Apr 15, 2021

April 15, 1971: Allegheny College, Meadville, PA

Grateful Dead is more than just a rock group. To say the least, it's a social phenomenon, and for many, a way of life. The Dead held a leading role in the development of the Haight-Ashbury freak district in San Francisco, and originated the San Francisco sound which has come to be called Acid Rock. In this, they led the way for other West Coast acid bands, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Country Joe and the Fish, to name a few. Jefferson Airplane was the group most directly influenced by the Dead, and on many of their albums, the Airplane claims Jerry Garcia (lead guitarist and leader of the Dead) as their musical and spiritual advisor. 
The Dead brought many new innovations to the stilted rock world (at that time entirely dominated by the Beatles and Top 40 radio), which have now come to be almost social institutions among the drug culture. It was the Dead and Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters who originated light shows and mixed media (sight and sound) concerts, and today the term "rock and roll" goes hand and hand with strobe lights, oildrop projectors, and weird subconsciousness movies. All these effects can be traced back to the Dead and the acid tests. Everyone, sometime, should see the Dead or the Airplane in concert with the Joshua Light Show. It must be seen to be believed. 
Another concept attributed to the Dead and the Frisco bands is the free concert. These were originally concerts put on in Golden Gate Park by the Dead, the Airplane, Quicksilver, and Big Brother, where the Haight-Ashbury freak population came together to drop (before LSD was declared a dangerous drug and made illegal) and to make love. This custom was greatly exploited and termed various names, among these, Love-In, Grope-In, Freak Out, etc. In spite of this (and their popularity) the Dead still does a great many free concerts, and unlike most other bands who have made good, haven't sold out to the dollar sign. 
The term "hippie" was first coined to describe the acid bands and the Haight-Ashbury community, and in many respects, the Dead are responsible for many aspects of the freak culture. Communal living, although by no matter of means a new idea, was made popular in our time by these San Francisco society drop-outs. The present freak appearance, beads, bells, headbands, shoulder length hair, and sandals, was developed in the early days of the Haight-Ashbury scene. The use of hallucinogenic drugs (specifically marijuana and LSD) was also brought out into the open in our time by the early Frisco freaks. Jerry Garcia and Ken Kesey were doing acid back in 1959, long before Timothy Leary ever stuck his foot in it. We should all be familiar with the stories of the early days of Haight-Ashbury, when the Dead and the other local bands would play during the week at the Fillmore, the Avalon, or the Carousel, and then do free concerts on the weekends, with an occasional acid test or small outdoor festival thrown in. The acid tests were marked by free, all-night music, bizarre light shows, and electric beverages (liquids containing vast quantities of acid), and naturally enough, the Dead was the official band for the acid tests, conceived and put on by Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. (If you are interested in this and haven't read it, you should read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe.) The acid tests had a great influence over a later social phenomenon, the rock festival. 
Those of us who subscribe to the freak image owe a vote of thanks to the Grateful Dead. They were there at the beginning. They helped start it all. Their music says very little politically, and even less spiritually to aid the movement, and they seldom put on airs about the great "rock revolution", but they have had more influence on our society than any other band, except of course for the Beatles, mainly because they gave us an example to follow. In short, we are living a life style that was or- [line missing] the early Haight-Ashbury community. 
On the other hand, we should not overlook their prominence as musicians. It's true when you think of Grateful Dead, you first think of their social influence, but you must also keep in mind the great sphere of influence they have had over rock music. 
To begin, they were the originators of the Acid Rock sound. This form of music is characterized by many allusions to drugs, and also the fact that the musicians usually play while stoned, so the music reflects this feeling. Other bands, some of which I have already mentioned, followed this path to recognition, and for a little while, Acid Rock was even played on commercial radio (the song White Rabbit is a good example of this). 
Also, the Dead started some new trends in the instrumentation of rock and roll. The Dead was the first group to experiment in using two guitars, both playing leads at the same time. Before this, it had mostly been one guitarist doing the solos and the other one just playing chords to back him up. They were also, probably, the first group to use more than one drummer, and so create a type of rhythm section. Besides their two drummers, Micky Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, they also have the infamous Pigpen, who switches off between conga and organ. Many other groups have followed suit, Santana being the most notable. 
As musicians, they are of the highest quality and they are probably the tightest rock band you're likely to hear. In an article in Down Beat, a very reputable (but dull) jazz-oriented magazine, the Grateful Dead was called, "The best fuckin' rock band in this country." In a recent Rolling Stone interview, David Crosby said of the Dead's bass player, Phil Lesh, "Phil Lesh is probably the best string musician of our generation", although many critics feel he ranks second to Jack Cassidy. And even in Time magazine, in an article published in the summer of 1967, it was said that Jerry Garcia and Jorma Kaukonen were the two best guitarists in all of rock. 
Probably the biggest change brought about by the Dead and the other Acid Rock bands, was that they took the best of rock music off of Top 40 radio, and put it on the Underground, to use the newspeak of the day. This was their most meaningful contribution. 
The Dead did a concert in Cleveland last Saturday at Public Hall. Unfortunately, this reporter arrived too late to get tickets, as they had sold out two hours earlier, and therefore could only get as close as the lobby to listen until I (along with a number of other so-called "gate crashers") was ejected by the police into the cold night air. All I can do is to pass on reports of the people who were inside. All said the concert was fantastic, incredible would be a better word, with the Dead playing alone for 3 1/2 hours and leaving the audience totally hypnotized by the end of the concert.
(by Rich Arthurs, from the Campus (Allegheny College), October 20, 1970) 
* * *  


"One of the biggest problems involved in setting up big name band concerts at Allegheny seems to be that of getting around the unknown factors," reports John Frick, College Union manager. Price changes, contract troubles, and other problems continually present problems to those involved in getting the groups here. 
Most students will remember the survey of band preferences passed out during the first term. Of the six most popular groups on this survey, only Richie Havens and the Steve Miller Band were available, and both on the same night. The Steve Miller Band was chosen and will appear in the David Mead Field House on Friday, February 13. The tickets will be priced at $3.00 for students and $4.00 for non-students. 
There was also a possibility of getting the Grateful Dead to appear this term. It is still possible that they could make it between now and March. The college union has signed a contract with the Dead, and as of now it is in their hands. It is now completely up to the Grateful Dead whether or not they will appear. However, the outlook is doubtful. Twenty-nine other schools are in this same position with the Grateful Dead. 
In the past, our bargaining power was weakened by a lack of an adequate public address system of the type requested by groups such as the Steve Miller Band and the Grateful Dead. This has been cleared up by the purchase of an $1800 system by ASG. 
Any concerts third term depend upon the success of the February 13 concert. If everything goes smoothly with the Steve Miller appearance, there could possibly be a large concert and two smaller ones in the spring. 
One big problem that is always encountered at Allegheny is that there is only seating for 2,000 in the field house. Most of the bigger groups set a minimum fee against 60% of the gate. With a drawing of only 2,000 they can't expect to make any more than the minimum. In order to get 2,000 for the Steve Miller Concert publicity has been set up in Cleveland, Erie, Pittsburgh, and other schools in the newspapers and on the radio. [ . . . ] 

(by Kip Bodi, from the Campus, January 12, 1971)

* * * 

Although plagued by sound system difficulties, the College Union-sponsored Steve Miller Band concert Saturday night was a financial success. 
"Success" means that the Union did not lose as much money on the concert as it had expected. Because of this, two more concerts are currently being planned for the spring, one probably by the Grateful Dead. 
About 1750 people paid $5700 to see the Steve Miller Band. 
According to CU Director Joseph Casale, this is about $700 more than was needed to assure at least one more concert this academic year. Negotiations for the Grateful Dead, one of the early San Francisco rock groups, are almost complete for a concert April 1. 
Although the contract has not yet been signed, the CU has been assured by the Dead's agent that it will be. Unless the Dead concert is a financial disaster, another prominent rock group not yet decided on, will be signed for later in the spring. 
James Dellon, who supervised the sound system for the Miller concert, said that the difficulties were caused by the group's late arrival. "Because they came in late and the audience was already there and we had to get the show on, we had not opportunity for a sound rehearsal," Dellon said. "Microphones were badly placed in relation to amplifiers and we had no chance to check levels and the placement of mikes." 
Dellon said the difficulties could not be attributed to the new equipment - Voice of the Theater speakers and new microphones. [ . . . ] 
Part of the Steve Miller [financial] success may be attributable to increased advertising. Not only was the concert well publicized on campus, but on Pittsburgh and Cleveland radio stations and several local college newspapers as well. [ . . . ]

(by James Cowden, from the Campus, February 16, 1971) 

(A review in the same issue calls the Steve Miller concert "a big disappointment...nothing exceptional." "The set began an hour and a half late as a result of bad weather conditions... The poor quality of the P.A. system was the ruination of the concert...the sound was for the most part lost in the buzzing of the P.A. Some of the technical difficulties were the result of poor planning...mikes had to be scrounged up from all over the campus, some of very dubious quality. But, poor planning aside, the operation of the system was worse than inadequate." Not only that, but "the group simply wasn't tight." 
But an editorial in the Feb. 19 issue hoped for "a new era of better musical groups being brought to campus." It noted that the audience of 1750 was "large by Allegheny standards... Increased advertising, which succeeded for the Miller concert, and an end to sound system difficulties will be essential if Allegheny is to continue to draw sizable numbers of people from Pittsburgh, Erie, Cleveland, and western New York... Living in Meadville isn't easy for many students. The College Union is to be commended for doing a fine job to make life here better.")

* * * 


The upcoming Grateful Dead concert could be the last big concert at Allegheny. 
According to Tom Wells, the new student manager of the College Union, Meadville's Fire Marshall and District Attorney Paul D. Shafer are upset over widespread smoking at the Steve Miller Band Concert February 13. 
There are city and state ordinances prohibiting smoking of any kind at public gatherings. 
"If people aren't cool about the smoking at the Dead concert, the Fire Marshall will shut the concert down, and ban all further shows," Wells said yesterday. 
The Grateful Dead concert is tentatively set for Thursday, April 15. Tickets, at $3 each for students, will go on sale at the beginning of next term. 

(from the Campus, March 2, 1971)

* * *
After much uncertainty, final arrangements have been made for what CU Manager Tom Wells calls "the biggest CU event this term" - the April 15 Grateful Dead concert. 
"There are no problems," Wells said. "We have a confirmed telegram from the Dead and they will definitely be here the 15th. The only way the concert will be shut down is if there is smoking of any kind." 
Wells promised that, unlike last term's Steve Miller concert, the Dead performance will encounter no sound problems, since the group is bringing its own equipment and sound men. 
Wells went to pains to emphasize the importance of an "orderly" audience at the concert, a point also stressed by Meadville District Attorney Shafer (see story on this page). 
"I cannot stress enough the importance of good crowd behavior," Wells said. "If there's any kind of trouble at the Dead concert, it will be the last concert at Allegheny because the Administration will cut off the concert fund. If there are no slip-ups it should really be a good concert because they have signed to play for 3 hours." 
Wells also announced a tentative schedule of other CU activities, including a series of Coffeehouses in the South Lounge of the College Union [ . . . ], a Paul Newman film festival near the end of May, and a film of The Cream's last concert.
Meadville District Attorney Paul D. Shafer would like Allegheny students - and other fans of the Grateful Dead - to keep in mind that a section of the City Fire Code prohibits smoking in gymnasiums. 
And while Shafer emphasizes that the purpose of his warning is to eliminate the danger of a fire hazard at the April 15 Dead concert in the David Mead Field House, he also suggests that a strictly-enforced no-smoking rule will be the easiest way to prevent marijuana smoking. 
The College Union's February 13 Steve Miller Concert was reportedly the scene of widespread "grass" smoking, although some spectators heightened their enjoyment of the music with "treats" not covered by a no-smoking rule - such as various hallucinogens and marijuana-treated "Alice B. Toklas" brownies. 
Shafer said enforcement of the no-smoking rule will be "up to the college." Additional Meadville City Police will be supplied only at the request of the college, the District Attorney said, although he added that it is usual for off-duty police to be requested for such functions. 
Shafer acknowledged that he had heard rumors of marijuana smoking at the Miller concert, but said none had been confirmed since, to his knowledge, no prosecutions were made. 
Not only rumors about the Miller concert but reports of smoking at other events in the Field House, including basketball games, prompted Shafer to ask the college to strictly enforce the no-smoking rule, he said.
Picture caption: The Grateful Dead are set to appear at Allegheny April 15, after much suspense. What college and CU officials hope will not appear at the concert is smoke - from tobacco cigarettes or the other kind. Extra police may enforce the no-smoking rule. 

(from the Campus, April 6, 1971) 

From the April 13 issue: 

THE GRATEFUL DEAD are set to appear here April 15. CU manager Tom Wells says ticket sales at the college have been "great," but that off-campus sales are lagging. Meanwhile, campus security chief Edward Humphrey greeted rumors that a Hell's Angel brigade might accompany the Dead with the dare, "Let them come - we'll be ready for them." Student bouncers for [the] concert - who must pay their own way - got instructions on security last night as well as some Grateful Dead white t-shirts which will identify them to the crowd.

* * *  
Unlike the previous concerts this year, Thursday's Grateful Dead show started on time, with Garcia's country band, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, who soon proved themselves worthy of traveling with the Dead. New Riders worked for the most part within a traditional country and western structure, but this was set apart from most C and W by Garcia's unique style of playing pedal steel guitar. Indeed, Garcia seemed to carry the band; yet the other members were also fine musicians in their own right. Of special interest is the fact that Spencer Dryden, formerly with Jefferson Airplane, played drums for the New Riders. The down-home country feel of the New Riders seemed to come across well to the audience, and a number of people said that they enjoyed the New Riders more than the Dead. 
Then the Dead made a very tasteful entrance with no show of flamboyance such as a dynamic introduction by some celebrity (the custom for popular groups nowadays). The first half of the Dead's act mostly comprised numbers such as "Beat It On Down the Line" and "I Know You Rider", as well as some traditional country tunes like "Mama Tried" and Woody Guthrie's "Going Down the Road (Ain't Gonna Be Treated This Way)", which they tampered with somewhat to fit their style of country rock. The band played strong from the outset of the concert, needing no time whatsoever to get into their music. The audience seemed to be impressed first by the superb musicianship which the Dead displayed and second by their warm easy going stage presence. Jerry Garcia proved himself to be a master over the audience as well as a master of his instrument, and by the end of the first set the audience was on its feet begging for more. 
"A break people, you know, a break." On this typical Garcian thought the lights were turned on and an amazing number of people (and smoke?) was revealed. To move, one had to be nearly as agile as Garcia's fingers over the pedal steel. The results, however, weren't half as gratifying. There wasn't any fresh air or resemblance of space throughout the entire gym complex. Uniforms were everywhere giving an extremely paranoid tinge to an already extremely unpleasant atmosphere. An excellent summation of the mess was the one bathroom available for the masses. It seems that in a four and a half hour period nobody's bladder was supposed to be filled. 
The lights dimmed and people crammed back together to hear the Dead's second set. From here on in, things didn't seem to go right for the Dead or the audience. It can't quite be pinpointed, but things seemed to get a little boring and tiring. Songs seemed formulated. Start with a Garcia or Weir vocal; add a Lesh, Weir and Garcia harmony; now work into a Garcia guitar lick; and finally bring it all together for a smooth ending. Despite this rather tedious pattern, credit should be given to the Dead. Garcia showed amazing mastery of the guitar as did Weir. Phil Lesh proved himself not only as an able composer but also as an agile bass player with a unique style. Finally, Kreutzmann did some exceptionally good drum work. Some of the prominent numbers that were subjected to this paradox of tedious excellence included "Sugar Magnolia," "Truckin!" and "Casey Jones." The last of this group was interesting in its finish, due to Weir's wobbling body snapping rigid and his wailing, "Casey Jones you better watch your speed." Another notable was Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Good" which the Dead managed to put across very well, to end the show. Reaction to the second set ranged from "Boy, if I could only move," to "Garcia is incredible," to "Did we already hear this?" and finally, to Weir's taking a good stiff hit of whiskey! 
Another major disappointment of the concert was that the Dead's second drummer, Mickey Hart, was not with them. This absence tended to limit the group's scope of material, as they didn't do any numbers of "Anthem of the Sun," "AOXOMOXOZ," or "Live Dead." It also detracted from the fullness of the percussion section, which reached its greatest point technically on the aforementioned albums. Although Bill Kreutzmann is probably the finest drummer in rock, he can't alone attain the fullness that the group had previously with two drummers. 
All in all, the concert was very good. Aside from the concert's being a financial success, the two bands combined to turn out about four hours of excellent music, which is sure to go down as the high point of the term. There were disappointments, though. It has been said that Grateful Dead is probably the best rock and roll band in the world, but you can never be sure because no no one has ever really seen them get it off. After Thursday's concert, we began to see some truth to this statement. The Dead has such an unlimited potential that they always seem to let you down, even though they always put on a fantastic show.
(by Rich Arthurs & Tom Kosbob, from the Campus, April 20, 1971) 

(Picture caption, April 16 issue - "Jerry Garcia pumps the pedalsteel for his own group, the Riders of the Purple Stage, switching to lead guitar later in last evening's concert. Garcia maneuvered the Grateful Dead through an astounding spectrum of electric, country and blues.")

1 comment:

  1. Some extensive coverage of the 4/15/71 Allegheny College show from the student newspaper, the Campus. This was one of the stops on the Dead's little April '71 tour of Pennsylvania colleges; through a fluke of scheduling they found themselves in this little 2000-seat gym in Meadville. There were plenty of fans in the area (coming from Erie, Pittsburgh & elsewhere), and the place was packed.

    The first article, from October '70, is a general piece on the Dead. It's full of errors and reads like a school paper, but is an interesting look at how an eastern college student saw the Dead at the time. With a little time and distance, the San Francisco scene had grown to mythic proportions. He makes all kinds of exaggerated claims for the Dead's importance - "they have had more influence on our society than any other band!" He sees the Dead as giving birth to the whole freak culture, and says their "social influence" is even more well-known than their musical innovations. Without them, it seems, we'd all still be in Squaresville.
    He went to the 10/17/70 Cleveland show, but alas, without a ticket couldn't get in. (I get the sense he'd seen them earlier too.)

    The next few pieces concern the scheduling of the Dead's Allegheny show. Their commitment was iffy, with numerous schools competing for the Dead that spring, and for the College Union, booking the Dead was contingent on the success of their Steve Miller show a couple months earlier.
    Fortunately Miller's show sold well, though in other respects it was a disaster - I included some remarks on Miller's PA troubles to show what the Dead avoided by bringing their own sound system. But what aroused the authorities most was the audience smoking at the show, which drew lots of unwelcome attention. The unruly hooligans expected to attend the Dead show were given lots of warnings in advance to be orderly or else ("No Drinks - No Smoking - Please Comply"), and even the "Hell's Angels brigade" thought to accompany the Dead was warned off. The place was filled with cops ready to shut down the show at any sign of smoke, making the atmosphere very unpleasant. (Although, one article remarks, the students got around this rule with "hallucinogenics and brownies").
    At one point the Dead mention, "We were supposed to tell you that the DA is here tonight, and if anybody out there is doing anything illegal, you know what to do." "Just look out!" "He's been here all along." "That means you're busted!" But the show seems to have gone well since I didn't spot any post-show complaints of busts, crowd problems, or canceled concerts.

    At the end, a good review of the show. The New Riders came off well (impressing some listeners more than the Dead), and the Dead are praised not just as musicians but for "their warm easy going stage presence." Memories of the show are unanimous on how friendly the Dead were with the audience in that small venue.
    Several songs mentioned in the review (BIODTL, Rider, Mama Tried) are missing from our incomplete tape. It isn't an entirely positive review, though. Perhaps partly due to the crowded conditions, the show is said to "get a little boring and tiring" as the second set wears on. There's even a complaint of "tedious excellence" I've seen echoed in other '71 reviews, as the new songs fail to excite. (Funny audience reaction: "Did we already hear this?")
    This particular reviewer also missed the old Dead - the '60s repertoire, the double drummers, the acid-rock jams of yore which were barely hinted at in this show. There's a very interesting comment that "no one has ever really seen the Dead get it off," that they have so much unlimited potential that even a seemingly great show can be disappointing. The writer's unable to quite put his finger on what went wrong, though, he just feels unsatisfied...