July 31, 2019

The Dead At Woodstock (Guest Post)

By Scott Parker, author of Woodstock Documented.


Ah, the Grateful Dead at Woodstock. Where to begin? By pretty much all accounts, their performance was an unmitigated disaster, as the band was plagued by equipment problems, drugs, intrusions from onlookers, and understandable nerves. With the 50th anniversary of that legendary festival coming up, it might just be time to review this much-maligned performance, and maybe even put a bit more positive spin on it.


Before we get into the review, however, it might be useful to point out that as bad as this show is considered to be, it is incredibly well-documented. A mixdown from the multitrack master started to circulate widely in 2004, quickly becoming the most ubiquitous version of this show to circulate, and rightly so – it’s a damn-near perfect professional recording, crystal-clear and in stereo. It’s available here:

Prior to that, the most common recording was a mono soundboard tape taken directly from the PA feed, low-gen versions of which sounded pretty good. (This circulated for years and was the recording reviewed in the first volume of the Deadhead’s Taping Compendium.) A poor-quality dub of this tape was issued on a bootleg CD, where it was subjected to so much noise reduction that it comes close to being unlistenable. You can hear it here: 
https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0Bw0er6aYteccRkhTaWY3UnVPTm8?usp=sharing (2)

The Taping Compendium book lists an audience tape of the show, but I’ve never seen evidence of this. It would appear that there was never an actual audience tape of the Dead’s full performance (hardly surprising, considering the adverse conditions). Copies circulating as an “audience” or “stage” recording were actually high-gen versions of the mono PA tape. An authentic audience tape DOES exist, but is only a fragment, capturing only about a minute of the start of “Lovelight.” In addition, most of the Dead’s set was filmed, and those links will be included below. (3)

A new mix of the multitrack tape was released in 2019, as part of Rhino’s massive 38-CD Woodstock 50 – Back To The Garden box set. It includes some stage patter that can’t be heard on the circulating mix, and for most listeners, this should be the definitive document of this performance.


As the multitrack mixdown begins, we get about three minutes of stage announcements. The first speaker, who rambles on about bodies “slithering through” the crowd with messages from the stage, is Ken Babbs, the legendary Merry Prankster who had driven from Oregon with Ken Kesey’s bus Furthur to work alongside the Hog Farm. (4) Babbs had been a friend of the Dead’s since 1965; he was a leading light of the Pranksters’ Acid Tests and had served as an MC for those events. He obviously took the stage at Woodstock along with the Dead and, dosed to the gills, commandeered a microphone. Babbs is taking the obviously amazing thing about Woodstock – that upwards of 400,000 members of the counterculture are gathered together for the first time, without violence – and discussing it through a psychedelic haze. “The fact that so many people have been able to participate…on such a great large scale is a knockout.” The man with the baritone voice offering advice on the food and bus situation is the legendary Chip Monck, lighting director and one of the MCs for the festival. Behind them, the Dead tune up, quietly preparing for their set.

A tape cut takes us to the start of the Dead’s set. Everyone is on stage now; Weir can be heard commenting that it’s “kind of zappy up here,” the result of Owsley having spent time changing the wiring for the stage prior to the Dead’s set, yet somehow managing to improperly ground the stage equipment in the process. One of the more famous stories of the Dead’s Woodstock performance has Weir receiving a huge electric shock when he touched his guitar and his microphone at the same time, knocking him to the stage. This is not evident on any of the recordings; it may have come during the gap before the tape cuts back in (or shortly thereafter; more about that below).

An announcement is made – “WOULD EVERYBODY PLEASE SIT DOWN? LET THE PEOPLE BEHIND YOU HAVE A CHANCE TO SEE THE SHOW. JUST RELAX THOSE MUSCLES IN YOUR LEGS. SIT DOWN FOR A FEW MINUTES, PLEASE?” The voice is not familiar; it is certainly not Babbs, and isn’t a member of the Dead. The band is still tuning up: “We’re in the process of testing,” Weir tells the crowd after some feedback. At last an announcer introduces the Dead as “one of the best fucking rock groups in the world!” Garcia lights into the opening notes of “Saint Stephen” and the band lurches rather ungracefully into the opening track of the recently-released Aoxomoxoa. The uncertainty and confusion is audible in the band’s playing, and they battle some amplifier hums, but they do manage to pull off the first part of the song fairly well.


And that’s where we arrive at the BIG MYSTERY of the performance -- the second verse of “Stephen” is missing from both the multitrack and PA tape recordings. The edit on the multitrack mixdown is seamless; the PA tape features a rather nasty cut at the end of the first verse. (5) Given the seamless edit on the multitrack, we might think that the second verse was simply not performed, whether accidentally (confusion, you see) or on purpose. And this would be fine if not for the fact that the film outtake features a guitar break that is different from the one heard on the multitrack. The same verse, it turns out, has been cut out differently on all three sources, with two different guitar breaks left in different edits. Garcia and Weir also each continue singing the third verse without any apparent confusion over a skipped verse.

The most logical conclusion to draw from this is that the Dead DID sing the second verse of “Saint Stephen”, but it is missing from all extant recordings of the song. Why? It is very tempting to theorize that Weir’s big shock came during this verse, and that may have caused a momentary power issue that created a gap in the recordings. We will likely never know for certain. (It is worth mentioning that at least Mickey Hart seems to believe that they will go into the “Lady finger” bridge, since he is playing glockenspiel as the song ends.)

     UPDATE: Andy Zax has disproved this theory.

In any case, “Saint Stephen” is abandoned before the “Lady finger” bridge, as Jerry leads the band into “Mama Tried.” It’s fair to say that most people believe that the Dead, struggling with “Stephen,” decided to abort it in favor of the simpler country tune. My personal belief is that this was a planned segue; the transition, for one thing, is way too smooth not to have been worked out in advance. In addition, careful perusal of the “Stephen” video clip and the start of an outtake clip of “Mama Tried”  reveal that Phil only gives a brief glance to Jerry as “Stephen” winds down; yet he and Bob both pick up on the new song instantly. You’d think that such a shift in direction would require Jerry and/or Bob to get the attention of the band – but this is the Dead turning on a dime. Most likely they had worked it out in advance, possibly to contrast the heavy psychedelic vibe of “Stephen” with a gentler and yet more forward-thinking bit of country swing. (6)


They had been playing “Mama Tried” since June ‘69 and it’s actually quite decent; both singing and playing are reasonably on point and the band appears to be finding its footing. As the song ends, Jerry attempts to segue into the quiet new song “High Time” – it had debuted at the same time as “Mama Tried” a couple months earlier, and “Mama Tried”>”High Time” had been a frequent medley in recent shows. But the attempt soon fizzles out; his guitar is quiet enough to be nearly drowned out by audience members yelling for the sound system to be “louder!” (It also sounds like he’s going out of tune.) Sounding lost in space, Garcia responds to the shouts with an incredulous “you want it LOUDER?” “Can’t hear your voices!” someone shouts. “Yeah,” answers Jerry, “presumably somebody’s working on it.” “It’s a sinister plot!” Bob exclaims.

It sounds like people near the stage are also screaming “Sit down!” Apparently the announcement before the show hadn’t worked and people’s views were still being blocked by those who chose to stand in front. The Dead came on at 10:30 pm; it’s understandable that after some ten hours of music already that day (and five rock bands still scheduled to play through the night after the Dead), most people preferred to stay seated. 

The show stops dead as Owsley gets to work figuring out the problem. What follows is about ten minutes of chatter while the issues with the sound system are worked out. Jerry plaintively asks, “Can you throw some of those lights out there, man, wherever you are? There’s nothing out here but this enormous void with little fires.” As the band fumbles around helplessly, tuning and waiting for rescue, Ken Babbs once again takes a microphone and delivers a thoroughly tripped-out, rambling monologue. Behind him, the members of the band alternate between semi-playful banter with Babbs and annoyance over the monitor problems.

Babbs notices the microphones aren’t working well: “They can’t hear it down there, we can’t hear it either, but we’re working on it.” Pigpen asks for “more microphone noise,” but Babbs replies, “It’s too bad, Pen, they don’t seem to like your microphone working… Come on you guys, Pigpen wants to talk too!”
The audience is getting frustrated as well – a girl shouts, “Tell these people to sit down!” The repeated pleas to sit down were frequently heard at Dead shows; Weir gives his usual response, “Stand on your head,” and Babbs also makes fun of them: “Stand up, sit down…”  People also shout impatiently for the band to play, and Babbs suggests, “We need a roving mic to go out there, everybody can say it – do this, do that…”
Meanwhile there’s occasional chatter about turning up the volume; the band of course seems to want everything louder. Weir periodically keeps the crowd updated: “Everything back here has just fallen to waste… All the power’s gone from the left side of the stage, so we’re gonna hassle and try to get it back…”  At one point he threatens to “tell you a story,” but is fortunately interrupted.

At one point, Babbs crosses a line when he suggests that people should take the green tabs of acid if they’re getting it from someone they trust. “I took the green stuff and I feel great, what’s all the hassle?” (7) This is the true Prankster spirit! Unfortunately, a good part of this Woodstock evening has been spent warning people of the dangers of the green acid (the brown acid was, of course, the most infamous bad acid at Woodstock thanks to the inclusion of an announcement about it in the Woodstock movie and its soundtrack album, but the green acid apparently caused a huge number of freakouts on Saturday night, filling the hospital tent to overflowing), and Babbs’ proclamation could likely have made a bad situation worse.

This motivates Country Joe McDonald to step to Jerry’s microphone and correct the situation. “Hello, people… I’d like to tell you something. My name is Country Joe. You know, all us people from the Bay Area, we’re real LSD freaks. We take a lot of LSD. We’ve taken a lot of LSD; we know what LSD is… This stuff that they’re passing out here today may or may not be LSD, but there’s a chance that you won’t have a very good trip. Now what you’re supposed to do after you know that, is you’re supposed to STOP TAKING IT. Now, if you’ve taken it already, don’t worry because you’re not poisoned and you won’t die. But if you haven’t taken it, I would recommend that you don’t take it – just listen to the music and wait ‘til you can get some stuff that you know is good, if that’s your inclination. That’s called COMMON SENSE!”
“Country common sense,” adds Babbs, “from us folks out in the Bay City!” The crowd applauds Country Joe.

At this point, a disembodied voice breaks through the confusion – “one, two three, four, five…” It is the voice of Owsley, coming loud and clear through the monitors. This gets the attention of the band: Weir exclaims, “You’re much louder than we are!” and Bear promises, “I’ll make you louder.” Weir and Pigpen gleefully vie to have their microphones turned up. “Turn this one up!” “I’m doing what I can,” Bear explains. “Find the right knob!” Pigpen shouts. “I don’t want no explanation, I just want to be able to hear myself!” While Bear adjusts the levels, Babbs imperviously continues his rap, his every utterance now greeted by a chorus of annoyed audience members yelling “Sit down!” and other imprecations. Finally his monologue is stopped when the band, without a word, starts playing again. (8)


Now that the sound problems are settled and everything is sufficiently together, the Dead lose no time in starting over, pulling out an appropriate choice – “Dark Star.” They’ve decided not to continue with “High Time,” and perhaps feel safer embarking on a long instrumental piece they’ve played a hundred times before. They are audibly trying to get lost in transcendent group-mind improvisation, but they are stymied by the chaos raging all around them, and this “Star” doesn’t get far off the ground. It takes eight minutes for Jerry to deliver the first and only verse, sounding tremulous and less assured than usual for this era. The band continues to catch a wave for another ten minutes, and there are a few nice moments to be heard here, but the overall feeling that I get from this version of “Dark Star” is that there is a lot of “space” in it – not the good, trippy space, but a sort of emptiness, as if there is something missing. 

“Dark Star” starts out nicely, floating gracefully before the verse; the jam is an average length for the era. After Jerry sings the verse, they don’t go into space but churn up a strong jam for a few minutes. Then things start to sputter out, and the final stretch becomes rather clumsy and aimless as they can’t strike any more sparks. However, Tom Constanten’s contributions stand out in this performance; throughout the show, he is mixed higher than usual for a 1969 tape. Several minutes from the end of “Dark Star” are captured on circulating black & white film, dark and murky but showing the band concentrating intently on the music. (Note the baby being helped onstage at the end!)


After nineteen minutes of wandering, “Dark Star” collapses when Jerry skips the second verse and moves into “High Time” again. There’s a little applause when the audience realizes the Dead are now playing a new song. This tune is only a couple months old and has a tentative, wispy early feel to it, similar to other versions at the time. But Jerry acquits himself reasonably well, and Bob (who looks in the video footage of this song like he is way out in deep space somewhere) backs up his vocal admirably. Bob barely takes his eyes off his guitar, except to sometimes look at Jerry for reassurance! Jerry, in turn, keeps an eye on the rest of the band as he guides them through the song. He must have been proud of it to insist on playing this quiet country ballad at Woodstock rather than old audience favorites. The band doesn’t even seem distracted when Phil’s amp picks up some helicopter-radio chatter in the middle of the song, before Jerry sings “nothing’s for certain, it can always go wrong…” The song ends to a mild smattering of applause.

At this point, the Dead need a major infusion of energy. Only one man can do it for them – the Pig. Phil strikes up “Turn On Your Lovelight,” which had been a guaranteed crowd-pleaser in the Dead’s sets for two years and was the inevitable finish to almost every show.


“Lovelight” is infamously derailed at the start: Pigpen is bum-rushed to the microphone by a long-haired, tripping freak, complete with pupils wide as black holes, who has an apparently urgent message to deliver to the crowd: “WOAH! Yeah, uh, I have – I have seen the sun rise! I have seen the sun rise over the -- the lake – the great, the great, the lake, the lake, the lake. And set over – over the Pacific Ocean, and rise over the Atlantic. And there’s just a thing I’d like to say here tonight, for everyone here. And that’s – there’s ANOTHER COAST! Yeah, it’s just another coast! It’s a THIRD COAST!”

For years, no one could figure out the identity of the mystery speaker. Was it Pigpen? Babbs? Bobby? As video footage eventually proved, it was none of them, but rather an unknown guy watching from the side of the stage. Those were the days before the Dead had any stage “security” and random people could get on a mike and rave while they played (a not infrequent occurrence in 1969-70). He continues to rant about the third coast (which given his description of it as having “the greatest freshwater reservoir in the world, and more miles of coastline – just measure it!” suggests that he’s referring to the Great Lakes), and he apparently thinks the band is backing him; even while Pigpen sings the first verse, the tripper keeps bellowing about how the third coast is “right in the middle! And I’m not talking about the Chicago blues either!” Babbs finally comes up and gently leads him away, allowing Pigpen to continue the song. Tripping Guy turns up again after the first chorus, but doesn’t get much further than saying, “And here’s another thing…WOW!” and doing a little dance before Babbs leads him off again, this time by offering him a joint. He is never seen again.


The “Lovelight” which follows is, at over 38 minutes, one of the longest ever. (Some tapes have it as long as 49 minutes, but these versions repeat a section.) (9) Unfortunately, this is a case of more not necessarily meaning better, and it turns out to be an average “Lovelight” – the band seems to make up in length what they lack in inspiration. The music rambles for the majority of it, and while Pigpen tries to punch through to the crowd, he mostly winds up repeating the same lines over and over again. There’s little full-band jamming, as the band sticks to rhythmic backing for Pigpen’s raps. Jerry seems to be in a good way however, and manages to pull off some nice licks here and there. For several minutes, Phil and Bob stop playing and Jerry jumps into an extended “Alligator”-like duet with the drums (which gets some applause). Once or twice the song seems to be ready to collapse as that weird emptiness comes creeping in, but the drummers (who are in fine form tonight) hold it together.

About 25 minutes in, the band starts up a simple chord progression under Pigpen’s rap; once Pigpen lays off the vocal for a while, they finally develop a nice little jam out of it for a bit. Then after a pause for a hand-clapping routine and another Pigpen rap, they sneak into the finale, leading into a long, slow, orgasmic climax which is without a doubt the highlight of the Dead’s Woodstock set. The vocal interplay between Pigpen and Weir is on point (despite the latter being in somewhat rough voice tonight), and Bill Kreutzmann’s drumming is like cannonfire, punctuated by actual blasts from Mickey Hart’s toy cannon. (Babbs can be still seen happily dancing in the back.) This ends the show on a high note, and though the crowd calls out for more, there is no more to be had. As they depart the stage, a disappointed audience jeers them with an amusing question: “Do you guys know more than two songs?”


Chip Monck quickly announces that Creedence Clearwater will be coming up next, which the crowd is thrilled to hear. (Although one girl asks, “When does Sly come on?”) John Fogerty was not so happy about following the Dead; in later years he would often complain, “The Grateful Dead put half a million people to sleep and I had to try and wake them up again!” (10)


So there you have it, folks. Some have described this show as the worst Grateful Dead show ever, but this is a serious exaggeration. It is an uneven set, without a doubt. There are some real low points. But there are also some great moments, and it is worth remembering that on their worst night in 1969, the Grateful Dead were still better than most bands at their peak.  With the official release of the full set this year, it is hoped that a new light will be shed on this much-maligned performance.

 
*

THE DEAD ON WOODSTOCK

JON MCINTIRE:
“I was their manager at Woodstock. They got off stage and they’d sucked…they were just horrible. I’d never heard them play so badly. I was feeling it personally and I was crestfallen. I was so embarrassed. But I would never have talked to Jerry about it…I didn’t feel it was my place to make any musical comments. I just happened to be standing there when Garcia was walking off stage. He walked up and looked at me and said, ‘Well, it’s nice to know you can blow the most important gig in your career and it doesn’t really matter.’” (11)

TOM CONSTANTEN:
“I was the only one in the band that had a good time, and even that was mitigated because everyone else wasn’t. The guitarists were getting shocked from their strings. Bob described his strings as being like barbed wire. The electricity wasn’t grounded. It was supposed to be on a circular stage and we were supposed to spin and come on as we were playing, but our equipment was too heavy. It didn’t work. The stage was swaying back and forth. Phil was visualizing the headlines the next day reading: ‘Huge Rock & Roll Disaster – Thousands Maimed.’” (12)
“We could hear the stage creaking and feel it shifting under us, which was pretty scary for everyone… I don’t recall many of the people who played at Woodstock being very happy with how they played. The Grateful Dead set wasn’t particularly outstanding, in part because the guitarists kept getting shocks because of the rain and the grounding… I couldn’t wait to get out of there. It was just too crowded.” (13)
“I was sitting in a backstage tent after the set and someone came up to me and said, ‘Great set!’ Not five minutes later, Paul Kantner walks up and says, ‘Too bad you guys didn’t have it tonight.’” (14)

JERRY GARCIA:
“We played such a bad set at Woodstock. The weekend was great, but our set was terrible. We were all pretty smashed, and it was at night. Like we knew there were a half million people out there, but we couldn't see one of them. There were about a hundred people on stage with us, and everyone was scared that it was gonna collapse. On top of that, it was raining or wet, so that every time we touched our guitars, we'd get these electrical shocks. Blue sparks were flying out of our guitars.” (15)
“We were just plumb atrocious. Jeez, we were awful! We were on a metal stage and it was raining to boot, and I was high and I saw blue balls of electricity bouncing across the stage and leaping onto my guitar when I touched the strings – no kidding. And all the intercom and CB radio, all that communication came through the amplifiers, every bit of it. And there were helicopters buzzing by, drowning out everything. There was this hysterical rumor going round, guys yelling over the back of my amplifier, ‘The stage is collapsing! The stage is collapsing!’” (16)
“[At Woodstock] I had a wonderful time hanging out with friends in the music business and sharing great little jams. But our performance onstage was musically a total disaster that is best left forgotten.” (17)

BOB WEIR:
“Bear almost killed me on that show. He changed the ground, and every time I touched my instrument, which I had to do to play, I got a very irritating shock, and everybody else was too. It was low-amperage and I just had to grit my teeth, but one time I got close to the microphone and this bolt arced, lifted me off my feet, and sent me back through the air against my amplifiers. I came to with a fat lip and played the rest of the set that way. It was not fun.” (18)
“It was raining toads when we played. The rain was part of our nightmare. The other part was our soundman, who decided that the ground situation on the stage was all wrong. It took him about two hours to change it, which held up the show. He finally got it set the way he wanted it, but every time I touched my instrument, I got a shock. The stage was wet, and the electricity was coming through me. I was conducting! Touching my guitar and the microphone was nearly fatal. There was a great big blue spark about the size of a baseball, and I got lifted off my feet and sent back eight or ten feet to my amplifier.
The people were just glad to be entertained, to get their minds off the rain and wind and mud, no matter what was happening. Had we played a good set, we probably would have transported them to another reality entirely… It was probably the worst set we’ve ever performed. And to have performed it in front of a crowd that size was not an altogether fulfilling experience.” (19)

FRANKIE WEIR:
“[When Weir started to sing] I saw a blue arc go from the mike to his top lip and…he just got his ass knocked back there. He had a huge blister, awful, when the song was over.” (20)

BOB MATTHEWS:
“[The problem was] the fact that it rained, and the mud that we had to deal with. The electrical grounding hadn’t been thought through far enough to the point of, what happens if it does rain and we do have all this mud. There were hums, buzzes, and lots of electrical shocks. I remember Bob Weir jumping back five feet when he went up to touch the microphone the first time.” (21)

ROCK SCULLY:
“Michael Lang’s people really went a long way to assuage [our doubts about the festival]. They went after Kesey and the Pranksters to be kind of overseers of security and Wavy Gravy [Hugh Romney] to help feed people and look after bum trips and all that kind of stuff, so eventually they met most of our demands and we believed it might run fairly smoothly. What went against all that, though, was they kept adding bands and making it bigger and bigger… They really wanted us to be there and thought we should be there; even then back East we were sort of a mythological, sociological movement rather than a musical one…
We were supposed to go on late Saturday afternoon, but everything was running so far behind from Friday that the revised plan had us going on right at sundown… But we ended up going on later than planned anyway.
In order to facilitate the switching of bands, all the different groups’ gear was sitting on large movable pallets with wheels under them. Those pallets then slid together to form a riser, which the band played on. Well, even then our equipment was way heavier than most bands’, and the wheels on one of the pallets broke, and that slowed us up a lot. So there we are at sundown, when we’re supposed to be playing, scrambling to move all the equipment off one pallet and onto a new one, which already had gear from the next band on it. So that took an hour or even more. It was just one of those bummers.
So finally the band went on… After I don’t know how many days of rain the week prior to the show, the ground was completely covered in mud. It had been decided that there was going to be a light show behind the Dead, so there was this monster screen that they lowered while the Dead was playing… There was a gust of wind that came up and caught the screen like a sail, and the entire stage (which was huge) started to shudder and slide down the hill. So all the crew and myself and a few others whipped out our buck knives and flew into the screen and started rending huge holes in this monstrously expensive screen to let the wind through. Meanwhile, all the stage crew was down below shoring up [the stage] with wooden blocks to try to keep it from collapsing. It was outrageous…  
All day long, Wavy had been making announcements: ‘Don’t take the brown acid,’ and that sort of thing. Well, right in the middle of our first song, some guy came running out with a big brown bag full of that brown acid and started flinging it into the audience. I don’t know how the hell he got onstage, but it completely freaked me out, and I had him removed immediately.” (22)
[Ken Babbs also refers to the screen during his intro rap: “The sail, when it came over, did you notice how the stage had that sudden lift to it, like it wanted to go somewhere? We’ll drop the sail again later on and see if we can take it a little bit further!” Babbs was clearly more excited than Scully by the prospect of the stage sailing off into the audience.]

OWSLEY STANLEY:
“We had a serious problem at Woodstock…[because] the transmitter that they were using for the radio signal for their helicopters was grounded in one place, and the stage was grounded in another place… So all of the equipment on the stage was acting as a supplemental antenna, receiving the signal from the transmitter. And it was in everything! But worst of all was Phil’s bass, for some reason. It really focused in on Phil’s bass, and we were going nuts trying to figure it out, because it had been going on all of the time – every band that played was having this problem. Well, I got the house electrician and we started searching. We found the two ground rods…pulled the ground connection from the stage off that rod, ran over to the other side of the stage, and clipped it onto the [transmitter] rod.” (23)
“The rotating ‘cookies’ were built on furniture casters, not commercial units. Ram Rod and I took one look and begged that we be allowed to set up on the stage floor, because we knew our gear was so heavy it would collapse the casters. We were refused this option, and sure enough the setup had rotated only about a foot when the casters simply folded over, plopping the whole thing down on the spot. This caused a lot of strife, and somehow we were blamed for it… There was a two-way radio that communicated with the helicopters ferrying people on and off the site. The radio was heard as leakage at a considerable volume in the PA and in many of the musicians’ amps. No one from the venue seemed to know how, or care, to fix it. So when we finally got set up and plugged in, Phil’s bass had the radio at a higher volume than his own strings.” (24)
“Woodstock was a disaster because the wrong sort of people tried to control it instead of just flowing with it. The helicopters and all those guys with their weird announcements about things that could have easily been avoided…
On stage, they had four of these large plywood cookies with two-by-four structures and casters underneath. They would set up two bands back-to-back on the cookies, roll them into place, and that was their way of getting rid of the time lag between sets. Ramrod and I looked at this and we said, ‘This is not going to work. Our equipment is too heavy. We’re gonna have to set up on stage.’ They told us, ‘Absolutely not. You have to do it this way.’ The time came for our set. The guys hooked up the ropes. The plywood moved approximately one foot and all the casters broke. Wham! Down the thing came on the floor. We had to take everything down and set it up again. Everyone was bitching and saying it was our fault. We hooked it all up again on the stage. Phil turned on his bass amp. Out came the helicopter. We were getting the helicopter radio on Phil Lesh’s bass.
It was not a great show.” (25)

KEN BABBS:
“It’s too bad the Dead weren’t happy with their performance, because I thought they were good. They had the misfortune to get up there right when the weather was getting really bad and scary. The mikes weren’t working and this and that…
When I’d be at one of these scenes and they’d be getting ready to play and there would be interminable delays getting mikes to work right and everything, and I’d be leaning on Pig’s organ, he’d say, ‘Babbs, go out and tell ‘em a story.’ So I’d go out and start yakking and pretty soon the band would start playing; they’d be playing right away. I think the last time he did that for me was at Woodstock. I was up there and it was starting to storm and things were real disconnected…
We had hoped to get the Dead on the Free Stage, too, and we even got some of the equipment down there, but the rain got too heavy, and it never happened…
The Grateful Dead have nothing to feel bad about. They were great, as always…” (26)

LES KIPPEL, TAPER:
“We were at the hotel [in 1974] and…got a copy of the Grateful Dead’s Woodstock performance. We were so thrilled with it, we were listening to it like crazy, and somehow we got a message to Phil Lesh: “We got the Woodstock tape.”
So we were in the hotel room and invited him down to our room. He came down with his Heineken and said, “Let me listen to the tape.” …
We put the tape on for him: “Ahhh, this is great, this is phenomenal, this is the best thing, I love it, this is great. I want a copy of this tape. But you gotta do me a favor.”
And of course we were all ears: “Yeah, what?”
“I don’t want to hear any music – I just want to hear the raps… Please make me a tape.” (27)
 

 
*

NOTES

1. All the sources on the Archive are from the same mix. This is possibly a mixdown done by Bob Matthews & Betty Cantor in 1970, though that’s unconfirmed.
2. The mono tape is a pretty wonky mix, with the bass dropping in and out of the mix. (The opening of High Time is a particularly glaring example.) St Stephen turns out to be less complete here - 20 extra seconds are cut out; after the first two lines it skips to the last verse; so this is the third different edit of this song. Lovelight also fades out after 28 minutes. Dark Star is intriguing - at 24 minutes long, it would seem five minutes longer than the circulating copy (despite being sped-up), but this is due to an edited loop: actually seven minutes of music are repeated (9:35-16:35 is repeated from 16:35-23:40). Garcia is more up-front in this mix, and it has more of a rough, raw feel than the stereo tape, and a little more background chatter during the break. The bootleg CD release was inferior quality, but possibly a better tape copy wouldn't sound so warbly and sped-up.
3. The film crew used a different recording for their edits (all work prints of 1969/1970 vintage), and the audio on a couple of the available film clips seems to come from this source. Sad to say, most of the film crew tapes were destroyed in a fire in the Atlantic vault in the early 1970s, so it's likely that this source no longer exists in full.  
The Dead refused to sign a movie release for their footage, but according to the Illustrated Trip book, they couldn’t have been in the Woodstock movie anyway: “[When] Martin Scorsese came to edit their performance, he discovered that the light levels while they were onstage were so low that the film was completely unusable.” The Dead’s film clips do look very dark and poorly lit, with the band mostly in shadow, but recently restored parts appear much brighter.
4. The Hog Farm was the New Mexico-based hippie commune, run by Hugh Romney (another Prankster associate), that came to the festival to provide food and services for the crowd. For another example of Ken Babbs chattering onstage with the Dead, see 5/31/69.
5. According to Woodstock box set producer Andy Zax, there is no splice on the multitrack master during “Stephen.”
6. They had done similar transitions earlier that summer: 6/21/69 Cryptical>Slewfoot; 6/22/69 St. Stephen>It’s A Sin (the transition is at the same point in the song); 6/27/69 Eleven>Green Grass of Home
7. Babbs’ full statement is a little more nuanced and interesting: “As a deathly silence settles over the whole pavilion, and we realize that we’ve overloaded everything and the final fuse is blown, the helicopters will still be flying out the wounded, and the green-tab-acid-takers will be saying to one another, ‘I took the green stuff and I feel great, what’s all the hassle?’ I can only be scared so long until I’m gonna start saying, ‘Hey man, I trust you, if you give me stuff that’s a bummer, I’m not gonna quit taking it just to blow the trust.’”
8. Those desperate souls seeking a full transcription of the onstage banter here can turn to the Deadhead’s Taping Addendum, p.234-237.
9. It’s worth mentioning that the released film clip of “Lovelight” is complete minus one verse that was chopped because Pigpen chose to sing one verse from the vocal mic placed at his conga drum setup, which was not picked up in the multitrack mix. The film of “Lovelight,” aside from being restored in much better quality than the older video clips, also uses an alternate stereo mix.    
10. In Fogerty’s account, “We were promised a primetime slot. What they didn’t tell me was you’re gonna follow the Grateful Dead. Things went sorely wrong after they hit the stage… They had all taken LSD just as they went on stage. About the middle of their set it went dead silent, I don’t really know what happened… They were snockered out of their minds!... By the time I got onstage, the Dead had been onstage nearly two hours and their equipment had broken. I could only imagine they were in their usual state of mind – stoned, trying to find a power outlet. So by the time we got onstage, it was after midnight… We were ready to rock – but as I looked down into the crowd I quickly discovered the Dead had put the entire audience to sleep!… The only thing we could hear was snoring... We tried very hard to wake them up.”
(Quotes compiled from several different interviews; he also writes about it in his memoir "Fortunate Son.")    
11. Robert Greenfield, Dark Star, p.116-117
12. Sandy Troy, One More Saturday Night, p.161
13. Golden Road 20, Summer 1989
14. Sandy Troy, Captain Trips, p.128
15. David Bromberg interview, Jazz & Pop, February 1971
16. Sandy Troy, Captain Trips, p.128 – from Steve Sutherland, “Jerry Garcia Interview,” Melody Maker 3/28/81
17. Blair Jackson, Garcia, p.171
18. Blair Jackson, Grateful Dead Gear, p.96
19. “Woodstock Remembered: Bob Weir,” Rolling Stone 8/24/89
20. Dennis McNally, Long Strange Trip, p.332
21. Tony Sclafani, Grateful Dead FAQ, p.137-138
22. Golden Road 20, Summer 1989 [also briefer account in Troy, One More Saturday Night, p.124]
23. David Gans, Conversations with the Dead, p.320
24. Jackson/Gans, This Is All A Dream We Dreamed, p.131-132
25. Greenfield, Dark Star, p.115-116
26. Golden Road 20, Summer 1989 / Golden Road 27, 1993 Annual
27. The Deadhead’s Taping Compendium, p.37

See also the great lengthy Woodstock accounts in Gans & Simon, Playing in the Band, p.97-101; Lesh, Searching for the Sound, p.151-157; Jackson, Garcia, p.169-171; and Scully, Living with the Dead, p.164-168. 

Thanks to Uli Teute & Volkmar Rupp for the photos! 


13 comments:

  1. Fantastic post, thank you for this!

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    1. I am most thankful to LiA, who did not give himself any credit but who reworked my original sketch of an article and made it into a freaking work of art :-)

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  2. What can I say? Spot on as always. Thanks for the post.

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  3. Do I see Marty Balin enjoying the Dead's set?

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    1. You are correct! That is indeed Marty :-)

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    2. He had eight more hours to wait until the Airplane went on...

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  4. The new Rhino box set has the complete Woodstock performance, but only 1969 people will ever get to hear it. I’m not happy that they had to put a limit on the number of boxes. $800 was just way too expensive for me. Hopefully somehow, one day, we all can hear the Dead’s entire performance (and all the other sets). Only if Rhino decides to release more boxes at a fairer price.

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  5. Tom Constanten is the MVP of Woodstock in my opinion. His organ is wonderful throughout the set. Lots of swirly psychedelics during Dark Star>High Time. The aforementioned tunes are actually quite good as a whole. I also like Jerry’s stinging leads and the scratchy percussion. Lovelight ends the set on a high note, and the finale is nothing less than thrilling!

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  6. With kind permission from Woodstock box set producer Andy Zax, here is the final word on the Dead’s performance of “Saint Stephen”:

    "I just went, track by track, through the multitrack of the performance, as well as the mono reels. As I think I’ve told you, we physically inspected the multitrack a few months ago and it has no edits whatsoever. And when you listen to the isolated tracks, that’s also clear—there are background conversation that are audible throughout the place where an edit would be if there were an edit. But the problem here isn’t the evidence on the tapes. The problem is the film clip—and, I think, the fact that you trusted that the film clip was accurate—not the tapes.

    You’re right that there’s a different guitar break there but there’s also an incredibly clumsy edit at 1:31 into “wishing well.” I don’t know the provenance of the clip, but what’s going on here is this: someone who had access to the film footage and the mono reels—but who did not have access to the multitracks (or who didn’t want to go to the trouble of using them)—tried to do a quick and dirty sync-up of the footage to the mono audio. The problem is that there’s a break in the mono audio due to a reel change—one reel ends at “country garden” and the next reel begins a second or two before “wishing well.” Whoever did this needed to fill a gap. They did it by inserting Jerry’s guitar part from :27 and then making that bad edit back into “wishing well.” (I think Bob singing “wherever he goes the people all complain” is from another source, too.)

    So really: like I’ve been telling you, there are no edits in the actual musical performance as we’ve presented it on the big box. Like Tom Verlaine says “this case is closed.”"


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    1. Thanks for looking into this! Only a close examination of the original reels could have settled this question. Now I'm almost sad the mystery's been solved...

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    2. Thanks. I do have to say that I find it bizarre that they actually planned such quick turn into Mama Tried so soon after starting St Stephen. I have everything that circulates from the early years but don't think that this combo happened on any other recorded occasion although there is an abrupt switch into Green Green Grass Of Home at another show (which I don't have to hand at the moment) and I think a Dick's Picks has an abrupt switch from Dark Star into another song (ditto).

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    3. There are some other similar '69 examples mentioned in the notes to this post, so the Dead had been doing this kind of odd combo before Woodstock. I'm actually impressed by the Dead telepathy in this opening medley; under the circumstances they pull it off very smoothly, especially if it wasn't planned.

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