Aug 21, 2018

July 7, 1969: Piedmont Park, Atlanta

Excerpts from an untitled article on the Atlanta International Pop Festival: 

. . . you enter the cove of piedmont park 9:30 monday night down the stone grotto sheltered by the elms, the music ringing buddy holly-beatles, softly buoying you pam jesse, now floating you down onto an electric soft blanket of people covering the floor, no one stands still. currents move people smiling . . .
. . . people exchange, move on, dance, truck, hug, and you walk through this caught by something strange. delirious, you laugh, you smile amazed. the afternoon rain still hangs on the trees and in the air and the ground still springs spongey from its bath. you walk through wholly different communities of people spawned by the electricity of the music - Sitters, Viewers, Dancers, Listeners, Talkers - the light and music combining in areas to animate dances of wild beauty. lying on the ground an old black worker with his woman in his arms, both at a peace that no sound can breach. as you slide through these waves, the laughter wells, grows inside, blurts out and falls onto the heads of people around. a young girl - fairy, nymph - trips about, a redknobbed wand is her hand touching heads, the light tap spreading, suffusing its gentle innocent love - soon gone. . . .
. . . as the beatles stop, you come down almost into the womb of the speakers. catching the tuning notes of the grateful dead and you find miller, k.m., sally, bob, becky and you smile/laugh/hug. the dead play and people are not ready for them and stand at odds confused while the soft, sometimes jerky rhythms search for the chord, the cord, the resonance of the people. And soon it begins to form, as if mutually agreed upon, and people began to move again. The rhythm is caught. In the core of the left speakers' wake a dance begins. A tall slender red haired girl dances gracefully the dance of enticement, of friendship offered. A black man moves a careful, gameful dance of pride. The resonance grows, the music replies, the dance accelerates. People gather and clap and dance. The circle becomes magnetic and generates a ring of hand in hand dancers, encircling in affirmation the now contagious motion of the couple. The black man steps quickly into the circle, and selects a successor and the dance dissolves into individuals dancing. the dead play on, now gently loosing its audience. the music moves off into a corner jam session, and people find themselves again, but now elevated, and talking, moving and relaxing. . . .
. . . younger kids run through the audience sweating smiling hand in hand in a long chain of what seems to be a school day recess game of pop the whip - but there is no pop. a cheer rises. the crowd finds its modulations, the dead listen, and v-signs are thrown high. you find the core of vibration and see a young black policeman buoyed on the shoulders of an ecstatic procession. the cheers rise again and again and you smile wondering what this black jesus in uniform can mean in the day of the black panther. but the movement is delirious and you too are caught to the point of crying. he is hoisted high to the top of a car and as he stands beaming, his fist raised, surrounded by his disciples, a young girl bursts up onto the platform to hug Him and the cheers go up wild mingled with the strains of the dead. . . .
. . . the dead are through. clumps of audience still vibrate, playing in the lake, some wash their sweet sweat. out of the park in all directions people spread, radiate - like a slowly bursting nova.

(by Jim Gwin, from the Great Speckled Bird, 14 July 1969)

See also:  


The rest of the review, on July 4-5:

pontiac, ford, v-w, camaro - stacked one mile long in the concrete heat of july fourth afternoon. you approach the hampton raceway through groups of ambling long hairs and straights, some hawking, some hitching, here in the dusty glare to see Atlanta's "International Pop Festival" carnival of superrock and lesser sounds. tents spring up and parked cars stretch on the rolling hills like seas of metallic dead whales glinting dully through a layer of dirt. . . .
coming up out of the tunnel onto the raceway infield you ride across a red clay plain slowly realizing the immensity of the area encompassed by the 4-5 mile ribbon of asphalt and steel fence. all ready in the middle of this gargantuan shadeless pit rise pavilion tents, merchant booths, people tents, polyethylene domes, parachutes held up by helium balloons and anchored for shade, yellowredwhite coca cola houses and ten thousand people thronging - and waiting - 100degrees - for the palpable vibrations of the monstrous amplifiers to dispel the heavy clinging heat. dylan warms up via phonograph, his intimate earthy home lyrics flying off desperately unheard in this huge alien expanse. . . .
you begin to set up your own little merchant booth, bird booth, a makeshift affair of ropes, cardboard, and poles, on a slight hill some one quarter mile from the platform. from there we watch the afternoon fade into a sustained heat. The music starts, but can do nothing with the warm jelly audience. people escape to coca cola, beer, a water hosing, any precious shade. many are soon prostrate, sick. some sprawl in the direct sun in the area of the stage, trying separately, desperately to listen to the music. watermelons are given away, and soon the entire grounds are spread with half eaten fermenting rings. the evening brings coolness and a slight relaxation. you walk down to the audience, jammed increasingly toward the all absorbing one stage. there are occasional signs, deep eyes, soft eyes, and there are efforts made. but there is something frantic here, a slow eating mulling tone of desperation - or is it in you only?
al kooper starts the evening with his big band swing sound and a few apologias for the Festival and I begin to wander back through the watermelon rinds, beer cans, and bodies as his rapt audience continues applauding. the evening wears into johnny rivers, power failures and random fireworks, and very tired i drive home, disappointed that so many could meet for so little. there are those who stayed - down close - through the night to hear creedence clearwater, canned heat, and johnny winter, and there are those who say there were good things happening. i was not there. . . .
saturday at hampton starts slow. people stream into the infield constantly from 1:00 to 7:00. the heat is still paramount, but a tension begins to build, a waiting for the cool evening, a waiting for the evening, led zeppelin, blood sweat and tears, and janis joplin. many groups play. chicago transit authority floats out nice tones, but you are too far away to get caught in it, or to feel the audience. as evening comes a two year old vigorously, violently, plays kick the can, and his subtle little symphony of grunts and scuffles and the can's clat-a-tat-a-whaat is what you hear as music. dark comes down and once again you move down toward the brightly spotlighted stage where someone is performing. at first, chatting, sauntering, you soon pass into groups of people, standing, electric, transfixed to the stage, and you too are caught by a tremendous wave of sound, pulsing through the air, a sound at once of panic, of power, and of death. you are drawn closer to the light, to the stage, and now see the flesh torso of the lead singer/performer, his violent motions and his sweet painful cries moving the led zeppelin and the audience into mass orgasmic anticlimax - a vision of virility and sterility, everywhere and nowhere, schizophrenic. you are no longer: HE IS. the music dies way up there in one last bitter cry of failure, and you and people around you fall back onto the ground. you wait interminably for blood sweat and tears, and you get it, a harry james in the age of the airplane, a frank sinatra-frank lovejoy in the time of hendrix. many in the audience decide they can make it here, and stay. you wander away to the sounds of flight of the bumblebee. . . .
joplin draws you back down but somehow is not for you. her voice though strong has the unwavering nuances of a tired woman. when she stops to speak she is warm, even beautiful, but she is tired. the screams and standing bodies attest to her incredible will. though joe cocker is to come with some interesting theater, the festival is over. in darkness the exodus has begun, the pilgrimage over, the war ended, the worship completed. the trudge stretches for an endless quarter mile, the mood is tired.


  1. Not a regular concert review! No details on bands or songs here; the Bird's reporter instead tried to recreate the feeling of being in the crowd at a Dead show. (The rest of the article, covering the festival on July 4-5, was in the same impressionistic style.)
    One remarkable part of this article is what's missing: a host of other bands had played the free park show on July 7, and there was a large multi-band jam session after the Dead played, but here (by chance, or not) they aren't mentioned, and only the Dead are written about. It was their first time playing in Atlanta, and clearly this was considered a Big Event. It's depicted as a magical experience of delirium, laughter, love, dancing, ecstasy... The rest of the festival, in contrast, was portrayed in a rather negative way as tired, disappointing, hot and crowded and unpleasant.

    One Archive witness recalled, "This was a 'thank you' free concert staged by the organizers of the first Atlanta Pop Festival which had gone off quite well [two] days before. Opening for the Dead in Piedmont Park picnic pavilion were Delaney & Bonnie, Spirit and Chicago Transit Authority."
    Another attendee, David Powell, writes: "That free Piedmont Park concert took place after the first Atlanta Pop Festival at Hampton Raceway on July 4th weekend. Amazingly, the Allman Brothers and the Dead were not booked for the festival. [The Allmans were still unknown.] The Piedmont Park concert started in the afternoon and went on into the night, with a thunderstorm/power outage delay. Local bands Radar and the Hampton Grease Band opened. In addition to the ABB & the Dead, acts that had played at the festival -- Spirit, Chicago Transit Authority and Delaney & Bonnie & Friends also played. My memory is hazy, but the Dead closed the show and at various times were joined by Duane & Dickie, Glenn & Harold, Delaney, Randy California and Terry Kath."
    More details are given in the Strip Project account.
    In some places it's rumored that the Allmans guested in the Dead's show during Lovelight, but they didn't.

  2. Later issues of the Great Speckled Bird included a few comments on this show.

    A 9/22/69 article on past events in Piedmont Park:
    "The day in the park The Allman Brothers wiped us out, taught us that a white group of musicians in love with the blues, devoid of hype, overproduction, and a record company breathing down our necks, could shed the skills of the blackface artist and play brilliant, contemporary music of young white America... Then, on the heels of the marathon Atlanta Pop Festival...we had The Grateful Dead in our very own park, the musical essence of the communal spirit of San Francisco, which has been murdered at its birthplace but which is defiantly sprouting up in every city, town, and hamlet where there are young people - hour after hour of fluid time and space blended with harmonies and rhythms that were not so much music as a healing balm of sensation, felt as if for the first time...
    The Allman Brothers were there [last Sunday] to prove that they are in better shape than ever. Their rhythm section swings harder than ever, their organist is still in top form, and the two lead guitarists - especially Duane Allman on slide guitar - solo as brilliantly as the last time we heard them. The sounds they make together are among the finest musical creations of any group in rock music. When they closed the show with their bluesy arrangement of Donovan's "First There Is A Mountain," the spirit of the people in attendance approached that of The Grateful Dead concert where everybody - everybody - was stoned, tripping, and very together."
    (from "Our Park" by Miller Francis Jr., GSB 9/22/69, p.12)

    A 10/27/69 article on a recent music festival: "Sadly no light show...but the Allman Brothers made up for it. Little more can be said about them, other than the fact that only The Grateful Dead in Piedmont Park have generated the same energy that was created Sunday night. The whole experience was highlighted by a lovely girl dancing beautifully on stage."
    (Charlie Cushing, "Sunday," GSB 10/27/69, p.9)

    And an announcement for the Dead's 5/10/70 show: "Remember Piedmont Park, and what the Dead did there? This should be more of the same."
    (Miller Francis, "Atlanta Rocks," GSB 5/11/70, p.10)

    Two different reviewers both point to the Dead show as a high-point in Atlanta's rock history, and both say that the Allmans create the same kind of spirit and energy in the audience.

  3. this will never be - which it should be - released as a 'picks' - the ds>st.s>the11>toyll is like 85 minutes long! too long for a CD. maybe put 'dark star' on CD1 and the rest on disc two?


  4. I came over from Birmingham for the AIPF, got invited to stay over at a house a couple of blocks from the park, and for me, because of the opportunity to hang out with some other guitar players and hear a lot of great music, Piedmont Park was a much nicer experience than the Festval, which was itself epic. I wish those days could have gone on forever.

  5. This is a very rare example of a Dead playing a "free show" where the promoters actually paid the band a hefty sum to play the show.