Aug 20, 2014

October 23, 1970: McDonough Gym, Georgetown U, Washington DC

GRATEFUL DEAD SHAKE MCDONOUGH

 The Grateful Dead and their family of supporting musicians, sound men and friends showed up at Georgetown last Friday night, and from start to finish their appearance was filled with excitement. It all started when, instead of being left at McDonough Gymnasium, they were dropped off at the main gate. Their resultant walk around the campus undoubtedly shook up a few of the alumni who had returned for Saturday's Homecoming game. It is doubtful that they were ready for a confrontation with the Dead.
The audience, however, was ready and waiting to encounter the amazing Grateful Dead, who have a reputation for putting on long and powerful performances. They had to wait quite a while though, before the Dead actually went on. Conditions were hectic and chaotic in the gym, and the concert was delayed until a semblance of order appeared. At this point it was deemed safe to begin the concert, and The New Riders of the Purple Sage took the stage.
The Grateful Dead show consists not only of the Dead themselves, but also of their subgroup the New Riders. The New Riders contain some members of the Dead (Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart), but also include three other musicians. Unlike the Dead whose speciality is good old rock and roll, the New Riders of the Purple Sage are a country and western group. Unfortunately, the Riders were not at their best on Friday night, and their set at times was dull and lifeless. They started off well, with "Six Days on the Road," but after that there was a long period during which they went downhill. During this time, the much vaunted Grateful Dead sound system did not seem to be working, and the rapport with the crowd that is a Grateful Dead trademark was notably lacking, perhaps because the house lights were shining brightly and drawing the attention of the audience away from the band.
Nevertheless, things began to cook again when the Riders started "Lodi," a number originally recorded by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Their next selection was equally good. Entitled "Take a Long Sad Look at the Last Lonely Eagle," it featured beautiful country harmony and some fine pedal steel guitar played by Jerry Garcia. Their versatility, however, was illustrated by their last section, which was a rock classic done in the country style. "Honky-tonk Women" really moved, and again it was Jerry Garcia who provided the spark that got the group going. His pedal steel guitar was consistently excellent all evening, and it provided one of the few highlights of what was a generally disappointing set.
But the Dead came back to make up for it. Garcia was again the one who set things in motion. Already warmed up from having played with the Riders, he got things off to a flying start by playing "Casey Jones." This song is featured on Workingman's Dead, one of the finest albums of the year. It would be hard to duplicate the excellence of the recorded version, but the Dead managed to do it. The Rhythm section was perfect, and as the song progressed, they sounded more and more like a train roaring down the tracks to certain destruction. They quickly shifted gears, moving right into an old Merle Haggard country standard called "Mama Tried." The band's harmony was stunning and remained so throughout the evening.
The next few numbers were new material, and they showed the Grateful Dead's steady drift towards the country sound. One song featured some fine country yodelling by Pig Pen, the group's organist and sometime vocalist. Other songs during this part of the show were equally mellow in their sound. "Goin' Down by the River" and "Goodbye My Child Again" featured fine guitar by Bob Weir and Garcia. The sound system by this time was working excellently, and the band's fine playing was boosted by the best sound system ever seen at Georgetown.
When the first note of "Good Lovin'" echoed through the gym, the whole tone of the concert changed. The subdued country sound gave way to the madness of Grateful Dead rock and roll. The transmogrification of "Good Lovin'" was something which would amaze the Young Rascals. A drum duet between Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzman began the song, and when the rest of the band came in, the audience reacted quite excitedly. Playing primal rock and roll, the Dead managed to drive the audience almost to the point of ecstasy. After doing a number from their second album, Anthem to the Sun, they launched right into an old Buddy Holly and Rolling Stones number, "Not Fade Away." That did it: mass insanity ensued as the Dead sang on.
This song went on for close to 20 minutes, during which time the Dead wandered through all sorts of startling improvisational themes, only to suddenly be right back where they started. It was a stunning example of musical virtuosity, and the audience knew it. They responded warmly, and persuaded the Dead to come back for an encore. They chose "Uncle John's Band," a perfect way to calm down the crowd but still let them go home feeling satisfied. The Dead poured it on, and they were gone. They left, however, the memories of one of the most unusual musical evenings that Georgetown has ever witnessed. McDonough will never be the same again, and for this we're all grateful to the Dead.

(by Larry Rohter, unknown publication, October 27, 1970)

https://archive.org/details/gd1970-10-23.aud.wolfson.motb-0004.85071.flac16

Thanks to Uli Teute.


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The Georgetown university paper The Hoya mentioned the upcoming show in the October 22 issue:

"Homecoming '70 arrives on the Hilltop tomorrow... The activities get underway tomorrow evening, when McDonough arena will be the scene of a four to five hour concert by the Grateful Dead, the famous San Francisco rock group. Led by guitarist Jerry Garcia, the Dead will feature the fine country rock sound that made their latest LP, Workingman's Dead, such a tremendous success. Kevin Moynihan, chairman of the weekend, announced that tickets will be sold today and tomorrow from 10 to 4 at the Tree, and reminds concert-goers to bring a blanket."
[The Homecoming dance on Saturday featured local group Claude Jones and the "Baltimore soul" group Tommy Vann and the Professionals.]
("Manhattan, Dead at Homecoming '70," 10/22/70 Hoya) 

Another article in the October 22 issue:

THE GRATEFUL DEAD, HERE? YES, HERE!

At one time, it would have been impossible to conceive of the Grateful Dead playing at Georgetown as they will tomorrow night; Homecoming two years ago, after all, gave us Gary Puckett and the Union Gap. Seemingly, Georgetown has come a long way...or has it? Even if the selection of the Dead were accidental, and even if the "Hilltop" hasn't significantly altered, things will be different after the Dead perform.
The Grateful Dead are really coming, say the Homecoming people...(pinch me)...for their first concert in D.C. As early as 1966 (illustrated in the Vintage Dead live LP released recently), the group was into good things. In spite of the predominance of Tommy James and the "Hanky Panky" on the radio, the Dead were turning on people in San Francisco to the amazing togetherness and totality of their live music, incorporating such innovations as light shows and playing at informal, but large, ballroom dance concerts. Their first studio album for Warner Brothers (as their latest, Workingman's Dead) is unpretentious, good, amazingly well-produced and together rock...(if this claim sounds like a hype, contrast The Grateful Dead, Warner Bros. #1689, to any other LP issued during the earlier half of 1967). In between these first and latest efforts, the band added a second drummer (their music always contained opposition: vocal to organ, acoustic to electric guitar, drum to drum) and experimented with sophisticated recording, editing and adding of psychedelic things (Anthem of the Sun, Aoxomoxoa and Live Dead, to a degree).
It is, however, through the medium of live performance that the Grateful Dead establish their most intense communication with an audience. Word of their concerts, and not radio airplay, accounted for their initial success. When the Dead play in concert, their music is distinct from their recording; they allow the potential for live performance to be attained: full, long sets, intricate arrangement and harmony, a truly wide selection of music (including steel and country, with the Riders of the Purple Sage, an intra-Dead band which usually precedes the full set).
The Grateful Dead at Georgetown promises to be a set of contrasts: a San Francisco rock phenomenon, a family of sorts, playing for a Hoya homecoming; the D.C. freaks it is certain to attract and the Hoyas... Yet the experience of the Dead should turn on everyone present. The hype and bad sound system which marred the Poco concert, even the horrendous acoustics of McDonough "arena," may be overcome. The PA for the Dead will be provided by Hanley Sound, recognized as the finest for Woodstock and the last Stones' tour.
With the Grateful Dead, American rock music approaches an art form; their albums, and often their concerts, are beautiful. Nothing remains to be said except you had better not miss it.
(by Peter Barry Chowky, 10/22/70 Hoya)

The November 5 issue of the Hoya reported the dire results of the Dead's show on the front page:

"Violations of fire regulations and drug laws have prompted University officials to suspend future concerts in McDonough Gymnasium - pending a report by a newly established commission entrusted to study the problems.
However, the Traffic concert, scheduled for Nov. 15, will be held as planned.
The decision to suspend future concerts was made by the Vice President for Student Development, Dr. Patricia Rueckel.
In explaining the decision, Dr. Rueckel noted that after the Grateful Dead concert Oct. 24, "a number of questions and complaints were raised both within and outside the University community."
Dr. Rueckel also pointed up the fact that during the Dead concert, local fire department officials requested that the concert be stopped. This request was made, according to Dr. Rueckel, because of "overselling of tickets and general havoc within the gymnasium."
Over 6,000 people attended the concert - 2,000 more than fire regulations will admit.
In addition, Dr. Rueckel stated that both she and the University's attorneys had "questions concerning the flagrant violation of drug laws during the concert."
Accordingly, Dr. Rueckel has appointed a commission composed of students, faculty members and administrators to study [...]  events in the gymnasium which attract crowds that are not preponderantly Georgetown students. [...] 
The Traffic concert was not cancelled because the University and the concert promoters had entered into a contractual agreement with the English rock group, Dr. Rueckel stated."
("University Suspends Concerts Indefinitely." 11/5/70 Hoya)

The November 12 issue of the Hoya followed up: "[A] newly created commission to study the feasibility of future campus concerts [was created] in the wake of the controversial Grateful Dead concert Oct. 24." Although "concerts in the gym would not be financially possible without the attendance of non-Georgetown students," university policy held that "the preponderance of the audience must be from the Georgetown University community." Clearly the Dead's show drew many non-students from around the area.
The Director for Student Activities noted that "McDonough provides practically the only facility that can handle concerts in the D.C. area, with the exception of Washington Coliseum. Constitution Hall has had a policy forbidding rock bookings for almost a year." One commission member said that "the Administration is not interested in eliminating concerts, but just alleviating the problems."
"Such problems include the great amount of traffic in the Georgetown area, fire hazards in McDonough gym, violation of drug laws by concert-goers, and even complaints from trans-Potomac residents of Virginia concerning the outdoor speakers through which those who could not be admitted for the Grateful Dead concert listened outdoors."
The next scheduled show in the gym was Traffic, November 15, and the campus commission claimed that "it would be an improvement over the Dead affair...extra security precautions, as well as improved ticket distribution methods." It was warned that the conduct at the Traffic show would determine whether concerts could continue at the gym. 
("Concert Seen As Test For Future Gym Events," by Rich Hluchan, 11/12/70 Hoya)

The bad news followed on the November 19 front page:

UNIVERSITY CANCELS ALL ROCK CONCERTS

All University sponsored rock concerts have been cancelled following the incidents during last Sunday's appearance of Traffic at McDonough Gymnasium.
The official announcement was made Sunday evening by the Vice President for Student Development, Dr. Patricia Rueckel. Her decision came in the wake of the concert, following an evening marked by excessive vandalism to the entrance passage to the gymnasium.
In making the announcement, Dr. Rueckel noted that approximately ten percent of the audience was composed of members of the University community. "If ten percent of the audience were from Georgetown University, I'd be surprised," she stated.
She also added, "I don't think we have a primary responsibility to offer entertainment to all of the teeny-boppers in Washington."
In addition, Dr. Rueckel recalled the fact that the conduct of the Traffic concert was considered a "test" for future concerts. To that point, she observed, "obviously the test has failed." ...
[It's also noted again that rock concerts on campus could violate university policy that "a preponderance of individuals at social events must be from the University community."]
Dr. Rueckel extended her apologies to members of the student populace for the decision. "Rock concerts of this nature are considered a meaningful experience by a certain segment of the student populace, and I am sorry for them," she stated.
In addition, damage to the windows [in the gymnasium] has been estimated at $3,000.
In addition, major damage was reported inside the gymnasium itself. One fibre-glassed backboard fell to the floor because it was being used by several individuals as a vantage point to observe the concert. However, no injuries were reported concerning the incident.
(11/19/70 Hoya)

The same issue also carried a complaint from the Library Cataloger in the Letters to the Editor:

"I ask whether it was worthwhile having the Grateful Dead rock concert at McDonough Gymnasium Friday night, Oct. 23, considering the damage and the litter.
About 9 a.m. Saturday morning "Sarge" Wilson, equipment manager at the Gymnasium, told me that 6,000 persons had been at the concert - obviously an overcrowding. There was litter everywhere, even though at that hour the maintenance personnel had made a good beginning to clear it up. There was a fetid, barroom smell in the air. The newly painted lobby had many black smears which were not there before.
As a result of too little parking available for such a large crowd on Friday night, the two wooden barriers to the lot behind the Library were broken overnight... Again ask, was it worthwhile?"

https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/handle/10822/552780/discover

11 comments:

  1. This review probably comes from a Georgetown student newspaper. The writer was fairly familiar with the Dead - he knew which songs were new, and recognized the Other One from Anthem of the Sun - but it's likely he only knew them from albums, since there are no comparisons to previous shows, and he just mentions their "reputation for putting on long and powerful performances." He does accurately notice their "steady drift towards the country sound" during the show.

    He's uncertain about naming the songs he hasn't heard before - the unnamed Hard to Handle features Pigpen's "fine country yodelling" (!), and he guesses at other titles: Sugar Magnolia is "Goin' Down by the River," and Candyman is "Goodbye My Child Again." (Truckin' is also completely new to him, so he doesn't mention it.) He's stunned by the Not Fade Away suite in particular, with its "startling improvisational themes" - mostly based around the brand-new Goin' Down the Road.

    He pays some attention to the New Riders, but doesn't think much of them: "dull and lifeless...generally disappointing," saved mainly by Garcia's pedal steel.
    He also notices the crowd reaction at various points: before the show, "conditions were hectic and chaotic" (delaying the show); the crowd were apparently impatient during the NRPS set; but by the Dead's rock & roll finale, they're going nuts - "mass insanity ensued...almost to the point of ecstasy." Uncle John's Band is mentioned as the perfect encore choice to calm down the crowd.

    He mentions the Dead's "much vaunted sound system," which sputtered at the start but by mid-concert "was working excellently...the best sound system ever seen at Georgetown." Which is interesting, since I thought the Dead actually didn't bring their own PA system on this tour - Garcia said a couple weeks earlier that they couldn't afford it, so they were using local PAs. So the writer may have been mistaken about this.

    I wish more of the lost shows of 1970 had been reviewed with this much detail!

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  2. I added a number of pieces from the Hoya, the Georgetown U paper, about the circumstances after the show.
    We can see what chaos the Dead left in their wake - overcrowding, "general havoc," vandalism, noise complaints, and "flagrant violation of drug laws"...
    It's interesting to read about the grim aftermath (from the administration's perspective) of the Dead's brief (and only) visit to Georgetown.
    The next time the Dead played in Washington DC would be 9/30/72 - a free show at Washington University.

    The article the day before the show about the upcoming event is also revealing. I haven't posted many of these "the Dead are coming!" type pieces, usually they're just brief uninformative announcements; but this was quite an awestruck outburst from an east-coast fan: "things will be different after the Dead perform." (He even praises their first album and the new Vintage Dead record.) In a way, this is an example of the word-of-mouth spreading about the band - San Francisco legends from the 'early days,' great long shows different from their albums, the promise that everyone will be "turned on."
    As an aside, he also mentions that the PA is being provided by Hanley Sound - so it wasn't the Dead's own Alembic system. I wonder if they used Hanley for other shows on the tour.

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  3. "The band's harmony was stunning and remained so throughout the evening"

    Words you would be hard pressed to find again in a review of a live GD performance.

    However I do share your sentiment in wishing that more lost shows were reviewed in this detail as it would provide a different viewpoint into what we don't have available on tape.Even though the author of his piece made some errors and rather strange comments on the music it somehow in 2 paragraphs covered the feel of the crowd and got in most of the music played.I've noticed a pattern with the shows the N.RP.S. opened that in the review the writer feels compelled to dedicate some space to their set because Garcia is in the band.It usually goes poorly for the N.R.P.S. and seems the space would have been better used covering the Dead's portion of the show.Another opening band would received one or two lines.

    The author also seemed to fall into that famous GD time sinkhole and lose touch with it.He states the NFA suite went on for 20 minutes when in actuality the suite only lasted about 12 or 13 minutes which is a considerable amount of time to be off in a 20 minute span.

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    1. The NRPS didn't have an album out yet and I'm sure many were curious how this new outfit with Garcia sounded - it was notable just for being a Dead "subgroup." I appreciate when a reviewer does spend some time on the NRPS set since it gives more of a feel of how the show went - everyone got 45 minutes or so of the NRPS before they got the Dead, like it or not. This audience, it seems, was rather restless.

      The whole Truckin'>Other One>NFA medley was about 25 minutes - I can understand if this writer wasn't being perfectly exact or didn't keep accurate notes on the timing. After all, he failed to mention that there was a whole other song inside NFA!

      It also struck me that he didn't mention at all how overcrowded it was, besides saying that "conditions were hectic and chaotic." Perhaps he felt it went without saying that the show was packed. At any rate, this review has obvious limitations (like any newspaper article), but does add some perspective as to how the show was received at the time.

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    2. The original idea of those jams was that they were intended to subvert the linear time sense of the listener. I'm not surprised whenever I learn of evidence that the music was effective at accomplishing that purpose. Same with not getting all the tunes...I could never quite get to do that, either. Come on, you need to resort to pencil and paper to pull that off. Like taking notes on a surfboard. I mean, hats off to anybody who's done it. But setlists were just not that much of a thing, in 1970. Consider that about half of the material being played had yet to show up on a record- at least not on an official release, with titles and such.

      As somebody once said, "I have no memory- that's the price that I pay."

      In 1970, NRPS was hardly more than a band rehearsing on stage. Their book had some covers and some brand newly written songs. And they probably had an easier time with the covers than with their own kinda-sorta arranged songs, which had just been written.

      But hey, it was an informal time. I just auditioned the entire set that Hendrix played at Woodstock, August 1969. That sounded like a rehearsal to me, too. Riveting, often enough. But it did not resemble a set of music played by a band of seasoned musicians who had the arrangements down.

      Despite that, it was worth listening to, to get to the good parts. More or less the same as listening to NRPS in 1970, to see if they could manage to redeem an uneven set with a decent version of "Take A Letter, Maria".

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  4. I wasn't trying to nit pick this college kids writing ability,but I find it curious if I can spot obvious mistakes how the author or someone who is publishing it didn't make an effort to correct them.Part of my point is I don't understand why an article on any subject in a newspaper would have obvious limitations.I am in full agreement that the article did add perspective as to how the show was received and performed.

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  5. I actually like the little "GD coming to town" previews. They are all part of the fabric, and I have found some interesting stuff in those.

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  6. As always fascinating material. I think I saw what must have been Garcia's return to this venue almost exactly 11 years later when the JGB played there 11/7/81. Nice show in which I remember seeing the Georgetown basketball team (with Patrick Ewing) enter in the middle of the 1st set looking as if they expected to practice.

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  7. Wow, that is quite a saga. Thanks for curating all of that!

    I like this bit: "complaints from trans-Potomac residents of Virginia concerning the outdoor speakers through which those who could not be admitted for the Grateful Dead concert listened outdoors"; I love the idea that CIA et al. people couldn't sleep because live GD music blasting across the Potomac, and I love that the Dead (or someone) was trying to keep the ticketless horde at bay from crashing the venue even more dangerously, maybe ameliorating the circumstances a little bit on music-soothing-the-savage-best lines, too.

    Georgetown is between a rock and a hard place. I must say, it sounds like a nightmare - something like that would impact my work own work life, and the work lives of many others - meetings, memos, etc. $3,000 damage in a classic facility is not nothing - I'd be pissed if some dumbass came in and wrought such destruction at my place of work, study, etc.

    Vice President for Student Development, Dr. Patricia Rueckel sounds just a wee bit condescending, though: "Rock concerts of this nature are considered a meaningful experience by a certain segment of the student populace, and I am sorry for them," she stated. C'mon, now, don't bring it that way. Please don't condescend, Dr. Rueckel, if you never took the chance, depending on your birth cohort and taste, to let Benny Goodman or Frank Sinatra or Perry Como or Jerry Lee Lewis or Elvis or the Beatles or (gasp!) the Tempations take control and move you a little bit. It's the bad behavior that's the problem, ma'am, not the music.

    Anyway, sheesh, what a nightmare. I feel bad for the Dead, I really do. For whatever reason, reading this saga makes me see what a nightmare problem their own popularity, combined with the need to play live vs. relying on records, must have been. They're trying to make a living playing music, and shit is just going sideways. This whole period feels really off-kilter - Jimi, Janis, riots, vandalism, bombs, violence, Mickey probably in a bad way as Lennie's perfidy stews in him -- ick. And the musical performances, naturally enough, suffer for it. A very bleak period.

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    1. You don't want to over-think this.

      I doubt it was quite that "heavy". The guys were all in their 20s. And the Seventies was not an era for worriers. Especially of that age.

      Yes, "shit was going sideways." They were used to that. That was arguably what they cut their teeth on, both as musicians and road warriors.

      It really is an interesting exercise for me to reflect on some of the differences between how history gets lived by those who were there to experience it, and how it gets portrayed and/or interpreted after the fact. I assure you, what you're reading as a tone of "condescension" by Georgetown's Vice President for Student Development c.1970 is more accurately termed "incomprehension." That's a massive component of the fabled 1960s-70s era- American youth was flying under the radar of their parents. Or over it, or above it. Or sideways to it. It wasn't like Baby Boomer parents and their offspring, where there's some common ground of experience. Very few WW2 Gen or Silent Gen people did so much as buy a ticket to the film about Woodstock, much less attend electric rock shows in person (except of course for the musicians of that age, who were playing the music!) . As far as the audience, it was as if there was some force field of self-selection that kept out anyone but the freaks- the spaced out and illegal. Hordes of us. Invisible in the grossness of our visibility, back then. For better and worse. Not invulnerable to riptides, falls from cliffs, or even more perilous risks. And "impune" is not the same as "legal".

      Of course Georgetown U. shut down their concert series at McDonough- for a while, anyway- after the Dead show! Man, it must have been chaos! however benign. And the Dead prolly had to foot the bill for the damages. Oh well, sometimes parties cost money...but approximately everyone got along, and no one burned the place to the ground, except maybe metaphorically.

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