Feb 3, 2019

October 23, 1970: McDonough Gym, Georgetown U, Washington DC


One of the finest rock performances to hit the Washington area happened last weekend. The Grateful Dead and their sidekick band, The Riders of the Purple Sage, played to a jam-packed audience at McDonough Gymnasium Friday night.
Possibly McDonough was the only place available for the concert, but the promoters couldn't have chosen any place worse, for at the 8:30 p.m. starting time, the hall was already packed to well over capacity. Meanwhile, over a thousand people waited outside to get in. Tickets were sold out, and all entrances were sealed and guarded by police, some with dogs. Those waiting outside were afforded the opportunity to at least hear the Dead by means of several speakers set up outside. That crowd, partially made up of ticket-holders, was not satisfied with merely listening however. They wanted to see, too. Their solution was a simple one. They clambered in open windows, smashed closed ones, and shouted obscenities at the innocent guards.
On the inside, many people, near collapse from the ninety degree heat and the 100% humidity, tried in vain to escape the unbearable discomfort. Despite their efforts, guards would not open any doors for fear of those outside charging in. Finally the guards and the management gave in. When the doors were opened, a great rush of people streamed in. At this point, McDonough Gym was not fit for human beings. Nevertheless, on "Honky Tonk Woman," Jerry Garcia's slide-guitar work and Bill Krentzmann's drumming evoked the entire mass of people to stand up and dance wildly.
Following the Riders' set, they and The Dead went back to their hotel in Washington for an hour, leaving everyone just sitting there. But the crowd, used to long delays typical of Claude Jones and Company, made good use of the time by tossing around the inevitable Frisbee. While the crowd cheered and booed the Frisbee-throwers, the Mother Truckers made their usual idiotic announcements and remarks like "Keep it Cool." There were also those who kept telling everyone to move away from the front of the stage. Because there was obviously no room, no one moved.
Finally, at eleven o'clock the Grateful Dead walked onto the stage and opened with "Casey Jones." On this through their next five songs they displayed a togetherness and musicianship that made this writer wonder why they haven't enjoyed as much success as they deserve. But it was when they went into their seventh number, "Good Lovin," that they sent the crowd wild. Garcia's five minute introduction along with Bob Weir's fine rhythm guitar work and the beat of two drummers brought the crowd to an ecstatic frenzy. Through 25 minutes of that song, Garcia and Weir swapped leads and harmonized with organist "Pignpen" McKennan and bassist Phil Lesh.
The Dead's thirty minute finale, "That's It for the Other One," was interesting, but anti-climactic after "Good Loving" and many of their earlier songs. Stomping and chanting, the audience brought The Dead back from their dressing room to encore with "Uncle John's Band," from their current album, "Workingman's Dead."
Although the music was excellent, all were relieved to get out of McDonough. Many swore they would never go to another rock concert at that place again. Again, Washington came close to ruining its concert scene.

(by Rowland Teape-Davis, from the Spur, late October 1970)


See also:

Thanks to Michael Backhouse.

1 comment:

  1. A newly discovered review! The Spur was the student newspaper at Montgomery College's Rockville campus, near Washington DC. This nicely complements the other show review I've posted by a Georgetown student, with a similar account of the evening but different emphases.
    Many comments and background pieces are in that post, so here I'll just mention a few aspects of this review.

    Georgetown didn't have many options for places to play, but this reviewer feels that "the promoters couldn't have chosen any place worse" than McDonough Gym. Like many college venues the Dead played in late 1970, it proved far too small for the Dead crowd, with thousands trying to smash their way in. (Some speakers set up for the crowd outside to hear the show may have helped a bit, though local residents complained about the noise.) The gym is portrayed as hellish, "not fit for human beings," with people "near collapse" from the heat and "unbearable discomfort."
    (The other reviewer took the cramming more in stride, just casually mentioning that "conditions were hectic." Taper Cary Wolfson remembered "the stifling heat" of the gym: "The place was packed... There was a long break, during which people passed water jugs up to the stage and some of the crew would fill them up with water and pass them back -- it was so hot and crowded.")

    This reviewer names some songs that he recognizes, but although he's very impressed by the Dead and wonders why they aren't more successful, it doesn't seem like he was very familiar with them before. (Rare is the reviewer who gets Pigpen's name wrong, though typos may be to blame.) The presumed "That's It for the Other One" was actually a medley of four different songs, a mistake few Anthem listeners would make; but the writer calls it "anti-climactic" so he may have been fading out of consciousness by that point. It's funny to see that his time-sense dilates (Good Lovin' is "25 minutes," the Other One suite is "30 minutes"), a phenomenon that happened to many Dead show-goers!
    It's interesting that both reviews cite Good Lovin' as a show highlight that "sent the crowd wild."

    I doubt that "the Dead went back to their hotel in Washington for an hour" during the set-break as claimed; the other reviewer says the show was delayed due to the "general havoc" as the management tried to restore order. But here the long set-break sounds quite entertaining in itself.
    This writer wasn't a Georgetown student, so he sees the show as part of the "Washington concert scene," but the Dead were actually the university's Homecoming band that year; strictly speaking, it was supposed to be a campus event, but the university wasn't prepared for the entire Washington area coming to the show! (Future rock concerts on campus were immediately canceled by the horrified administration.)