.")
The Dead certainly faced some shows that were shut down by the police to control the crowd or just end the noise. But what Garcia doesn't mention is that more often, shows were ended by simple curfew issues, the venue not wanting the band to play overtime, or by noise complaints. These were problems the Dead didn't have to face much later in the '70s, but frequently dealt with in the '60s.
We mostly only know about those shows that were taped, so this will be an incomplete list, but these are the shows I could find where the plug was pulled on the Dead:
1/8/66 Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco
https://archive.org/details/gd1966-01-08.sbd.lestatkatt.106505.flac16 (multiple edits/sources)
I don't think the band was stopped mid-song (the available recording is incomplete), but the police came in and tried to shut down the power. "The cops started shouting for them to close down but couldn't make themselves heard and started pulling plugs out... Finally they ordered the Pranksters to start clearing the place out." (Wolfe p.225)
"Around 2 AM the police came by to close the show... An officer came out onstage and motioned for the band to stop, and was duly ignored. The cops grew perplexed... They tried to use the house PA to announce closing... They began to pull power cords out of the wall, and MG followed them and plugged things back in. At length, the band stopped playing and the police dutifully began shooing everyone out, although it was a slow process." (McNally p.122)
(For a transcript of the end of the show, see Appendix B below.)
1/28/66 Matrix, San Francisco
The plug is pulled at the start of Midnight Hour.
Garcia: “Cut us off again. That’s what happens, there’s no place you can play.”
Weir: “The story of our lives, you play somewhere and somebody turns you off.”
Lesh: “Good night, ladies and gentlemen, and you too, you pricks.”
8/24/68 Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles (Two From The Vault)
The plug is pulled in the climax of Morning Dew.
Garcia: "Got turned off once again! Goodnight, everybody."
Announcer: "The law says that's all, so I guess that's it."
11/25/68 Memorial Auditorium, Ohio University, Athens (no recording)
Witnesses recalled: "The whole thing wailed until midnight, with some members of the audience dancing on stage." "Most of the crowd was standing instead of sitting, many on the stage, dancing on the floor. The electricity was deliberately cut off around midnight. I remember Jerry calming the crowd, preventing a riot."
"Around midnight, the band was ripping through a rendition of “Good Lovin’” that had the crowd dancing in the aisles. But right in the middle of the song a university official climbed on stage, opened the metal cover on a large circuit board, and flipped a couple of switches. With the exception of the drums, the music stopped dead. The official shouted to Garcia that the show was over. There was a whole lot of heckling, but not any real protest from the band. They unplugged their instruments, and eventually the roadies started packing up."
The band sang We Bid You Good Night to end the show.
1/24/69 Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco
The power is cut off during the second set, in the middle of Lovelight. It sounds like Weir shouts, "There you have it! [to Pigpen:] All yours." Pigpen encourages the audience for a bit, and they don't want the show to stop - he tries to keep Lovelight going unaccompanied as the audience shouts and stomps with him, and the drummers keep going for a long drum break while the crowd claps. "More! More!" Some stoned nut climbs onstage to shout along with the drums, but to no avail, the show ends.
Considering the set had been only a little more than a half-hour long, the show must have been running overtime - and the Avalon was pretty strict about keeping sets short; the Dead's sets were usually under an hour.
4/6/69 Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco
The plug is pulled at the end of the jam in Viola Lee Blues.
Weir: "It seems somebody is trying to tell us something."
The band ends the song by singing the last verse to a drumbeat.
The night before, 4/5, after It's A Sin Garcia had asked the audience, "What do you wanna hear that lasts for ten minutes? We got ten minutes left!" They then played a 20-minute Alligator>feedback. This may partly explain being cut off the next day. All the Dead's second sets during the April '69 run at the Avalon went for over an hour, much longer than usual for that venue. (For a couple other examples of similar 1969 behavior, see Appendix A below.)
4/17/69 Quadrangle, Washington University, St Louis (Download Series vol. 12)
A minute into Caution, the band stops playing as the cops intervene.
Garcia & Lesh: "They're taking our road manager to jail if we play any more, so we ain't gonna let our road manager go to jail. We like him a lot, he's a real good guy, and you people are really good too."
(This was an outdoors show in the rain. The cops seem to have been hanging around for a while - after Lovelight, the audience was getting frantic for the show to go on and shouting for more, and Garcia explained, "Okay, okay - gotta change a string - just broke a string... Save the hassles for the heat - really, who needs it, man? The rain won't hurt you, you won't melt, you're not made of sugar - for god's sake, people!")
A newspaper article reported: "Police in St. Louis County got several calls [from residents] about midnight complaining that the amplified beat...was audible a mile away. About 300 young persons, many in hippie attire, were found grouped around a band shell on the quadrangle, listening to music played to the flashing of psychedelic lights. Police suggested the Grateful Dead stop living it up, and the concert ended."
12/13/69 Swing Auditorium, San Bernardino
The stage power is cut near the end of Lovelight, as they're winding up the song. It's not very dramatic - there's some stage yelling, but otherwise you might think the Dead just stopped playing. The vocal mics were turned off, so someone shouts unmiked to the audience, "They pulled the plug on us! Show your appreciation."
(There's a faint onstage conversation 23 minutes into the track, which I can't entirely make out, starting, "What the fuck happened?" "Those dirty bastards...")
2/20/70 Panther Hall, Fort Worth -- or possibly 2/21/70 Convention Center, San Antonio (no recording)
"One night Quicksilver opened, playing very well. This challenged the Dead, who responded with a fine set that was abbreviated when the police pulled the plug, a not-uncommon event in those days. Furious, Ron Polte shouted at the promoter, 'Those guys earned that fucking encore,' and found himself being tackled by a police officer. The ever-volatile Mickey Hart grabbed a mallet...[but] Garcia managed to interpose himself between [Mickey and] the officer..." (McNally p.284)
2/22/70 in the Houston Coliseum also had police troubles according to a newspaper review: "When Quicksilver finished and the lights were up, the police imposed their order on the thousands of people... With a little pushing and shoving, everyone was put back "in their proper place". When it looked like all was calm and quiet, out came the Dead... [But] with twenty policemen in every aisle and any semblance of freedom completely lacking...they tried to get it on but just couldn't find the spark... The Dead just went through the motions."
Houston witnesses added: "No one could get close to the stage in those days with the Houston cops!" "The Sunday afternoon show ran kinda long and the people running the hall needed to clear everyone out to make room for wrestling that night. The police made their presence known and the Dead's set was shortened. I remember Bob Weir talking about the situation with a riot-helmeted Houston PD officer." (This was pretty much also what happened at the 10/5/69 Dead/Airplane show in the Houston Coliseum, which the police also cut short, pulling the plug in the Airplane's set for inciting the audience to dance.)
(For other accounts of the Dead confronted by Southern police, see:
4/25/70 Mammoth Gardens, Denver (not on tape)
An audience member recalled: "The power was cut off around 2 AM as Mammoth Gardens was in what was essentially a residential neighborhood which frowned upon loud music being played in the wee hours. Power cut twice then the band called it quits... The band would have likely played all night so that was why the power was cut twice to try to get them to stop. The first time they just fired right back up. It was funny and amazing."
(This is not mentioned in a newspaper review of the show.)
This was the last example I found. There are probably other shows I've forgotten about, so please comment on any other shows that were shut down prematurely!
I don't think there are any instances of this happening after 1970 - during 1970-71, perhaps the Dead became better at sticking to curfews and playing shorter shows as needed. (For instance, on 3/24/70 Garcia ends the show saying, "Our time's up, see you later!" Or at the end of 4/7/71, Garcia announces, "Because of the curfew stuff, we have to knock off. I'm sorry.")
One good example is 4/22/71, in the Bangor Auditorium, where they had to stop at midnight when the house lights were turned on.
After Good Lovin', Garcia says: "That seems to be as much time as they'll let us have in this place. They're just about to pull the plug on us!"
Lesh: "Let's do one more! If they cut us off in the middle of a song, you'll know who's doing it."
They wrap up the show with a quick Johnny B. Goode.
(One thing noticeable in all these shows is that it's almost always Garcia who explains or apologizes to the audience.)
Sometimes the power would also go out inadvertently during a show. One early example was the Dead's own record release party at Fugazi Hall in San Francisco, 3/20/67 - Ralph Gleason reported, "Monday night's party for the Grateful Dead was aborted when the power failed and the Dead's set was chopped short."
5/10/69, at the Rose Palace in Pasadena, is a good example of power failure, with the power cutting out twice: in the opening Hard to Handle the instruments drop out in the solo, and Pigpen sings the last verse to the drums.
Pigpen: "I think our electricity went out or something."
Garcia: "See, here in the rock & roll universe, there's such a thing as power failure."
Weir: "Anybody got a deck of cards?"
Then the instruments drop out again during the climactic Morning Dew jam.
Weir: "Well, what the fuck?"
Garcia: "That's what happens when you play too loud... That's what happens when you have a good time."
Weir: "Did you say 'good time'? You're under arrest."
Garcia: "Somebody out there's got an electric razor plugged in, or something."
Weir then regales everybody with the Yellow Dog Story til the power is restored.
Sometimes the Dead had their own equipment problems they couldn't overcome - for instance, 1/31/70 at the Warehouse in New Orleans. The bass amp starts buzzing and they stop the electric set, calling Bear for help.
Weir: "We got a busted amplifier here."
Garcia: "We got a severe technical problem."
Weir: "So you guys can hang out and chatter amongst yourselves, and feel free to wander around and make friends...while we try to work it out."
They play an impromptu acoustic set (despite having only one acoustic guitar on-hand), while the amp keeps sputtering and Garcia explains, "We're still working on Phil's bass frantically in the background." But they never do get it fixed, and close the show acoustically.
Power cuts could happen sometimes in later years too - on 7/10/90, the Dead played in a lightning storm, and in a nearby strike the stage power went out shortly after Promised Land started; after waiting a few minutes for the power to be restored, the Dead picked up the song where they'd left off: https://archive.org/details/gd1990-07-10.sbd.miller.106373.flac16
* * *
Along with 4/5/69, there are a couple other known examples where the Dead intentionally played overtime.
On 2/6/69 in St. Louis, they opened for Iron Butterfly (the Dead had also opened for them the previous day in Kansas City, and had not been impressed). After Lovelight, Lesh says, "The Iron Butterfly will be on in a minute," but Garcia has other ideas: "Okay, we have some more time, we're gonna play a little more." Then they proceed with a 22-minute Cryptical>Other One>feedback suite.
As the Dead leave the stage, the crowd is going wild and calling for more, and the announcer says, "Did you like them? Listen, we're going to have a very brief intermission, because I know you're all waiting to see the Iron Butterfly. [calls of "No! No!"] They're going to call out the heat and close up this place in about an hour and a half. So we're gonna have to get on with the show."
(According to the unverified account of one person who said he was backstage: "The set was supposed to end with Lovelight. But...after listening to the Dead burn the house down, Iron Butterfly didn't want to come out. So, the Dead came back on to play a "few more minutes" and proceeded to add insult to IB's injury with the Cryptical sandwich, Feedback, and AWBYG." If there was only 90 minutes left before closing time, the Dead would have played longer than the headlining band!)
The other more famous example was on 4/26/69 in Chicago, where the Dead played a set of almost three hours (including a 40-minute encore) to keep the Velvet Underground from playing a second set. This was in revenge for the previous day, when the Velvets had done the same to them.
The Dead probably played over-long sets other times too that we don't know about (or can't tell from tapes), though it must be said that usually they were good at playing short hour-long sets when opening for other bands, or when facing a time limit (as in a rock festival).
The tape of this night is heavily edited, making it extra-chaotic - the pranksters were recording over several microphones, then cut the tracks up in different combinations on various video releases.
Police: "Everybody out, the dance is over, you're to clear the hall."
Babbs: "This is incredible! The chief security has suddenly taken over and informed - he has made his extraordinary announcement - and has pulled the plug on the band - completely nullifying the engines!" "We've lost all power! ...I see that the electrician is running down now trying to get things reestablished... We're into emergency power now, having to rely on the energy which the passengers are able to create by donating everything they have..." [Babbs' lines may have been dubbed in later.]
The pranksters take over and start trying to clear the hall: "Everybody enjoy theirselves? Let me hear you say yeah!"
"We're planning on having other gigs in other cities, and if we have a hassle here, there's not gonna be another hall that'll have us, so we'd appreciate it if....everybody use their heads."
Kesey: "Everybody be calm now - don't press forward and kill any little 13-year-old girls. Everybody keep very calm, there's nothing to worry about at all."
Weir: "Don't pay any attention to Kesey! ...insurrection...total confusion...demented chaos..." He calls out to Jerry: "On the Road Again to get the people on the road."
Garcia: "We can stay here until hell freezes over, but we have to turn everything off."
People keep yelling and making noises, and someone moans, "Go home to your families, you don't want to stay here...leave, the cops..."
The pranksters don't seem to be herding people very well in the confusion, as some girl keeps wailing into a mic. "Okay, let's everybody go home man, everything's over, we don't have no choice." "We don't want any trouble here." "Everybody out now - this has been a nice party - let's not spoil it now." "That won't work, [those] tactics won't work around here." "Everybody go home now please!"
Pranksters observe the scene: "Total chaos everywhere...rack and ruin... Let's let them run it out. Let the energy just eventually wear out, let 'em just stay here." "The cops seem to be turning everything off, and they have asked everybody to be turned off, that's impossible, you know as well as I do nobody's gonna be turned off - we're not machines after all, we're human beings! Can't turn us off, hell no! Cops, ridiculous!"
Weir has a moment of contemplation: "Sad, isn't it? You know, when you come to one of these things, you want to have a lot of clean fun, you know, good clean fun...enjoy yourself and not hurt anybody, you know? And well, that's what people come here to do, and then they get kicked out, you know? It's really a pity. It's a cryin' shame."
Weir then tells the police: "Arrest everybody, but don't hurt any of the equipment, you know, it's our livelihood."
People are yelling & making noises into the mics, and Weir & others decide to yell Star-Spangled Banner at the crowd. "We're just signing off." "Good night ladies & gentlemen, we enjoyed having you here!"
The recording ends with continued noise-making and babbling. "Nobody can seem to find out how we're supposed to turn off this PA... We're supposed to turn off the PA fellas, does anybody know how to turn it off?" "I don't know, we seem to be loosening the crowd here with the microphones, and there just seems to be nobody doing anything that we're supposed to be doing, it just seems to be orderly chaos - everything goes on in here then is just let out into the street, it's gonna be terrible... Yes, in the end nothing but mindless chaos..."