Sep 27, 2012

March 2, 1973: Old and In the Way


Marin County's newest bluegrass band, Old and In the Way, was playing at the Lion's Share in San Anselmo, California, and smoothly moving into "The Hit Parade of Love" when Jerry Garcia gave it away: It was their first time out. He had gone into his banjo solo before he realized he wasn't plugged into an amplifier. He grinned and quickly took a long step up to the microphone so the folks in the back could hear. The goof was understandable, because Garcia, along with the rest of the Grateful Dead, had only the day before returned from a two-week tour of the Midwest.
Playing mandolin was Dave Grisman, an old sidekick from Garcia's Menlo Park days; guitarist Peter Rowan, who'd previously played with Bill Monroe; and all-around bassist John Kahn, plunking away on a vintage acoustic upright. The four picked and sang close harmony through more than a dozen fast-paced numbers, including Bill Monroe's "The Old Crossroads," "White House Blues," and "Panama Red," a Rowan tune.

"God, it's been eight years since I've played banjo," Garcia recalled later. "Playing music isn't hard or anything, but playing bluegrass is kind of a sweat, though. I'd forgot how physical it is. But it sure is fun."
Garcia, Grisman, and Rowan live within a few blocks of one another in Marin County. "We all used to be heavily into bluegrass, so we got together a little over a month ago, started playing and then decided, Shit, why don't we play a few bars and see what happens? And John Kahn is working out beautifully on bass, because a lot of bluegrass is really stiff, and with his R&B background he gives us a great boogie-woogie bottom. We're developing a rhythmic feel that's kind of groovy.
"We're thinking about finding a fiddle player and then doing some of the bluegrass festivals this summer. It's a whole different world from the rock & roll scene - really mellow and nice. People bring their families and kids and grandmas and dogs and lunch. And they're all aficionados who really get off behind the licks. That'd be a lot of fun."

Finding the time for the summer festivals may be a problem, however, in view of the new immense popularity of the Dead. During its Midwestern tour the group played major halls (seventy-five hundred seats and up), selling out most concerts (including Chicago for the first time) and coming surprisingly close to it in Salt Lake City.
The Dead may sell out handily in any of a score of cities but nowhere else quite like in New York. A few years back the group played six nights in Port Chester, New York, selling out all six performances within a day. One night a bomb threat was received, presumably from irate Dead fans without tickets. Three thousand filed out while police searched the hall, and six thousand filed back in after the all-clear. That same year, the Dead headlined Fillmore East for five nights, all the tickets for which were likewise snapped up within hours.
The Dead's two concerts last week at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island were sold out by word of mouth within two and a half hours after going on sale at Ticketron outlets. At one point six thousand tickets were sold within thirty-one minutes. Bill Graham then took out an ad in the Village Voice to announce the sellout and the addition of a third concert, bringing the total Dead audience to sixty thousand for the three dates.
Jerry Garcia laughed at the sellout news: "I don't know what to think about it. Basically, I try to keep my attention focused on whether I can play or not. It's like more unrealness, more Grateful Dead fever."

(by John Grissim, from Rolling Stone, April 26 1973)


  1. This article was also included in Rolling Stone's Garcia book.

    It's not my intent for now to include articles about Garcia's other bands here - this was included because of the details about the Dead's growing success during their early '73 tour.

    The scheduled Nassau shows were for Thursday & Friday, March 15-16; Monday March 19 was added after the sellout.

    The Capitol Theater bomb threat happened during the February 1971 run. You can hear Weir say after Me & My Uncle on 2/24/71, "Whoever it was phoned in that bomb report, thanks a whole hell of a lot; I know you're out there, and you got in free. And it ain't a good idea..."

    The 3/2/73 Lion's Share show was the public debut of Old & In The Way, but they'd actually played a show for the radio at the Record Plant earlier that afternoon. Garcia lost no time getting back from the Dead tour to get Old & In The Way going; he'd literally returned the day before.
    His comment shows how new the band was ("we got together a little over a month ago") - since the Dead had been out on tour since Feb 15, clearly the OAITW planning & rehearsals for their March debut must have taken place before the Dead's tour.
    (I think I read somewhere on the JGMF site that Garcia brought his banjo along on the Dead's midwest tour to practice.)

  2. Richard Loren said, "When Jerry was doing Old & in the Way, he would take the banjo with him on Grateful Dead tours. I'd go into his room and he'd be practicing banjo for upcoming gigs with Old & in the Way. Because he cared. He didn't want to bomb; he wanted to play well." (Greenfield p.154)

    Pretty sure I saw a mention of a specific Dead show where Garcia was playing banjo backstage in a JGMF review, but I forget where.

  3. Aha, I found the reference -

    Garcia says at the 3/13/73 show, "Banjos act funny at weird altitudes - why, my banjo sounded just great in Salt Lake City."

    That would be 2/28/73 - which is interesting because it's before the first OAITW show. Clearly Garcia wanted to practice banjo over the 2-week Dead tour to make sure he was in shape for the OAITW debut!

    That piece from the Melody Maker is an interesting companion article to this one, since it mentions some of the same points. They didn't have a fiddle player yet - Garcia exclaims, "Bluegrass is really hard for me" - Peter Rowan says, "We all live in the same town... It’s nice being in a loose situation like this because there’s no pressure to produce on a schedule. We’ve already recorded an album but I’m not sure when we’re going to release it... We’re gonna do a few bluegrass festivals with Bill Monroe."
    So clearly, as Garcia says, OAITW had a plan to get a fiddle player and then do "some of the bluegrass festivals this summer."
    And it's surprising that they'd recorded an album right away, though as it turned out, they never released it. As Grisman recalled, "We weren't too happy with it. It was kind of rushed. It didn't seem to equal what we were doing live."
    It turns out they didn't play that many festivals, either...but at least they started out with ambitions!

    As far as the beginnings of OAITW, this is a useful timeline -
    And this post talks about the 3/2/73 radio show (among others) -

  4. Is there more info as to why there was a bomb threat…I was at a show in NYC when they announced a bomb threat before the dead came on stage. we were evacuated, came back in, sat down, lights went down, pallbearers with a coffin walked out on stage, coffin opened, Garcia look alike sits up, while the band begins to walk on stage as well. could any body tell me what all of that was about…been preoccupied with this for over 49 years….any efforts would be gratefully appreciated…..

    1. What theater did you see that show at, do you remember anything else about the show?

      On 2/14/70 at the Fillmore East, DJ Zacherle was brought on in a coffin to introduce the Dead. It's possible they might have done that at other shows too.

      Bomb threats were pretty common in those days. As the article suggests, it was thought that people without tickets usually called them in so they could get in after the theater was cleared.