Mar 24, 2015

November 17, 1971: Albuquerque Civic Auditorium, NM


Country music came to New Mexico, and the natives loved it.
That statement, while an accurate comment on Wednesday night's Grateful Dead/New Riders of the Purple Sage concert, is a contradiction on several levels. Of course, New Mexico has been country music territory for decades; once you set foot outside Albuquerque, it's Cowboy Country. But country and western music has never been much more popular with the "urbane" youth of Albuquerque than with those of Jersey City, Cleveland, or Seattle. Especially not since the Beatles opened up everyone's consciousness to rock.
But the best of the rock artists, including the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, have always recognized the validity of country tunes and lyrics (remember "Act Naturally" and "What Goes On," "Honky Tonk Women" and "Love In Vain"?), though they usually disguised them behind rock fixtures. Now, however, groups like the Grateful Dead, and especially the New Riders, throw in steel guitars, riffs straight from the Grand Ol' Opry stage, and songs by Merle Haggard - C&W has become respectable in the rock world.
But is what they played Wednesday really country music? I would say yes, while admitting the point is debatable. But why debate it? Just admit it's about as countryfied as rock is going to get, and that the capacity crowd at the Civic Auditorium went wild over it.
The New Riders were great and well-received, but it was the Grateful Dead who made the evening what it was. While the New Riders stuck to their country habits, the Dead threw in more of their "harder" stuff, even a bit of the old "psychedelic jam." They got it on at times - really got it on - but only in brief spurts. That was okay with me. Their first number was around 6:30 p.m., the last one around 12:15 a.m.; five and a half hours of the Dead's getting-it-on would have been exhausting, but as it was I left feeling very refreshed and content, renewed rather than drained.
The Dead are such masters of the rock idiom. They had perfect control the entire time. They would often take what seemed like an interminable time to build up even a small well of tension, mostly just gliding along smoothly until suddenly the bottom dropped out of the world and they started to really wail, evoking a spontanteous, delirious, united manic reaction from the crowd. I've never seen anything quite like it here.
The mood of the concert, however, was one of mellowness, largely generated by the music, but helped along by the smoothness of the event as a whole. There was no trouble at all, inside or out. Good. Let's keep it mellow. We need many more concerts like this great one.

(by Charles Andrews, from Lobo, 19 November 1971)

* * *

(The same writer wrote a followup review in the "Spare Change" Arts & Media column a few days later.)

Two great concerts in one week - I enjoyed Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic only slightly less than I did the Grateful Dead and the New Riders.
Sometimes when you "wrestle with the Muse," you lose. I think that happened with my review of the Grateful Dead concert. I meant to rave about it, but it came out sounding "noncommittal," as one person put it. I have to agree, and apologize for not doing it justice.
The concert so wiped me out, I had trouble coming down the next day - not that I wanted to. I'm convinced now that everything I've heard or read about Grateful Dead concerts is no exaggeration. I doubt if we got a full dose of the best they can do, but it was enough to make me a "True Believer." Jerry Garcia once said, "I've been into music so long I'm dripping with it"; I think that's true of the group as a whole. They've been together about eight years now, and it shows. They became well-known with the emergence of the San Francisco sound of the mid-'60s, then faded somewhat (except for their small band of long-loyal fanatics), now are justly taking their place as one of the best bands in the country. May they stay together and play forever.
I can understand now why people think of long concerts when they think of Grateful Dead concerts; their music is the kind you could literally listen to all night. When Crystal Leif promoters were negotiating with the band, they initially insisted on playing for at least five and a half hours, later gave in when convinced the city was serious about its midnight curfew for Civic Auditorium events. But they wound up doing a show about that long anyway - the Dead did a few numbers, starting off with Merle Haggard's and the New Riders' "Mama Tried," beginning about 6:30 "to test the equipment," and didn't finish till a quarter past midnight. The concert's starting time was moved up from the usual 8 7:30, then to 7, and still the Dead had to get out there and start playing earlier than that. It's a welcome switch from the groups who have to be coaxed to do more than 40 minutes. (Anyone remember Creedence Clearwater?...listen quick.)
The broadcast of the concert over KRST may have had something to do with the peace that was kept, for a change. At least no rock-throwing punk could use the excuse that "they're keeping The People from their music." (Another advantage was that there are now some good tapes of the concert around; and you might even see a bootleg album appear.) Too bad, though, that the Nov. 17 concert couldn't have sold out sooner - the Dead had an open date the next day, and would've done another show if there had been the demand. Instead they took a trip to Taos.
Crystal Leif arranged to have a voter registration table set up at the Civic that night (as has been the practice lately at many Dead concerts), and they did a pretty good business, I understand.
One last comment: that fantastic piano player the Dead had sitting in for the ailing Pigpen was Keith Godcheaux, formerly with Dave Mason. (But nobody in town, including Crystal Leif, knew his name; I finally had to consult a recent issue of Rolling Stone.) . . .

[The rest of the article complains about latecomers and "rude applause" at the LA Philharmonic concert.]

(by Charles Andrews, from Lobo, 23 November 1971) 

Thanks to


  1. It's a pleasure to find such a well-written, thoughtful review - and even more rare to find a reviewer so struck by the show he wrote about it twice!

    His description of the show is perceptive and matches people's reports of other shows: for instance, that the Dead really seemed to get it on "only in brief spurts;" but that the Dead "had perfect control the entire time;" that the crowd's mood was mellow but the music could stir them to a "spontanteous, delirious, united manic reaction;" that despite the show being over five hours, at the end he felt "refreshed...rather than drained," and could have listened to them all night. He notes that the sold-out crowd "went wild...I've never seen anything quite like it here."
    He hadn't seen the Dead before, but this show converted him - he was convinced that whatever he'd heard about them was "no exaggeration," and he hoped they'd "play forever." And this, despite his suspicion that this wasn't one of the Dead's best shows - "I doubt if we got a full dose of the best they can do." Just a small dose was enough for him!

    He did some research, too, talking to the show promoters and looking up the "fantastic," mysterious new piano player in Rolling Stone. Note that the Dead "initially insisted on playing for at least five and a half hours" - this seems to have been a usual request for them as early as 1970 (depending on when they could get that much time), but I'm not sure just when it became a contractual requirement.
    He's very specific about the show times, thankfully - the show was scheduled for 8, but surprisingly, it started as early as 6:30. He makes it sound like that was just a soundcheck - he names 'Mama Tried' as the first song, but it isn't clear whether it was done by the Dead or the New Riders. (It isn't on our tape of the broadcast.)
    It's possible the time was pushed earlier for the radio broadcast. I don't know if the New Riders set was broadcast (sometimes their set went on air along with the Dead's show, but apparently there aren't tapes of all the shows). Our tape of the Dead show is about 3 hours; typically on that tour NRPS would also play about 75-90 minutes. The curfew was at midnight, but the Dead went over by about 15 minutes.

    Confirming the review, one attendee recalls the early start & soundcheck: "We were lined up for the show early... It was cold as could be and started snowing hard, but without much wind. Apparently Jerry Garcia heard about all the folks standing in the snow storm waiting to get in and had them open the doors to the fans. We were treated to about 45 minutes or so of "sound check" by the Dead. After a break, NRPS came out and played a full set (with JG) and then, after the intermission, we got the full Dead show."

    Within days of the show, the reviewer mentions that there are already "good tapes" of the FM broadcast available, which might even be bootlegged. For 1971, that's pretty instant circulation.
    A couple other points of interest: he says the Dead would have done another show on Nov 18 if there had been more demand (perhaps the promoters told him that?), but instead they visited Taos. (Robert Hunter had lived in New Mexico back in '67, and no doubt the Dead had other friends in the area, but this was their first New Mexico concert.) The show was not quite sold-out, by the way - in the radio broadcast, the announcer interrupts the Truckin' jam to say, "We still have over 200 tickets left - so come on down!"
    This is also the first I've heard that there were voter registration tables regularly set up at Dead shows in '71.

    The show is one of the best of the tour; unfortunately only a poor copy of the FM broadcast circulates, and the Dead's master reels have not been made available yet, so it's a relatively unknown show.

    1. Thank you for the kudos, Light. I assume you've read a ton of reviews so that means something.

  2. I saw that show from down on the floor in front of the stage.
    I was......15 years old, first concert ever.
    I recall the KRST people were pissed because the phone company couldn't support a stereo feed.
    NRPS were great, everyone loved them. I believe they did a set with both bands on stage at one point.
    It was awesome. I remember these huge walls of speakers, and lots of prohibited substances.........
    Good Times.

  3. Re: the Dead's visit to Taos on 11/18/71 - the band had been thinking of moving to New Mexico back in '67, and a surprising number of the band's friends lived in Taos over the years. See:

    1. Just came across this, what fun! I found it from the post of my original review.

      Very unusual for me to "double up" and review a concert twice, but I did feel i gave the show short shrift in my review and felt an obligation to make it right, since it was such an outstanding event.

      Delighted to read there are recordings of that show, but disappointed to read that the quality is not good, and that they didn't seem to have a stereo feed. Ah, 1971 technology.

      Crushed to read the NRPS concert was not recorded. It was transcendent. They announced from the stage that they had taken a break from each other for the first time, going off on short "vacations" -- someone chilled on a beach in Mexico (probably Dawson -- he later moved here), David Nelson hung out with a bluegrass band somewhere, and my memory tells me they said Buddy Cage was fresh from recording "Blood on the Tracks" with Dylan but that wasn't til '74, so I dunno. They seemed almost giddy to be playing together again, bringing their "vacation" influences and energy to that show, which they said was their first one after the break.

      I'm not clear whether both bands played together. (It WAS almost 47 yrs ago.) I have since often described my personal reaction to that show -- and I was a veteran of many rock concerts by then, from Albuquerque to London to Germany -- as walking around high from the music for the next four or five days. It was just swimming in my head. I'd never experienced that before, nor after.

      I don't believe The Dead played Albuquerque again by the time I left for California in 1980, and somehow I never had the situation to attend again, despite my amazing experience in '71. I did recently go see Dead & Company at the Hollywood Bowl, took my 23-yr-old daughter (I took my then 2-yr-old son to the '71 show), and was surprised and pleased at how good it was. It looked sold out (17,500).

      I was probably the only person there attending only my 2nd "Dead" show, and certainly the only one with a 46-year gap!

    2. I was able to get backstage after, as a journalist, got to talking to Marmaduke, offered him a ride back to the hotel, tried to figure out a time I could do an interview with him, and he suggested, well, if you'd like to come to our next show, we could do it in the car. We're gonna stop in Taos first. I agreed and parked my son with Grandma in the morning, said I'll be back late tomorrow.

      We did the interview (which I never published), had interesting conversations and John even yodeled a bit for me. He spent the entire time rolling or preparing and then ingesting something, a series of somethings (yes his reputation was earned) but he never offered me any. Maybe he assumed I had no experience driving high and was just watching out for his own safety, but considering I lived in Albuquerque, el. 5000' with the 10,000' Sandia Mountains for a backdrop, the spine of the Rockies, that was an error. Whatever the reason I did find that a little odd, in those days of sharing.

      About halfway to Taos he revealed that the next concert wasn't that night, it was in three days. And in LA, not CO as he had told me. That wasn't going to work with Grandma and the kid, so I dropped him off and U-turned back to Albuquerque, still with an interesting experience under my belt. I wish he had invited me to hang out in Taos for a while. I think Robert Hunter lived there, or had previously, and so it was a place Dead Riders liked to go. God's country, that's for sure. I've been to nearly 40 countries and that's one of the most gorgeous places on the planet, Taos and north.

      A year or so later I was in the basement of the famous Paradiso music club in Amsterdam, taking a break in the reading room, and there in a pile of publications was a tiny one from New Mexico, and it contained one of my reviews. That was fun and memorable, but this ranks right up there. Keep on keepin' on, y'all.

    3. Almost forgot. If you follow the url here you'll find my mention of the recent Dead & Company show at the Bowl. Brief, not a full review, but I got out of that biz after 45 yrs. Now I write a weekly column ("Curious City") for the Santa Monica Daily Press, about all sorts of things. Much more challenging and interesting to me. But every time I throw in something about music, I get people urging me to do more of that. "Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in." My column this Wed ( will be mostly about music.

    4. It's rare to hear from one of the original reviewers! Nice to get more of the story.

      Still no New Riders tape available from Albuquerque, I believe, though a few of their shows from that tour are available:
      The "vacation" reference is interesting - this was the middle of a two-month tour with the Dead, and they'd had some days off in early November '71, but maybe they were talking about the month before the tour started. Buddy Cage had only just joined the NRPS a week earlier!
      At this point Garcia wasn't playing in the NRPS anymore, although it's not impossible that the two groups might have played together in the unrecorded "soundcheck" before the broadcast started.