Dec 3, 2020

December 5, 1971: Felt Forum, NYC

The Grateful Dead were back in N.Y. last week, meaning kids standing at and on seats for more than five hours. Also, typical of Dead concerts, the shows were sold out, four at Felt Forum this time, and the young crowd was grooving to the music, rather than causing any serious problems. The four concerts running Dec. 4-7 grossed about $80,000 at a $5.50 top in the 4,700-seat hall. 
Graham, promoting his first N.Y. show since his Fillmore East closed in June, was roundly cheered when he reached the microphone to introduce the New Riders. The group, whose first LP is out on Columbia, were heavier than previously and sounded more like the Dead. Country sounds, a trademark of the unit, were virtually absent except for Buddy Cage on guitar replacing the Dead's Jerry Garcia. 
Garcia was very much in evidence at lead guitar with the Dead, who added a member, Keith Godchaux, at grand piano, which was not heard often because of weak miking. Lights, sometimes flashing, spelled out "Grateful Dead" above the stage. Dancehall mirror globes intermittently reflected spotlights.
(by Kirb., from Variety, 15 December 1971) 

* * * 
NEW YORK -- The Grateful Dead recently made New York radio history as their December 5th Felt Forum concert was stereo simulcast over WNEW-FM radio. While the evening with the Dead recalled the live broadcast of the Fillmore East's closing night, this marked the first time in New York that an individual rock group was honored with an entire evening of prime radio time devoted to its live music. Under the auspices of WNEW Program Director Scott Muni and Music Director Mike Klemfner, the Warner Bros. recording artists played for a listening audience that Muni estimated to be close to 5,000,000 from 8 p.m. until 2:30 a.m. 
In an effort to accommodate their legions of loyal fans, the Dead, who recently received a gold record for the two record "Grateful Dead" album, have been working closely with radio stations across the country so that their sell-out concerts can be heard by anyone with an FM radio. And to insure the high quality that is associated with the Grateful Dead, the band has been traveling with their regular engineer Bob Matthews, who has been supervising all the radio broadcasts. 
The Dead's stereo tour has encompassed three phases. Phase One saw the group broadcasting throughout the Midwest, with concerts in Minneapolis, Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, and Cincinnati, simulcast in stereo. Phase Two covered the Southwest with stereo transmissions from Dead concerts in Albuquerque, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. The New York WNEW-FM concert was the second one during Phase Three of the Dead's new concept of radio promotion, with the first show in the series broadcast in Boston over WBCN. 

(from Record World, ? December 1971)
* * * 
Last Sunday night, WNEW-FM broadcasted the Grateful Dead concert live from the Felt Forum. The broadcasting of live concerts is a rare occurrence for New York radio stations, probably due to the fact it's such a good idea. As Bill Graham said Sunday night, from the Forum, live concerts satisfy all. The Dead can play to a small audience (that is if you call 5,000 people small), and yet everyone else can hear them at home. 
The people who handled the technical end of the event did an excellent job. Only Scott Muni, WNEW disc jockey covering the concert, ruined things with his AM-radio voice. Listening with headphones was fantastic. Sound-wise, I could almost believe I was there. At home though, you lose all the electricity in the air that exists between the group's playing and the audience's reaction. 
Listening at home has its advantages, the refrigerator and bathroom being so accessible. I certainly took the Dead's suggestion to get something to eat while they tuned up for the next song. 
I saw them Tuesday night at the Forum, the last of a four-night stand. [Dec.7] They were incredible. Then again, I am extremely biased, since I don't think the Dead could ever play a bad song. 
Though their new album leaves something to be desired, they sang from it both nights - "Me and My Uncle," "Playing in the Band," "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad," and "Not Fade Away." Luckily they played them with the long breaks in which you forget exactly what it was they'd started out playing in the beginning. Pig Pen seemed in much better form Tuesday night than Sunday. "Big Boss Man" had the real tough and gritty Pig Pen spirit. As a matter of fact, in the second half of the concert, the Dead played a lot of good loving music. They also did a beautiful job with "Brokedown Palace," singing it soft and sweet. 
It's a shame that they held the concert in the Felt Forum. Due to union laws it's always a problem when a group wants to play longer and can't. At about 1:30 a.m. the Dead went off, but came back to play "Saturday Night." 
Somehow the Forum looks too new to be comfortable. I guess they need some more Dead concerts to break in the seats.

(by Anne Mendlowitz, from the Observation Post (CCNY student paper), 10 December 1971) 

* * * 

The Grateful Dead, who practically invented the free rock concert, played for perhaps their largest audience at their last sell-out concert in New York. And it didn't cost the audience a cent. 
The Dead were at Madison Square Garden's Felt Forum for a four-night stand, and it didn't take long to sell every seat in the 5,000-seat hall. So the Dead, Warner Brothers, and the Garden management agreed to permit a live broadcast on the final night of the festivities. 
With the rock audience expanding rapidly and the facilities for rock concerts growing ever more impersonal, the live radio concert is about to reach the popularity it once had, back in the 30s when big bands were sending it out to you live and direct from high atop the Squeedunk Hotel. 
For artists like the Dead, this type of radio show is ideally suited. It exposes them to a much larger group of potential record buyers. The radio audience hears them at their best, with the feedback of the concert-hall crowd egging them ever onward on their fantastic musical journeys. And the excitement stimulated the sit-at-homes to be present the next time the band is in town. 
But in many ways, I'd prefer the comfort of my living room. I saw the Dead lay down a fantastic set at the Forum, and I saw them from the best seats in the house - front row center. The following evening, WNEW stereo was sending it right into my home, and there was a lot more room for dancing and fewer rent-a-cops. Didn't see a one. There was also no New York fire commissioner telling the people around me to stay out of the aisles. There was no one ripping off my seat. And no one claiming I was ripping off his seat. And, admittedly, a lot less excitement of an extra-musical nature, like suicidal stage-rushers and 14-year-olds who think the way to listen to the Dead is to be zonked out. 
Listening at home through a good stereo set usually offers finer sound quality than a top concert-hall seat, especially with an amplified rock band. The speakers, generally set up at the wings of the stage and aimed straight back, are geared to send that sound soaring up to the rear balconies, so the sound level is naturally much, much higher up front. So with the speakers on the wings, the concertgoer with a top seat front and center in the orchestra is really in a hole between two sound sources. Middle-distance orchestra is best. Naturally, on the radio, it's all balanced by the time it's broadcast if the engineers know what they're doing. 
The Dead's manager, Rock Scully, told the New York audience that live broadcasts have been arranged in several cities on the current tour only if the concerts are sold out, apparently. That at least protects the promoter and the group. 
One protection can't be offered, however. That's the threat of bootleg recordings of the concerts. For example, most music freaks in the New York area now have five hours of magnificent tapes of the Grateful Dead. Most of them will never do more with these tapes than play them for themselves and friends. But be assured that a few ripoff artists were taking those sounds off the air and will be duplicating them in tape or disc versions, without a cent going to the artists or the radio station or the record company that did it as a freebie.

(by Jon Clemens, "Pop Scene" columnist, from the Commonwealth Reporter (Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin), 17 December 1971) 

* * * 

The latest argument for closed circuit musical events is a big corrugated box up in the record library of WNEW-FM. It's filled with hundreds and hundreds of letters, some of them several pages long, all from listeners expressing their ecstasy over WNEW-FM's live six hour broadcast from the Felt Forum last Dec. 5. The event? A concert by the New Riders of the Purple Sage and the Grateful Dead. 
There's one letter from a postmaster, there's one letter from a priest, there's one letter on WPLJ stationery and another under the letterhead of WCBS-FM. They come from as far as Bridgeton, N.J. in one direction, and Bridgeport, Conn., in another. There's not one dissent among them, or as WNEW-FM director Scott Muni says, "Not one line that came in asking, 'How come you spent six hours doing that?'" 
In Scott's words, the broadcast was "a magnificent success, a huge, huge plus for the station. That's how good it was. Once anyone listened, they had to stay listening, because the sound was better than any recorded album and a live concert without commercials has to be intriguing." What's even more intriguing now is that Scott estimates that his normal Sunday night listening audience, which he claims to be a million, more than tripled for the live broadcast. 
Of course it had to be The Grateful Dead, those six (they've added a piano player) madmen who are only just discovering how great they are. The Dead used to be a house band for acid freaks. Now their audience has become too big to fit in that house. It's really a vicious circle. The more successful they've become, the mellower they've gotten. The mellower they get, the more successful they become. The Dead seem to be coping with it fine. I wonder how the acid freaks are making out. 
This is not to compare the broadcast from the Felt Forum as an event, mind you, it's something like the Concert for Bangla Desh. But put it up against the live simulcast of the closing of the Fillmore East and you see the difference between gimmickry and significance. The Dead could have filled the main room in the Garden easy as spit; four sold-out nights in the Felt Forum with a capacity of 5000 a night equals 20,000. Probably they could have gone clean with two shows in the Garden. But they wanted the intimacy of a smaller house. Moreover, they wanted that live broadcast. 
"Well, you know," says Jerry Garcia, "we've always been into free concerts and the broadcast was kind of a free concert without any hassles. Ever since Altamont everything has been so sticky when you try to do a free show. With us, the whole trip is to make music available." 
And so this tour for the Dead, as manager Rock Scully explains it, has been in smaller, more comfortable, more pleasurable halls, rather than in larger, more profitable, and acoustically poorer halls. And the Dead have arranged for live broadcasts in each city they've been able to. There was one on KQRS-FM in Minneapolis, another on WGCD-FM in Chicago, another on WABX-FM in Detroit, still another on WNCR-FM in Cleveland and another on WEVN in Cincinnati and a simulcast on WHFM and WNBR-FM in Syracuse. 
The Dead decided on the broadcasts after a bunch of kids were maced by guards on the fourth-floor landing of a fire escape during a concert in Boston. "We got sick and tired of being considered by the hall heat as a security risk to the point where our friends were getting tossed out on their backs," Rock says. Or as Jerry adds, "It's kind of like we never wanted to be bait for a trap where you go to have a good night with The Grateful Dead and end up getting gassed." 
The Felt Forum broadcast wasn't arranged until four days before the concert. It costs $2500 for Madison Square Garden to plug the radio in, another $1500 for the union, and $4000 to buy the time on WNEW-FM. Warner Brothers, the Dead's label, put up $4000 and Clive Davis, who has the New Riders under contract, committed Columbia to the other $4000. 
Over the radio, the mix was superb. With even a chintzy stereo set you felt as if you were on stage, right in the middle of the instruments and able to hear each one. Right in the middle of the instruments and as if the musicians playing them knew you were there. It was an inspired performance. 
The point being that we're not going to have any more Woodstocks for a long time. No one is going to allow a half-million kids to get together in one place in this social climate. Still the need and the desire to be communicants at an event keeps growing stronger (that's one of the reasons why the concert for Bangla Desh album may sell even better than three million; the buyers are willing to accept the feeling of having been there any way they can). In other words, if we're cut off from joining in an event with one another physically, then the only way to do it is electronically. Somebody's going to have to try closed-circuit TV for music.

(by Alfred Aronowitz, from the "Pop Scene" column, New York Post, 21 December 1971) 

* * * 
When the Grateful Dead played a concert at the Felt Forum Dec. 5, they entertained a dancing, cheering crowd of up to 3 million persons, even though the Forum itself only has seating space for 5,000. 
The rest of the audience was tuned into a local radio station, where they heard the entire concert broadcast, live and uninterrupted, from 8 p.m. Sunday to 2 a.m. Monday. 
Live coverage has brought sports events, parades, and even beauty pageants to the American public for years, but in the world of rock music, it is still experimental. The problem of getting concert music to fans plagues some performers, and, for the last three months, the Dead have been seeking a solution in live broadcasting. 
Like most musicians, the Dead prefer small halls to huge stadiums and auditoriums. The smaller spots tend to have better sound and are more personal; artists feel more relaxed and perform better. And the noise and energy of 20,000 screaming, stomping fans, although excellent additions to the heavy beat of some groups, can ruin the softer melodies of the Dead and all but obliterate the intricate musical work of the band's star guitarist, Jerry Garcia. 
But according to John MacIntire, the Dead's road manager, a small hall can cause problems - "like riots." The group's last concert at Boston's Music Hall led to a battle ending in broken heads, overturned police cars, and people hanging from fire escapes they'd climbed to try and break into the theater. After, an appalled Garcia said he was "tired of being the bait," the spark that set off injuries. 
As a result, live radio pickups were arranged for each concert on the tour, and Scott Muni, program director of WNEW-[FM] was approached about doing the broadcast locally from the Forum. 
Muni agreed, but union troubles and the telephone strike kept plans up in the air, but finally, arrangements were completed and the Sunday night concert was selected for airing. "It was a hassle from the beginning," said the station's music director, Mike Klenfner. "But worth it," added Muni. 
The program began with a set by the Dead's country-oriented companion group, the New Riders of the Purple Sage; the Dead then came on for four hours and 15 minutes of music, taking only one 15-minute break. 
The Forum crowd loved it. So, apparently, did the radio audience. The quality of the broadcast, which drew compliments even from rival stations, and the uninterrupted show kept listeners cemented to their sets until it was all over. 
The late arrangements kept the show from being well-publicized, but the concert sold out for all four nights from just one newspaper ad, and word of mouth seemed enough for the radio listeners. 
Two days later, after letters and call were totaled, WNEW estimated the audience at 500,000 - by the next day, the estimate was 3 million. 
For the Dead, at least, broadcasting is successful. Promoter Bill Graham considers radio pickups "a wonderful way" of mixing popular groups with fans. In San Francisco, where Fillmore West concerts were carried for years, live concerts and simulcasting (a TV station carries the picture, stereo FM radio the sound) are familiar ideas. 
It is far from general practice, however, and one problem is the musicians themselves. Small halls and simulcasts are not financially rewarding - a band makes more money at one show in Madison Square Garden than four at the Forum, and, as Graham says, a "majority of groups are more interested in making money" than in acoustics. 
Broadcasts are considered risky by performers who feel the concert gate will be hurt or that tapes made from the broadcasts will deter fans from buying albums (although one listener wrote WNEW to say he was so impressed he went out and bought every Dead album he could find). 
And the cost is frustratingly high. Warner and Columbia Records, who handle the Dead and the Riders respectively, picked up most of the tab for the radio show, with the bands contributing and the station donating the time. The union and phone costs were estimated at $10,000, not counting lost advertising. Multiplied by the number of cities on a tour, it comes to a lot of money for a new promotional idea. 
But the Dead plan to keep giving radio broadcasts and would like to add cable TV simulcasts, and even now tell listeners when to start their tape recorders as they play on, entertaining fans all night. Some people really believe music should be free.

(by Mark Arnold, from the "Night Owl Reporter" column, New York Daily News, 18 December 1971) 
* * *  
And for a wider radio context: 


For more than a year now, major-market radio stations - FM outlets, for the most part - have put their records back on the shelf for several hours every few months to broadcast live music from clubs, concert halls, and recording studios. The practice has grown, to the delight of audiences who appreciate the opportunity to hear more live music than their pocketbooks or ticket availability will allow. It may have reached a new peak during the holiday season past.
The relatively low cost of producing such live programming - an hour concert will cost about $800 or $900 (excluding talent fees, which are rarely a consideration) - has attracted many record companies to sponsor these concerts themselves. And the high audience appeal is drawing others. One such radio concert - by the Grateful Dead Dec. 5 on WNEW-FM New York - was heard by more than three million listeners, according to Scott Muni, WNEW's program director.
Techniques for financing and production of the concerts vary. Record companies may approach radio stations with a package in order to gain exposure for new acts. Buddah Records has tried this approach with Exuma and Buzzy Linhart, for example; it contracted WKTK-FM Baltimore to broadcast a concert from the Baltimore Civic Center on Jan. 22.
In other instances, radio stations have negotiated with artists only and produced concerts in recording studios with small invited audiences. Sometimes the record company is offered some or all of the sponsorship of these concerts after the arrangements for studio time and telephone lines are completed and paid for by the station. In the case of the WMMR-FM Philadelphia concert featuring Brewer and Shipley on Dec. 14, Buddah had only to pick up the tab for the artists' time and expenses. On the other hand, when WPLJ-FM New York broadcast a live concert from the A&R recording studio in New York, the 7-Up Co. sponsored all of it.
The Grateful Dead is one of those groups that can sell out concert halls with alarming speed. But the Dead object to playing the larger halls needed to accommodate their growing audience; the loss in intimacy and inferior - to their ears - sound systems do not suit them, according to John McIntire of the Dead management. On their last tour, in an attempt to bring their music to a larger audience, the group asked stations to carry their concert in each of the markets they played during the tour.
During a 10-week period, ending on New Year's Eve, the Grateful Dead played 15 live radio concerts across the country. In each market, the costs were shared jointly by Warner Bros. Records (the Dead's recording company), Columbia Records (the recording company for the New Riders of the Purple Sage, who travel with the Dead), and the Dead themselves.
WNEW-FM had two special holiday broadcasts, a presentation of Leonard Bernstein's "Mass," and a taped concert of Led Zeppelin, obtained from the BBC. WNEW has contracted with the BBC for a series of concerts in 1972, including the Faces with Rod Stewart, the Rolling Stones, and the Who.
Other holiday live concerts included two by WBCN-FM Boston with Livingston Taylor and Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen; KDAY-AM Santa Monica, Calif., with Cheech and Chong and Helen Reddy; WLIR-FM Garden City, N.Y., with Buzzy Linhart and McKendrie Spring; and KSAN-FM San Francisco broadcast a Christmas party with Boz Scaggs as well as the New Year's Eve Grateful Dead concert.

(from Broadcasting magazine, 10 January 1972) 
See also: 

For Jon McIntire's response to "the threat of bootlegs," see: 


  1. This radio broadcast was a key event in New York's love affair with the Grateful Dead, attracting (supposedly) millions of listeners. New York being the media center it is, it also attracted lots of reporters drawn to the phenomenon of a single rock band taking up an entire evening of radio time.
    As the Baltimore Sun put it, "The Grateful Dead recently scored a first when a live broadcast over WNEW-FM in New York went on for 6 1/2 hours. It's believed that the length of the broadcast is surpassed only by coverage of presidential elections and manned moon landings."
    The Dead were happy to sacrifice money in order to play more comfortable theaters, with larger audiences listening at home rather than trying to break in. Warners was also willing to cough up for the broadcasting expenses in exchange for unrivaled radio promotion. (Columbia shared half the costs of the broadcast, a sign not only of their interest in the New Riders but in their hopes of eventually signing the Dead too.)

    I'm sure there were even more articles on the broadcast than I've collected here, but this is quite a handful. Almost none of them are show reviews per se (except for the college newspaper, naturally, which raves about the "incredible," too-short show on Dec 7). But it's telling that some of these reporters were Dead fans - they mention listening to the broadcast AND going to one of the other shows as well. So the broadcast hardly stifled ticket sales for these sold-out shows.
    One common theme is the excellent sound quality of the broadcast (supervised by Bob Matthews). Several reporters say that the music sounded even better at home than in the hall, putting you right on stage - you miss (or avoid) the crowd excitement and "zonked-out 14-year-olds," but get to listen to pristine album-quality stereo from the comfort of your couch. (While in the Forum, it's said, the piano "was not heard often.")

    Warners believed that radio listeners might rush out and buy Dead albums, justifying the promotional expense - this seems to have actually been the case, since the new live album quickly went gold. Jon McIntire believed that people taping the show for themselves wouldn't have to go looking for bootlegs, so the broadcasts were one way of fighting the boots. This backfired though: not only was the 12/5/71 broadcast immediately bootlegged (and people did buy it), plenty of listeners were discovering that they wanted to hear more than one Dead show.

  2. The broadcast was six hours, but the intermissions must have been somewhat longer than reported. The New Riders played a 90-minute set, and the Dead (on tape anyway) played around 3-1/2 hours of music...not quite the 4 to 5 hours they're said to have played. With all the circulating tapes edited, I'm not sure how the broadcasters filled in the break times to keep listeners glued to their radios. (One reporter complains about Scott Muni's "AM-radio voice.")

    The Dead's inspiration for the broadcasts is said to be police violence at the Boston Music Hall: "broken heads, overturned police cars, and people hanging from fire escapes" (by McIntire's report). This would seem to be the Boston shows in April '71...however, this is the kind of stuff newspapers live for, and I haven't seen any report of it at those shows. It was actually the Boston University show on 11/21/70 where the violence occurred. So the Dead had been mulling for some time how to avoid crowd problems while staying out of large arenas. As Garcia put it, "We don't want to be bait for a trap where you go to have a good night with the Grateful Dead and end up getting gassed."

    They'd try this approach again in June 1976, playing smaller theaters and arranging radio broadcasts, but this wasn't a tactic they could repeat very often. The pull to larger venues was irresistible. Ironically, their first show at Madison Square Garden show would be scheduled for 11/30/78 - just a week after a nationwide radio broadcast from nearby Passaic, NJ, which was also aired on WNEW. (The MSG shows were rescheduled, for other reasons.)

    One striking thing here is the newness of the idea of live rock broadcasts. One reporter notes how common live broadcasts were back in the '30s, in the big-band days; another observes that San Francisco had been an innovator in rock broadcasts; and the last article covers how the practice is spreading across various bands and stations. Nonetheless, the whole experience of listening to a rock show at home is treated as something novel and newsworthy, with some surprise that this wasn't commonplace already. (Some of the financial difficulties that kept it from becoming common are also outlined, since other bands worried about losing money from broadcasts.)
    The ability to hear an unreleased concert on tape or record was just starting to spread, and some writers were concerned about bootlegs (while acknowledging that most people would just "play tapes for friends"). Rock bootlegs themselves had only started two years earlier, alarming the industry. The notion that people might want to hear multiple shows by a band, or listen repeatedly to one they were at, was still mostly unthought-of. But for Dead fans in particular, the idea of collecting live tapes would grab hold within a few years: if you missed a show in person, you could still hear it. Aronowitz makes the prescient comment that "if we're cut off from joining in an event with one another physically, then the only way to do it is electronically."

  3. So it was a double edged sword then. You said that it backfired cos then the show would be bootlegged but then deadheads would want to hear more than one show but then that wasn't exactly a negative then....?

    1. At the time it may not have dawned on the Dead yet that not all tapers were bootleggers, or even that bootleg sales wouldn't hurt them. But the radio broadcasts achieved some contradictory goals - for the time being, the Dead could satisfy demand more successfully than they had in the chaotic fall '70 tour. If one goal was to win more listeners (and album sales) without extra ticket hassles, the broadcasts were a success. But another of the Dead's hopes was to stay in small theaters, which would become less possible as their popularity grew and 20,000 more people clamored for tickets the next time they came to town.

    2. Weir has some helpful words for the home tapers before Mr. Charlie on 12/5/71:
      "Here's yet another new song that I guess most of you haven't heard - that's a cue for you pirate radio, pirate record recorders out there to get your tape machines spinning 'cause here it comes."
      As on 8/6/71, Weir seems to have been the friendliest in the band toward tapers.
      The comments here outline the Dead's feelings about bootlegs in 1971:
      And for some wider discussion of early Dead bootlegs, see: