Jul 29, 2012

June 21, 1971: Herouville, France


Paris, on a mid-summers day June 1971, and the Dead are in town. Or, to be more precise, just out of town.
For the last three days, we've been staying in the 16th century chateau d'Herouville, once the home of Chopin, and which now houses a 16 track studio called 'Strawberry' and a heated swimming pool in the back yard. The 16 people who comprised the Dead entourage on this occasion arrived 'peu a peu' during the few days preceding the date of their proposed performance at a free festival on the Rodeo Ranch at Auvers-sur-Oise, and Bob Weir, myself, and 3 1/2 tons of equipment comprising 106 pieces, brought up the rear on the Saturday afternoon.
We were greeted with the news that due to the heavy rain which fell on Friday night, the festival organiser, Jean Bouquin, had cancelled the remainder of the event, and the newspapers were full of pictures of rain-soaked French freaks wending their weary way home through the mud.
Six thousand miles is a long way to come for nothing, and although various attempts were made to arrange a concert at a suitable venue in Paris (and there was talk of taking the entire entourage and 3 1/2 tons of equipment to the Glastonbury Fair), what finally happened must have been one of the most amazing events at which the Grateful Dead - or any other band for that matter - have ever played.
The chateau is now owned by noted film music composer Michael Magne who, despite an unexpectedly high influx of guests due to the cancellation of the festival, managed to accommodate everyone in high style, producing food and wine as if by magic. I hadn't seen the Dead since the Hollywood festival in England last year, but somehow they are so much a part of my life these days that there didn't seem to have been that much of a gap.
I came across Jerry Garcia taking a leisurely stroll in the grounds, and within minutes became engrossed in a conversation that, rather like his guitar work, developed from a simple opening statement into the conversational equivalent of an improvised fugue. Impossible to relate to you in detail a discussion that simultaneously embraced the mechanics of the record industry, the sociological aspects of high finance, and what Chopin might have done, had the heated swimming pool been installed while he lived there.
By the time you read this, the Dead will have completed mixing their new double LP, and Jerry will probably have finished work on his solo album. Pigpen too is planning an album of his own, and is thinking of using brass accompaniment on some tracks; he really is far out you know - slept for almost 48 hours, in spite of the constant comings and goings of the household and, having surfaced, played and sung up a storm, then went back to bed.
Oh yes, of course they did play. On the Monday evening in the grounds of the chateau, by the side of the heated swimming pool to an audience which consisted of the entire population of the village, including the mayor, the local fire brigade (in uniform and with appliance), and 200 French farmers, with wives and children.
For four hours they played - old songs, new songs, getting off as only they can; and the audience loved it. Grandmothers bounced babies in time to the music, and the young ones indulged in the ancient French custom of throwing each other, fully clothed, into the pool. Our host laid out food and wine on tables surrounding the pool, and even supplied one thousand and one candles to light the scene.
A young lady journalist was busily trying to list the titles of the songs, and was getting more and more flustered until she realised at last that when the Dead play, it doesn't really matter much what the titles are. As for me, I know that they started with 'Truckin' and kept on that way until the sun started to brighten on the horizon.
I came back to London on the following afternoon and was quite surprised to find that it was still there.

(by Ian Samwell, from Zigzag no. 22)



  1. Check out the "young lady journalist busily trying to list the titles of the songs..." My kind of journalist!
    It's a little surprising that there were at least two journalists, plus a film crew at this little event. I think they had intended to cover the festival, but once it was cancelled, they made do with this Dead show!

    We get a little glimpse of Garcia the conversationalist here. He had just received the advance for his solo album, and would record it in July.
    The Dead's studio dates for their "live" album are unknown, but they must have spent some time mixing & dubbing it, considering they'd hardly played any shows in 2 months and were still not done.

    We hear that "Pigpen too is planning an album of his own," and the idea of using brass is intriguing. (Empty Pages with horns? Was Pigpen thinking of going soul?)
    I wonder if it's a sign of Pigpen's increasingly poor health (or just bad jet-lag) that he spends two days in bed here...

  2. From Garcia's 1971 Rolling Stone interview:

    What was France like?
    "It was beautiful. We went there to do a big festival, a free festival that they were gonna have. Bill Hamm came over from France - these people had brought him over to get him to talk to us, to get us to go there on the following weekend. So we thought, wow, a week's notice - let's go to France for the weekend. And play this free festival. They were ready to take us over there and have us stay and everything, for nothing. So we would be going over and not charging anybody.
    We went over but the festival rained out; it flooded. We stayed at this little chateau which is owned by a French film-score composer who has a 16-track recording studio built into the chateau; and this is a chateau that Chopin once lived in, really old, just delightful, out in the country near the town of Auvers, which is where Vincent Van Gogh is buried...
    We were there with nothing to do: France, a 16-track recording studio upstairs, all our gear, ready to play, and nothing to do. So - we decided to play at the chateau itself, out in the back, in the grass, with a swimming pool; just play off into the hills. We didn't even play to hippies, we played to a handful of townspeople in Auvers; and the guy who owns the chateau, who's like a courtly gentleman, perfect host, beautiful French meals every day. And we played and the people came - the chief of police, the fire department, just everybody. It was an event, and everybody just had a hell of a time. Got drunk and fell in the pool. It was great. They have the tape. We made a lot of friends over there."

  3. Rosie McGee has a chapter on this show in her recent book "Dancing with the Dead," which adds a lot of details & explains some things.

    Once they arrived to find the festival was rained out, their gear was brought to the chateau where they were staying. (It was apparently quite an ordeal to haul the 3 1/2 tons of equipment there!) With time on their hands, they did some sightseeing in Paris.
    "The only person at Herouville who seemed to be having a poor time of it was Pigpen, who wasn't feeling well. He didn't participate in any excursions and he stayed to himself most of the time we were there...
    We still had a couple of days before our flight home, so the band finally accepted the repeated invitations of their host to go upstairs to his state of the art recording studio and lay down some tracks. Not much came of the session, but a couple of the guys enjoyed jamming with some French musicians who'd been invited to drop by, and the music went on into the night.
    The next day, in an effort to salvage at least a small return for having brought the Dead all the way to France, the promoters put together a feast and party...for the band to play on the lawn out by the pool. They invited the entire village of Herouville, no more than 300 souls including children and dogs, and arranged for a leading French TV station to film the Dead's evening set for their Pop 2 music show...
    By dusk, the equipment had been set up on the grass by the pool, lunch had been cleared and the tables replenished with an even more splendid feast... One of our light show friends from the Haight...found a sheet to hang from a nearby arbor, and once it was dark enough, projected a classic light show into it...
    The pool area was illuminated by strings of small white lights and a hundred votive candles floating in the pool. By dusk, the French media had arrived with their portable lights for filming and the band played on. Pigpen, ever the trouper, managed to give a convincing performance, but his gaunt and pale appearance betrayed his fragile appearance.
    The kids and dogs ran around, the adults drank a lot of wine and smoked a lot of dope, and...a few people ended up getting shoved into the pool, but they were laughing as they fell. All in all, it was a wonderful night."