Jun 18, 2019

November 21, 1970: Boston University

Boston University's student union isn't having any problem presenting rock artists. On Nov. 22, the union's Social Council will have the The Grateful Dead performing in Sargent gym for a sell-out audience of 2000. And since the Dead won't agree to appear for less than five hours - and sometimes go for as long as 10 - the council has made the performance an affair for BU students only, so that the city's closing-hour ordinance won't apply.

(from the Boston Record-American, 13 November 1970) 

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A well-equipped costume to cover Grateful Dead concerts should include a crash helmet, can of mace, Batman utility-belt holding a three-day supply of brown rice, roach clips, grappling irons, and Dr. Scholl's Zino pads.
The Grateful Dead are not just a rock band. They represent a gestalt of everything that is at once insane yet creative about the youth cultural explosion that broke out like a rash in San Francisco's Height Ashbury in the rockin' mid-sixties.
Grateful Dead fans will not be denied. Even the knowledge that the concert at BU last week was sold out within three hours failed to discourage the hopes of non-ticket holders.
Every ploy was used to gain entry. Pushing and shoving, gate crashing, counterfeit tickets, tall tales, and phony press credentials were all part of the game for harried BU marshals and their security allies.
One imaginative lassie even fabricated an elaborate fetish "God's Eye" staff which she tried to hand-deliver as her ticket-of-leave. The staff got in, but the bearer was tossed back into the milling masses.
The Grateful Dead are greeted with maximum pandemonium every time they play in Boston. There have been legendary appearances at the Boston Tea Party, including one bizarre New Years Eve with a cocktail party catered by Stanislaus Owsley and friends.
Last summer, a date at Harvard Stadium was canceled because of legal hassles which seem to constantly follow the Dead as the night the day.
At BU, while the youngsters trickled in and sat down on the floor of the gym, the Dead waited impassively behind their barricades.
Catching an opening, I waded in on Jerry Garcia, the lead guitarist and writer for the Dead.
As always, Garcia was a study in casual dress. His simple jeans were stuck unceremoniously into his boots and a denim workshirt struggled over his potty midriff.
An ear to ear infectious smile is endemic to his responses as he peers through aviator glasses. Under a shaggy full beard and kinky black hair flecked with white, Jerry cuts the affable natural appearance of an R. Crumb Mr. Natural character impersonating Santa Claus.
"What happened to Tom Constanten?" I said, peering at Garcia for reaction. The remark proved too abrupt and Garcia parried with a one-liner before my Buddha smile affirmed that I was a good-guy despite the black ribbon pinned to my jacket that read cryptically "Dead Press."
"The former organist for the Dead is now writing his own compositions," answered Garcia. He went on to describe Tom Constanten's work with Jim Byers and Joe McCord on a mime play called "Tarot."
"Tarot" will open off-Broadway in New York some time in early December, and Jerry will play guitar for the first two weeks of the engagement.
The Dead have just released a new album for Warner Brothers called "American Beauty." It continues along in the vein of their last release, "Workingman's Dead."
Jerry described their current recording interests. "We're really into songs now. We all have gotten into singing, so we look for songs. We can't find them, so I write them, then we have all these songs, so it's natural to put them on a record."
We pointed out that the Dead have been quite productive of late. "Yeah, we're really in a good period and have been just putting out albums. We expect to be back in the studio again by March with a new release in the Spring."
Currently, Jerry is busy making guest recording spots with people like Grace Slick and Paul Kantner as well as David Crosby and San Francisco groups like Lamb.
Asked if the Dead were touring much, Garcia thought a moment and answered, "Well, sort of maybe not too much..." and then added, "It seems that we tour a lot because we only come to the East Coast and have played Boston a lot."
Actually, Jerry confessed his disenchantment with the club-and-college circuit. "There is usually such bad sound at these college dates and the clubs have gotten really grubby. I would like to book more concert halls like Boston Symphony; I really would like to hear us in legitimate concert halls. It gets to be a drag to try to make beautiful music when all you get back is some ugly sound, it's bound to affect your performance."
Pointing out the symptoms of the decline and fall of rock music, Garcia countered, "That has never really affected us. We've always been outside the pop scene."
On new music, "Sure we take in everything simultaneously like country music and jazz and all that at once. Some of the new guys like John McLaughlin are interesting, but if I had those kind of chops I would want to do something different with it..."
A mad scramble of gate crashers, with police and marshals in hot pursuit, cut short our conversation. I hopped behind a barricade for safety, like a fleet-footed Spaniard scrambling for a balcony during the running of the bulls at Pamplona.
Things settled down with the crashers filing out the four corners of the crowded gym.
The Dead "roadies" strutted about exhibiting the latest in leather pants and flashy jewelry. Everybody tried to look important and terribly official.
The chimpanzees were first on stage setting a bizarre but appropriately carnival atmosphere. The Riders of the Purple Sage followed, with Jerry Garcia sitting in on pedal steel guitar and Mickey Hart of the Dead playing drums.
Purple Sage included the country guitar and vocals of Marmaduke on lead, with David Torbert, bass, and David Nelson on second lead guitar. Their country-inflected rocking harmonies had everybody standing and stomping.
Pandemonium erupted at 9:30 when the full complement of Grateful Dead began what was to be a marathon concert of some five hours duration, which seemed to build in musical frenzy.
The multifarious interests of the group rapidly became apparent as they slipped easily from Country to Blues and hard-rock.
Garcia is one of the few absolute musical geniuses in rock today. He has mastered every idiom of the guitar, and each time we hear the Dead they seem to become progressively more phenomenal.
Their overwhelming presence on stage is barely alluded to in their recorded work. The power of the Dead comes from their ability to improvise and grow in intensity through the contagious rapport they build with an audience. As the fans went wild the Dead crackled with their most brilliant performance in this area to date.
Bob Weir, with his hair pulled back in a long pony tail, handled the major portion of the lead vocals, while backing Garcia on guitar.
The interplay between Garcia and Bob Weir supply the major part of the infectious excitement of their performance.
Smack in the middle between Garcia and Weir, Phil Lesh cements the guitars together with sensitive, ever-changing bass work. Occasionally, he fills out on three-part harmony.
Much of the rocking propulsion of the Dead comes from the interplay between dual drummers, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzman. Occasionally the band parts at the bridge to leave them battling through a drum-duet.
Pigpen is more of an institution with the Dead than a regularly-contributing part of their music. He does a lead vocal now and then with a touch of harp. Mostly he hovers about the stage talking to groupies, adjusting his feathered cowboy-hat and downing bud.
After several hours of continual music, the BU gym was one mass of gyrating, dancing, whooping and hollering youngsters.
Piercing through the darkness, Garcia's guitar seemed to coil like a cobra about the delicate lead vocals of Bob Weir. Garcia is just phenomenal.
But old rock critics never die, they just slowly fade away. And at 1 [a.m.] we did.

(by Charles Giuliano, from the Boston Herald, 29 November 1970)

* * *


A Boston University security guard was injured and five young persons arrested in a melee following a rock festival at the university's Sargent gymnasium last night.
Campus police said trouble erupted when thousands of rock lovers couldn't get into the auditorium because someone had sold counterfeit tickets.
With so many tickets - real and bogus - sold, the gymnasium was filled to capacity with the overflow crowd backing up into Commonwealth Ave. The gym holds 1800.
Those who couldn't get in to see the "Grateful Dead" rock group became irate and charged the doors. A security guard, Christian Pina ... was injured in the onslaught.
Police said Pina arrested two persons and took them to the police box at Commonwealth Ave. and B.U. Bridge. They said he was followed there by a crowd of about 100 where he was attacked while phoning for help.
Reinforcements arrived from nearby police stations and barged into the fray. Fifty members of the Boston Police Tactic Force assumed standby alert in a parking lot near B.U.
Within a short time, the mob was dispersed. Christian was taken to Beth Israel Hospital where he was treated and released.
The five who were arrested ... were charged with various offenses, including attempting to rescue a prisoner, inciting a riot, possession of marijuana, being a disorderly person, and assault and battery on a police officer.

(from the Boston Record-American, 22 November 1970)

Thanks to Dave Davis

Alas, no tape! 

See also:


  1. Four months since the last post here, good grief! I'll try not to let that happen again.

    A very enthusiastic show review here, and an interesting little interview with Garcia. Giuliano doesn't mention any songs in particular, but was apparently a Dead fan - it seems he'd seen them at the Tea Party in '69, and his first question to Garcia is, "What happened to Tom Constanten?" He lavishes praise on Garcia's "genius" guitar-work, and is one of many early reviewers to note that the Dead's albums don't approximate their live shows. He calls them "phenomenal...overwhelming" and mentions the intensity building through the show, something other 1970 reviewers also noticed. He also pays attention to the frenzied audience, who greet the Dead "with maximum pandemonium." (As usual for late 1970, there were probably as many gate-crashers as paying attendees.)
    This show is called "their most brilliant performance in this area to date," but unfortunately the only tape snippet turned out to be a fake (from 4/3/70), so the show is only known from reviews.

    Garcia says they've played Boston "a lot," but the Dead hadn't actually played in Boston since 1969 - I'm not sure why, it was obviously a good market for them, and they'd play there more often in coming years.
    It's said here that "last summer, a date at Harvard Stadium was canceled because of legal hassles," but this is the first I've heard of it. Researchers may have overlooked a 1970 Harvard cancellation so far, but I suspect the reporter picked up a false rumor.

    The Garcia interview is short but great:
    - even after a year of steady touring, he still thinks the Dead are touring "not too much!" To Garcia, playing 150 shows a year still felt like slacking off.
    - he not only mentions "Tarot," opening the next month, he says he "will play guitar for the first two weeks of the engagement. This plan fell through and I don't think he ever played a note for "Tarot" on stage, but it clears up what's been a small mystery.
    - he talks a bit about his songwriting role: "We're really into songs now. We all have gotten into singing, so we look for songs. We can't find them, so I write them, then we have all these songs..." I wonder what kind of songs the Dead were 'looking for' that they couldn't find, though I suppose Garcia's songs are in themselves the answer. (At this point he's still enthusiastic about the process; by 1974 he'd complain about the role of having to 'deliver material' to the band all the time: "it's been on me to be the guy who's developing the material.")
    - he recognizes that "we're really in a good period," and they plan to record another studio album in spring '71. But they'd change their minds and decide to do (some of) the new songs on a live album instead.
    - he complains about the bad sound at colleges and clubs (a frequent lament in 1970), and wishes the Dead could play "legitimate concert halls." Starting in 1971 the Dead would start playing the Boston Music Hall, which they must have liked more, playing there for several more years.
    - John McLaughlin comes up, and Garcia damns him with faint praise: "interesting....I would want to do something different..." Garcia's opinion wouldn't improve after the Mahavishnu Orchestra opened for Howard Wales at the Boston Symphony Hall in 1972: "I don't like John McLaughlin's playing."

    Lastly, I love the description of the Dead roadies "strutting about exhibiting the latest in leather pants and flashy jewelry." This makes them sound...well, not very manly!

    1. I write about that cancelled Harvard shows (there was another in 1984) http://www.gratefulseconds.com/2017/10/harvard-just-wont-admit-grateful-dead.html

    2. I forgot about the Harvard cancellation...shows what happens when I write comments in a hurry!

  2. The canceled Harvard Stadium show was with John Hammond on 1970-07-13. The Chambers Brothers replaced the Dead.

  3. The Dead of course played Cambridge in 1970, but I guess you're not considering that Boston

    1. Ha, got me there! You can tell I'm no Bostonian...but MIT is just a short walk from Boston University.

    2. Hey man i'm just glad you're back and posting