Aug 8, 2015

November 25, 1968: Memorial Auditorium, Ohio University, Athens OH


In the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, the cryptic words "the Grateful Dead praise thee" are inscribed for eternity.
Last night the great Greatful Dead from San Francisco praised the campus with its first truly professional psychedelic blues act in history. And all for free.
"Don't call it a profession, man," drummer Mickey Hart said backstage, pulling his long brunette hair back into a ponytail. "Like, it's mostly a religion to me. I play religious music. When I play, it's more like testifying."
The Dead give free concerts quite often, Mickey explained, as a means of delivering their music to the public without the artificial sound of recordings. To this end, the nationally famous group has recorded only two albums but played innumerable concerts.
"We record what we think we should record," he said. "Where it's at is the playing. More people can hear us through recordings, but we want to turn people on directly with the music. We just want to have fun, man."
Mickey settled back and smoked in the dressing room and rapped with the collection of fans who had gathered around after sneaking backstage. He talked of the Grateful Dead's "family" back in the Dead's famous house in the Haight-Ashbury.
"We don't all live in the house anymore, man, because, like, we've got 50 people in the family now, and we just couldn't all fit into one house," he said. "We have about a dozen places, including farms. We'd like to just get 300 acres of land and really live it up."
Down the hall lead guitarist Jerry "Captain Trips" Garcia tuned up his Gibson, his hair hanging in a black mop as he studied his fingerwork through his yellow-tinted wire-rimmed spectacles. As he spoke, his New York voice emerged with crystal clarity from an impossible tangle of beard.
"I would much prefer it if you call me Jerry," he said, still strumming. "I was named 'Captain Trips' by this girl called 'Mary Microgram' and she was the only one to call me that until Time magazine picked it up. And you know how Time can never be wrong."
Garcia recalled Chuck Berry as being the leading influence on his early musical pursuits at age 15, and he has stayed with music ever since. In fact, he said, a musical commitment is one of the few things that all of the Dead have in common.
"We don't want to get involved in politics or movements," he pointed out. "The problems are real enough, but, like fighting won't do it, and neither will legislation or cops. The only way to do it is for everybody to just dig each other."
Other members of the Dead were filing into the room to warm up with Garcia and without electricity. Then, the great Pig Pen finally shows - looking for all the world like the Baddest Cowboy in the West - and it was good, very good.

(by Clarence Page, from the Ohio University Post, 26 November 1968) 

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  1. A backstage report from a famous lost show. We have a pretty good audience tape of the previous night's show, 11/22/68 at Veterans Hall in Columbus, Ohio. McNally reports: "Only a couple of hundred people attended, and most seemed to be from Ohio University in Athens. Since the next night was open, the Dead spontaneously went to Athens to play. It was incredibly gratifying to pull off a show in one day, find a ripe audience, and leave them 'hanging from the walls,' as Lesh put it." (McNally p.281)
    Lesh fondly recalls the Columbus show in his book as a great set, though the whole audience was "about three hundred souls in a hall built for six thousand." (Lesh p.138) Per deadlists, Lesh recalled that "so many students from Ohio University in Athens came to the show in Columbus on 11/22/68 (a long drive - about 1 1/2 hours or so) that the band decided to go to Athens and put on a free show for them!"
    The free show in Athens was also Tom Constanten's first show with the Dead after leaving the air force, though I'm not sure just how that was coordinated. (I suppose he met up with them in Columbus.)

    This article, oddly, says nothing at all about the show except that it was free. The writer seems to know about the Dead only by reputation, it seems (he mentions Garcia's "New York voice," and includes a couple of the usual media cliches like the "Egyptian Book of the Dead" and "Captain Trips"). He hangs out a little backstage, but whether he actually stayed for the show is unknown.

    Fortunately, the Athens News just ran an article by someone who attended the show, confirming that droves of OU students had driven to Columbus and "convinced Jerry Garcia that a motherlode of dedicated followers in Athens would flock to a Dead show." So the Dead headed to OU to put on a free show the very next day - apparently the auditorium was packed, as word had spread around the campus. I don't think the setlist details in the article can be trusted (they seem to be taken from the 11/22 tape), but the show ended when a university official cut the stage power around midnight. (Just like 8/24/68, 4/6/69, 4/17/69, etc.)
    Some reviews on contradict this account of the show, though. No less than three witnesses state that it was just "a small crowd," "small audience," "maybe a couple hundred folks max." Also, no one else recalls the show being cut short; instead a couple reviewers say the Dead "played til dawn," or at least "long into the evening."

    The quotes from Mickey & Jerry here are interesting - kind of the Dead's philosophy in miniature. Mickey would get his ranch the following spring. "Mary Microgram" was Denise Kaufman, who was one of Kesey's Merry Pranksters during the Acid Tests (when she dubbed Garcia "Captain Trips"), and later was in the band Ace of Cups.
    As she remembered it, during the 12/18/65 Big Beat Acid Test, "At one point, I was standing out in the parking lot talking to Jerry Garcia, and this police car drove up and the officer got out and started questioning us. It was the usual: "What's going on here?" Jerry did most of the talking. Whatever Jerry said satisfied him because he turned to leave. As he turned to walk away, Jerry kind of tipped his hat and said, "The tips, captain." The way he said it just knocked me out. I told Kesey about this interaction, and out of that Jerry got his name Captain Trips." (Perry, On The Bus, p.148)
    By 1968, Garcia was tired of the name!

    1. I was at the show. In fact, I mentioned it to a friend who came up with the link the brought me here. I believe the theatre was full. I snuck in early with a friend and we ended up chests pressed against the stage. I remember little kids sort of wandering on and off the stage as the band was playing. It is my understanding that they did the gig as a return favour for an OU student, name escapes me now, who did the light shows at some of their other gigs in Ohio. He was kind of locally famous for his 'art'. To be honest, most of the evening was a blur as I had eaten hash. Years later, I learned that the first time I had seen the Dead was at the trips festival. I had arrived in SF on the Greyhound Bus on a $99 for 99 days - no same city twice ticket (except back to where you started), found a cheap hotel and went to ride the cable cars. Asked a young couple (my age at the time around 20) where was a good place to go and they said follow me. (I was a naïve young man from the suburbs of Toronto.) I did. Ended up in the longshoreman's hiring hall. It was full of various and sundry folks the likes of which I had never seen before. Oddly, I felt comfortable there. And here we are all these many years later, members of the Dead are still touring, pot is about to become legal in Canada and well, like they say, the more things change, the more they seem the same.

    2. Funny about the little kids wandering onstage, they were a frequent presence at Dead shows in those days.
      Other accounts say the theater was full, but many people left early.
      I haven't heard about the light-show guy, but in any case, the Nov 22 '68 show in Columbus was the Dead's first show in Ohio. It's possible they knew someone at OU - they sometimes played free shows by request.

  2. I was there. My first Dead show. The auditorium was packed during the first set. During the break I went to get some food. When I returned, the second set had already started and the crowd then was considerably smaller (perhaps that accounts for the audience size discrepancy in the various reviews). Those still there were obviously, enthusiastically, into the music: most of the crowd was standing instead of sitting, many on the stage, dancing on the floor. The electricity was deliberately cutoff around midnight. I remember Jerry calming the crowd, preventing a riot.

  3. Actual date was November 25 newly discovered with new details and review

  4. I was there for the whole long show! I do remember the small children wandering on and off. Sometimes a band member would stop playing, pick up a kid for a minute, put him down and continue playing. My BEST memory was a band member passing around a bottle of wine they were drinking to the audience. Lucky me! First row! Got the wine, Drank some, Passed it around! A night to remember!

  5. I was at the Columbus show. Yes it was mostly heads from Athens as Athens was major mecca for freaks and heads. Next night they were in Athens for a freebie. If I remember correctly a guy from the SDS tried to stop the show to get us to go protest somewhere. I don't think anyone left with him. Yes around midnight some University a-hole turned off the power. I do remember some of the Dead going acoustic for a while. I also remember them jaming at one of the hippie farms outside of town into the wee hours.