Nov 8, 2013

March 21, 1971: Expo Center, Milwaukee WI


Rock was the name of the music Sunday in the Expo Milwaukee Convention Center during an appearance by the Grateful Dead. The San Francisco rock group drew at least 5,000 fans to the performance. Also on the program were the New Riders of the Purple Sage, a group touring with the Grateful Dead, and the Ox, a Milwaukee rock group.


Milwaukee young people celebrated the first wintry day of spring Sunday by jamming a South Side hall to hear the Grateful Dead and two other rock groups.
The size of the crowd at the Expo Convention Center of the Red Carpet Inn, 4805 S. 2nd St., left little room for movement, but that didn't seem to matter much.
By the time the five hour concert ended early Sunday evening, more than 5,000 people were clapping or waving their hands above their heads asking for more.
The fact that the hall was packed to its limits was significant, for two reasons.
The first reason is that the concert's three young promoters won the initial mark of success they needed to bring other well known rock musicians into Milwaukee.
They gambled on their observation that young people in Milwaukee were virtually starving for entertainment and for a place to spend time with people their own age, and their success gives credibility to that observation.
The crush at the Expo Convention Center on the first day of spring brought the mind the second point of significance - warm weather is coming soon and young people will be looking for a place to congregate.
When people filed into the hall Sunday, they were handed a sheet of paper reminding them that meetings were being held on the East Side to work out a proposal for a young people's park there.
That same message is being broadcast regularly on WZMF, an FM radio station with a wide audience in the under 30 age group.
The park would be considered an alternate site to Water Tower Park, where the enforcement of a 10 p.m. curfew led to four nights of clashes between police and young people last July.
Two alternate site proposals were rejected last summer by the County Park Commission and by the Common Council's Public Utilities Committee.
Young people then began to congregate on the lawn in front of the Lakeside Children's Center at Farwell and North Aves. and at the East Kane Food Co-op, 1158 E. Kane Pl.
The lawn at the children's center was fenced off after the sumer. Officials at the center said the noise was disturbing the mentally handicapped children there.
The co-op was closed after city officials said it was in a residential neighborhood and violated Milwaukee's zoning ordinance. [ . . . . ]
[The rest of the article is about political discussions for an alternate park site.]

(by John Carman, from the Milwaukee Journal, probably March 22 1971)

* * *


The atmosphere was more bacchanalian than funereal Sunday as a crowd of rock fans estimated at more than 5,000 crammed into the Expo Milwaukee Convention Center to hear the Grateful Dead.
Gaily colored balloons bounced lightly over the heads of the young persons in the cavernous hall at 4805 S. 2nd St., as the San Francisco rock group's image-laden music filled the air.
Some fans spread blankets or sleeping bags on the floor, then swigged from jugs of wine and got high on marijuana during the indoor rock picnic.
Because of the stifling heat generated by the crowd that was at least double the 2,500-person advertised capacity of the hall, some young men stripped to the waist.

Two physicians, two registered nurses, and about 15 volunteers manned a combination first-aid station and children's nursery set up in the hall by the Underground Switchboard.
A spokesman for the Switchboard said about a dozen persons were given first aid for heat exhaustion, minor injuries and illnesses.
Contrary to rumors circulating through the crowd, the spokesman said, no persons were treated for bad drug trips.
Another volunteer in the first aid station attributed the lack of a serious drug problem to the youthfulness of the crowd.

The Grateful Dead were among the earliest groups to create a big wave of popularity for the so-called San Francisco acid rock "sound" five years ago, and are the musical heroes of many persons who are now in their twenties.
But most of the fans at Sunday's concert appeared to be of high school age.
There was some tension in the crowd when a uniformed fire inspector and several plainclothesmen entered the hall. Authorities said the inspector ordered that all fire exits be opened and that there be no smoking in the building because of the jam.
Police said there were no arrests.
Some young persons left disgruntled when Allan Prober, 24, one of three young men who promoted the concert, told them that there was no more room and that he could not admit any more fans into the hall.
The Dead provided only a sampling of acid or psychedelic colored music and instead mostly performed the kind of gritty and sometimes polite rock blues they were playing in Haight-Ashbury district when pilgrims with flowers in their hair were invading the Bay area en masse.

The most valuable assets of the seven piece group are Jerry Garcia, a bluesy singer and a very inventive blues guitarist, and rhythm guitarist and singer Bob Weir.
But all hands in the group are first rate musicians and performed together beautifully in a variety of rock motifs, whether zonked out acid music, country or straightforward blues.
Unlike many rock groups, the Dead's music, although it has an insistent beat, is sometimes lushly lyrical and restrained, as on "We Bid You Goodnight."
The Dead, also unlike many of the top rock groups, frequently play material that is not their own, such [as] Sunday's offering of Kris Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee."
Also appearing in the four hour concert were the New Riders of the Purple Sage, a group with an urbane country sound touring with the Dead, and the Ox, a band popular with Milwaukee's subculture.

(by Dean Jensen, from the Milwaukee Sentinel, March 22 1971)

* * *


The Grateful Dead concert was the kind of affair the subculture can show to the rest of the world and be proud of.
It was the kind of concert where the closer you pressed into the overstuffed Expo Center, the better it felt, air or no air.
The kind of concert where all the plainclothesmen in the audience could do was stand around getting high on the atmosphere.
The kind of concert where the emcee ended up playing with building blocks with the kids in the Underground Switchboard's babysitting room.
The kind of concert where a lot of people gate-crashed and no one really hassled them.
The kind of concert that proved that somewhere amidst the political overtones and undercurrents weighting down our culture, that ol' Haight-Ashbury '67 spirit is still very much alive.
(by Mark Goff)

The Dead concert last Sunday was all but billed as the first gathering of the new year. Even the Journal carried the news in Monday's paper. But then, the Journal has been known to lack perspective. Any real gathering of what could loosely be called a community took place with a minimum of publicity at the Fritz Bluebottom event a week earlier. The Dead may well have been bomb #2 (after Black Sabbath).
What was wrong? First, there was the Expo Center. It was either too hot or too cold, acoustically inferior, and just plain ugly. The Center is definitely not a pleasant environment.
Then there was the Dead. They are not Milwaukee's favorite band. Singing of clean country air and easy living on a slushy Sunday afternoon in an industrial town lacks a lot of sincerity and relevance.
But most of all, the crowd was very down. A good two-thirds of the crowd spent most of six hours huddled on the floor smoking dope and dodging oncoming boots. Five thousand people blew their opportunity to move around and see their friends.
(author not listed)

(Both reviews from the Bugle American "Second Section," March 18-24 1971)

* * *

The Dead still have it.
I don't know what it is, but it's there. Maybe it's the ghost of Haight Ashbury or of early Acid Tests. Who knows?
The Dead certainly don't produce as many distinctive songs as CSNY. They certainly don't have exceptional talent like the Airplane ('cept for Jerry Garcia). And their stage performance is rather nondescript. But there is something special about them. And it probably won't be found in either history or musicianship.
So what more can I say about their portion of the concert Sunday at the Milkwaukee Expo Center? The Dead were the Dead. The music they presented straddled both their early acid-rock period and their recent Country & Western efforts, with good results. And there's no question in my mind that they're even better live than on vinyl. The best thing they did Sunday, after solving some tuning-electronic hassles, was a long medley-jam of their stuff beginning with "Truckin'" (off the American Beauty album).

The New Riders of the Purple Sage, a group of make-believe cowboys featuring Jerry Garcia on pedal steel, were not nearly as impressive. In fact, if it weren't for Jerry I would have been asleep. The other group members could easily be outplayed and outsung by any average C&W group. Country-rock is cool because it doesn't pretend to be the real thing, but the New Riders pretend to be authentic country (non-rock) pickers. I'd rather listen to Buck Owens or Tammy Wynette.

Aside from comments about the music, there are several that should be made about the situation it was played in. A particularly nasty comment about the clown who decided not to let people in until 15 minutes before the concert was supposed to begin. Why? Why a 15 minute stampede rather than a steady trickle beginning two hours early? Even a door was busted up in the crush to get in. Is it really necessary to do things this way? I mean, a customer's a customer, not a cow.
The second hassle was the overcrowding. Tickets were sold beyond the Expo Center's capacity. Add to that the people who either crashed or were let in free, and you have a huge mass of people. Which isn't necessarily a problem--unless you have too few rest rooms and practically no ventilation. At least one person fainted, perhaps due to the combined effects of heat, CO2, and smoke. Maybe we were provided with a valuable lesson in ecology Sunday. At any rate, promoters, how 'bout some air conditioning next time?
A less important problem was the lights which were never turned down far enough to let the light show shine through. And some baboon insisted on putting a spot, a BIG spot, on the groups while they played, thus cancelling the light show's center. Are they afraid of lustful teenagers necking in the dark?
The final problem was caused by some audience members. The Expo Center has a flat floor (unlike a theater), so the promoters were good enough to elevate the stage so all could see from a seated position on the floor. What happens? A few morons in the front (who had the best seats anyway) decide to stand for the whole concert, and blocked the view of many who wanted to sit (including those too stoned to stand). It's cool to stand when the music makes you stand, but in Milwaukee I've noticed that people stand for anything. Clap your hands, they stand. Beat out simple 4/4, they stand. Maybe Milwaukee is trying to prove itself a worthy audience. But groups will begin to wonder when Milwaukee stands for a rotten performance as quickly as for an excellent one.
Aside from such hassles, the concert was unusually good. The sound system was balanced perfectly. The dope was everywhere. Psilocybin and coke up front, acid to the rear. And grass must've been growin' from the floor, I swear it. Wuntcha' know dat da grassiest concert in Milwaukee's history occurred on da Sout' Side!
Thanx are expressed to promoters Neil, Al, and special-good-buddy Marv. I hope these guys are encouraged by this concert to get it together many more times in our area. We're starvin' for music here, an' we're tired of truckin' down to the Sydrome or wherever to hear good stuff!

By now you know Quicksilver and Brewer & Shipley will be in Milwaukee at the Oriental Theatre on the 4th of April. [sic - actually the 6th] Following that, Jethro Tull will appear at the Performing Arts Center (Milwaukee) for two shows on the 14th.

(by Gerry, from the Bugle-American "Music Cricket," March 25-31 1971)

* * *


So you really want to promote a rock concert. Well, forget it.
Forget it unless you've got about 18 hours a day to spare, a glib tongue, lots of patience, helpful friends and a life's savings you're willing to risk.
Then you'd be like Neil Sherman, Al Prober and Marv Cohen. They're three genial young men who saw a rock concert here half a year ago and said hey, we can do that.

Now, not much worse for wear, they're setting the stage for a Milwaukee appearance by the Grateful Dead Sunday afternoon.
It won't be like most concerts, where young people are expected to stay somewhere in the general vicinity of their seats.
Sunday, there'll be no seats - just a hall almost the size of a football field for people to wander around in. The hall is the Expo Center, part of the Red Carpet Inn at 4747 S. Howell Ave.
Getting the Grateful Dead, the hall and the expected several thousand people together at one time has been the objective of the young men for the last six months.

Without the benefit of promotional experience, Sherman and Cohen, both 21, and Prober, 24, named themselves Primo Productions and set about doing it.
Among their first realizations was that drawing up contracts and making other complicated arrangements got rough without legal help.
Prober, who left the University of Wisconsin during his junior year to promote the concert, obtained the services of Attorney James Wood.
The three credit Wood for much of the work on another big problem - finding a hall. The Expo Center was among many places that were considered.
Then came the problem of selecting and signing a group. Cohen had friends in California who knew the Grateful Dead, one of the earliest acid rock groups. Lately it has mellowed its music.

Cohen went to San Francisco in December and talked with members of the group. He learned that the Grateful Dead was planning a Midwestern tour.
Back in Milwaukee, Cohen and his two partners engaged in more than a month of daily telephoning to San Francisco. Finally, the group was signed. Half of its fee was sent, and it'll be given the other half Sunday.
Two other bands were signed for the lengthy concert Sunday - Ox, of Milwaukee, and Riders of the Purple Sage, a group formed from dropouts of other California bands.

Other problems:
Insurance, heightened when local firms took a look at the promoters' age, inexperience and musical taste. They were told to come back later, when they had a record of success. But Prober had relatives in New York who found a firm willing to gamble on insuring the concert.
Security, solved when it was decided to ring uniformed private guards around the hall and leave the floor itself to be patrolled by young people, friends of the promoters.
The Milwaukee Police Department granted a permit for the concert and has been "very good about the whole thing," Sherman said.
Bogus concert tickets, being printed at some schools in the Milwaukee area. The promoters said this week they didn't know who was printing the phony tickets.
Money, solved only when Sherman, Prober and Cohen sank all they had into the concert.
"The money we're using is our life savings," said Sherman, an Army veteran from Milwaukee. "Every penny we've saved, we're using."
Transactions had to be made in cash - the three promoters couldn't find credit because they weren't previously established.

Time had to be spent, too, on advertising, dealing with labor unions to construct the stage and prepare electrical equipment, and even arranging for medical treatment if it's needed by anyone during the concert.
It was decided to stage the concert on a Sunday afternoon so young people under 18 wouldn't have to worry about Milwaukee's night curfew.
The three described themselves as old friends whose work together during the last half year has strengthened their friendship and become "kind of like a brother thing."

(by John Carman, from the Milwaukee Journal, March 19 1971)

Thanks to

I've also posted another good review of this show:   


  1. This concert is remembered (if at all) as the most negligible show of 1971. Our only record of it is 45 minutes of a decent-to-poor audience tape used on a bootleg LP. According to deadlists, "This is the complete show, there was no second set (the band had to catch a plane)."
    Yet we have an unusual number of reviews, which make clear that this statement is bogus, and our knowledge of the show is seriously incomplete.

    All these reviews focus more on the general background & the scene at the Expo Center than on the Dead's show, but a few things become clear. The three bands (Ox, NRPS, & the Dead) played a five-to-six-hour show. (According to the poster, it was scheduled to start at 2 pm, and we know it ended in "early evening.") There is not a word of audience discontent at the end, or a shortened show; quite the opposite. (If that had happened, I'm sure at least one of these reviewers would have mentioned it.)
    One review says that when the show ended, the audience was "clapping or waving their hands above their heads asking for more." Two reviewers specifically cover problems with the Expo Center & the audience, but say nothing of the show being stopped. Two reviews also say there were no hassles from the authorities, whether for smoking or for overcrowding.
    Wherever the plane story came from, one Archive attendee scoffs, "The Dead had to catch a plane? They were literally across the street from the airport." (And their next show was 3 days later in San Francisco.)

    Practically nothing is said of the setlist, but one reviewer mentions that they played Truckin' leading into "a long medley-jam" (most likely the Other One), and that they did material from "their early acid-rock period." One Archive reviewer says they started the show with Cold Rain & Snow, and Deadbase includes China>Rider in the setlist. None of this, of course, is on our tape.
    In spite of the unpleasant, overpacked Expo Center, it must have been a much better show than our tape suggests. According to one review, "The concert was unusually good. The sound system was balanced perfectly."
    Hopefully a complete Vault tape will surface at some point. (The Hard to Handle on the AUD, at least, isn't bad; and the tape confirms that the sound was well-balanced.)

  2. (continued)

    There are a couple reviewers on the Archive who add further details, confirming that the show was oversold - despite an Expo capacity of 2500, "there were approximately 5000 of us packed in as tightly as one could be, sitting on a hard concrete floor with no room to move." (The bogus tickets, and the crashers who stampeded in for free when the doors opened, didn't help.)
    Both Archive reviewers do suggest that the show was eventually cut short by the fire marshals, but considering that is not mentioned by any of the newspaper reviews, I doubt their memories & I think they may have been misled by the false story of the short set. One says that "everything was pretty much on schedule" and the show was finished by 8:00, which still allows for a very long show; the other admits, "It appears the Dead played at least two hours."
    One also sadly mentions, "We also recorded this show on a cheap portable Panasonic (mono) tape recorder. That tape went missing many years ago."
    Pigpen played an organ belonging to Michael Morgan, of the local band the Messengers. (You can see it in photos of the show.) It's unclear just how that came about.

    Much like our bored reviewer of the 3/14/71 show, one reviewer here was also put off by the New Riders' set - "if it weren't for Jerry I would have been asleep."
    It's notable that the Bugle-American ran three separate, contrasting reviews of this show. The negative reviewer, calling the Dead a "bomb," seems to have really missed the boat - he complains about the Dead's country music (probably unable to get past NRPS), says the Dead "are not Milwaukee's favorite band" (despite 5000 people packing the place), and grumbles about all the dope-smokers sitting on the floor (while another dope-smoking reviewer complains about too many people standing up). This flies against the other positive reviews, and goes to show once again how a negative attitude results in a really unreliable description of a concert!

    I don't know if the promoters succeeded in putting on more shows, but apparently the Expo Center never held a rock concert again. The Dead would return to Milwaukee in October '72, playing two shows in the Performing Arts Center.

  3. "The negative reviewer ... grumbles about all the dope-smokers sitting on the floor (while another dope-smoking reviewer complains about too many people standing up)."

    Awesome insight, LIA. So glad you are finding this stuff useful. I love how you gather the threads together. Such a joy too read. As you know, there is much, much more.

    The ability to triangulate across multiple sources and perspectives is so valuable. It can reverse our whole understanding of what went down!

    1. I wish more Dead shows had multiple reviews available - especially the lost ones!

  4. I added the article by Dean Jensen from the Milwaukee Sentinel, "Lively Bash by Grateful Dead" (the second long article here).

    It confirms the audience of more than 5,000 crammed into the Convention Center, and gives a little glimpse of the atmosphere - balloons, people on blankets drinking, smoking pot & taking their shirts off in the heat... (But most of the audience appeared to be high-schoolers! An indication of the Dead's growing popularity among a new non-sixties audience.) There's even a look at the first-aid station/nursery, waiting for the bad drug trips that never came.
    It says the show was four hours, including NRPS and the Ox - though the fire inspector did appear and made some complaints (and alarmed the smokers in the audience), he didn't stop the show.
    Jensen knew nothing of the Dead's music, calling their style a "gritty and sometimes polite rock blues" seemingly unchanged from the days of '67. But he was very impressed by the breadth of their repertoire, calling them "first rate musicians [who] performed together beautifully in a variety of rock" styles.
    We do get a couple setlist notes - he says they played "only a sampling" of psychedelic music (presumably the Other One), and did Bobby McGee (which is on our tape), and We Bid You Goodnight. That would've been the encore, and is pretty remarkable, considering the only other times the Dead sang it that year were on 4/29 and 8/15/71 - after which it didn't appear again until 1973. Another hint that this show was better than what we could guess from the tape...
    (It's a mystery why he called them a seven-piece band, when there were only five Dead onstage. Perhaps the balloons obscured his vision.)

    1. The reviewer could have referenced AWBYG from "Live Dead", not necessarily from the show.

    2. That's true. AWBYGN was certainly a live rarity that year, so it would seem unlikely. BUT:
      - the reviewer doesn't mention any Dead albums and seems to know them mainly by reputation.
      - he names it as a song that is "lushly lyrical," which is a strange thing to call the 36-second version on Live/Dead. Only someone who saw it live would know the Dead sang more than one verse.
      - on all their albums, this one brief track is a strange choice of song to bring up if they DIDN'T play it live. A more well-known track like Uncle John's Band is also "lyrical and restrained," and more likely to be mentioned by a reviewer.

      The other option is a sad one: that he simply didn't recognize any song at all that the Dead played except for some covers, and just named a tune at random off their live album even though they didn't play it.

      Either option is possible, but I'd like to give him (and the show) some credit and say it was most likely played!

  5. Thanks for posting the info on this show. It's a sacred one for me, not because I was there, but because as they were wrapping it up, my mom was likely beginning to go into labor to deliver me the next morning! (In DC; she wasn't a Deadhead...) I have mined the web for cool shows that were happening on the day I was born; this is the only one I've found.

  6. (Cross-posting.)
    Here's a newly surfaced review of 3/21/71 that was sent to Billboard magazine, but not published:

    Expo Center, Milwaukee

    The Grateful Dead jammed Milwaukee's new Expo Center (Sunday, 21) and despite overcrowded conditions managed to produce an hour and a half of just plain good music. Paced by Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia on vocals and guitars, the group went through a wide array of both new and old Dead songs. "Truckin'" and "Know You Rider" were outstanding items. Pigpen's vocal on Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle" was perfect.
    The New Riders of the Purple Sage, currently touring with the Dead, filled the big hall with their mellow country vibes. John Dawson's vocals were meaningful and involving; Garcia's pedal steel work was quite complementary. "The Last Lonely Eagle" and the Stones' "Connection" scored effectively.
    Popular local three-piece group, The Ox, warmed up the crowd of 5,000 plus with some very funky country blues. Vocals by Jon Paris and Bob Metzger's lead guitar brought the crowd to its feet with their medley of old boogie tunes. Group is as yet unsigned.

    Though brief, it's interesting to see a positive overview of the whole show. The overcrowding by 5000+ is no problem, the focus is on the music. (Ollman was 17 at the time, the son of a regular Billboard contributor who sent him to cover the show.)
    Other than the couple New Riders songs, no new Dead setlist details are revealed...we knew about Truckin' & Rider from other reports, though they weren't included on the bootleg LP. (Nice to have extra confirmation though.) Hard to Handle may be the "raunchy r&b styled vocal by Pigpen which got most folks dancing" mentioned in the Kaleidoscope review.