Jul 18, 2012

May 15, 1970: Fillmore East


The Grateful Dead gave one of their fullest Fillmore East programs, May 15, with the New Riders of the Purple Sage. It was the first New York appearance of the two associated groups, the only acts on the bill.
The show was divided into three sets. In the first, the Grateful Dead, with Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir on acoustic guitars, was strongly country oriented. Garcia and Ron (Pigpen) McKernan had vocal leads. McKernan also was strong on keyboard and harmonica. Weir, the rhythm guitarist, and bass guitarist Phil Lesh aided in the vocals. In the set's last number two members of the New Riders joined in, guitarists David Nelson and a member referred to only as Marmaduke, who, in that group's good country set, displayed a good country voice.
Garcia, switching to steel guitar, and drummer Mickey Hart are members of both units, the next set showed. Bass guitarist David Torbort completed the New Riders, whose fine country set built the evening's intensity. Weir joined in the last number.
The closing set in the first show had the Grateful Dead, with both drummers, Hart and William Kreutzmann, at full intensity for one of their best outings. By the time the Warner Bros. group and mainstay of the San Francisco influence reached "Saint Stephen," the audience was spontaneously on its feet with the music.

(by Fred Kirby, from the Cincinnati Billboard, May 30 1970)

* * * * *


Billed as an evening with The Grateful Dead featuring The New Riders Of The Purple Sage, a country extension of the Dead, Bill Graham presented the San Francisco unit as the sole act on the Fillmore East, N.Y. bill. The unusual booking was prompted by the loyalty the Dead inspire from its followers and the knowledge that the band is most alive when there is no time limit placed upon its set.
By devoting an entire evening to the Dead, Graham was able to solve a problem the sextet had presented in the past. Since the normal Fillmore bill includes three acts, the majority of Dead fans have refrained from attending the early show where the band was limited to an hour set, resulting in sellouts for the late shows, but less than capacity for the first show. With tickets scaled to $5.50, the pair of concerts grossed $22,500.
Presented in three segments, an evening with the Grateful Dead featuring the New Riders Of The Purple Sage falls more into the category of a music experience than a concert. Over the course of five-and-a-half hours, the Dead's trip through every facet of contemporary music, from soft folk to eerie electronic explorations, exemplified an affinity for freedom and spontaneity that was reflected in the festive atmosphere that pervaded the Fillmore.
Part one featured five members of the Dead presenting an acoustic set of tranquil country-folk that provided a relaxing warmup to the energy that followed. The pace was then quickened by The New Riders Of The Purple Sage, a unit that features Jerry Garcia playing pedal steel guitar, drummer Mickey Hart, David Nelson playing electric guitar, bassist David Torbert and rhythm guitarist Marmaduke. Marmaduke's vocals lend a cajun flavor to the country sound that derives its main impetus from Garcia's unique steel guitar style.
The evening reached its zenith with stage three, the electricity of the Dead: Garcia, Hart, drummer Bill Kreutzman, bassist Phil Lesh, rhythm guitarist Bob Weir and organist Pigpen. Now when any rock band employing horns is said to fuse rock and jazz, the Dead, sans horns, perhaps best exemplify the qualities that are indigenous to jazz, freedom and improvisational instrumental jams. With Garcia's piercing guitar riffs leading the way, the Dead cohesively follow him through excursions that are as powerful as any in rock without sacrificing clarity.

(by Jeff, from Variety, May 27 1970)



  1. These are 'music-industry' reviews which are focused more on simply reporting that an event happened than on describing the shows; so these tend to be distant & lacking in detail.
    The Billboard reviewer just attended the first show, and may well not even have stayed through the electric set.

    The Variety reviewer, though, sounds like he was quite intrigued by the Dead, and describes them with admiration - he mentions that the evening lasted 5 1/2 hours, so he must have stayed for at least the whole late show. (On tape, the late show is 4 hours, the early show 2 1/2.)

    Note that the acoustic set "featured five members of the Dead" - one of the drummers sat out. This seems to have been customary for the acoustic sets.

    These reviews also point out a shift in how the Dead played at the Fillmore East. It was unusual in the first place for them to play with no other acts on the bill.
    As the Variety review also points out, New Yorkers had finally learned that the Dead's early shows were kept short & the true magic happened in the late shows - as a result, everyone just wanted to go to the late shows. So 5/15/70 was the last time the Dead would play early & late shows at the Fillmore - after this, it would just be one long evening.
    The Dead seem to have expected that many people would attend both shows, though.

  2. I like the Variety review, which seems to be a mixture of scientific and fan-based, probably because, as you mentioned, he was quite intrigued by then. It's good to find confirmation that one of the drummers sat out during the acoustic sets, as I was wondering about that very precise fact now that I was listening to it with headphones.

    What drummer would sit out then? In this Fillmore evening it seems it's Bill who sits out (Bill Graham only mentions Mickey and the booklet photos depict Hart behind a drum set to Jerry's right). Now the question is whether this acoustic line-up was always the same, as I always had the idea that Bill would play the acoustic sets as Mickey would already play with the New Riders the rest of the evening. Also, in the Festival Express footage, it's Bill who plays drums on Don't Ease Me In.

    Any clue on this?

    1. I also used to think Bill did all the acoustic sets, but apparently they were more flexible.
      In general just one drummer played in the acoustic sets, and I think Mickey & Bill would alternate - maybe Mickey in one show, Bill the next. It's also possible that Mickey did the earlier acoustic sets, and Bill took over in mid-year.
      At the Fillmore West shows Michael Parrish saw that year, Mickey played the 4/10/70 acoustic set, and Bill did the 6/5/70 & 8/19/70 acoustic sets.
      It could be useful to find more photo or audio evidence for other dates....

    2. Michael Parrish the roadie? I remember reading his book some time ago when my obsession for the Dead wasn't this big, so unfortunately I can't remember what he wrote but yeah, there's a lot of info out there spread out in tiny little pieces that one has to put together. So thanks for the info.

      Going back to Road Trips 3.3. (oh, we're just a couple of days away from the anniversary of the gig) I am listening to it at the moment (it's Dire WOlf now) and would like to mention (again, drummers-related) that I don't enjoy the mix very much (in the way drums are mixed).

      Mickey is very clearly audible on the right channel but Bill seems to be lost somewhere in the middle, hidden under a conspicuos tambourine sound sometimes(espcially during China Cat Sunflower>I Know you..) which might even be Pigpen. I was hoping for the balance to change a little bit as the show progressed but the drums sound and balance stays the same. I'm probably being too picky but I think it's worth discussing.

      Also, one last note...how enjoyable is to listen to Pig playing throughout: organ on Don't Ease Me, Black Peter and other acustic songs, and then in the electric show too, Morning Dew, Good Lovin (oh, was he singing while sat at the organ? Like in the old days (67, 68)? wonderful!). I mean..there's some gigs where he wouldn't play at all. I remember there's some liner notes by Blair Jackson saying he would only play sporadically. By judging from this show you would't think so! Still I wonder what was his criteria to decide what songs to play or not. Pure lazyness perhaps? I'm saying this 'cos I would love to hear a 70s China Cat with Pigpen playing organ but that doesn't seem likely (and, for once, there's footage on the "A night at the Family Dog" DVD).

    3. Steve Parish was the roadie (and he wasn't a Dead roadie til 1971) - I meant Michael Parrish the author of this blog - http://cryptdev.blogspot.com - who describes several 1970 Dead shows he went to.

      The Fillmore East release was made from Bob Matthews' recording, so he's to blame for the mix! Actually I've never compared it with the "secret" Fillmore-crew recording, which was the source of our circulating tapes, to see how they might differ; I've assumed both mixes are near-identical.

      It is something of a mystery what Pigpen's criteria were for which songs to play organ on during 1970-71. (China Cat, I don't think he ever did.) Maybe it depended on his mood, or maybe there were just certain songs he'd do. I haven't checked to see which songs he did regularly through the year, or which songs he sang while playing organ in that period (if any), so that could be another research project for someone!

    4. Sorry for my mistake, thanks for the info.

      Regarding the recording, the other tape I remember listening to a lot is the February 13th, 1970, which was donde by Bear I think. That one has a good drums mix.

      As for the drummers, there's a post elsewhere on this blog about the August 17, 1970 Fillmore West concert, where it says "(...)and Bill Kreutzman (who alternates with Mickey Hart) on drums".

      The Pigpen project would be nice doing, I'll try to keep notes on that while I listen to shows. Maybe some day we'll be able to gather enough data to write a comprehensive guide.

    5. Oh yes, the two articles on 8/17/70 both point out that Kreutzmann was the only drummer in the acoustic set. (By "alternating with Mickey Hart," I think the author just meant that it was Bill acoustic/Mickey NRPS.)

      But so far, we have Mickey playing the acoustic set in two April & May shows, and Bill in three June & August shows. Til more evidence turns up, my guess is they simply switched after May. There could be spoken comments in other acoustic sets...
      Looking at other reviews, a 4/25/70 newspaper review just says the acoustic set was with "a drummer." One ambiguous mention is Zito's review of the July '70 Fillmore East run, where he says the acoustic set was played with "only two acoustic guitars, an electric bass and drums," then for the NRPS set says that "Mickey Hart, the drummer, is still present."
      That certainly sounds like Hart was the acoustic-set drummer as well, but Zito's review is not necessarily accurate; he mixes up various details.