May 22, 2020

April 3, 1970: Fieldhouse, University of Cincinnati, OH


Last Friday The Grateful Dead presented a concert at the University of Cincinnati, and I doubt whether the Fieldhouse will ever be the same. The good feelings that hung in the air, the aroma of little cigarettes (I wonder what they could have been?), the vibrancy of the music, must certainly have caused a change in the molecular structure of the place.
The concert brought together various groups that helped to make the evening a good one. The Hog Farm was there, handling the technical aspects. One of the best things about the show was a spectacular and genuinely mind-opening light show, certainly the best I've ever seen. It used film, design and light to great advantage.
The story of the evening, however, was music. The first group to appear was the Lemon Pipers, a solid local band that did some blues-influenced rock. Good instrumentalists (except for the drummer who was monotonously heavy and not up to some of the tempos), the group started strongly and then got bogged down in some slow things that made their set run out of gas rather quickly.
The second group was Devil's Kitchen from Illinois. Ironically, they weren't very good instrumentally, and their singer is woefully bad, but they have a very fast drummer that kicks them into sounding like a pretty good band.
I should point out, however, that everyone knew that the bands were there just to warm-up the audience for the Dead. As such, they did their job well and were politely received by the happy audience.
After Devil's Kitchen left, there were the usual open-mike ramblings and then someone put on some Santana tapes. People wandered around, shaking to "Jingo," and then, "From San Francisco, here they are, the Grateful Dead!"
There they were, the two drummers, Pig Pen, Jerry Garcia, the works! There is no doubt about it, The Grateful Dead are one of the finest rock bands around. They played one of the longest and most exciting sets of rock I've ever heard. Some of the highlights: a long and friendly acoustic segment with a good version of "Wake Up Little Suzy," a crowd pleasing version of Bobby Bland's "Turn On Your Love Light" featuring a great solo by Garcia on guitar and a good shouting vocal by Pig Pen, a chugging version of "Good Loving" that led to interpolations of other tunes and a tremendous drum duet (along with the usual brilliance of Garcia). It is hard for me to single out other great moments, for the band's greatness lies in its ability to flow from song to song, from improvisation to improvisation, from shieking loud ensembles to controlled soft solos. Most importantly (and perhaps this is why they're so good) the guys in the band listen to one another, so that the total sound of the band is what grabs the listener. 

(from the Independent Eye, April 9-23, 1970) 

Thanks to Mark Neeley. 

See also these reviews:



  1. The Independent Eye was a radical underground newspaper in Cincinnati, focusing mostly on political & activist news. But among their music coverage was this fine review of the Dead's show. Like the other newspaper reviews, the Dead are glowingly praised as a great rock band (the opening bands, not so much), and the whole environment of the show is lovingly recalled.
    In fact, all the reviewers were struck by the pleasant atmosphere and social gatherings in the Fieldhouse - apparently this was a huge change from the normal concert environment there. The Dead alone weren't responsible: the other reviews note that for this show, the seats were taken out of the Fieldhouse leaving the floor open, making it more conducive to dancing, "good feelings," and a "happy audience."
    The promoter was supposedly Jim Tarbell (though his name isn't in the ads or reviews) - evidently he knew what he was doing. I'm not certain of his involvement with this show, though; it was part of the UC Spring Arts Festival, and was arranged by the university's Pop Concert Committee.
    Ken Kesey was there as well (and prominently listed in the ads), although no reviews mention him or the Pranksters doing anything onstage; perhaps they were hanging out with friends in the Hog Farm.
    It is a little ironic that Santana tapes were being played before the Dead came on! His first album was already a bigger hit than the Dead would ever achieve.

  2. I do not believe that Tarbell was the official the promoter for this show, though he likely had a hand in it due to his connections. He had booked the Dead's first trip to Cincinnati (the infamous Hyde Park Teen Center show in '68). He then owned & operated a legendary venue in Cincinnati called the Ludlow Garage, directly modeled after a trip to San Francisco and making connections with sound engineers and staff at such venues like the Fillmore.

    Though this isn't officially confirmed, I believe the show was organized by a couple named Bernd and Barb Baierschmidt. They ran a counterculture bookstore in downtown Cincinnati. True music tastemakers, the basement of the store featured the rarest LPs of any store in town, including plenty of British imports (rare at the time). A long story, but Bernd actually helped put out an Velvet Underground bootleg LP. Anecdotally, customers had referred to them as their "Dead mentors". Tickets for this show were available at their bookstore (confirmed on one of the gig posters).

    The previous UC "Spring Arts Festivals" featured concerts as eclectic as The Fugs, the Charles Lloyd Quartet, and Son House. The Dead show, while technically a part of that festival, was treated much more as a big standalone show despite the school connection, and was obviously heavily promoted. Not many people actually attended that previous '68 show, so in many ways this was practically a new Cincinnati debut.

    Ken Babbs has a local connection. He graduated from Miami University (40 minutes from Cinci). As recently as 2011, he had returned to the area to screen the "Magic Trip" documentary. One commenter in a local group claims that the Pranksters played the surf track "Pipeline" at the show.

    The Lemon Pipers were a bit of an odd fit as an opener, but local and beloved here. They had a no. 1 single (Green Tambourine) that carried them to a brief stint of cross-country tours and even national TV appearances. They were a great rock band, though constantly battled for creative freedom with their label (Buddah) who wanted to manufacture a "bubblegum pop" sound like labelmates Ohio Express and 1910 Fruitgum Co. This indifference led to a quick demise for the Pipers. Their first record shows their envisioned sound, even including an 11-minute closing jam.

  3. Glad to be able to contribute. If anyone is interested, I spearheaded a project to get the entire "Independent Eye" digitized 5 months ago. That is available here: