Oct 29, 2020

October 17, 1970: Music Hall, Cleveland OH

They've got an organist nicknamed "Pig Pen." 
They played background music for the world's foremost heart surgeon, Dr. Christian Barnard. 
So how can you explain the Grateful Dead? 
No matter, they're alive and kicking and they plan to pump some life into this old town tomorrow night at 8 in Music Hall. 
"And it'll be way out! We've never been here before. That's why we're coming," said their road manager Sam Cutler, calling from San Francisco. 
Out? This San Francisco six-pack has been "in" in the wild West for almost six years. There probably has never been a band like them before and probably never will be. 
They are more of a performing band than a recording band, even though they have five albums. They haven't had million-selling singles. Followers translate it like this: "They've never sold out." 
San Franciscans are said to love them. The Grateful Dead may have given more free concerts than any other band in the history of the world. 
This is the group that lived and loved and played their hearts out in the Haight-Ashbury area before flower power. Then boomed and bloomed along with it. 
"They were a part of the whole thing. They were right there before it started," said Cutler. 
Yea, you've guessed it. We couldn't raise any of the Dead. But no matter. Cutler is listed as "Executive Nanny" on the group's Warner Bros. "Workingman's Dead" album. And he's better than a canned release, right? 
"The Grateful Dead have always played music. Not this rock 'n roll teeny stuff, they're real musicians," added Cutler. 
Surprisingly, the Dead's bag hasn't been exactly acid rock. More straightforward blues. They record for Warner Bros. But then how can you label them? 
"The Grateful Dead will be performing by themselves as it is very difficult for any other group to play on the same show," reads the prose from Belkin Productions. Fair enough. 
Any other group would be deadlocked. The Dead have been known to go on for five or six hours. 
"One time at Fillmore East they played 10 hours. Yea, they had to send out for sandwiches. But mostly they [play] about three hours," said Cutler. 
Two weekends ago at San Francisco's Winterland they sold out to 9,000. It was a benefit concert with the Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service. WIXY co-sponsors tomorrow's concert. 
So who are these Dead-beats, if you will excuse the pun. 
The lively lineup: Jerry Garcia, lead guitar and vocals; Bob Weir, rhythm guitar and vocals; Phil Lesh, bass and vocals; Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, drums; and Pig Pen, (Ron McKernan), organ and vocals. 
They're mostly in their late 20's. 
Garcia is the funky-looking one with the black curly hair and beard. A real TV nut. He has done session work on Airplane and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young LP's. 
"He plays guitar all the time. I've even seen him playing at breakfast," said Cutler. 
Weir at one time had the weirdest hairdo in show biz, sort of like overgrown Shredded Wheat, but that's a hard record to keep with all the young talent coming up. Weird is the youngest. He joined at 16. 
"Phil Lesh is the oldest in the group, although I don't think he'd appreciate you mentioning that," thought Cutler. "Lesh took classical violin, I think." 
Mickey Hart is the latest addition. 
"And is his drumming far out. He's played with Hendrix and Basie. And done a lot of studio stuff," said Cutler. The other drummer, Kreutzmann, is more of a swinging type. He has played with the Airplane and Crosby, Stills. 
And that brings us up to "Pig Pen," Yes, you'd have to say that he dresses like an unmade sleeping bag on Skid Row. Is he the leader? 
"No way! He's the least vocal in every sense, the most shy. He used to be a blues guitarist in a jug band with Garcia once," said Cutler. Former Dead men Bill Sommers and Tom Constanten left for other fields. 
The Grateful Dead, friends on and off stage, live within 10 miles of each other in Marin County. They've known each other about 10 years. Three - Hart, Kreutzmann, and Weir - have ranches. Weir's is called "The Rukky Rukky Stud Ranch." 
Garcia lives in a house with Bob Hunter, often called the seventh Grateful Dead. Garcia and Hunter write the material. 
The group's music was used as background on Dr. Barnard's record of a heart transplant explanation. 
Of course with a name like the Grateful Dead there's bound to be some lively confusion. We've already had two phone calls from middle-agers asking if it was some kind of offbeat religious experience. 
Maybe they're right, in a way. 

(by Jane Scott, from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, 16 October 1970) 
Thanks to Dave Davis. 

* * * 

One expected ancient lorgnette-bearing dowagers swathed in mink to sail in on the arms of gentlemen in full evening attire. That is the mood that Music Hall evokes with its ruby plush seats and gilded decor. It was an odd place for Cleveland's first get-together with the notorious Grateful Dead, San Francisco's legendary underground group, who have tried to stay underground, despite minor success. The group was involved with Ken Kesey and his acid tests, they were the first band to live communally, and they are one of the few groups who have survived this long - over five years. 
I must admit I am not a 'Grateful Dead freak,' a particular sort of human being whom, it is said, and I agree, is the only person who can fully appreciate this group, a group that plays for a particular sort of community and not for everyone. My only attempt at meeting minds with them was when I fell in love with the Jefferson Airplane and was wondering if there were anyone else out in San Francisco half so good. There wasn't. My lack of familiarity partly accounts for the fact that I can't mention by name any of the songs they did - you certainly couldn't hear the lyrics. I might feel badly if this were relevant, but it's not. The Dead are not Creedence Clearwater Revival or Blood Sweat and Tears. They are polar opposites of those groups who give you their ten big hits, leave and come back to play their latest hit as an encore. In fact, the Dead are said to have been the first rock group to stretch the limits of the rock song, playing the open-ended pieces that earlier had been heard only in jazz. Of course, this has now become commonplace, and we have heard many "Creams" stifle songs to death by sheer length. I came expecting this to be a strike against the Dead. I'd heard of their long, ambling, pointless playing, the perfect 'acid rock' (if that term means anything at all), noise accessible only to those with outside influence on their brains. 
The Dead surprised me. I had been aware of the changes they've been going through. I've heard "Workingman's Dead," their latest album, with its heavy flavouring of country and rhythm and blues. Their concert smacked heavily of this, with a bit of blues as well, and was far more structured and controlled than I'd expected. Jerry Garcia, leader and often called 'guru,' plays in a style marvelously removed from the little-English-boy-imitating-BB King school. His lines flow less expectedly than that (though there can be beauty in that expectation) and are full of odd rhythms and wide intervals. They bound back and forth while still hanging together perfectly well. 
The voices, including Garcia, second guitarist Bob Weir, 'organist' (and tambourine beater) Ron 'Pigpen' McKernan, and bassist Phil Lesh, are all rough and nasal. The combined effort smacks of Poco, or the Byrds, or Neil Young. Peculiar to the group is its use of two drummers - Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzman. Astonishingly, this really adds something to the group as the two drummers work in counter-points, not in noise competition. Weir's light, smooth guitar work offers Garcia a foil. Lesh's bass lines are rich and enormous, but I'm afraid Pigpen will never be the equal of Marty Balin on tambourine. With all this going on, the group still displays a rather rare clarity, never seeming noisy. 
The first half of the concert, the music half, opened with a bright countryish piece with lyrics about trains and cocaine (yeah, it rhymes!). This was followed by a handful of fairly short songs, going into a brief (!) drum duet full of strange sounds and complex flurrying beats placed over simple rhythms. A rapid pulsing piece full of vital life energy was followed by a nearly traditional blues which sounded somehow startling. Then a very rude country piece (vocals by Pigpen) gave way to a long, twisting, dancing piece that closed that half of the set. One freak was indeed dancing, but he must have had a transistor plugged in his ear. He jerked wildly, alternately stabbing his hands at his armpits and the ceiling. But the balloons floating through the hall seemed sensitive to the rhythms of the music. 
After the intermission, the house lights stayed up and the concert became an 'event,' a community of the sort the Dead are famous for creating. They never went back to their acid background music - the music was secondary to the audience itself, as it packed the aisles, clapped, wiggled, screamed and even snake-danced (though I think that's a rather forced show of spiritedness). It was hard to hear, see, or even breathe, but for musical purposes the concert was over. The Dead were playing to get people out of themselves. 
It ended most strangely. The Dead set off pink firecrackers and left the stage to a tumultuous ovation and finally, compelled to come back, finished with their LATEST (and only) HIT - 'Uncle John's Band.' It was a surrealistic finish to a wild night.
(by Stacey Pantsios, from the Scene (Cleveland), 22 October 1970)

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  1. The Dead were originally scheduled to play the Allen Theater in Cleveland. The 9/25/70 Plain Dealer announced:
    "The Grateful Dead are not only alive, but coming to Cleveland. They'll shake things up at the Allen Theater on Saturday, Oct. 17, at 8 p.m., report Belkin Productions.
    And this is an "until?" concert? The group doesn't like time limitations, has been known to beat it out for four hours.
    Tickets are $4.50 in advance... They will be $5.50 at the door. WIXY-1260 is co-sponsor."

    Ads also ran for the concert at the Allen. But the 10/2/70 Plain Dealer noted a change:
    "The Grateful Dead's concert has been changed from the Allen Theater to Music Hall on Saturday, Oct. 17."
    The Dead would play at the Allen Theater the following year.

    The first piece here, a 'Dead-are-coming-to-town' preview by Jane Scott, is painfully mainstream and reads like teen-magazine promotional hype. (Though Sam Cutler advises that they don't play "this rock 'n roll teeny stuff, they're real musicians.")
    It's mainly of interest to see Sam Cutler in his role promoting the Dead, calling the local paper in advance and giving some quotes. This reporter had no particular interest in the Dead and betrays no knowledge of their music at all and just a vague notion of their history, but puts together a professional puff-piece.
    A few little tidbits: "Bill Sommers" is taken to be a former member of the Dead who's left. Cutler says that Hart has "played with Hendrix and Basie," which may be true - Hart might have played with Hendrix in a May '68 studio jam, and might have sat in with Count Basie in Europe, pre-Dead. As far as I know the Dead's music did not appear on a Christiaan Barnard album, which is quite a strange rumor.

    The New Riders did not play at this show. The promoters announced, "The Grateful Dead will be performing by themselves as it is very difficult for any other group to play on the same show." Not so difficult for NRPS, but it looks like they didn't join the tour until Oct. 23 (though some people say they played on 10/16).

  2. The Plain Dealer apparently did not review the Dead's show. But the Scene, a Cleveland entertainment weekly, did - an excellent long review.
    This reviewer admits to not being a "Dead freak," didn't like their albums very much, and came to the show not expecting much but "long, ambling, pointless playing." But he got a surprise! The Dead were better than he thought, good players with "structured and controlled" music which had "a rare clarity, never seeming noisy." He's particularly surprised by the drummers - and they actually played short songs! So it seems he enjoyed the "wild night."
    But he says the Dead don't play "for everyone," that they can only be fully appreciated by "a particular community." He's more of an Airplane fan. But he notes the Dead's legendary reputation and says they're "one of the few groups who have survived this long - over five years." (An eternity in 1970 terms, when 1965 already seemed like ancient history. As Sam Cutler put it, "They were right there before it started.")

    He didn't know any songs (except the one 'hit') and couldn't hear the lyrics anyway, so it's interesting to match his descriptions in the first set to the actual songs. More interesting, he calls this "the music half" - the second set he experienced as more of an audience event with the Dead in the background. You'd never think from this review that a quiet Dark Star was played, as the audience goes wild: "It was hard to hear, see, or even breathe, but for musical purposes the concert was over. The Dead were playing to get people out of themselves."
    Another reviewer also noted that the music "got progressively funkier and more exciting as the night progressed. Soon the DEAD was performing purely improvisational material to the deafening applause of the audience. At times the group was drowned out by the screams that their music evoked."
    The show concluded with the usual string of rock & roll tunes, Lovelight ending with "pink firecrackers" and "a tumultuous ovation." One attendee on dead.net remembered the fireworks: "Butane balls of fire rolling across the Music Hall's ceiling and an explosives canister. Pigpen lit it off and caught Hart by surprise...almost knocked him over." (Pigpen also set off fireworks during Lovelight at other shows, it seems to have been a regular routine.)