Jan 25, 2019

January 17, 1969: Robertson Gym, UC Santa Barbara


Climaxing four hours of the best concert that has happened on campus this year, the Grateful Dead offered a mind-expanding experience to the 4,000 who crammed into Robertson Gym on Friday night.
As one of the true acid bands originating in 'Frisco, they have survived national success and remained the most outstanding group on the hard-rock scene today.
First on stage was the Travel Agency, who are noted for their numerous originals which feature their fabulous lead singing and harmony back-up. Unfortunately, the P.A. system was not working until after their set, so they jammed for the entire time.
Their music was a fast rhythm and blues along the lines of "Ten Years After." Their drummer appeared to have great ability, but he did not project the rich full sound that Santana's and the Grateful Dead's drummers were able to produce.
After the Agency, the Santana Blues Band came on, feeding their soulful vibes to the eagerly awaiting audience. Their Afro-Blues sound got most of the crowd on its feet, turning on to the violent primitive beat. Sitting still during their set was impossible; their music let everyone release all tensions and frustrations by just letting it carry them.
Using three different conga drums, Santana's conga drummer dominated their presence. In a truly aggressive spirit, he carried the soulful beat throughout their set.
Most of Santana's members were very talented, as was proven in the solos. The conga drummer overwhelmed the audience when he broke into solos, while the organist, in the style of Barry Goldberg, created a mood of his own.
Their drummer took his solo in their fourth number, and really displayed his great talent. "Soul Sacrifice," their concluding number, brought the audience to a peak of excitement as its crude, pulsating beat flooded the gym, which then seemed to be in another world.
Whereas Santana's music was like a rushing torrent cutting deep into the earth, Grateful Dead's sound created visions of the pool of eternal calm, high above the native earth. Their graceful flowing music permeated every object, letting everyone who was receptive experience an emotional ecstasy that cannot be forgotten.
Just as the Grateful Dead began, the power blew and both drummers immediately went into solos as if it was part of the number. When the lights came back on several minutes later, most people suddenly realized what had happened.
Opening with "Shine on Me," they established their easy flowing rhythm. All seven of the Dead are exceptionally talented, and together they produce a mood that can only be experienced, not explained.
As a whole, the concert provided an atmosphere of total environment. The sound system, once it was finally set up, was very good. The visuals, which were provided by Dry Paint, left something to be desired. They had sufficient equipment to do an excellent show, yet they apparently did not know how to utilize it effectively.
The police stationed inside the gym were very "cool" about the whole affair. At the beginning of the concert, they worked diligently to enforce the "no smoking" regulation, but later on in the evening most of the heads were lighting up without any hassle.
Possibly the only disappointment of the evening was when the Grateful Dead were forced to stop playing after the house lights had been rudely blinked on-and-off several times. They probably would have continued for quite some time, as they usually do at their concerts.
Hopefully the great success of the concert will encourage other "organizations" to sponsor a similar happening. Besides being a success financially, this concert provided an exceptionally satisfying and enjoyable evening for all who attended.

(by Jack Evans, from El Gaucho, Santa Barbara, 22 January 1969)

Thanks to Dave Davis

See also: http://jgmf.blogspot.com/2016/11/dropping-in-robertson-gym-gd1969-01-17.html



  1. El Gaucho was the student paper at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The show had been prominently advertised in the paper ("bring your own pillow," the ad advised), and a day-of-show front-page notice also announced that the Dead would be "dropping in Robertson Gym... The Kappa Sigma sponsored event gets under way at 8:30 with ducats running $2.50 in advance, $3.50 at the door. If your musical tastes don’t fall here, you might try Campbell Hall at the same time where guitarist John Fahey will be presented by Zen Center."

    Evans wrote a great review covering the whole show - he conscientiously reviewed even the light show and the police! I wonder if he was a drummer, since he paid particular attention to the drummers in every band, rarely mentioning any other band members.
    He was thrilled with the Dead, a "mind-expanding experience." Impressed as he was with Santana's beat, the Dead took him to another plane: their "graceful flowing music...produced a mood that can only be experienced, not explained." They "created visions of the pool of eternal calm" and gave everyone "an emotional ecstasy that cannot be forgotten."
    And this wasn't even a very good show!

    He also describes the PA problems that plagued the show (and may have distracted the band), and were apparently still present when the Dead returned to Robertson Gym on May 29. Although El Gaucho unfortunately didn't review that show, it's described at length in Michael Lydon's article on the Dead that month:

    This show ends with the Dead's rather rough debut of Cosmic Charlie, as the band are told to stop. Weir sighs, “Well they say that’s all there is, so I guess that’s all there is.”

  2. One thing that struck me from my recent queries to college archives is how many campus papers have been and are being digitized. There are loads of GD Sources out there for you to play around with, more every day.

    1. If only there were hosts of Dead bloggers all scanning old papers for Dead articles!