Apr 8, 2021

November 22, 1970: Middlesex County College, Edison NJ

What a Weekend: "Rhinoceros" and the Grateful Dead 
The "Grateful Dead" and "New Riders of the Purple Sage" drew a capacity crowd at this year's first rock concert. 
The enthusiastic crowd was out of their seats for the greater part of the electrifying five hour performance. 
Before the concert started I had the pleasure of sitting in on a rhap session [sic] with the stage hands, marshals, and the Dead themselves.  
When someone asked one of the Dead if he liked what he was doing (the "Dead" have changed their sound somewhat lately), he replied "If we didn't like what we were doing we wouldn't be doing it." 
As for how they choose what songs to play, he said, "We don't know what we are going to do until we get out there. We just do what we really can get into at the time." 
His answer to "How are you guys doing now?" was "We get by. We can pay the rent, ya know?" 
Finally he stood up and grabbing an attache case he said, "I better go see how things are going on stage." 
I spent the rest of the time waiting for the concert to begin by watching stage hands making last minute preparations, testing equipment, lights, etc... 

The first half of the program was "The New Riders of the Purple Sage." Their sound is basically country-western. However, the steel guitar, which is featured throughout most of the tunes, gives an added dimension to the style. It took a while for the crowd to get into it, but once they did, they seemed to have a lot of fun with it. 
The "Grateful Dead" put on a very well balanced show. Some of the numbers were fast with long, well performed guitar rides. They also played some new arrangements of old songs like the Young Rascals' "Good Lovin." And they played some light, slow blues numbers. 
I was especially pleased with the volume level of the instruments. It wasn't so loud that it left you deaf for the next two days. There was a good balance between the volume of the instruments and the volume of the vocals in all but a few songs. 
The audience and the band worked together to bring the performance to a very exciting conclusion. 
From the standpoint of the "Dead's" performance and the crowd's enjoyment, the concert was a great success. However, I fear that there are many elements connected with the concert that will almost surely upset the whole future concert scene at MCC. 
I am hinting at the abundance of drugs, bogus tickets, and people getting in free because they knew someone.
(by Marshall Reid, from Quo Vadis, December 2, 1970) 
Alas, no tape! 


  1. Quo Vadis was the student newspaper at Middlesex College; this was part of a joint review along with a theater performance of "Rhinoceros."
    This reviewer liked the show but knew little or nothing about the Dead so he's not super-informative; the account of the show is rather generic. There's a brief, lame interview before the show where "one of the Dead" quickly flees the insipid questions.

    The show was at 8:00 in the college gym; tickets were $3.50 for students and $5 for "outsiders." There are quite a few memories of the show in the Lost Live Dead comments - it was advertised by flyers around campus and in nearby New Brunswick, the gym was hot and crowded, the Dead played a very long set or two, and the show went past midnight (til 1 am, if this article's right about the "five hour performance").
    Accounts differ whether the bands were set up on the floor or just a very low stage; there were folding chairs in the gym, but much of the audience sat on the floor in front of the bands. (They brought their own blankets.) Many attendees came from Rutgers University, or local high schools. The gym was full, likely overcrowded for the usual reasons mentioned in the article - "bogus tickets and people getting in free." And of course with "the abundance of drugs," just about everyone was high. The college dean was worried about the large crowd of outsiders and possible Hell's Angels showing up, but was relieved it came off peacefully. (Supposedly the Dead were banned from playing there again.)
    As is often mentioned, a young Bruce Springsteen attended to check out the Dead and went home mystified - "they sounded like a not-very-talented bar band." But the fans attending generally agree it was a great show.

    Known setlist details:
    Good Lovin'
    Hard to Handle
    Easy Wind
    New Speedway Boogie
    No surprise, it was Pigpen's songs that listeners remembered most ("Pigpen was the standout...the energy level doubled when he went to the mike.") One attendee also remembers Uncle John's Band and Cumberland Blues, which are probable, and maybe Attics. But there was almost certainly no acoustic set. Most people's memories are vague, but they agree on a strong Workingman's Dead/American Beauty vibe ("gentle music even when rockin'," "laid-back and cowboy even when tearing it up").
    Another attendee recalls the Dead doing the Stones' song Connection, but most likely this was part of the New Riders' set.

  2. Thank you! I never heard the one about Springsteen attending this concert before! Any more details? Sounds fascinating that he didn't "get it"

    1. There's just a brief mention in his autobiography. He said the crowd was dancing but "I stood very outside of it" - he didn't appreciate them at the time. The full quote's in the comment thread of the linked Lost Live Dead post on this show.