Nov 25, 2020

December 9-10, 1971: Fox Theatre, St. Louis, MO


Going to a rock concert with a narcotics-drug abuse officer is like going to Purgatory with the Pope. Even now, I'm not sure why I went. Curiosity, I guess. Maybe I just wanted to see 5,000 kids high on marijuana or perhaps I hoped to chance upon someone dropping acid. Whatever, I went. The group was the Grateful Dead, six musicians who, I should report, are very much alive and playing as a unit. Loudly. The noise made it difficult to determine whether one would prefer to be dead or grateful. Or both. 
When the officer and I arrived at the St. Louis theater where the concert was being held, it didn't take long to realize this was sure-enough pandemonium. Kids were running in every direction, police were frantically trying to keep order, and debris was everywhere. 
And that was just the outside of the theater. Inside, things were much worse. 
The first thing I noticed was that I was the only person in the entire theater wearing a tie. Toward the end of the evening I did spot another man wearing one - he was an 80-year-old janitor wearing a leather bow tie. The second thing I noticed was that I was about 25 years older than anyone else, that I wasn't wearing levis, that I didn't need a shave or a haircut, that my shoes were shined, and I wasn't wearing either beads or a knapsack. Outside of those few minor details, I felt very much at ease. 
As we made our way to our seats, which were positioned so that we could watch almost everything in the theater, I said to my friend, "Gee, this place smells like a tent out of Arabian nights." 
"Dope," the officer said tersely. I started to take exception when I realized he meant the odor was marijuana. Fearing I might get high myself, I tried not to breathe. With my sinuses I was soon gasping for breath and decided it was better to die of pot than become the first case in medical history of self-asphyxiation. 
Turning my attention to the stage, where the Grateful Dead were holding forth, I was soon tapping my feet along with the rest of the audience. I wasn't sure what they were playing (in fact, I didn't catch two successive words in any song during the entire evening) but the music was something like they play at the Grand Ol' Opry, only faster and without Minnie Pearl Bailey. It was pretty good. I even caught myself starting to clap my hands with the kids. 
Turning to a young girl sitting next to me, I ventured, "Say they're pretty good!" I figured I ought to establish some contact with the natives before they charged me with being over-aged and took me to their chief. "Far out," she replied. "Yeah, man," I replied, trying to get into the vernacular. "Say, what is this, a bust?" she said belligerently. "Far out," I said, thereby effectively ending my efforts to establish contact with the natives. 
As the concert wore on, I found myself becoming enamored with the music, rather taken with the cheering, appreciative audience. My friend left me at one point to confer with another narcotics officer and I suddenly felt very much alone among 5,000 cheering, clapping, smoking young boys and girls who were jumping around to music that was just on the other side of ear-splitting. I felt relieved when my friend returned, uncomfortable when he tapped on the shoulder a young man getting ready to light a joint, relieved when the youngster put the joint away, uncomfortable when the group he was with turned around to stare intently, relieved when they only smiled instead of beating us to death with chains. 
By now the concert had been going on for five hours. The Grateful Dead were still very much alive, the audience was as enthusiastic as ever, and only the narcotics officers, the police and myself appeared to be very dead. "When can we go?" I asked desperately about 12:30. "Had enough?" my friend asked, smiling. I nodded. 
Outside, the air was cool, damp and smelled of industrial waste. But it was still good. "Bet you've never seen anything like that before," my friend said. 
"Yes, I have, but not all in one place. I'd have to combine a state Legion convention, halftime at a Missouri football game, and dollar-day at a discount store to get one rock concert." 
"Far out," my friend answered. 
"Right on," I said as we laughed. 
Just then an establishment-type couple (the man was even wearing a tie) looked at us suspiciously, then belligerently. As they passed, I heard the man say to his wife, "Dope." 

(by Jack Stapleton, from the "Missouriana" column, the Stanberry Headlight (MO), 30 December 1971)


  1. Not really a review of a Dead show, or even a serious news report, but a look at the concert scene from an elderly conservative humorist. A middle-aged man in a tie, he knows nothing about the Dead and is totally out of touch with their audience, even going to the show with a narcotics officer. At the start it reads like a conservative nightmare of what rock concerts are like: drugs, debris, pandemonium, cops losing control. He's nervous and uncomfortable, and trusts the kids around him as little as they trust him: "is this a bust?" one asks him, and his shoulder-tapping "friend" also causes alarm. For his part, "fearing I might get high myself, I tried not to breathe." It's presented like a visit to some distant tribe that speaks a different language - there can be no connection between him and these dope-mad kids.
    And yet. Despite it being intolerably loud, he notices that the Dead are actually "pretty good." He can't catch any of the songs but he can tell it's foot-tapping country music he can even clap along to. Once he starts "becoming enamored with the music," he can even appreciate the enthusiastic kids jumping around. The age gap tells after a few hours though, when the show's still going strong and the kids are still jumping but he's too fatigued to stay any longer.

    It looks like the St. Louis Post-Dispatch didn't review these Fox shows, but it's possible other local papers did.

  2. Oh, and I have to include this comment from

    "My father wasn't convinced that he wanted to turn me and my runnin' buddies loose in downtown St. Louis on a Friday night. Considering I'd only had my license a few months and we were heading to a "Grateful Dead" concert (whatever in mercy's name that could be?)...and not to seem totally uncool, and to further prove that he would facilitate my cultural development, (and to make sure nothing unseemly might happen) he decided to tag along.
    Shortly after we departed he asked what sort of alcoholic beverage might be suitable for such an occasion. Since none of us were really drinkers (and we had an ample supply of other party favors) we didn't have much of a response. Finally, [we] thought that the bass player usually held up a bottle of Ripple from time to time. So, Pop stopped off at the local IGA and left us in the car until he returned with a brown grocery bag with 3 big bottles of Ripple. Off we went.
    General admission of course, so standing in line was understood. Pop was getting a kick out of the crowd as it assembled. Being a General Motors executive, this wasn't the typical "Theatre" crowd he was used to. When we got to the door he walked in with his grocery bag like it was his lunch, no questions asked.
    We sat in the last row of the floor seats. The Fox was fairly run down back then, not bad, but they used it for midnight flicks and concerts, and you could smoke in it, so you can imagine. When the lights went out the air soon filled with a cloud of sweet perfumed smoke. Every time someone tried to pass Pop a doobie he'd hold up his bottle of Ripple as if to say, "it's cool." He offered it to us several times, I finally took a pull off of it when cottonmouth set in. Wasn't bad, at least it was wet. By the end of the night it tasted pretty good actually.
    The show was amazing. And amazingly long. They did songs that seemed to feature Pigpen (Mr. Charlie), then Jerry (Loser), then Bobby (El Paso), then they would take off into the great abyss, which became a series of swirling waves of electric tones and pulsating rhythms that filled me to the marrow with some kind of oscillating tingling rushes of pleasure. In and out, like the ocean surf, then crashing like an avalanche, or receding like babbling brook of tuning sounds. People dancing in the aisles. Bodies floating like spirits. Whole lot of smiling and head rolling going on...
    Pop passed out a couple of times. The last time was during the Other One/NFA/GDTRFB sandwich jam. He woke up as they broke into NFA for the 3rd time. He looked at me and asked, "are they still playing the same damn song?" To this day, if you ask him how he liked the show, or the Dead, he replies, "they know one good song...of course they play it all night," and indeed they did. I think the boys took the stage around 7 pm and we didn't leave until the management turned the lights on around midnight. It seemed endless, but you never wanted it to end. Life was never quite the same after that... Pop and I still talk about the night he drove us to the Fox."