Jul 18, 2012

May 24, 1970: Hollywood Festival, England


There is no such thing as a music festival. A festival is a one-, two-, or three-day social event where people live and work and come together. As such, Hollywood was a disappointment, but a brave attempt. When will promoters forget their profit-margins and remember the people and the musicians. The people at Hollywood could only buy 50/- tickets for the whole weekend, which meant they had to live under extraordinary conditions for two or three days and nights, even if they only wanted to see Traffic on Sunday night. And they were hopelessly overcharged for the plastic snax that nobody should have to survive on.
The musicians were thrown together on a high tiny stage and a crowded Press Arena, and then confronted with a PA and monitoring system that they weren't able to hear. A festival is a social event and not a social experiment. People cannot be played with like film extras, they are the festival and its total existence depends on them. Only when the organisers realise that, will anything approaching the cultural significance of Woodstock be seen in England.
The introduction of a happy and bewildered Farmer Ted to the crowd sitting and smoking dope on his land made one thing crystal clear: somebody had seen the Woodstock film where farmer Max Yasgur was moved to tears at the reception he got when introduced to half a million heads, and was trying hard to make a parallel at Hollywood. As he later explained, Farmer Ted was blissfully happy because "I got more money from the promoters than I would have made from eighteen months farming." Little hardship for two days and as much applause as Jose Feliciano.
As a totality it was not a success; there were moments of absolute unreality as when a disc jockey called for "More, more" over the PA after the Dead had played, giving and taking from an exhausted, spaced audience, for three hours, the most ecstatic exploratory music ever witnessed in England. They had made their statement and those with whom they communicated understood, and those who couldn't accept it probably never will.
Yet everybody took what they wanted to take. Mungo Jerry played on both days to an insatiable audience. Free did well even to get up and play after the Grateful Dead. Quintessence found a perfect situation for their form of communication, and Traffic finished off strongly. And the Staffordshire police were cool, not quite believing what was going down when the fences were torn down on Sunday night to make fires for the frozen masses, but realising it was there - "We can smell that stuff a mile off."
Provided everybody takes the weekend at Bath calmly, the birth-pangs of the Hollywood experience will have paid the necessary dues.

(from Friends (UK), June 12 1970)
(The article is illustrated by a picture of Pigpen at the keyboard.)

* * * * *

The same issue of Friends had another article on the Dead, which is quoted in Deadlists. That entry (under 5/2/70) follows.

Speaking to Dick Lawson in England around 5/24/70, Garcia said:

"We're going through some transitions. Our music is not what it was: it's continually changing. What we've been doing in the States lately is having like 'an evening with the Grateful Dead.' We start off with acoustic music with Bobby and I playing guitars, light drums and very quiet electric bass. Pigpen plays the organ. Then we have a band we've been travelling with, The New Riders of the Purple Sage, where I play pedal steel, not guitar, Mickey plays drums, and three of our friends from the coast, musicians that we've known for a long time, are fronting the band. So we start off with acoustic music and then The New Riders of the Purple Sage -- it's like very snappy electric country-rock; it's kinda hard to describe -- and then we come on with the electric Dead, so it keeps us all really interesting, and it's six hours of this whole development thing. By the end of the night it's very high."

(Dick Lawson, "What Will Be The Answer To The Answer Then?," Friends, 12 June 1970, p. 11)

This Garcia quote about the festival may also be from the article:
"I don't think we played well. I think it was getting good; it was starting to get good; we were getting used to the sound of it, and the feeling of it, and the people were starting to get enthusiastic. The way I feel, it was our function in that festival to loosen the audience somewhat, so everybody who followed had a good audience. When we came on it was kinda like, we didn't know them and they didn't know us. But anyway, I didn't feel that we played well, I really didn't. In a festival situation its kinda hard to get it on. You can't compete with the outdoors."

I have not been able to find the rest of that article, but Lawson also reviewed several Dead albums.

In McNally's book, Phil Lesh recalled that "all of a sudden this jet plane bifurcates the sky at the high point of Dark Star, this vapor trail..."
Lawson wrote about the same scene:
"During Dark Star, we lost reality and soared. Above the canopy over the stage, at an exact ninety degrees to the scaffolding and at a height of 30 thousand feet, a silver dart crossed the sky, blazing a double vapour trail. It split the air in two, cracked the sphere. The brilliant blue crumbled. Nothing. Empty, void. It was as if Captain Trips had been waiting for that moment, expecting it to happen. He picked up the pieces and carefully reassembled them the way he wanted, each note a truer, whiter, blacker high. They moved into the thunderous crashing, bouncing earthquake of St Stephen and softly into Turn on Your Lovelight. Pigpen moved around to the front, adding his demonic presence to Garcia's white hot guitar. We were then starting to be with them, carried up, out of our bodies, clapping in time for five minutes or an hour with hands that were no longer ours."

* * * * *

Andy Childs wrote a history of the Dead in ZigZag (a UK magazine) in late 1973, also referring to this show:

"The month of May saw the Grateful Dead play an historic set at the Hollywood Festival, held at Finney Green near Newcastle-under-Lyme, and the British press were unanimous in their appraisal of the band's performance. Good old Mac Garry (in ZigZag 13) said that they were "totally magnificent", and Dick Lawson in Frendz No.8 went completely bonkers over it all, describing their set as "the most ecstatic exploratory music ever witnessed in England".

Even the pop weeklies, most of whom had previously dismissed the Dead as an over-rated hype, had to admit that here was a band who literally commanded respect simply through their style, their approach and the nature of their music. What they gave in return on that day at Hollywood was three hours of non-stop quality music that apparently left a large proportion of the audience in a state of speechless wonder. After countless rumours of impending visits (notably a projected free 'West Coast' concert in Hyde Park), they'd finally made it, and for the lucky people who saw them the myth became reality. I'm quite sure, though, that on that occasion they frustrated many more people than they satisfied, mainly because they went straight back to America without playing any other dates, but also because the general consensus of opinion within the band was that they didn't feel they'd played well at all! How difficult it must be for those present at Hollywood to imagine them playing any better..."

(Courtesy of http://jgmf.blogspot.com/ )

* * * * *

See also the excellent site http://www.ukrockfestivals.com/Holly-dead.70.html

It quotes one unidentified music review of the festival (under "Music Press Accounts") in which practically every band gets praise except for the "overrated" Dead!
"The Dead have been together in one form or another for six years and I would have expected something better after all this time. They played for too long and became tedious with only occasional bursts of energy and little inventiveness. Various numbers from their Live Dead album were played but this didn't prevent a string of people leaving the concert area for the village during their act."

But another contrary review notes, "The best reception of all the bands was ripped from the crowd by the Grateful Dead, who played for 3 hours and 10 minutes stirring even a dozen Hells Angels on police duty."

Other reports vary:
"Then we all sat under the broiling sun for an hour whilst the roadies set up Grateful Dead's rather tatty equipment. Despite bringing a whole removal van full, they ended up using a bare fraction of it, which annoyed the promoters who had warned the Dead they wouldn't need all that stuff. Perhaps it was sunstroke setting in, but the Grateful Dead seemed disappointing. They were incredibly loud, Garcia's guitar work was very polished but for a lot of the time he and rhythm guitarist Bob Weir seemed to work against each other. Their repertoire varied from close harmony CSNY type work to solid rock, at times sounding like the Mothers Of Invention. It's probably a shame that there's been the big myth surrounding them, if they'd have come on incognito with no pre-conceived ideas to live up to we'd probably have raved."

"The Grateful Dead disappointed me. I hasten to add a lot of people really dug them. They looked very nervous when they started and the sound just wasn't that good. Their three part harmonies were pretty suspect. There were long pauses between each song and the overall presentation was strangely amateurish.
They did things like Hard To Handle and Good Lovin'. They looked amazingly tense and uncomfortable for a band with such a strong reputation. They may have been one of the first West Coast bands, but as far as I was concerned, judging them by this gig, it looked like a lot have overtaken them now. To be fair, they played a very long set and things got better as they went along. The audience seemed quite happy. I seemed quite bored."

"Grateful Dead, of course was the name on everybody's lips and they didn't disappoint. Playing at fearsome volume they demonstrated to the full that American knack of relaxation. They are at their best stretching out and improvising and during their three hours at Hollywood there were many magical moments. Particularly from Bob Weir, surely the most inventive second guitarist in rock, and Jerry Garcia whose soloing was pungent and immensely sure-footed. The two drummers meshed superbly, whether playing a couple of deceptively simple duets or providing a surging torrent of backing rhythm, and Phil Lesh is a great bass player. Among the best numbers were the far-reaching Dark Star, a cowboy song delivered by Weir, and Pigpen's version of Good Lovin', the old Rascals hit. In fact their vocal work was really outstanding - and they are primarily an instrumental band."

* * * * *

And lastly, Mac Garry's review in ZigZag:

Articles you read about the Grateful Dead are invariably based on comparison with previous appearances. Like, "They were sloppy and didn't get it on like they did last time they played the park," and "as usual, they took about half of their marathon set to warm up." Well at the Hollywood Music Festival, most of us in the audience were witnessing the spectacle of a Dead set for the first time in our lives and only the records, worn out till the grooves had worn out, served as a foretaste or comparison.
Of course the music they played was for the most part completely different. "Wait till you hear our new things," Pigpen told me. "We've gone right back to simpler more straightforward type of stuff." And so they had.
The traditional Americana that has always been peeping through their music has suddenly become prominent: traditional blues (I Know You Rider - variously known as Woman Blues or Circle Round the Sun), traditional folk (a 900 Miles derivative), traditional country ("riding the train, high on cocaine" - well I said traditional TYPE), traditional cowboy epics (Me and My Uncle, the John Phillips/Dino Valente classic), traditional pop (Good Lovin, Not Fade Away), and traditional R&B (Hard to Handle). Most of this material represents the new Dead style music and presumably comprises the new album "Workingman's Dead." The pop stuff, they've always been doing - I remember them saying in interview "we'll play our half hour version of In the Midnight Hour" to anyone who'll listen.
Then they played a superb "medley" consisting of most of the Live Dead album. Incredible. And I don't use that word lightly. It was incredible...the awe, the music, the excitement, the whole scene. Sure, vocally they are weak. Garcia, who does most of the singing, has a reedy, most unforceful, undistinguished voice, and neither Weir or Lesh are that hot either.
On the other hand, Pigpen, almost totally obscured by his giant organ (that phrase sounds suspicious) swings into his vocals with tremendous gusto and turns cruddy ancient pop songs into driving classic performances. But musically, they cut most other rock bands to ribbons.
The solid red Gibson looked so flimsy in Garcia's hands that it looked like it would break like balsa if he squeezed it - but it seemed like every time he touched it, beautiful, clear ringing notes poured out - and on Me and My Uncle he was just fucking fabulous. Phil Lesh's bass playing was superbly inventive and Bob Weir was nice as a complementary lead guitarist. As they began each piece, the three of them zigzagged from the back to the mics at the front of the stage. Squeezing past the two drummers, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, who hammered phrases at each other and occasionally attacked us with other percussive devices like gongs and pistol shots.
I can't really agree with one other appraisal of the Dead, that their music is like a synaesthetic assemblage of disparate ingredients and tonal colours whose procession from start to finish is non-focussed but dynamic, because I don't really know what all that means, but I do know that I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon.
Before the festival I'd spoken to this San Franciscan cat who had told me that he was dubious about attending. There had been a full moon a couple of days before and now with the moon in Capricorn, things were bound to go wrong.
"The last time the signs were like this," he said, "Quicksilver's roadie nearly hanged himself with an amp cord." Well, Wall Street had its worst day in seven years, but the Dead were totally magnificent.

(These clips were collected by Simon Phillips from unknown papers, and presented with nice photos on the UK Rock Festivals website. The "oral histories" section is well worth a look, as it contains many memories of the Dead's set - some people went to the festival just to see them, while others who didn't know them were bored by their "overlong" set & drum solos...)


For more reviews, see:


  1. A couple reviews note that the Dead's set was three hours, although our tape (without apparent breaks) is only 2:15 - one instance of the disparity between a show's tape-time and actual time.

    According to McNally, Weir called this show "cold as a whore's goodbye," and deadlists notes that "several bandmembers said this was the coldest audience they ever played for."
    I think they are mixing up this show with the 4/11/72 Newcastle show, though. Weir told Crawdaddy in Sept '72 that the Newcastle audience was the "coldest, stiffest audience I've ever played for...nobody seemed to be at all interested in what we were doing."

    Judging from the disparate accounts above, the Dead got a pretty good crowd reaction at the Hollywood festival. (Though Mungo Jerry & Jose Feliciano apparently stole the show!)

  2. From Garcia's 1971 Rolling Stone interview:
    "I enjoyed going to England. I liked the English people, they seemed to enjoy us, but we didn't play for shit. We only got to play once, at a thing called the Hollywood Festival while we were there. So it was a drag; but I'd like to go and really spend some time playing and get to know some people. But it was really nice."

  3. Richard Green wrote an account of the Hollywood Festival for the New Musical Express ("Peaceful Festival of Good Music," 5/30/70). It was partly quoted in this post - this was the Dead portion:

    "All the chat about endless streams of superstars flocking to the Hollywood Music Festival at the weekend to sit in with various groups turned out to be so much waffle. Not one showed up! This may have disappointed a few, but the vast majority of the crowd (estimated at somewhere near 45,000) was well-pleased with the two days of good sounds...
    Nobody could seriously have expected Messrs. Clapton, Townshend, Page, Jones and Plant to play together, so it wasn't that much of a shock when they didn't. America's overrated Grateful Dead had to make do without the benefit of Britain's best - and accordingly suffered.
    Dead have been together in one form or another for six years and I would have expected something better after all that time. They played for too long and became tedious with only occasional bursts of energy and little inventiveness. Various numbers from their Live/Dead album were performed, but this didn't prevent a string of people leaving the concert area for the village during the act."

    David & Aileen Cohen also wrote an account of the festival for the Guardian ("Better fled than Dead," 5/26/70) - they were bored & restless through the festival, despite a few bands offering "glimmers of hope," and said it had "fizzled out" without much crowd excitement:

    "Assemble Jose Feliciano, the Grateful Dead, Traffic, The Family, Black Sabbath, and other good groups in a natural arena moulded out of soft green fields. Add sunshine and thousands of people. You should have two days of tribal pop joy. But just as some parties never really get started, this kind of event - more an experience than the sum of its performances - may never get off the ground. As anyone who went...found out.
    ... We had to wait an hour for the much-heralded Grateful Dead. Though they and, later, Jose Feliciano, were excellent, the spirit had fled."

  4. An April 1972 article on the Dead in Frendz magazine recalled this festival as "a let-down" for the band:
    "Two years ago, on their one other visit to England, they played the Hollywood Festival at Newcastle-under-Lyme on a day of bluebell brightness. They say they didn't get off playing there, and were disappointed in the audience reaction. As musicians their dependence on audience feedback is marked. They set up a vibration and to get high themselves like to feel it come back. To me the Hollywood audience seemed very enthusiastic. But then I'm used to English undemonstrativeness and Americans aren't. It was a three hour set and at the end it seemed a whole field of waving bodies would deluge the stage. They smile at their disappointment now..." (Danae Brook, "Playing in the Band," Frendz)