Jul 2, 2020

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

Derek and the Dominos; Plus the Grateful Dead 
Things should really rock this week as Eric Clapton and Jerry Garcia roll into town just two days apart. 
Clapton's new group, Derek and the Dominos, will move into Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University on Wednesday evening, while Garcia's old, reliable Grateful Dead make their Washington debut Friday night at Georgetown University's McDonough Gymnasium. 
Clapton and Garcia have never appeared in Washington before (either alone or with any group), and these two concerts should not only provide good music for many of their old fans but may also introduce a lot of old people to the joys of good old rock 'n' roll. 
If someone asked me to name a band that would typify the real essence of rock, I'd immediately suggest the Dead. But to think that Derek and the Dominos will also be in easy earshot - well, that's almost too good to believe. [ . . . ] 
It's probably fair to say that people in rock audiences, for the most part, have rather limited musical backgrounds and will, quite regularly, cheer for whatever they are manipulated into cheering for. Audiences often approve ecstatically anything an artist does (and that's not true only of rock), regardless of how bad it may be. The result is that real musicians often may not enjoy playing. 
Imagine yourself performing what you consider an evening of music that never quite got together. You're not satisfied with your playing, you finish your set and walk off stage convinced that you really didn't have it that evening. But the 10,000 people in the audience are wildly screaming, "More!" It would be rather unnerving. [ . . . ] 
The Grateful Dead music consists basically of two guitars (one of which is played by Jerry Garcia), a bass player who switched over from classical violin, two drummers, and a fellow named Pig-Pen who also plays organ and harmonica and sings. A lot of their music takes off from basic blues patterns, but where it goes is impossible to say. 
The Dead were heavily involved in the depths of the San Francisco love-rock-drug scene. They played at the great and now historical dances at the Family Dog and the Avalon Ballroom. Although their roots are somewhat precarious, they now make mellow, mellow music. They'll start off with a basically acoustical set, work into country-western material, and finally build into some very loud yet amazingly soothing rock music. 
Perhaps two warnings might be a fitting way to close. The Dead concert is part of Georgetown's homecoming weekend. To those who go expecting a homecoming dance, it just ain't gonna be that way. And to those who expect the usual 90-minute concert, please be informed that I have never seen the Dead play for less than five hours.
(by Tom Zito, from the Washington Post, 18 October 1970) 


More than 7,000 people crowded into McDonough Gymnasium at Georgetown University last night as the Grateful Dead, a rock band from San Francisco, made their Washington debut.
The crowd was the largest ever assembled in the gymnasium for any event.
The audience trickled slowly through the two single-door entrances and by 8:15 p.m., 15 minutes before the concert was scheduled to begin, almost 3,000 persons were still queued up at the gate.
As the concert began, a few ticket holders complained that they had been refused entry. But within 20 minutes all entrances to the gym were thrown open and people were admitted whether or not they had tickets.
The evening's performance was part of Georgetown's homecoming weekend, but the scene around the campus was quite different from that of previous homecomings.
Long-haired, blue-jeaned, maxi-dressed rock fans trecked across the campus and less than 30 per cent of the audience consisted of Georgetown students.
Because of the heat level generated within the gym by the immense crowd, people doffed shirts and wandered in and out. Speakers were set up outside the building and about 2,000 listeners took advantage of them.
The concert began at 8:45 p.m. with the New Riders of the Purple Sage, an offshoot group of The Dead. Perhaps because of crowded conditions in the gym and also because of amplification difficulties, the crowd remained largely lethargic and the band never quite got together.
It was only with their last number, a countrified version of the Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Woman," that the crowd rose to its feet.
After a delay of about one hour the Grateful Dead finally emerged from the wings of the stage. As Jerry Garcia's guitar wailed out the opening notes of "Casey Jones," the entire gymnasium began to sway in rhythm to the music.

(by Tom Zito, from the Washington Post, 24 October 1970)

* * *


The long-awaited Grateful Dead concert took place Friday night at Georgetown University. It took years to get the Dead to Washington, but it was well worth it.
The promoters promised a long concert, and that it was. However, considering the fact that after the first set the group supposedly went back to their hotel for a spell, the time wasn't all that music-filled.
There are a few more things to quibble about, but before that it should be said that the group was marvelous - from their set of country songs to their superb electric songs (not so much the songs as what the band does with undiscovered melodic paths once they're into a tune).
I'd only heard their remarkable, jazzlike improvisation really get off on their recent in-person album, "Live Dead," although I'd heard about it for a long time. It also reminded by of something Chuck Berry once told an audience here that was wowed by his guitar playing: "It's only mathematics, children."
Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir for example: Weir's guitar style is much more linear in conception, and when he trades off a solo to Garcia, something different happens. Garcia looks over a musical phrase, appraises it for variations involving the basic ingredients of a phrase, rather than using the prase as a road-like base to run on.
One of Garcia's favorite approaches to this is to simply accent different parts of a phrase; permutations, if you will. The results are always intriguing, and often approach the magic quality of what music can tell the soul.
The Grateful Dead group has never been "successful" in a commercial way. As their manager, Rock Scully, once said, "We won't do what the system says, make single hits, take big gigs, do the success number." That was last year, and the Dead was $50,000 in debt. A good band, a legendary one, in debt.
But in the past year, the public finally caught up with the music, and the Dead finally had albums that hit the LP charts. Especially their recent "Workingman's Dead," which demonstrated they could also play in a traditional way - tight vocal harmonies and precise country-western instrumental backgrounds. They even have songs that East coast people can recognize within the first few bars. "Uncle John's Band" made it to AM radio.
Now, for the first time since the mid-sixties, the Grateful Dead have become popular outside their own turf on the West Coast.
About the small gripes I mentioned earlier. Well, the big one was the temperature inside the auditorium. With nearly five thousand persons crammed in the place (there was no, repeat, no room anywhere) the temperature went up to around 100 degrees. It was so hot there was a cloud in the gym. Really. But it was worth perspiring a bit, believe me.

(by William Holland, from the Sunday Star, Washington DC, 25 October 1970)

Thanks to Ron Fritts.


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  1. Music researcher Ron Fritts found a couple more reviews of this show, one of the most-covered shows so far on this site with five reviews!
    The other reports were from student newspapers, but these are from the mainstream DC press (the Post and the Star). They are less detailed - not naming songs the Dead played or more than two bandmembers, for instance - but still interesting.
    Both reviews mention the crowded gym, the heat, the hour-long break between sets (in which the band "supposedly went back to their hotel"). The Post notes that, despite the concert being a campus event, only a fraction of the audience were students, and the venue was too small for the thousands who came to listen. (An earlier planned Dead show in Washington DC had fallen through, and they wouldn't return for two years, playing American University the next time.)

    Tom Zito had covered the Dead before, writing about their Fillmore East shows that July, and he was a fan. Oddly, his review cuts off just as the Dead's show starts - perhaps the editors didn't give him much space or he just had to leave early. (Both reviews seem to end abruptly.) But he gives a good description of the scene up to that point.
    (One picture of Garcia is captioned "the head Dead.")
    Holland doesn't set the scene much, but writes entirely about the Dead. He was less familiar with the band - he hadn't seen them before and doesn't seem aware that the New Riders were a separate group. But he's impressed, and particularly struck by their "remarkable jazzlike improvisations" (which were kept short at this show), and he even describes Garcia's "magic" guitar style at length. He was a careful listener - it's a rare reporter in any year who would distinguish between the styles of Weir & Garcia.

  2. I added another article from the Washington Post announcing the show. Zito had recently seen a few Dead shows at the Fillmore East ("never less than five hours," he says), and he tries describing the course of a typical show. The Dead didn't play an acoustic set in Washington, but NRPS still delivered the country-western set.

    I omitted a few paragraphs on Eric Clapton's recent history, describing him as one of the great blues guitarists fleeing the spotlight of superstardom and trying to escape Cream's shadow by playing with less-hyped bands. (Zito also slips in a complaint about undiscerning rock audiences as well.) Since there was no Derek & the Dominos album out yet, Zito didn't know what kind of material the band might play, but heard it might be "a mixture of R&B and old rock 'n' roll." They aren't directly compared, but it's notable that Garcia & Clapton are implicitly paired as guitarists who've gained rock-hero recognition outside of their respective bands.