Aug 21, 2015

March 20, 1971: Fieldhouse, University of Iowa, Iowa City


Reverberations from the Grateful Dead concert are likely to be felt around Iowa City for a long time to come. Whether the threat of no more concerts holds or not, what happened Saturday night in the Field House will not be soon forgotten.
The arguments over whether the concert was a good one or not must have begun mid-way through the set done by "The New Riders of the Purple Sage." And the discussions are likely to continue unabated for some time; some liked the performance, some didn't. And so it goes.
But there are reasons for thinking the Dead's concert may have been one of the more important happenings in Iowa City in a good many months; reasons which transcend any question about the quality of the performance.
What happened is that several thousand people found out that they can have things like they want them if they act collectively, if they act in a very together way.
C.U.E. had been asked for a sit-on-the-floor concert. They refused with a lot of hokum about fire regulations, etc. And so the people took things in their own hands. They simply folded up their chairs and passed them off to the sides.
For the people who were there, this should be a good lesson in collective behavior. Individuals are virtually powerless; it is only by working together that change can be accomplished. But change brought about in this manner requires a high degree of responsibility. And Saturday night's action left quite a lot to be desired in this respect.
Unaccustomed to freedom, people didn't seem to understand that it takes more room to sit down than to stand up and, as a consequence, only a few were able to sit at any one time; many had to stand throughout the concert in spite of the fact that it was long and a chance to sit down would have been welcome.
The shouting between numbers was a drag.
And, of course, fire regulations aren't really a joke. It is perfectly reasonable to suggest that it is fairly important that there be fire lanes; the ad hoc action of the crowd successfully thwarted any attempts to establish and maintain such lanes.
But, all things considered, the crowd handled their new-found freedom fairly well. Shoving was kept to an absolute minimum, people who didn't want to give up their chairs weren't hassled, and for all inconvenience most people remained good-natured. There were no reports of vandalism before or after the concert.
For the future, provided more concerts are scheduled despite threats to the contrary, C.U.E. should permit sitting on the floor. Fire lanes could be handled by student ushers (we have little need of the "professionals" that C.U.E. brought in). One-price tickets should be sold.
We could all have a good time. And the bands would no doubt benefit from a little more order.

(by Leona Durham, from the Daily Iowan, 23 March 1971)

Thanks to 

The Daily Iowan also had a couple later mentions of this show. In July 1971, they ran an interview with Don Pugsley, a member of CUE (the Committee for University Entertainment).

Helland: What was the administration’s reaction to the Dead concert with the Ripple bottles and the roaches and the chairs being moved out?
Pugsley: They were disturbed by that whole thing. They were worried about flying bottles. I don’t know what to say. I’ve never been to a concert where someone was hurt in a Ripple bottle fight. I don’t think that it is legitimate to call off a concert for 8,000 when a couple of people, if anyone, is tossing bottles. The administration has been officially quiet; they feel that ... CUE can handle problems. 
Helland: How safe are concerts, safer than driving a car?
Pugsley: A lot safer than talking to a county sheriff on a spring night.  . . .  

Helland: Do most Dead audiences react the way we did?
Pugsley: I saw the Dead at Madison. You have to realize that you just don’t have chairs at a Dead concert. You’ll have a better concert without them and you’ll please the type of crowd that is attracted by the Dead. There were no chairs at Madison on the ground floor. The Madison ground crowd was the same as the crowd here and it didn’t seem to get out of hand. I heard that the best Dead concert was held in a posh opera house in St. Louis and there wasn’t any dancing there. It depends on the group, the hall and the crowd.  . . .
Helland: [The Regents] don't dig no carrying on at their University... Do you believe in the Outside Agitator Theory or the Domino Theory with regard to carryings on at the Dead Concert? 
Pugsley: Well, this thing at a concert in Omaha was due to outside agitators, there was a disturbance last month in Tucson due to outside agitators, the disturbances this spring in Iowa City were due to outside agitators. I'd like to know where these people live, that they migrate to Tucson, Omaha, and Iowa City to carry out their misdeeds. I'm sure where they live is a nice town. Now I've been in on some of these things and have been erroneously labeled as an outside agitator. I don't believe in the Outside Agitator Theory. I believe in the Inside Agitator Theory.

(from Dave Helland, “Pugsley: Groups Cost Heavy Bread,” the Daily Iowan 7/22/71, and “CUE: Audience Troubles,” the Daily Iowan 7/23/71)

... During the next CUE concert featuring the Grateful Dead, the crowd removed chairs from the floor and passed them to the back of the Fieldhouse. This raised the ire of a representative from the state fire marshall’s office who was present at the concert. The damage that resulted to the Fieldhouse from this concert led eventually to the rock concert ban in the fall of 1971. ... 

(from Chuck Hawkins/George Shirk, “CUE fights earlier debts,” the Daily Iowan 10/29/73) 

For more complete coverage of the show, see:


  1. The reviewer doesn't offer any opinion of the Dead's show: "some liked the performance, some didn't. And so it goes." I suspect she didn't like it, if that's all she could say about it - that's not much of a review! She also complains that "the shouting between numbers was a drag," and that "many had to stand throughout the concert in spite of the fact that it was long and a chance to sit down would have been welcome." Sounds like she was talking about herself! She seems rather conservative, calling for fire lanes and "a little more order."

    The most notable part of the show was that the audience had the temerity to move the chairs off the floor so they could dance - this was still being recalled in the university paper years later!
    The damage to the Fieldhouse didn't occur during the Dead's show though, but at other shows (which CUE later had to pay for), and rock shows were actually banned for a short time after a Leon Russell show in fall '71, though by Feb '72 it was lifted and the Allman Brothers played there.

    Don Pugsley, a member of CUE who arranged the Dead's booking, was very knowledgeable about them - he'd been to the Madison, Wisconsin show on 3/14, and he'd heard that "the best Dead concert" was at the Fox Theater in St Louis. He said this show was "pretty good." He would write an article on the band when they returned to campus in 1973 (which I'll post later).

    A couple commenters on the Archive remember moving the chairs, and suggest that this show was longer than our tape:
    "Iowa City Fieldhouse had wood chairs set up on the floor. Audience was moving around and chairs were causing problems. Jerry had the band stop playing and announced that everyone should fold up the chairs and stack them against the walls. They started playing for what seemed to be 3-4 hours, although the recordings here don't add up to that total."
    "The crowd was a mix of rather uptight Iowa City locals and turned on youth from the surrounding midwest. New Riders opened with a ringing pedal steel. The rowdy time happened in the Dead set, with the shedding of chairs making police etc. nervous. There was also a half-nude stage streaker who was unceremoniously dumped to the side stage... This is incomplete. I remember an incendiary China Cat."
    "Late into the 2nd set, [we] passed thousands of wooden fold-up chairs over our heads to the side and back of the Iowa City Fieldhouse to get them off our dance floor. The Dead awarded our efforts with the best 'Around and Around' I'd ever heard then, and since.... Proof that drugged out anarchy was not chaotic at all!"
    Attendees on also remember "a sea of chairs being passed overhead to the sides of the Field House floor... Through the haze of pot smoke there were frisbees and all kinds of other shit happening... It ended up with 3 or 4 mini-mountains of folded-up chairs with a sea of people boogie-woogieing around them."

    On the tape, after Sugar Magnolia, Garcia starts China Cat but then stops as someone onstage talks about moving the chairs. The band pauses for a while as the chairs are moved, then tears into Around & Around. There are only a couple songs after that - it doesn't seem like more songs are missing from the tape, but like other early '71 shows it's rather short, a little over 2 hours.

  2. Another Archive attendee recalls:
    "Prior to the Dead's March 20 performance, there was a lot of back and forth between the U of Iowa administration and the UPC, University Programming Committee. The issues involved whether or not there would be portable chairs on the basketball floor, and whether or not the house lights would stay on during the concert. When the New Riders took the stage as the warm-up act, the wooden chairs were still in place, and the house lights continued glaring. (This was all an attempt to tamp down drug activity.) The NRPS played their first 2-3 songs while large numbers in the audience shouted for the house lights to be turned off. Eventually, Marmaduke addressed the "house lights man" through his microphone, and the crowd started chanting. As a result, the house lights were turned off. After that, the audience spontaneously moved the folded wooden chairs either to the sides or to piles in the middle of the floor. Finally, marijuana cigarettes began making their smoking way from hand to hand through the audience. All of this occurred before the Dead came onstage--I don't recall Jerry Garcia being involved at all (though I was standing in a spot where I could watch him and the others lighting up behind one of the massive amplifiers, which looked like a smokestack). According to the Daily Iowan, the student newspaper's review the following week, however, some messed-up audience member attempted to stab Bob Weir with a housekey."
    (I think the chair-moving took place during the Dead's show, not during the NRPS set as he remembers it.)