June 18 was a transformative day in Grateful Dead history. Phil Lesh made his debut with the Warlocks on 6-18-65 at a joint called Frenchy’s in Hayward, California. The setlist is unknown, but we know Phil passed the audition. On the same date, thirty years later, Bob Dylan opened for the Dead in Giants Stadium. In their wildest hallucinatory fantasies, the members of the Warlocks could never have imagined that they would one day play on the same bill with Dylan and be the bigger draw. On 6-18-66, the Dead played in Veterans Memorial Hall, San Jose, another early gig without any credible eyewitnesses or tapers. The following year, there were over 50,000 fans in attendance to see the Grateful Dead play at the Monterey International Pop Festival on 6-18-67.
Performing in between the equipment destroying antics of The Who, and Jimi Hendrix, who set his guitar ablaze, the Grateful Dead’s appearance was theatrically tame. Their solid Monterey appearance has been overlooked because the Dead’s management refused to let film footage of the band be used in what would become the iconic concert documentary, Monterey Pop. The film released in late ’68 gave music fans indelible footage of The Who, Hendrix, Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, Simon and Garfunkel, and The Mama’s and the Papa’s. This successful festival was the prototype for Woodstock and other big festivals of the era.
The Dead’s anti-commercial stance at the time seems foolish in retrospect, since they were playing with peers, and the concert is a flattering snapshot of the Summer of Love. On 6-18-67 their set consisted of “Cold Rain & Snow,” “Viola Lee Blues,” and Alligator > Caution. The first two covers were from their eponymous debut album released three months earlier, and the ensuing originals would be released on Anthem of the Sun. Viola Lee Blues” would have been a phenomenal addition to Monterey Pop. In addition to the dramatic power of “Viola Lee Blues,” the “Caution” jam was outstanding.
The Grateful Dead were in a state of becoming, and their set was enthusiastically received by an audience that was somewhat familiar with them, although the group had yet to have a breakthrough on the national scene. They would manage to fly under the radar long enough to produce the most prodigious and innovative archive of live music. Smothering fame had already retired the Beatles from the road, and it forced Dylan into a seven-year hiatus from touring. Although they were freewheeling hedonists, the Grateful Dead relentlessly pursued their muse and they never let the act become bigger than the music. The Dead trusted their instincts and ran their career without a thoughtfully devised game plan for many years. Down the road, they came off like visionary business geniuses who could teach corporate America a trick or two.
Sixteen years after the Monterey festival, the Dead played at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center for the first time on 6-18-83. This gathering was as close to emulating Monterey Pop as any musical gathering on the East Coast during this era, except, this was a one band extravaganza. Based on fashion, the Deadheads at Saratoga may have resembled those at Monterey Pop, but these hippie freaks were on a mission. Many of the college campuses in the area had been radicalized by the Grateful Dead or Jerry Garcia Band in recent years. Add in the legion of New York City Deadheads descending upon Saratoga for this gig, and a rowdy, yet peaceful summer celebration was inevitable. There were 5,000 seats in the SPAC pavilion, and 20,000 general admission lawn tickets were available. By most accounts, 40,000 Deadheads were packed inside SPAC for this memorable show.
Deadheads danced and cheered as they were greeted with a Bertha > Jack Straw opening. Garcia was ripping a nice “Straw” solo when Weir rudely cut the jam off and proceeded to blow the lyrics. “Birdsong” was a pleasant surprise in the third spot. A rare pairing of Mexicali Blues > Big River ensued, numbers that were usually attached to “Me and My Uncle.” A fine “Althea” was followed by “Hell in a Bucket.” This was the band’s third performance of “Bucket,” and it needed a lot of tinkering and fine tuning. It would take them about a year of practice before “Bucket” would find its niche and emerge as a powerful tune. The set ending “Deal” had a strange jam that retreated to the point of almost stopping, possibly due to equipment issues. The Dead played many better opening sets in ’83. It seemed like they were having trouble getting in tune with the wild energy in SPAC. Set two was a different tale.
Breaking out of intermission with “Scarlet Begonias,” The Dead turned SPAC into a state of dancing delirium as the enlightened gathering yodeled and hooted at every musical development along the way. The euphoric atmosphere seemed to elevate the between verse solo as Garcia’s guitar screeched with excitement in response to the crowd. Phil’s bass thundered the pavilion repeatedly, clearing space in the music, and inciting inspirational ideas. The “Begonias” outro starts off impressively with typical Garcia runs, and then it becomes a stunning minimalist jam as it segues into “Fire.” Weir, Mydland, and the drummers bounce unusual sounds and riffs off the pavilion as if they are mesmerized by the sound within the venue.
“Fire on the Mountain” was mediocre for the first two jams until Billy and Mickey ignited a steppingstone beat, perfect for Garcia’s screeching tone as the last solo salvaged this “Fire” from mediocrity. After Playin’ > Drums > Space, things get interesting with a Wheel > Playin’ reprise. “Morning Dew” was still a rarity around this time so when they dropped the “Dew” bomb, SPAC went ballistic. It wasn’t a great vocal night for Jerry, but he turned it up a notch during this heartfelt performance. Phil’s blasts sound sublime on all the audience recordings I’ve heard of this show. The first “Dew” solo smokes, and the last one is entertaining, and a little messy. Garcia’s voice poignantly delivers the final “I guess it doesn’t matter anyway.” Even the toughest of critics weren’t disappointed with hearing another Throwing Stones > Not Fade Away after that display. Not quite done with Saratoga, The Boys followed with “Touch of Grey,” and a double encore: Don’t Ease Me In > One More Saturday Night. It wasn’t one of the elite shows of year, but 6-18-83 had thrilling highlights. I’m one of many who will fondly remember the Dead’s first performance at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
When someone mentions Louisville, I think of bourbon, baseball bats, college basketball, horse racing, Hunter S. Thompson, Muhammed Ali, and the Grateful Dead. Louisville native, and gonzo journalist, Dr. Thompson wrote a hilarious expose titled, The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved. Ali, Louisville’s favorite native son, would shock the world again by winning back the heavyweight title from George Foreman in Zaire, with his rope-a-dope ploy that turned the most feared fighter on the planet into a harmless sack of potatoes after eight rounds. Four months before Ali’s greatest triumph, the Grateful Dead transported The Wall of Sound into Louisville’s Freedom Hall on June 18, 1974 and blew away those on hand as well as providing a timeless listening thrill for you and me.
It took the band a while to settle in on 6-18-74, due in part to getting their state-of-the-art sound system up to behave as they wished. Everything was just exactly perfect as they rolled into the eighth song of the set, “Eyes of the World.” Garcia’s more aggressive on this “Eyes” than the one in Iowa two nights earlier. There are no dull spots in this fourteen-and-half minute tirade that rolls into “China Doll.” I can only think of three better “Eyes” from this era: 8-6-74 Roosevelt Stadium, 9-8-73 Nassau Coliseum, and 10-19-74 Winterland.
A surprise “Loose Lucy” opens set two, the only time she has assumed that position. Garcia pecks his way through “El Paso” before the band settles into a hypnotic “Row Jimmy.” Louisville receives an elegant twenty-five-minute presentation of “Weather Report Suite.” The jazzy jamming of “Let It Grow” winds into weirdness.
Louisville’s native gonzo journalist wrote, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” Suddenly the post “Let it Grow” space morphs into “The Other One.” A rush of psychedelic adventure leads to the first verse, and then Dr. Philip Lesh makes it all weird again with rambling riffs that bring on heavy space activity. After the band jettisons out of the rings of Saturn, they strike up a groove that becomes an “It’s a Sin” jam. The Dead were way out there in June ‘74. This bluesy prelude makes for a sweet segue to “Stella Blue.”
The eclectic selections flow. “Big River” is raucous, robust, and compact, a minor gem in a monster set. Although the show is way past the usual slot for Tennessee Jed, the set takes a southern turn with a Jed/ Sugar Magnolia conclusion. The Grateful Dead saved the Louisville Slugger for the encore; “Morning Dew.” It’s an amazing thirteen-minute version, as good as an encore can be. I wouldn’t rate this a top ten “Dew,” but it has a distinctive style. Keith leads the final instrumental with piercing piano twinkles. Jerry and Keith play off each other as the jam forms into a funnel cloud. Louisville is another ‘74 masterpiece. Since it’s my job to rate them, I’ll give 6-16-74 Des Moines a slight nod over Louisville. June ’74 was the best month of a revered year.
Deadheads assembled in a seedy part of Passaic, New Jersey to see their heroes in the Capitol Theatre on June 18, 1976. This was the second evening of a three-night stand in Passaic. The Dead played this Capitol Theatre ten times from 1976-1980. The venue was also a frequent stop for Garcia’s solo projects through ’86. When Bill Graham closed the Fillmore East, the door was opened for promoter John Scher and the Capitol Theatre. Graham had his acts sign an exclusivity clause which prevented them from playing within a seventy-mile radius of the Fillmore East for four months. Scher had a memorable seventeen year run in the Capitol bringing in the best music of the day: Frank Zappa, Hot Tuna, Steven Stills, Allman Brothers, Fleetwood Mac, Jeff Beck, and the Rolling Stones.
“The Music Never Stopped” and “Sugaree” kicked off the festivities on 6-18-76. This desirable opening combo was only revisited a few times through the years. “Crazy Fingers” glows in the fourth spot, and the other highlight of the set is “Mission in the Rain.” It’s a sweet version with a gripping outro solo that thrills the crowd. This was the fourth of five Dead “Missions.” “Mission” quickly matured into a premier Jerry Garcia Band tune.
St. Stephen > Not Fade Away > St. Stephen > Eyes is the most interesting segment of a short second set. Some of ’June 76 shows resemble each other. By Grateful Dead standards, the versions are consistent night after night, and there are few spectacular highs, or poor performances. The 6-9-76 Boston Music Hall show I discussed earlier is a wonderful exception from this June run.
The summer of ’89 features a batch of exciting shows, but 6-i8-89 Shorline Amphitheatre is not among them. It looked like a quality show on paper, but I didn’t find much to rave about after listening. The band played a great show at the Shorline on 6-21-89 featuring a blistering Morning Dew > Lovelight with special guest Clarence Clemmons. The show was broadcast live on pay-per view TV. Having some friends over to watch the simulcast in my apartment was a wonderful way to experience Grateful Dead drama unfolding live.
I was pleasantly surprised by 6-18-92 Charlotte Coliseum as I first heard it while researching for this endeavor. The strongest segment of the show was the post-Drums Space > Dark Star jam > All Along the Watchtower > Morning Dew, and “Satisfaction” encore. The “Dark Star” is a moody six-minute journey where Garcia’s guitar strings sing the verse. The transition into “Watchtower” clicks, and Jerry delivers on guitar. The coliseum is euphoric as the Dead progress into “The Dew.” It’s a poignant version, and for a minute it seems that Jerry has turned back time, but the ending solo fizzles. The Dead blessed us with the three “Dews” on June 18.
Instead of dwelling on the Dead’s weak performance in Giants Stadium on 6-18-95, and the fragile state of Jerry’s health, the intriguing aspect of this night was the opening act, Dylan. Bob stormed through a set highlighted by “Senor,” “Silvio,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and “Ballad of a Thin Man.” Dylan looked fabulous, and inspired by the Grateful Dead, he was in the thick of the seventh year of his Never Ending Tour. The following year, Dylan would write the songs for his huge comeback album that won the 1998 Grammy Award for Album of the Year, Time Out of Mind. When Jerry went to bed on the night of 6-18-95, the fact that he helped his buddy, Bob Dylan, revive his career must have temporarily eased his troubled mind.
Deadology interview on Tales from the Golden Road