May 29, 2012

January 30, 1970: New Orleans Bust & Benefit


NEW ORLEANS - Warning to musicians coming into this town for a gig: stay clean and stay cool.
"Tell them not just to be cool, but to be exceptionally cool. New Orleans police just aren't welcoming rock bands," cautions Lenny Hart, manager of the Grateful Dead. "Any group that goes there should be awfully careful."
Hart speaks from experience. In New Orleans to open up a new ballroom, locally known as "the Warehouse," most of the Dead and their road crew were nailed in a dope raid in the same French Quarters hotel where members of the Jefferson Airplane were busted just weeks before. State and federal narcs rounded up 19 people in the Dead raid, and were none too polite about it, either.
"It was very peculiar, and it seems like they set them up," says Hart, who was not with the band, but arranged for their bail over the phone. "They were waiting when they got back from their concert. They had a warrant and had already searched the room when the band got back. So they called them into their own room, one by one, and busted them. Nothing was found on any of the people except stuff they had prescriptions for. Everything they claim to have found was in the room, they said. But nobody in the band knows where any of it came from. It wasn't their stuff. The Grateful Dead are normally very cool and cautious."
Everybody in the band, except Pigpen and Tom Constanten, was included in the bust, along with several members of their retinue and some local people. An added bonus for the New Orleans heat was a man listed as Owsley Stanley, 35, of Alexandria, Virginia, a technician for the band, booked with illegal possession of narcotics, dangerous nan-narcotics, LSD, and barbiturates. "King of Acid Arrested," the local press bubbled.
When they were picked up at the airport Thursday they were warned of New Orleans heat and given the name of an attorney just in case. Later that afternoon, the house detective at the Dead hotel stopped guitarist Jerry Garcia in the lobby and asked him if he was with the Flock, another band on the bill at the Warehouse. When Garcia replied that he was with the Dead, the house dick supposedly told him, "Look, you better be clean, because you're going to be busted."
When the Dead got back from their gig sometime after 3 AM, January 31st, their room had already been searched and the narcs were just sitting around waiting for them. All of the 19 people caught in the raid were booked for possession of some combination of marijuana, LSD, barbiturates, amphetamines, or other dangerous, non-narcotic drugs. Mere possession in Louisiana is 5 to 15 years.
Bail is usually $5,000 to $15,000 per person, and that's what they tried to stick each of the 19 with at first. But earlier in the week, the son of a Navy admiral had been busted there, and was let out on $2,000. So, after countless hassles, Hart finally managed to get all 19 out on total of $37,500 - or $3,750 in non-refundable premium. It was the Dead's earnings for the gig that night.
"The cops made it extra heavy for us, too," Hart said. "They detained the band, handcuffed them all together and lined them up in front of the building for press photos. The cops were enjoying it, just getting their own thing on. They ended up having to spend eight hours in jail; even though the bail was ready right away, they hassled them that long. I don't think that's the way police are supposed to handle it."
Two weeks later, nobody still knows the specific charges. According to Hart, "We keep asking them and they say all the information is sealed. So there's still no word on anything."
The Dead responded to their bust by playing a beautiful set Saturday night after a so-so Friday debut. Sunday, they joined Fleetwood Mac in playing a benefit for a bust fund for both themselves and other out-of-town bands. It was a shitty wet day in New Orleans, and with such short notice, only about 850 showed up anyway. But the bands blew the lid off the house.
New Orleans police seem to fear that their good town will become the next Haight-Ashbury, and maybe they feel that way with some reason. The fact is, New Orleans is starting to burst out. Head shops and boutiques are springing up all over, and there's a lot of long hair walking the streets.
What makes this so amazing is that the straight citizens of New Orleans view the phenomena more with curiosity than with contempt. While a long-hair might run into an Easy Rider scene in the country, he's as safe in New Orleans as any other big city in this country. And in the deep South, that's saying something.
Many say the police chose the Warehouse as their target, and that they figure they can shut down the entire scene just by picking off bands as they come into town. Their tactics seem to justify this fear. Besides busting the Dead and the Airplane earlier, they were out in force for the opening of the Warehouse - customers complained of harassment, cars were towed away, and the usual riff.
And the Warehouse is very important to the hip movement in New Orleans. It's an old brick building, formerly used for storing cotton and coffee, located just a few yards from the Mississippi River. It held 6,000 on opening night. Like many of the older buildings here, it has magical vibes. Or, as Peter Green put it: "This place - wow, you know - come down to New Orleans and find this - wow, you know?"
The Dead go back to New Orleans late in February for their day in court. The band will handle the legal defense for all 19 people "just because we feel it's the right thing to do," according to Hart. They need about $50,000 dollars for their legal defense, and Bill Graham's giving them a benefit at Winterland February 23rd, with Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Santana, and It's a Beautiful Day playing for free.

(from Rolling Stone, March 7 1970) - the "beautiful set" (check out the banter after Mama Tried) - the bust-fund benefit with Fleetwood Mac

* * * * *


Lennie Hart, manager of the Dead, laid the following rap on BARB, this week:
Federal Narcotics Agents arrested nineteen people in a hotel raid in New Orleans, Louisiana, January 31. Five band members of the Grateful Dead, their road manager, sound man, and three equipment men were held. The charges included possession of marijuana, barbiturates, amphetamines, dangerous drugs, LSD, non-narcotic drugs, etc., etc., etc.
The Federal Officers entered the different hotel rooms occupied by the Grateful Dead people WITH KEYS and busted them all, one by one. No evidence was found on any of the people personally. They were then lined up in front of TV cameras which were waiting outside of the hotel and they were photographed repeatedly.
They all spent twelve hours in jail and were finally released on $37,000 bail. Our legal fees so far have reached $10,000 and we expect them to rise quite substantially.
Some of our friends in the rock community have offered to help us out with our legal fees by playing a benefit which will be held on Monday, February 23. Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Santana, It's A Beautiful Day, and Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks along with Glenn McKays Headlights have offered their talents and Bill Graham has offered the use of Winterland.
Unfortunately, the Dead will be on the road in Austin, Texas, and will not be able to be in attendance, but have really been pleased with the response people have shown to help them.
Tickets will be priced at $3.50 (available at all ticket outlets and at the door) and I'm sure it will be a night of great music and good cheer.

(from the Berkeley Barb, 20 February 1970)

* * * 


Tonight there is a big dance-concert scheduled for Winterland. It will present some of the top bands in San Francisco and, because they all believe in the cause for which this affair is raising money, experience indicates they will play with a particular kind of feeling that makes these San Francisco nights magical.
The Jefferson Airplane, the Quicksilver Messenger Service, Santana, It's a Beautiful Day, and Dan Hicks and his wild Hot Licks will play and the tickets are $3.50.
The Winterland dance-concert is being held for the defense fund of the Grateful Dead who cannot even be there, since they are already booked out of town.

The Dead were busted in New Orleans recently, and bail for all the 19 people involved plus legal fees has already cost a bundle of money.
San Francisco bands, like the constituency they represent, are straight out against the marijuana laws in the US, believing, as do many non-long hair authorities, that it is harmless.
The reality gap between the marijuana laws and the empirical experience of what by now must be a majority of the young people in this country is one of the reasons, and a very important one, for the skepticism with which they view the whole established system of law and order.
The gap is really like the Grand Canyon. Michael Lydon's excellent report on the Rolling Stones' tour in the current Ramparts offhand refers to joints being passed around, "tokes" taken by business figures as well as rock 'n roll bands. What he describes is not unusual.
As has been remarked before in this space, if all the people in this country who smoked pot were to be jailed, there would simply not be enough cells for them. Louisiana, which is struggling just a little less violently than a turtle to come up into the 20th Century, has incredible drug penalties and the Dead got hit with a wild bust in which no drugs were found on any of the band personally.

One of the things which lowering the voting age is going to result in will be revision of these laws and the legalization of marijuana, which even the tobacco industry trade paper, US Tobacco Journal, thinks is a good idea....

(by Ralph Gleason, "On the Town" column from the SF Chronicle, Feb 23 1970)

* * * * *

Winterland was jammed to the roof - literally - Monday night for the Grateful Dead benefit. The audience was parked on the floor, in the aisles, perched high in the balcony peering down through the red and blue spots at the stage. It was a long, hot, tough show with all the performers really doing their best.
For one thing, they had - almost all of them - been working all weekend and were in excellent shape. I have never heard "It's a Beautiful Day" sound as good as Monday night, and Santana really wrapped it up. By the time the Airplane and Quicksilver capped the night, it was 3 a.m.
The turn-out was so heavy that the doors were closed by 9:30 and no more tickets were sold. After expenses (the bands all played free), there was approximately $15,000 for the Grateful Dead defense fund on their New Orleans drug bust.

(by Ralph Gleason, from the SF Chronicle, Feb 25 1970, courtesy of Lost Live Dead)


  1. Quicksilver & It's a Beautiful Day had played with the Dead in Texas for a couple shows before the 2/23/70 Winterland benefit.

    Though it's often referred to in Dead sources, I can't find outside references to the Airplane bust in New Orleans that's said to have happened "just weeks before."
    (Jack Casady had been busted there back in May '69.)

    It's hilarious to read Lenny Hart saying, "The Grateful Dead are normally very cool and cautious."

  2. This brings back some memories. I was the driver for the Warehouse who picked up the groups at the airport and delivered them wherever they wanted to go. Actually the Dead were very cautious when I was driving them around (1970 New Orleans was paranoia city for anybody that looked the least bit freakish) but I only dropped them off at the hotel in the Quarter so I don't know what they did after that. Their last night in N.O. they stayed at a motel near the airport and when I brought them there they invited me in and Phil Lesh was passing around something that I thought might be acid but it was only pieces of pecan praline.

  3. Knowing the Dead's reputation, even pralines might be suspicious!

  4. fyi...

    I-) ihor

  5. might as well add this to the pile:

    I-) ihor

  6. Thanks for the links - the article shown is "Drug Raid Nets 19 In French Quarter" from the New Orleans Times-Picayune 2/1/70. (The Sunday morning issue - the busts were on Saturday morning, after the 1/30 show, but apparently too late to appear in the Saturday paper.)
    I didn't transcribe this article since it is mostly just a list of those arrested & the officers arresting them, without any quotes or details on the arrest - it's basically a booking report. Most of those arrested were just the kids hanging out with the band & crew that night. (Their ultimate fate is unknown.) What's particularly notable is the misidentification of the band. Ramrod was listed as one of the musicians; Mickey Hart was identified as "Summer Wind, spiritual advisor to the Grateful Dead;" Garcia and Kreutzmann were also identified as "associates" of the band. In fact, Lesh & Weir were the only actual bandmembers named as musicians. (The detectives must've been puzzled that this band was much smaller than they'd thought! But imagine their pleasure at nabbing Owsley, "King of Acid" and "alleged leader of the group.")

  7. I just noticed that the hotel the Dead were busted in has never been named anywhere!

    It was the Royal Sonesta - 300 Bourbon Street - which had just opened in 1969. The police had a search warrant for room 2134.

    I suspect the hotel doesn't publicize its place in Dead history!

  8. The 2/6/70 Berkeley Tribe ran a brief piece on the bust:

    The forces of order that would keep all people perpetually brought down arrested the Grateful Dead in New Orleans last week. [...]
    At this time all the people arrested are back out to boogey on the streets. The management of the Dead are tied up on the long distance phone, trying to get legal defense together, and people continue to get stoned and listen to rock and roll music."

    A notice in the 2/11/70 East Village Other:

    OWSLEY STANLEY, the Big Dipper of the Aquarian Age, (THE Owsley), needs $1 (one dollar) from 40,000 people so that he can be freed. We appeal to all of you who recognize his importance (including fans of the Grateful Dead, since it is Owsley who designs the Dead's equipment) to send one dollar to:
    Owsley Stanley, Box 639, Berkeley California 94701
    thank you"