Jul 25, 2012

April 6, 1971: Manhattan Center, New York


We sent a correspondent to the final night of the Grateful Dead Dance Marathon, held three nights last week at the Manhattan Center, on West Thirty-fourth Street. This is his report:
"When I arrived, there was not much dancing at the Grateful Dead Dance Marathon. The promoters, who ripped off a neat five dollars a ticket, had oversold the hall, so that while there was room in some parts of the room for rhythmic breathing, dancing was rarely a possibility. In any case, there was no tinsel or glitter anywhere, and since a proper dance marathon requires a certain amount of tinsel and glitter, the whole dance-marathon hype turned out to be a little bit embarrassing - at least, if you stopped to think about it, which, probably, nobody much did. Everyone was waiting for the Dead, and thinking about them. There is a lot of talk just now about the Death of Rock and the Death of the Alternate Culture, and this talk is just as tiresome in its way as the talk around a while ago about the Triumph of Rock and the Birth of the Alternate Culture, but it is true that there are very few groups playing now in America who can really move an audience in the old way, and the Grateful Dead are probably the most important and accessible of these groups. They have worked a route back into country music and early rock-and-roll, and they have very heavy acid-rock credentials, so they cover a lot of ground and they mean a lot to a lot of different people. No one minded waiting for the Dead.
"The Manhattan Center has aquamarine walls and had murals on social themes. The legend under one of the largest of these murals reads, 'For the Furtherance of Industry, Religion, and the Enjoyment of Leisure.' The Grateful Deaad Dance Marathon fell, presumably, under the heading of leisure, although there was a religious angle there somewhere. In any case, the managers of the Manhattan Center were sensitive to the leisure habits of their young patrons and made sure that no one was offended by any evidence of middle-class material comfort. There are two enormous balconies at the Manhattan Center, and both were crowded with people pushing to the rails. From the floor, these balconies looked like the decks of a huge foundering hippie cruise ship. The iron Art Moderne balcony rails were the nicest details in the hall.
"Everyone was dressed in the New Mufti, if you know what I mean. Very little freakiness. Very few silks and satins and top hats and doorman uniforms. Most people were wearing layers of T-shirts and sweatshirts and flannel shirts and Army jackets. Overalls were prevalent. This stuff is a kind of finery, as people are very selective about which T-shirts and sweatshirts and overalls they wear. There were several T-shirts with 'Cocaine' written on the front in Coca-Cola script, and there was one that said 'Holland Tunnel.' The freaky, tense, expectant atmosphere of a couple of years ago was gone. People knew what was coming, and they waited to get excited until it did come. There was a pleasant low-key trust around. People lay on the floor, for instance, and were not trampled, and the coat checkroom had no coat checker and was run on sound anarchistic principles. There was, however, no self-conscious celebration of this low-key trust. I didn't hear anyone say 'Oh, wow!'
"The stage was bathed in lights of many colors, but mostly purple. The Dead came on. They did a lot of songs other people have done - 'Me and Bobby McGee' and 'In the Midnight Hour' and 'Oh Boy,' Buddy Holly and the Crickets' old song. Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia, the leads, were in good form, and they received the response they are used to. By the time they got into some of their own stuff, like 'Casey Jones,' people were, in fact, dancing, although there was no room to dance. On the first balcony, ten guys danced in a circle, and then were joined by about twenty other people and set off down the balcony in a snake. They mumbled the lyrics of 'Casey Jones' until they reached the 'high on cocaine' part, at which point they shouted the lyrics. Downstairs, a black guy (one of the very few black guys there) danced flat out. It was a very complex thing. I asked him if there was any kind of name for his dance. 'I'm just dancing, man,' he said, 'The last time I did a dance with a name, it was the tenth grade, I think. I guess that was the bug-a-loo. The bug-a-loo's a long time ago.'"

(from the New Yorker, April 17 1971)

* * * * *


There's a standing order that the Grateful Dead have with any friends who happen to be coming back to San Francisco from New York: bring onion rolls and bagels from Ratner's, the dairy restaurant on Second Ave. next to the Fillmore.
The Dead haven't even begun to reap the harvest from all the seeds they've sown in this city. They could fill Madison Square Garden but they're still being booked into the smaller halls. When they played the Manhattan Center a week ago, their show was billed as a dance marathon, an unnecessary hype from a band with the kind of New York following that the Dead have.
As one fan told me, "Everybody went there thinking they were doing to do a 'They Shoot Horses' number, but all it was was a dance, the kind they always did in San Francisco. They had everybody thinking the Dead were going to play for three days straight.
"You don't need that kind of publicity to get the people out for the Grateful Dead. Nobody here understands the power of the Dead. They don't need any hard sell anymore."

I couldn't attend the marathon. I would have liked to be there when Sandy Alexander, the president of the New York Hell's Angels, gave Pig Pen a bottle of Southern Comfort. But let me offer you Bob Sarlin's report of the closing night:

"Outside the hall crowds of kids were trying to press their way through two small doors. As the crowd pushed and pulled, big wet snowflakes started to fall, inside, past a couple of rent-a-cops and a frantic-looking Howard Stein, the producer. The hall was like some mad dream of overpopulation: people under pressure everywhere, pressing toward the stage and then back again, filling the balcony's stairways, the dance floor and the backstage area.
"The stage was dark and every once in a while you could hear Bob Marmaduke [sic], the singer from the New Riders of the Purple Sage, pleading with the people up front to move back, repeating the refrain 'somebody's going to get hurt...and besides, you guys won't be able to dance.' The New Riders were a stone bore. The crowd merely used the time to get high, most of them drinking from wine bottles wrapped in paper bags.

"Somehow we were pushed into Howard Stein again, who was wearing a pavillion tee shirt and a cowboy hat, half hiding his bearded face. 'It's crazy,' he said, 'it's never been so bad. We just caught one of our security men letting people in through a basement door and charging them a couple of bucks a head.
"'Then someone notices one of the rent-a-cops selling tickets around the corner. The SOB hadn't been tearing them. We must have 7500 people in here. It's too crazy, but stick around, you'll have a good time.' He led us to the only quiet place in the hall, a well-guarded staff booth, and from there we could take a better look at the hordes of Dead fans weaving around below.
"Most of the audience looked like vacationing college kids: the new breed, that is, the funk bunch. The Dead is their band now because they can see that the loose style of living they are seeking is alive in the latest music of the band. The men were dressed up in old shirts, with a lot of Melton checkered lumber jack clothing a la Hudson's.

"By the time the lights went up on the Dead and the music began to pour lazily through their own, excellent PA system, the crowd was stoned en masse, a flowing, twisting asparagus field of happy bodies. Nobody seemed to mind the crush any more.
"As the music became stronger, people began to wave their arms, dancing in the new looser way that college kids are into dancing now. The Dead ripped through songs from the last two albums, did Buddy Holly's 'Oh, Boy' and churned into a long version of one of their favorite dance marathon numbers, 'In Midnight Hour.' Chain dances began to form, just like they did at the be-ins of days past. People were hugging each other to the music, waving their bodies around like taffy pulls.

"At midnight the band launched into 'Drivin' That Train' and the crowd sang along, completely oblivious to the crush now, drunk and stoned and lost in the thumping of the Dead. As the last chords boomed off the stage, the spotlights lifted to focus on the old mirrored wall that hangs high in Manhattan Center, and dots of light twirled around the room like the snowflakes outside. The people went berserk.
"On the way out, we bumped into an exhausted Howard Stein again. 'They're trying to get in through the roof now,' he said. 'We're fighting them off on the roof.'"

If you missed the marathon, as I did, don't sulk. The Dead will be back in New York next week, this time at the Fillmore.

(by Alfred Aronowitz, from the Pop Scene column, New York Post, April 19 1971)

* * * * *

April 15, 1971

Dear Patrons:

I want to offer my apologies for the terribly crowded conditions at the Grateful Dead Dance Marathon.

Since I was not fully acquainted with Manhattan Center, it was difficult to estimate how many people the Ballroom could comfortably hold. While the blame for overselling was entirely mine, the problem was compounded by special security forces illegally selling tickets through side entrances and an unprecedented number of counterfeit tickets and break-ins.

All in all, however, I still believe that the great majority of the audience had a good time. The Dead played as well as I've ever heard them and the atmosphere (once accepting the crowdedness) was beautiful.

A major purpose of the Marathon was to offer an alternative to the confined, sit-down concert format in New York. It was not my intention to rip-off my audience or to exploit the Dead's drawing power.

Once again, my apologies to you and to the Dead.

Howard Stein



  1. Sometimes, the reviews are so good it's hard to add anything to them.
    It's especially unusual to have two such detailed reviews from the same show, both full of great quotes.

    There are many reports of the three-show Dance Marathon where it was too crowded to dance.
    Marty Weinberg: “Those were terrible...they were in this big place with no seating; clearly they were doing it for the money. It was a large ampitheater – a flat floor. It would have been great if there were about a quarter as many people. They let a lot of people in there...it was very crowded, and as shows go, it wasn’t great. (They advertised it as a Dance Marathon because all the Dead shows in New York up until that time, except for the Pavilion shows, were inside in theaters: sit down in a seat, and when people wanted to get into dancing and moving around, you did it at your seat and that was about it. You weren’t allowed to go into the aisles because there were fire laws.)... There were moments that were pretty good, but you couldn’t really enjoy it. You were standing, squeezed against all these people, which was no fun...it was like sardines.”

    Blair Jackson, in Deadbase X: "Once inside something became very clear - the promoters had sold way too many tickets. The place had a slight gymnasium quality to it, but with literally hundreds more than the legal capacity inside (we subsequently learned that dozens had broken in through a roof entrance) it took on the steamy ambience of a sauna. It was easily the most crowded I've ever been at a show... I probably spent most of the set trying to find room to breathe. I never did.
    The Dead's two sets were both a little on the short side, though filled with some excellent rock and roll. This was the first time I remember noticing that a show wasn't spacey, and I feared that the band was trying too hard to cater to the rock 'n' roll yahoos who'd started coming to shows after Casey Jones and Truckin' were hits. It didn't occur to me then that nobody could have endured a space show under sweatbox conditions like that."

  2. I should add the irony that both correspondents apparently left after Casey Jones ended the first set, unable to take any more!

  3. Howard Stein's letter was printed in the Village Voice, and also sent to the Dead.

    I found one derisively brief article on the Dead's last Fillmore East run (which was not a "news event" like the Dance Marathon apparently was). Not being worth its own post, I'll quote it here:

    "Of death, taxes, and the Grateful Dead, the Dead are the only certainty that can be enjoyed, and in this life. Thanks to their offshoot, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, the deftly grooved sound of the Dead can now be heard anytime, anywhere, all night, tonight. Warner Bros.' New Riders - Jerry Garcia, Spencer Dryden, Marmaduke Dawson & Friends - kicked off their four-day Fillmore stand in third gear, slick and game, and when rhythm and harmony came together to cast a high spell on 'Six Days on the Road' and 'Down in the Boondocks,' the result was fast release into party, bubbling from an underground spring of youth, of students on vacation. The Dead are a folk tradition cum ritual that burns and soars with the grace of giving that has made rock a first taste of religion."

    (by Ed Ochs, Cincinnati Billboard, May 8 1971)

  4. thanks very much for your reviews--see my comment on the April 4. At the same time I attended this concert I had a subscription to the National Symphony in DC in a nice hall with plush seats. This was one of the worst experiences--entertainment or others--I've had the misery to endure. Sure, good time, Howard. Blair et al nailed it. Sardines in a sauna and no way to breathe. Now imagine you're on 300 mics.