Aug 20, 2019

April 4, 1971: Manhattan Center, New York City

For Grateful Dead freaks

"Cocaine's for horses, not men," or at least so goes the song by the Byrds. But don't tell it to the Grateful Dead. Driving themselves on coke, the Grateful Dead play the best concerts around to the greatest audiences. Earlier this week the Grateful Dead held their first annual dance marathon in the Grand Ballroom in Manhattan Center, New York, to a crowd that traveled great distances to be there: even Case Tech had someone there. There was one person who claimed to be seeing the fifteenth consecutive Grateful Dead concert.
The Sunday concert was to start at 8 p.m. By four o'clock the streets around the ballroom were flooded with people looking for tickets to the sold-out performance. Hours before the show, hundreds of people were waiting to get in. About five thousand people occupied the ballroom that had a capacity of 2000.
A Dead crowd is amazing. Before the concert even started the crowd was going crazy. While tapes of the Rolling Stones were being played, the crowd was responding as if the group was there. A full house joined in to sing 'You Can't Always Get What You Want' and 'Jumping Jack Flash.' Balloons were flying everywhere and the crowd was in a general state of euphoria.
The concert started with the New Riders of the Purple Sage, a splinter group of the Dead with Jerry Garcia on the pedal-steel guitar and Spencer Dryden (formerly of the Jefferson Airplane) on the drums. Throughout their performance the crowd was dancing, clapping, and doing everything else but sitting still. The New Riders were doing everything from 'Down in the Boondocks' (you must have heard it on top-40) to a fantastic rendition of 'Honky Tonk Women.' Doing mostly blues, the New Riders material was excellent. Not too many groups receive the kind of response they got from the audience, and the tremendous greeting they received was nothing compared to what was to happen later when the Grateful Dead was coming on.
The Grateful Dead, minus percussionist Mickey Hart who recently quit the group, played with one drummer - Bill Kreutzmann, and put on quite a show. Surprisingly, it was neither Pig Pen nor Garcia that captured the crowd, but rhythm guitarist Bob Weir. Weir, doing most of the vocals, made whatever you heard on those superb Grateful Dead records sound very weak as opposed to the way the Dead played that night, and that is quite a feat.
Playing only acid rock, even with material from 'American Beauty' and playing very loud, the Dead made the marathon no ordinary Dead concert (which is a gas anyway). The Dead did not need to bring the crowd off its feet: there were no seats. The room in the hall allowed people to form great circles and dance together to the music, and some music it was.
The first big thing the Dead did was 'Morning Dew,' and it never sounded so good. They did many Pig Pen songs from 'Easy Wind' to 'Good Lovin' (a Rascals song) which he sung with Weir. Surprises were many. 'Me And Bobby McGee' was one, and so was Berry's 'Johnny B. Goode' which was done better than any of the numerous versions of the song that were recorded.
'St. Stephen' and the Stones' 'Not Fade Away' were combined into a magnificent medley that just cannot be described. 'Truckin' and 'Sugar Magnolia' were both done electrically. Both, especially the former, were superb. Needless to say, 'Casey Jones' was the crowd's favorite - there wasn't a soul sitting still for a moment of that song. If you could imagine 5000 people singing
"Driving my train,
High on cocaine,
Casey Jones better
watch your speed"
and soon, then you will get but a glimpse of what that song did to people. The concert was closed, as all Dead concerts, with 'Uncle John's Band,' done electrically. That was like 'Casey Jones' all over again.
The concert was advertised as a dance marathon where the Grateful Dead would play as long as the audience would continue to dance. It was obvious that if that were to happen, the Dead would have to play all night. So, after six hours of music came 'Uncle John's Band' and the end of the concert. The ending surprised the audience, most of which could have easily stood three or four more hours of music. The audience refused to believe it was all over. A full half hour after the concert half the crowd was still there waiting for more.

(by Joe Kattan, from the Observer (Case Western Reserve U), 9 April 1971)

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  1. The Observer was the student newspaper at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. It was probably by chance that one of their writers was in New York to see a Dead show, but this is another example of a university paper reviewing the Dead even in distant locations.

    Great, detailed description of the show. (On tape, the show turns out to be one of the weakest of the month; not that most of the crowd would have noticed. I wonder what the person seeing his "fifteenth consecutive Dead concert" thought of it?)
    The writer has seen the Dead before (but doesn't say when), and is aware that Mickey's quit. He's clearly been bitten by the Dead bug: they give "the best concerts" and even their ordinary shows are "a gas." As a bonus, even their audiences are "the greatest." No complaining about the overcrowding here; for this reviewer, the crowd is "amazing," "going crazy" just for the PA music: "Balloons were flying everywhere and the crowd was in a general state of euphoria." Naturally, in this condition even the New Riders are greeted with ecstasy. This is an early recognition of a Dead audience being a different breed than a regular rock-show crowd, with people "traveling great distances to be there."

    Musically, all is wonderful, and a number of highlights are listed. Kattan comments that Dead albums "sound very weak" compared to the live versions. Casey Jones was a firm audience favorite, probably not just for being a catchy singalong but also for being a 'cocaine song.' (Garcia said, "I always thought it's a pretty good musical picture of what cocaine is like.") In a shift from being an acid band, the Dead are now said to be "driving themselves on coke."
    Though advertised as a "dance marathon," the Manhattan Center shows were actually just regular shows, to the disappointment of those who expected the Dead to play all night ("until you drop"). Kattan says there were "six hours of music," but it was more like four, including the New Riders. These shows were notoriously packed, what with break-ins and extra tickets being sold (Kattan reports 5000 people in a ballroom that held 2000) - the Fillmore East wasn't that much bigger, but Bill Graham was better at keeping the crowds out.

  2. As you so righteously note, think about that comment "About five thousand people occupied the ballroom that had a capacity of 2000." Try being one of those 5,000 deliberately crammed into an overbooked venue at more than double capacity. I was there on one of these nights. You are dead on in remarking they were "notoriously packed"--this was deliberate overselling of the venue imo--this wasn't some "accident"--Howard Stein (with or without knowledge of the band who had their own cash out of a hat methods of payment for services as picked up on by Candace Brightman's sister) did this to make a fast buck--no seats, advertise it as a "dance festival" and sell tickets out of your tuchus. He later apologized in a full page advert in the Voice. Going crazy? we were suffering from heat exhaustion and the people around me were not so accepting and devotional. If G-d forbid there had been a fire we would have been goners like the Triangle Shirtwaist factory or the Ghost Ship disaster. On tape everything is great but being there way to full and we could have ended up dead had an unexpected emergency required evacuation. A ripoff displaying the unfortunate consequences of the intersection between the cash nexus and popular music.

  3. Welcome to the machine! Clank your chains and count your change.

  4. This run was mentioned in a Dead review from Atlanta later that year - the reporter was struck by the frenzied mania of Dead audiences and had heard a report from New York:
    'People absolutely throw themselves into the quintet's music... A New York promoter recently revived dance marathons and imported the Grateful Dead... Said one exhausted girl as she was carted away: "It's their music. Honestly, I mean I couldn't stop moving to that beat."'

  5. May as well leave my mark on this....I was there date unknown. I was "comped" four tickets. The compensation was for my role as a desk clerk in a motel to inform the dealers of police involvement. They had to check in before they asked questions.....likely no probable cause in those days but who knows? I am very sure that the tickets stated that it was the "first annual" Grateful Dead dance marathon. Of course, it was first and last. The mixed fragrances of Petuli and pot filled the airways of the ballroom and you really never had to light up your own bud. Who knows what time it ended..........who cared? Great times.........miss them.