Jun 29, 2015

October 21, 1972: Vanderbilt University, Nashville TN


A "considerably beefed-up" campus security force aided by 50 to 150 student marshals will be on hand tomorrow to control a crowd of nearly 15,000 persons expected to attend the Grateful Dead concert on Alumni Lawn.
Campus Police Chief Robert Blankenship will have 15 officers on duty during the Student Association sponsored concert scheduled to begin at 1 p.m., rain or shine, but said he does not "anticipate any real problems."
Although Blankenship expects some illegal drug usage within the audience, his major concern is "to keep the concert orderly." He noted, however, that some "uninvited" plain clothed Metro policemen will serve as "observers" to look out for "drug pushers and big trouble." 
The campus police force will form a major cooperative effort with student marshals recruited by the S.A. Concerts Committee to control the concert without conflict. Committee member, Chuck Kahn, said the student marshals are "not to be enforcers, but to keep order in a friendly way. We want to prevent hassles, not cause them."
The Concerts Committee sent letters to approximately 150 "responsible students" earlier this week requesting them to serve as student marshals "to spread themselves throughout the crowd and watch for any trouble that might develop during the afternoon."
The unprecedented size of this Vanderbilt concert, coupled with the fact that most of the crowd will be "outsiders," has caused "several unique problems to arise," Concerts Committee co-chairmen Aubrey Hornsby and Steve Greil said in a statement released earlier this week.
Additional security measures will be taken "to protect the buildings and their inhabitants," including requiring Vanderbilt identification to enter dormitories.
The Alumni Lawn location was selected by special arrangement with The Grateful Dead. The Concerts Committee has tried to bring the group to Vanderbilt "for at least three years now," and has finally persuaded them that "appearances in the South are worthwhile." They "refused to play in the (Memorial) Gym for acoustic reasons, and preferred Alumni Lawn" to all other suggested sites.
Student marshals will "attempt to secure the area immediately in front of the stage with ropes until 11:30 a.m." in order "to assure Vanderbilt students a good seat." Entrance to the special section will be by VU ID only beginning around 9 a.m.
Kahn commented that there will be sufficient area for non-Vanderbilt students to view the concert, but admitted that "we will have to rely on the good faith of the Vanderbilt students" to hold the special section.
Campers willing to brave the unpredictable Nashville elements tonight will not be assured of a particularly choice position tomorrow as they will be permitted to camp only at the south end of Alumni Lawn around the flag pole, and not near the stage itself. Running water and Port-O-Let toilets will be available in the Alumni Lawn area. These facilities are restricted to sleeping bags only.
Those who wish to set up tents or campers must do so on the north side of Dudley Field in the band practice area. Rest room facilities will be available for these campers under the stadium, but all cooking must be done on camp stoves as no camp fires will be permitted.
The Concerts Committee issued "an additional reminder and warning to all who plan to attend the concert that it would be highly unwise to participate in any drug traffic."
"It is not uncommon for your 'brother' to be somebody else entirely. Federal, state and local laws prohibit the possession, sale or use of illegal drugs including marijuana, amphetamines, barbiturates and hallucinogens."
Student marshals met yesterday with Blankenship and Deans for Student Life K.C. Potter and James Sandlin to discuss security measures and ways to handle this and other problems that may arise. "We want the crowd to take care of itself if at all possible," Kahn commented, "and hopefully, we will not have to take any specific action."
"Student marshals are here to assist the crowd in any way possible," he continued, "and to direct students to first aid if they should get into trouble."
Rain or shine, tomorrow until dusk, the Concerts Committee expects The Grateful Dead and their music "to infect our campus with good time spirit."

A man from New Orleans reportedly will be selling bad acid at tomorrow's Grateful Dead concert, Dean for Student Life Sidney Boutwell warned yesterday.
Boutwell urged that spectators "inform the campus police if you identify him."

(by Bob Gillespy, from the Vanderbilt Hustler, 20 October 1972)


For more background, see:


  1. A look at the preparations for a Dead university show - and a free one, at that. (Though the article oddly doesn't mention that.)
    As usual, the emphasis is on security, and the fear of drugs and "outsiders" (including a "man from New Orleans" who's coming to sell bad acid! - I wonder who thought that one up). Though the campus police chief fortunately doesn't "anticipate any real problems" - and it appears there were none - clearly there was some concern over a mini-Woodstock happening on the Vanderbilt lawn, and officials urge that "we want the crowd to take care of itself."

    Some differences from the American University show on Sep. 30 are apparent. The Dead seem to have been announced farther ahead of time (the AU organizers tried not to announce the band til the last minute "for security reasons"). The AU paper complained about inadequate preparations, security & medical services, as well as the Dead's high fee. Perhaps because this article was written before the Vanderbilt show, there are no such complaints here - the vibe seems relatively loose, with plenty of student security supposed to be on hand, barely a mention of "first aid" facilities, and the admission that ""we will have to rely on the good faith of the Vanderbilt students."

    It's a little disappointing that apparently there was no followup in the school paper talking about the show; but I suppose the VU alumni website would have posted another article if there had been one.

    I don't know why the Dead chose this to be a free show. It must have worked like the AU show - the Dead's fee, probably about the same, came from the student Concerts Committee, though this article doesn't mention the budget. There is a hint of the negotiations with the Dead - the Vanderbilt students had been trying to get the Dead since '69 or so, and had to convince the Dead that "appearances in the South are worthwhile." The Dead also didn't want to play in the gym ("for acoustic reasons," but also probably because it would be too small for the anticipated crowd), and preferred to play outdoors, as usual for a free show, even though there was a strong risk of rain. (The show was to take place "rain or shine," and a covered stage was set up for the Dead, but fortunately it stopped raining before the show.)

    Though 15,000 were expected to attend this show, a couple witnesses guess that there were only about 5,000, though they came from all over (some from New York & Florida). The show was scheduled for "1 p.m. to sundown" (sunset would have been around 6 pm), and one witness says "they played into the nightfall, the only lights on stage were the red amplifier lights." Unless there were delays, this may not be true - other people just recall an afternoon show, and it seems to have been normal length, 3-4 hours.

  2. The Dead were indeed skeptical of the South. The last time they had played in Tennessee was a show in Memphis, June 1970 - the audience was small and police had threatened to arrest anyone who danced. Garcia grumbled about the cops: "When we first came here, we thought there was something horrible happening or that somebody was getting beaten up or something... And then we suddenly realized that's just the way they are... We're used to it. We've played a lot of flops... That's where it's at in the South." (McNally p.370) Their Atlanta arena show in 1971 had been even worse.
    The Dead were asked in 1970 about playing the South -
    PHIL: Yes, unfortunately we’ve played the South...in Atlanta which is about the grooviest place in the South we’ve been in…and in New Orleans and Memphis, neither of which we’ll ever return to again.
    BOB: In New Orleans they busted us, and in Memphis they gave it a real good try.
    PHIL: Anyway in Memphis it was really an uptight performing situation. If anyone stood up in their seat they got busted, and I mean busted. Even if you thought about moving, you got wiped on the head, dragged out and taken to jail. (Creem 12/70)

    The Dead wouldn't return to Nashville until 1978.

  3. A couple audience memories from Deadbase X:

    "The band played under a circus-type tent, and the entire central area of the campus was used for the crowd... Garcia talked freely from the stage and backstage area to the crowd. This show was advertised by and put on by the student entertainment council with money left over from their budget. Fans came from all over the Southeast."
    One such fan who got the deadhead newsletter - "I received a notice that the Dead were going to play a free concert in Nashville... I was only too happy to drive 400 miles for such a treat. We arrived in town the night before and some kind Vandy students let us stay in their dorm rooms. When we got up the day of the show, the weather was dreary and cold. Praying that it would not rain, we went down to the concert site and staked out a good spot. The stage was set up at the foot of a gently sloping field surrounded by trees right in the middle of Vanderbilt University... About 1:30 the clouds began to break up, and by showtime it was gloriously sunny and warm. A very tranquil crowd had gathered...and the appearance of the sun signaled that it was time for the show to begin... During the last couple of songs the sky was beginning to get cloudy again, and by the end of the encore it was overcast and cold again."
    (This reviewer also remembered many of the exact songs they played - years before any tape of the show emerged.)

    1. Actually I remember it being a beautiful morning with the skies filled with clouds of light blue and pink ....